“Alright listen, we’ve gotta figure out what to do with him.”
She says it so…matter of factly you know? Like she hasn’t just killed someone, but I guess she’s always been that way. Myra’s the type of girl who can hit a cat with her car and not look back to see if it’s still breathing. They always used to try and compare the two of us at school and stuff. They tried real hard to compare us because that’s what people tend to do with sisters, but Myra and I aren’t close enough to even be seen as different parts of one another. No, we’re so far apart they can’t even see us as kin.
“Mayella.” She shoves me a little with her clean shoulder and gives me one of her glares.
“Mayella come on you can’t just stare at it.”
I do what she says and stop staring. Silently I go over and take the axe out of her hands and take it over to the sink where my birthday cake’s sitting on the counter next to it. I start washing the axe, trying to think of what I can say to her. Myra’s being thoughtful too. She’s looking at what’s left of the body she chopped up trying to figure out what to do.
“Hand me that cloth once you’re done with it okay?” I pass the rag to her and watch as she begins to separate each body part and wipe away the blood.
“You gonna help me or not?”
It hangs in the air between us. I still haven’t spoken a word since I saw her chop him up. Finally I hear my voice squeaking out words.
“I don’t want to ruin my dress.”
She sighs and looks at me like I haven’t got a clue on how to clean up a dead man’s body parts. “Well just take it off and hang it on the chair while you help me.”
“Fine.” I say, and pull off the blue dress I bought myself last week. I realize the silk slip I’m wearing is something Myra lent me, but at this point I don’t care if it gets dirty. If it does, it’s her fault for making me clean up the mess she’s made.
“You know I had to do it right?” she asks as we clean. “He was going to tell everyone about us.”
I just nod my head and pretend that today is just another Tuesday. I pretend that it’s not my sixteenth birthday. I pretend my sister did not murder a man in our kitchen. It gets to the point where I’m pretending so hard I forget that Myra’s my sister at all. But she keeps talking the whole time.
“Mayella, I promise we’ll still sing tonight. Ma and Dad won’t know a thing about this by the time we’re through. We’ll burn everything in a pile of leaves and I’ll bury whatever’s left of that axe. Mayella, please say something.”
“What are you going to do about the brain?” I ask.
“What do you mean?” She says.
“I learned about it in biology class. You can’t burn brains without them smelling for miles.”
She takes in my words and swishes them around in her mind like a glass of wine. She looks down at the brain sticking out of the dead man’s head. Then her eyes look over my own towards the kitchen counter.
“We’ll feed it to the birds.” she says, a horrible glint of joy in her eyes that makes me feel like I’m about to lose my own insides.
Myra gets together a pile of thistle and grains from the woodshed out back and then she goes to work re-decorating my birthday cake. I sit there on the floor next to the chopped up body unable to speak as she pushes the brain into the cake piece by piece and then sprinkles the seeds over it. “Just in case some of ‘em don’t have a sweet tooth.” she says, winking at me.
“Alright, I’ll go put this out on the porch and then we can get started burning the rest of the body.” She sees my face and comes over to me. “Aw Mayella, I’ll make you another cake, promise.”
I say nothing. I try to pretend again. This time I’m pretending I’m in a different town where no one knows my name. They’ll say “Hey, who are you stranger?” I’ll tell ‘em all about how my name’s Mayella and I just turned sixteen and then they’ll say “Well honey, we better celebrate that like they do in the movies.” Then we all go to my new home and have a good party.
“Wait.” I say to Myra. I get up and take off her slip and put my blue dress back on. “I’m gonna give the birds my cake.”
She looks at me trying to find a good argument, but then she really sees my face and stops.
“Fine, but hurry back so we can finish cleaning up.” I nod my head and grab the cake from her hands.
I walk outside and see a flock of sparrows down towards the end of the path. I start walking towards ‘em, holding the cake out in front of me. A piece falls off the plate, but I don’t look back. I’m not looking back at that house. They start coming towards the cake now. They peck at it and take away the cake that was supposed to be mine and the brain my sister put inside of it. I look straight ahead, I can’t bear watching ‘em eat my cake. Suddenly I feel something on my arm. I look down and see one of the sparrows perched there. He looks at me like he’s trying to tell me something. It almost looks like he’s trying to give me his wings.