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Today's Story by L. Joseph Shosty

"What happened?" I asked. "Did Kent hit you, or something?"

Buddha’s First Time

Knowing is the most important thing. To know is to eventually understand. To understand is to learn compassion, and from compassion we derive love. By loving completely and fully the world around us, we eventually…what? What is the ultimate point of loving? It is certainly not bliss. Bliss, to me, is a by-product of ignorance, and thus the antithesis of love. Bliss can be shaken, destroyed. Love cannot. In understanding we instead gain a sort of peace, I suppose, that comes from being aware of a thing. To understand is also to no longer be afraid, and fear drives our worst emotions. Fear keeps us from peace, and from love.

It was a Monday afternoon, about 4:30. Mom was in Longville, visiting her sister, and Dad wouldn’t be home until six. I was watching Transformers on TV. Optimus Prime was a being of tremendous wisdom, and I hung on his every word. I confess to have drawn a deep wealth of knowledge from him, and even now, I find myself repeating the words he once said. He and the ubiquitous Papa Smurf, whom I never missed on Saturdays, and of course Yoda, were my teachers. Chief among their teachings was a strong foundation in ethics and seeing to the spread of harmony and justice among the community. I had tried to interest my Dad in them, but all I had convinced him to watch was The Bugs Bunny Show. He especially enjoyed the short where Bugs wrestled The Crusher.

About 4:40 there was a commercial break. I went to my math homework, which I wanted done before evening. The Presidential Address was on at 7 p.m., CST. Dad would want to watch, and I enjoyed the obscenities he hurled at the TV. He was a staunch Democrat, and our President had recently declared ketchup a vegetable. He’d spent most of the week grousing, and the wild look in his eye when he left for work this morning said tonight would be special.

The door to the Audrey’s bedroom suddenly swung open, and Kent stormed out. Kent was Audrey’s boyfriend. He was angry about something, which was typical. He was thirteen, after all; surliness was his bread and butter emotion. He ignored me and went out the front, slamming the screen door shut behind him. I watched him stomp across the yard, shaking his head. I wondered where he was headed; he lived over a mile away, across Brawley’s Ravine, which was steep and dangerous.

I went to see Audrey. She was still in her room. I knocked at the door, but didn’t get an answer. The door was slightly ajar, and so I pushed it open.

Audrey was on the bed, the covers pulled up to her waist. Her hair, which she normally kept in a ponytail, was disheveled. Most of it had fallen over her face, which was obscured. I didn’t need to see her face to know she was crying.

“What are you doing in here?” she asked. Her voice was thick, raw.

“I said get the hell out of here!” she screamed.

“No, you didn’t,” I replied. My way has always been not to argue, but to instruct. Audrey never took it that way, though.

“What are you, some kind of pervert?” she asked, voice full of accusations. “Do you like watching, or something?”

I didn’t understand. “Are you okay?” I asked.

Her eyes went skyward, avoiding mine. “Y’know, Sid, you really ought to know when to fuck off.”

“What happened?” I asked. “Did Kent hit you, or something?” I could see no marks or bruises, but that didn’t mean anything.

Audrey shook her head. Curiously, she pulled the blanket higher, a self-conscious motion. I grabbed the corner of the blanket away from her. She immediately reached down and clamped a hand over mine.

“Wait,” she said. “Don’t tell Dad.”

I can count only three moments of sincerity between my sister and me. We were never close. The first time was when, as a very little boy, I had a stomach virus and unfortunately long hair. Audrey had held my hair back while I vomited into the toilet. The last time was the letter I found in her apartment when we were cleaning it out. Two blocks over was the park where they’d found her, raped and murdered. The letter was a ten-page affair written in long-hand, on college rule paper, begging me to come visit over my Summer break from college. She wanted to be closer. The second time was that day in the bedroom. The rest of our lives together were spent in pointless sibling bickering.

“I promise,” I said.

