The cold hard fact was, after my cousin Alexandra came to live at our house, she totally eclipsed me. Mercy Anne McAllister all but disappeared from view. My family barely heard or saw me anymore. Daddy, Mama, and both of my older brothers were constantly gawking at her disarmingly pretty face, hanging on to Alexandra’s every word, and far too busy going out of their way to ensure that the ravishing creature’s whims and needs were met, than to be bothered with plain old Mercy. I’m telling you, being ignored gets to a girl. And being practically invisible is no fun, no fun at all.
We had to share a room. Mama hung a floor to ceiling curtain to separate and delineate our sides. Wouldn’t you know it, Alexandra’s side had both the window, and the door? I felt as if I’d been relegated to a dark hovel. They let her have the closet because she had to have somewhere to hang all those beautiful clothes. Daddy found a couple of dinged up metal lockers in Nana’s basement, and set them near the foot of my bed, so that’s where I crammed my meager belongings.
Alexandra would go on and on about what a shock it had all been: the funeral, finding out that her parents really didn’t have any money to speak of, (aside from her lawyer father’s income), losing her color-coordinated bedroom, saying goodbye to all her friends and her posh private school, and being forced to leave Chicago to come live out in the sticks with us, in Washington. Every single night, she practically talked my ears off. I had to lie there and listen to her laments until she broke out into sobs and finally cried herself to sleep. I did more than my fair share of listening. Alexandra didn’t expect, or desire a response from me, I figured that out early on. She just wanted me to be there for her, quietly listening on the other side of the curtain.
A few months went by and I watched her begin to accept the death of her parents and little sister. After a time her discourse switched tone, as well as subject matter. Chicago became a distant memory, and our small town took center stage. Even at the age of ten I understood that Alexandra had gone from being a little fish in a small pond to being a big fish in a little pond. The attention agreed with her. People would run into me, and instead of saying, “Hi there Mercy,” as they had before, they would say, “How’s that gorgeous cousin of yours doing?” Or, “Say hi to Alexandra for me, won’t you?” At an age when I was supposed to be growing, I was shrinking. I figured that pretty soon I’d be as miniscule as a fly, and about as important.
All total, my cousin shared my bedroom for three years. I was the first one to know that the traveling preacher was driving Alexandra out to the orchards whenever he came to town, that he was teaching her things. That he was doing things, to her. I listened to my lust-driven cousin list all the reasons why she loved The Reverend Wiley Thomas. And I didn’t dare bring up the Holy Bible, or tell Alexandra that she was surely going to burn in hell.
After the ugly truth came out about how he had planted his seed in Alexandra’s belly, Daddy went to visit The Reverend Wiley, and the contrite preacher readily agreed to marry her. Who knew he had another wife in Spokane, and three little kids, that he hadn’t even bothered to divorce? All that mess got handled though, thanks to Daddy. They wed in her eighth month of pregnancy, and That Scoundrel (Daddy’s words) preacher took our Alexandra away to live in another town.
Mama tried to take the curtain down, but I asked her to go ahead and leave it hanging. I’d gotten used to sleeping against the wall in the dark. I’d grown accustomed to anonymity. I felt safe, concealed, and protected from the kind of emotion and passion that had gotten Alexandra in so much trouble. You see, I knew, being invisible has its rewards.
All Rights Reserved. © 2009 by Elizabeth Bradley.