"You must look after her," says his Mom, says his Dad, and Patrick believes them, because she's his sister, his little sister, and he used to be the most important person in the world to them, and now he's not. He's a nuisance with big feet, and he won't stop growing, and he can't help it that he's nearly seven already, and shoes don't fit any more, and his Mom takes him along to thrift stores to get him clothes now, because nothing fits for more than five minutes, and she's always clicking with her tongue, click, like that, because he's not small and cute anymore, or at least, that's the only conclusion he can come to. And he doesn't like thrift stores with their smells of old people and dust, and it seems like he smells like that all the time now, even if Mom washes the clothes again and again, until she's red in the face, with trying not to shout at him.
Patrick doesn't really know what he's done wrong, but he still tries to placate her. He says the clothes are fine, ok, he'll wear them, yeah, thanks Mom. He says that but instead, he studies the washing machine, and the dispensers, and he gets up in the middle of the night to do it himself. It's one of the first lessons he can remember. If you want something doing properly, you have to do it for yourself.
His little sister is called Marilyn, just like Marilyn Monroe, and she has blond hair that's curly, like Marilyn Monroe, but she's small, and she doesn't have curves, and Patrick can't believe that Marilyn Monroe would kick quite so hard, or lie on her back and have a screaming tantrum the way his Marilyn sometimes does, so he concludes that maybe they're not good namesakes after all. He looks the name up in the encyclopedia in the library at school and there is also Marilyn Maxwell (also platinum blond and an actress) so for a while he thinks that his Marilyn is inevitably going to grow up to be an actress, until he also finds Marilyn Singer, who isn't (a singer, that is) but writes picture books for kids. After that, Patrick gives up, because although being a writer is better than being an actress, he's not convinced he wants her to be either. Although, at least writing will keep her at home.
Marilyn is the most precious thing in his world. She doesn't shout at him, like Mom and Dad, well, she does, but she shouts at them too, so Patrick doesn't take it personally, it's like rain, or the post being late on Wednesdays because the postman disappears into Number 76 to visit with Mrs Hogan. Mrs Hogan has a husband who drives a lorry and isn't home until Thursday. Patrick thinks that Mrs Hogan must make a really good cup of tea.
Everyone likes Marilyn. But that's fair, because Patrick does too. And she is small and blond and cute, and people like that kind of thing, and if only she'd also have a tiny gap between her teeth that would be even better, because then she'd be able to whistle too. But the one time he tries to put one there (with a small pair of pliers and a chisel, what's wrong with that, Patrick always knows the right tools for the job) he gets caught and Mom yells even louder, and Patrick knows he better not try again or Mom won't let him babysit for Marilyn any more, and that would be the worst thing in the world.
Except that Mom will totally always let him babysit Marilyn, because Patrick likes it, and he can keep her quiet, and it means that Mom gets to lie down, or go out and play bridge with Mrs Forsythe, Mr Dunwoody and Mrs Chavez, or go shopping, or to the park... There are lots of things Mom would rather be doing than babysitting Marilyn. Patrick doesn't tell Marilyn about this, but that's another thing he likes about his sister. She's smart. She works Mom out, all on her own.
Once Marilyn is big enough to go to school, it's Patrick who goes with her. He makes sure she has a banana in her brown paper sack, and some jelly beans, and sometimes a sandwich. He makes sure all the red jelly beans are removed because several of them are cinnamon flavour and Marilyn doesn't like cinnamon. In fact, to be on the safe side, he divides all the jelly beans by colour, and puts them in tiny separate plastic tubs. Patrick can't understand why Dad gets so mad when he finds Patrick has emptied all the film from their plastic canisters, so he can use them for this very important task.
Some of the kids at Tiny Tot day-care are mean to Marilyn, but Patrick is there to pick her up again and to step between her and the mean kids. He's been told you mustn't fight with kids littler than you, so he doesn't, he just stands in their way and they kick him instead of Marilyn. But that's all right, that's what brothers are totally for. Marilyn even says thank you sometimes.
