It is your luck to be the brother of three fat girls.
They have insisted on the moniker. “We are fat girls,” Elsie has told you. “If you don’t accept it, who will?”
“Don’t say that,” you have replied, hopelessly. “You’re beautiful,” and she has kissed your forehead wetly, like an aunt—she is thirteen years your senior; she relishes that word girls—and said, “Exactly.”
Elsie is the fattest of the three fat sisters. She once tried to be a plus-sized model, but size 18 was too large, so she has accepted a job writing copy for a crafts catalogue.
You recognize that there are two kinds of girls: fat girls and thin girls; and within those, there are two kinds of girls: those who know which they are and those who don’t.
Your sister Geraldine might defy categorization, a middle-sized girl with stolid thighs. But she’s identified herself as a fat girl, so she asks people to pull in their chairs before squeezing past; she never just squeezes.
Geraldine is the type of babysitter whom the parents love and the children hate until they’re much older. She takes you with her to her charges’ houses, where you meet their working mothers.
Your mother has been gone for over a decade. She did not love you. This breaks your sisters’ hearts but disturbs you very little, because you feel so abundantly mothered.
Your three sisters look the same to you, distinguished by the clarity of the hemispheres below their necks and by minute emphases: Elsie’s plucked eyebrows, Geraldine’s missing tooth, Karen’s sallow cheeks.
Karen is a thin girl who used to be a fat girl, this by dint of extended illness. She misses her old body.
“You’re beautiful, Karen,” you tell her, once the cancer has stolen her breasts and scooped out her insides, leaving her without organs on which to store fat.
She says, “I feel naked.”
You don’t understand. She says, pressing your head to her blanket-swaddled chest, “I’ve lost the layer between me and the world.”
Your mother does not come back. Your sisters hold out for her return, whispering, “We won’t let her,” “She doesn’t deserve him,” “We’re doing well by him, aren’t we?” refusing in advance to surrender you.
You don’t remember courting girls. You have the air of being-cherished about you, so it’s easy to cherish you; you seem to demand it.
You almost marry a fat girl who knows she is fat. She doesn’t assume that people’s brothers should love her. You couldn’t love someone who did.
Your remember this: taking the sweater off your back, tugging it over Karen’s hollow chest.
“No,” said Geraldine, pulling you from the casket.
“She feels naked,” you said.
The night before your wedding, you run away. Elsie is certain you’ll be at Karen’s grave. Your fiancée wants to stay home, crying cross-legged before her mirror, but Geraldine revs the pickup and says Get in.
Without you they drive carefully, imagining you watching. They do it first because it is their instinct and second because, if they are careful enough, maybe you will come back to them.
But you are not at the graveyard. You are not on the streets. Your sisters search all night, crying your name through the dawn, but their soft bodies grow tired and they don’t ever find you sitting just above them in the hollow of a tree, neck thrown back, arms stretched up, reaching for the belly of the moon.
Courtney Sender’s fiction appears or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Crazyhorse, Esquire, Tin House online, The Carolina Quarterly, and Michigan Quarterly Review. She holds an MFA in Fiction from the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars and a B.A. in English from Yale. She is currently working on a novel, for which she completed a MacDowell Colony residency this January. More information is available at her website, www.courtneysender.com .