It's summer. Pastor Todd holds onto the hose with both hands while they set up the pool in the center of the parking lot. He's baptizing my sister. Surrounded by God's folk, the boys, and me, my sister is getting baptized at the church which is also the laundromat.
She's nervous, wearing her bathing suit with her hair braided down her back. She pulls the soft pink towel tight around her shoulders and chews on a corner.
Clean & Redeemed Laundry, the sign above us says. The metal screeches as it spins.
Our boys: Nicky, Charlie, Bobby, Tommy.
The pool takes up two parking spaces when Bobby's finished blowing it up. He's breathing hard. It's always him doing that stuff, helping out. He's got freckles and loves his mom.
We're waiting for water. Tommy asks one of God's girls about his new haircut. He thinks above the eyebrows is too short, says he feels overexposed. But I shouldn't have secrets, Tommy says. Right? The girl straightens her skirt and steps to the left.
I'm starting a new self, my sister told me. Making peace with all that I could be. We were eating breakfast at Darb's Tavern. The place was dark, only a little light coming through closed blinds. I need this, she said. I pressed my tongue against the back of my teeth.
Darb died last year but the hashbrowns are decent.
My sister could be anything. She's our breadwinner, making real money with her office job while she takes her classes. She runs faster than me and all the boys combined, spits out words I can't dream of, steals hearts like they were already hers. She keeps every birthday card and valentine, feeds her crumbs to the bugs in every corner of our house. She's a dragon made of titanium and peaches. What she needs is to finish her old self.
Pastor Todd's got his Pastor shirt on top and bright green swim trunks on bottom. Salt and pepper hair, salt and pepper whiskers. His skin hangs soft. I'm ready now, my sister whispers to him. I know you are, he says.
Charlie's selling popcorn. He's carrying a plastic grocery bag full of it, a dollar a handful. Got an eye for good business endeavors. Popcorn right here, he yells. Popcorn with a whole stick of butter. He's made two dollars.
My body feels limp. Pastor Todd walks to me and claps me on the shoulder with a wet hand. Thank you, he says. She wouldn't do this without you here. I nod. He claps my shoulder again and water spatters onto the back of my neck.
My sister steps into the pool. Pastor Todd kicks off his flip flops and steps in too. He touches her hair as she sits down. She hugs her knees and wiggles her toes, gazing up at him.
A woman appears with a sack of laundry. I have all these filthy delicates, she says. Each and every one of us, we turn to Pastor Todd. My sister peeks over the edge of the pool. He watches the woman so we watch the woman. She repeats herself, says they can't wait to be washed. We don't blink until she slumps off, dragging her dirty clothes behind her.
The power within and between us can move anything, Pastor Todd says. He crouches down and kisses my sister's nose. She smiles.
Nicky's nervous, looking at me. Everything will be alright, I tell him.
Weeks ago, I took the boys out while my sister was asleep. We snuck to Raynor Park. The air was soaked with the smell of pond algae, and under the monkey bars, we hid from the light of the sheriff's car. We were liars, hunters, searching for anything. Maybe God or the wind crying through the trees and sky.
Nicky climbed to the top of the slide. I feel free as a bird, he yelled. Can you believe this shit? We got quiet. We couldn't explain the cold, sweet taste of the world right then. We couldn't believe it. He jumped off, sliding his bare knees against the wood chips, and we roared.
I know what she's chasing and I want it too. I want to feel something that scratches until I'm warm inside.
We're here to take part in love, Pastor Todd says, pulling sunglasses out of his swim trunks. To feast on connection and togetherness.
Charlie ties his popcorn bag and sets it at his feet. Tommy peels off his baseball cap, smoothing out his too-short hair. Nicky nudges Bobby's arm and Bobby nudges my arm. We stand like soldiers.
Amen, we say.
The sun whips our skin while we watch the stream of water soar out of the hose. I take a few steps toward my sister, feel my hand reaching out on its own. She tilts her head back, eyes closed, water dripping down her face and throat. Pastor Todd laughs and the sound echoes through us. I think my baby is gone. Her eyes snap open and she looks bone deep into me.