Patrick saves his pocket money, and bullies Mom into giving him some more for all the baby-sitting, and once he's bigger, he does odd jobs for the neighbours, even though the Great Outdoors is starting to become rather big and frightening, and he has to trek across fields and woods, in the dark, sometimes. He saves all that money too, and then once a month, he takes Marilyn by the hand, and they get on the bus from the highway at the end of the lane, and they go to the Mall. Marilyn gets to eat strawberry ice cream, her favourite, because it's pink, and Patrick will have a coke, and then they'll go shopping. His sister Marilyn isn't going to wear hand-me-down clothes that smell of dust and old people, she's going to have everything new and shiny. She's going to wear pretty ribbons, and a red coat, and her panties will have lace on them. She'll have fancy skirts and blouses with silk collars, and patent leather shoes she can see her face in, if she wants. She'll have ballet shoes in pink satin. She'll have black tap shoes with ringing metal heels. She'll have everything she deserves, because she's his little sister Marilyn.
And in the shops, in the changing rooms, it's Patrick who helps her try it all on. She lifts up her arms and demands that he does. He fumbles a little, because he's bigger now, his voice is starting to growl and squeak, and be quite unlike his own. The scraps of lace and cotton and ribbons are all so delicate. Patrick tries not to damage anything as he slips them on, her small blond head emerging from the centre like a mermaid from a sea of ruffles. And then she laughs and twirls and shows him how well it all suits her, and his heart swells with something, it might be pride, it might be love, or maybe something else. He doesn't want to put a name to it, in case that makes it too dark, or dangerous. In case what he's feeling is not allowed.
He does well at school, Patrick does, but not so well that he gets himself noticed. He gets himself friends, or, at least, acquaintances, and he listens and he reads. In ninth grade they read Lolita by Nabokov and Patrick worries for an entire semester. He knows he's far too close to his sister, too close for comfort, no other boy likes his sister as much as he does, and Patrick worries about that. He only wants the best for her. But maybe he isn't the best for her.
She's bigger now, is Marilyn. If he puts the money in her hand, she can go to the Mall with a friend, or with Mrs Chavez, or Mrs Forsythe, or even on her own. She cries, the first time he does this, but then she stops crying. Patrick throws himself into learning all about the kinds of things he ought to be interested in, boy's things, like Star Wars, and Batman, and cars, and sports. Patrick is clever, is sensible (although not as clever as Marilyn, of course) and he knows that he can do this, he can blend in.
Through everything, Marilyn watches all this, watches him, and Patrick feels funny, all hot and cold. She misses him, he decides, which makes him happy, because it must mean that she loves him as much as he loves her.
In tenth grade Patrick finds a friend, a friend who isn't Marilyn, and he's smiling and grateful, because now everything will be all right. Amy is his age, and is perky and bouncy and blond. She's not pretty like Marilyn, and she dresses badly, in dark colours that don't bring out the blue of her eyes, but that's ok, no-one could replace Marilyn, or look like her really, Patrick isn't even trying. But the blond hair is soothing when he strokes it, when Amy lets him stroke it, and he kisses her, clumsily, sometimes, and her mouth is warm and wet, and she wriggles like Marilyn did in the tub, when she was little and needed help to bathe.
Everything is fine until Marilyn tells Mom and Dad that Patrick is gay. That he likes boys... like that. Patrick wants to know how Marilyn knows about such things when she's far too young and innocent, but that doesn't seem to be what concerns their parents. There is a lot of shouting, and Patrick denies it, and denies it, but they don't seem to believe him. Mom gets out the family bible and waves it around, and Patrick isn't sure how that is going to help, but doesn't mention it, because he's learnt better over the years. He remembers the thrift store clothing and the washing machine, he remembers how much easier it is to agree with Mom than argue, and so he does. He says yes, he likes boys... like that, and he'll never do it again, he's very sorry, and Mom stops shouting and goes very white, and Dad is cold and forbidding, and then suddenly Patrick isn't going to school any more. He's being home-schooled, for the last years before college, and he doesn't get to see Amy ever again.