I slid back the blanket. Audrey was still wearing the white t-shirt she’d worn to school that day, the one with the red heart on the front with the word LOVE written in glitter. She was naked from the waist down except for a pair of white socks. Her thighs were pressed together, and she further sought to hide herself by covering her pelvis with a hand. I tried to pull the legs apart, but she tensed her muscles. My pressure on the leg was insistent, however, and reluctantly she spread herself open to me.

I had never considered my sister was a girl until that moment. I knew most of the particulars concerning sex, most obvious among them being a woman’s breasts. I knew the reasons for sex, from a biological standpoint, and more importantly, I knew the mechanics of sex. Or rather, at the time I thought I did. A cousin had attempted to explain it to me. If I’m ever in need of great levity, I think on what he said, especially the part about how women have an actual cherry inside them that it’s incumbent upon us, as men, to break open.

The only information I lacked up to that point, or so I thought, was a context. I needed to see sex to understand it, or better perhaps to experience it firsthand. As I was ten-and-a-half, my chances for actual exploration were all but nil. Experiencing its aftermath via my sister was perhaps the best I could manage, given the circumstances, and even still, it was a shock. Having never considered that Audrey was a girl, I’d been naively oblivious to the idea that she’d ever engage in sex, much less have the organs for participation.

That’s why I froze; that’s why I stared. Another boy might have panicked at seeing his sister naked before him. Another still might have been secretly aroused. I was merely curious.

I think Audrey knew this, which is why she allowed herself to be scrutinized. She already knew I wasn’t like other children.

“Does it look bad?” she asked. Her voice was so small it barely carried past her lips.

I had no frame of reference, and so I said, “You’ve trimmed your pubic hair.

She snorted snot up her nose. “Have to. For my bikini.”

That made sense.

“It hurts.”

Audrey started crying again. I removed my hand from her thigh and rearranged the covers over her. I gave her a teddy bear from the menagerie on the shelf near her desk, and she snatched it from me and hugged it desperately. The floodgates burst open.

It was nearly 5 p.m., CST. Dad would be home soon, and he would want to take us to The Sizzler for dinner so we could be back in time for the Presidential Address. Audrey was in no place to help herself, and so I would do it for her. Perhaps there was a fourth moment of sincerity between us, or perhaps this was merely an offshoot. I neither fear nor understand the moment that followed, but remain ambivalent to it to this day. The truth remains in my heart that I, as either boy or man, do not possess the wisdom to understand what transpired between us. Even the great Buddha could not ultimately under the soul of a woman, and it was a woman’s soul that permeated our moment.

In Audrey’s closet I found a pair of Calvin Klein jeans. They were situated haphazardly between a pink top with yet more glitter and another white tee, this one with Mickey and Minnie Mouse on it, trapped in a heart of love, staring longingly into one another’s eyes. I pulled the jeans off the hanger and laid them out at the foot of the bed. Then, I went to the dresser and riffled through her drawers until I found where she kept her panties. I pulled the first pair off the top, pink and satiny ones, and held them up for her approval. Audrey only stared with red-rimmed eyes, neither confirming nor denying, and so I took that to mean I had carte blanche.

“You should change into these,” I said. “And shower, but don’t wash your hair. Dad won’t know the difference, then.”

She said nothing, but then suddenly her eyes brimmed with new tears. She held her arms out to me. I crawled onto the bed and held her. I stroked her hair and let her soak the front of my Yoda t-shirt with tears and snot. Her arms gripped me fiercely, forcing every bit of fear and anguish and hurt she could manage out of her. I kissed her on top of the head.

Existence is suffering. This is the First Noble Truth. It was something that, at ten, I was already well-acquainted with. I looked at my sister, and though I couldn’t quite conceive of the nature of her hurt, I understood. Compassion filled me.

And I felt love.


L. Joseph Shosty is the author of Abattoir in the Aether, a novel set in the Space: 1889 & Beyond series, as well as numerous short stories in print and on the web. To learn more about this author, visit http://themadaccount.blogspot.com or http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1273832.L_Joseph_Shosty.

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