But it's ok though, because Marilyn stops watching him from a distance with that funny sort of considering look on her face. Instead they are back to being Patrick-and-Marilyn, and she snuggles up to him in the big arm chair in the living room, and he reads her all her favourite stories, and she laughs and smiles and wriggles, and Patrick is happy again. If Mom and Dad have decided that it's ok for him to be at home and looking after Marilyn, then perhaps all of his fears and worries were unfounded. Patrick knows that he doesn't always... think like everyone else, and although he misses the other kids a bit, and his teachers a lot, he knows it's easier this way. It was always so tiring, trying to be normal all the time.
Home-schooling himself is hard. Patrick doesn't always understand everything he's meant to be studying, and he fails his high school diploma. He can't go to college, even community college, and his Mom clicks her teeth, click, like that, and his Dad looms with disappointment. But it doesn't matter because Marilyn hugs him, wraps her hands around his waist, and leans her head on his shoulder. She whispers into his hair that it'll be good, he'll be at home with her, they'll always be together. He doesn't need stupid old college. She's his little sister, she's the only one that matters.
Patrick heaves in a breath or two, that may or may not be a kind of sigh; he can smell that Marilyn is using the new scent he bought for her, and the vanilla shampoo. She smells like a dessert, sweet and sugary. Marilyn is happy, and that makes him happy, with a sort of sharp pain underneath his breastbone. But it's ok, because he knows that she's right. They have each other.
When Marilyn is fourteen she breaks a small bone in her wrist. She has a pretty lilac cast on her arm, and Patrick makes her stay in bed, at least for a few days, until she refuses to remain still any longer. He learns to make chicken soup, and burns his hand on the side of the hob. Marilyn is getting dressed when he brings it up, planning to go to dance practice, because, as she says, she only needs her feet for that.
She stays long enough to eat the soup, threading her slim hand in his in appreciation, and notices the burn. She kisses it better, small pink lips pursed in butterfly motion. A delicate tongue extends and licks, once, twice. Patrick feels very warm and then very cold where the air rushes in to cool the dampened digit. He wants to burn every finger he's got. Marilyn looks up into his face, and laughs, before grabbing her purse expectantly. Patrick drives her to the rehearsal room.
When Marilyn is fifteen she brings home a boy for the first time. He's tall and gangly, and Patrick reckons he could take him. Patrick's got at least twenty pounds on him, and he's got all his video game skills too. He could totally take Zach.
He scalds the coffee, and doesn't say he's sorry, even as Zach and Marilyn sit carefully on the sofa, and their parents gently interrogate Zach about his family, and his studies, and his (unasked, unspoken) intentions.
Patrick takes his, slightly scorched, coffee out onto the porch, and stares at Zach's car. It's a junker, but then his own isn't much better. He could put molasses in the gas tank. He could run a key lovingly along its sides, almost hearing the beautiful tearing, scraping noise it would make. He considers himself very restrained when he only stands there, knuckles white on the mug, as Marilyn trips down the steps with Zach's hand in hers, the lime green of her coat showing up almost black in the twilight. She gives it to Zach to hold, as she runs back up the steps and kisses Patrick on the cheek. Her face against his is soft and scented, and he stands there helpless, sullen, all his volition gone. She nips at him, takes the skin of his jaw in her pure white teeth and biting down. He wants to cry out, he nearly does, but he knows she would be angry, so he holds it back. He thinks she smiles, but he can't be sure. She tells him not to wait up.
When Marilyn turns sixteen, everything is changed. She has a sweet sixteen birthday party with all her friends from school, and there is punch, and flowers, and balloons. Patrick works extra shifts at the garage so he can buy her the perfect dress, and there's no doubt about it, Marilyn twinkles for him, dazzles even. There are pearls and polychrome sequins to set off her smile.
Patrick too receives a present. Marilyn is single tonight, no boy at all - no Zach, or Randy, or Steve. There's just his little Marilyn, having a good time. Patrick watches from the side, helpless, knowing he can't compete with these rainbow crowds of girls, feeling like a super-hero with a secret identity. Or maybe a super-villain, he's not sure. But the weight of the secret, that's there, pushing him down, rounding his shoulders, dragging his legs around like lead. He knows he's more than Marilyn's weird brother, he's better than that, he's no Boo Radley, holed up like a invalid, or a shut-in. He goes out, he goes to work, he takes Marilyn to school, doesn't he? But he hears them talking, when they think he's not there, and he scrubs his hands through his hair (blond, curly, darkening) trying to scratch out the memory of the words, the weight of their opinions. It doesn't work.
The night seems to expand forever, to infinity, and Patrick holes himself up in the basement, with chainsaws on the walls, the smell of oil in the air. He skulks, because that's how he's feeling, he likes skulking. His scalp itches and he rubs it again. His fingers glitter with the hairs that come away, blond curly strands like gossamer in the flicker of the sodium strip. It's all falling away, all of it, there are too many people, too many strangers, they hunt in packs, he's been told, and he doesn't want to be their prey any more.
Marilyn finds him there. She knows where to look, and Patrick is glad, because she always knows where to look, and it means she's noticed she needs to. She slips down into the basement like a Royal Princess visiting the dungeons. An illicit thrill, a care for her finery. Patrick's lunge is quickly aborted, Marilyn avoids the vise sticking out from the bench, because she has poise. Because she's perfect. She stands and looks at him.
He's smiling crookedly, because she glows, with health, with love; all the pearls and sequins in the world will never glow like his Marilyn does, she doesn't need ribbons and lace, her skin would shine regardless. And then she smiles and his heart flips in his chest. She comes forward for a hug, her arms out, and it's just like when she was little, because she's shorter than he, she'll always be shorter, and that's something to be glad about. Something that won't change.
He buries his nose in her hair, soft and golden, and brushed every night, one hundred strokes, until it crackles with electricity and Patrick's fingers tingle on the brush. And then she's reaching up, on tip-toes, drawing his head down for a kiss, and Patrick lets her, takes a breath, that's not big enough, his chest isn't big enough to contain it all, because this isn't on the cheek, this isn't playful, or teasing, or any other childish thing.
Marilyn kisses him, on the lips. She takes hold of his silly ruffled dress shirt, and she crushes it in her hands. She pulls his head down to hers, and then, as he takes another breath, she parts his suddenly slack lips and pushes herself inside. Marilyn's kiss is nothing like Amy's, nothing sweet or tentative about it; she's determined and demanding. She seems to know exactly what she's doing. It's heady, but also extremely disturbing. Patrick thinks that the only way she could know how to kiss like this would be because of Zach, or Randy, or Steve. It's an unbearable thought. She's his little sister. She's his. It gives him enough impetus to draw her against him properly, to open his mouth wider, to reach down and pull her upwards, his hands under her bottom, net skirts and silk rustling, pearls cool on his skin. She makes a little moaning sound against his lips, the tiniest breathy gasp, and her nails dig into his shoulders. He swings her round, sits her on the workbench, and she lifts her legs and folds them round his waist, so naturally, like they've done this every day, dragging him even closer. Her head rolls back bearing her throat, her fragile collarbones, and Patrick stares and stares. This is what they've been waiting for all their lives. This. It's so perfect, so right, that Patrick is almost afraid to touch, to claim the moment.
So it's Marilyn who claims him, it's Marilyn who murmurs his name, later, and who bites into the junction of his shoulder to muffle her cries. It's Patrick who is marked, who is dazed by events, who reels with the happiness of a man who is drunk, but not on wine. Later still, lying in his arms, Marilyn whispers over and over again into his ear, tells him that he's hers now, completely hers, always hers, they'll always have each other. Patrick never doubts it.
The pearl dress is ruined, but Patrick can't even begin to bring himself to care.
"You must look after her," said his Mom, said his Dad, and Patrick has, Patrick has tried. Marilyn is eighteen, and has graduated from high school, he was there when she collected her diploma, all pink and white in her robes, hair shining like a crown, because how could he not be? This is Marilyn, his little sister, and he's so proud of her. But people... People have become a bit too much to handle. So Patrick might have watched the ceremony from the edge of the field, just inside the treeline, with his binoculars. What's wrong with that? He might have been forced to give up the job at the garage too, because you have to talk to people when you pump their gas, and it was getting... It was too hard. His parents click their tongues all the time now, but Patrick doesn't know what he can do about that. He's conscious that he's disappointed them in some fundamental way, but he can't help it. He just can't.
But Marilyn... Marilyn isn't disappointed in him. Marilyn loves him. Marilyn will never leave him.
Patrick watches the pile of suitcases in the hall get bigger and bigger, and then smaller again, as Dad takes them out to the car. They all match, in pretty green leather, with reinforced brass corners. Patrick bought them for Marilyn this Christmas, because that's what she'd wanted. He'd used the last of his savings to do it, but if Marilyn wants matching cases, then that's what she must have. Marilyn always wants everything to match.
Patrick doesn't really understand. He remembers Marilyn discussed her future with Mom and Dad some time ago, all of them sat round the kitchen table, the formica scrubbed and clean, after dinner, talking about applying for a place at the best school of make-up artistry in the country. It's in Pennsylvania. Patrick looked it up. Her perfect grade point average means that she could get a place, easily, and that makes Patrick proud too. But, of course, she's not going to go. Because if she went, that would mean that she'd be leaving and, obviously, that's not going to happen.
Patrick stares as Dad puts the last case in the car. Then places a furry white bunny on top of the pile. It's ears flop, forlornly. Patrick thinks, it looks out of place, it doesn't understand. It should be on Marilyn's dressing table, where it belongs.
When Marilyn was discussing her future with Mom and Dad, in the kitchen with coffee in their hands, Patrick was sat on the stairs, listening. It sounded like a nice plan, very thorough, all the finances discussed, and worked out. It was a really good piece of theoretical discussion. Patrick expects that it was for a report or something.
Patrick watches as Marilyn walks out onto the porch and looks at Dad, as he finishes packing the last of the food, the last bottle of water. She's wearing her lime green coat, and Patrick is reminded of the times she went away with Zach, before she had Patrick. Before Patrick was everything to her. She kisses him on the cheek, and Patrick's senses swirl with other times, other scents. She whispers to him. She tells him, she'll never leave him alone. She's his Marilyn, and she'll always be there for him. She tells him to go down to the basement.
Patrick doesn't understand. Marilyn gets into the car with Dad and they drive away, down the lane, into the road. Mom waves a handkerchief, and then bends over a little, crying into it. The wind picks up and throws leaves across the yard. The sky is grey, and it will probably rain later. Marilyn will need her umbrella, the one with the white ruffled edging and the purple handle. But it's packed into the car. Patrick doesn't understand. Marilyn can't leave, he trusts her, she's everything to him. She always has been.
Patrick goes down to the basement. The smell of oil is still there but it's mixed with another odour, a damp warm earthy one, and, he thinks, there's a hint of Marilyn's perfume too. Maybe. Patrick stands with his eyes closed trying to chase it. Trying to catch it. He opens his eyes.
Marilyn can't leave him. She's his little sister, she wouldn't leave him behind. She wouldn't do that to him. She loves him. There's a snuffling noise and Patrick turns his head. The sounds are coming from a cardboard box, under the vise on the workbench, so he walks over and peers inside. Soft brown eyes look up at him, and the small vibrating form of a puppy wriggles its bottom as it pants up into his face. The eyes are nothing like Marilyn's icy blue perfection. The soft brown coat is nothing like Marilyn's pale smooth skin. Is this all that is left of her? Is this all he gets? He doesn't, he just doesn't...
He can't help it. Patrick just doesn't understand.