a/n: the challenge was "prose, 1000+ words, shine, beauty, lackluster and tangible". this did not turn out at all like i imagined, or intended. in fact, i think it's the weirdest thing i've ever written, and i hope it's not too confusing. (the lyrics are from regina spektor's song "samson".)

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and the history books forgot about us, and the bible didn't mention us
and the bible didn't mention us, not even once

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Jesse dreams about the place in Oklahoma where Aunt Kate once lived. There was a lake there with a raft in the middle of it and on hot summer afternoons they would swim to the raft and lie out. Amy was a stronger swimmer than she was and always made it to the raft first. In this dream Jesse is just a kid and as in real life she swims across the lake after her sister and by the time she rises dripping and nearly blue from the icy lake water Amy is stretched out half-asleep on the sunwarmed boards. Her teeth are chattering and she lies down next to Amy and butts her cold shoulder up against Amy's warm one and Amy takes a deep breath and puts her arm over her eyes and they lie there under the hot summer sun and Amy says, It should always be like this and then Jesse wakes up.

-

It goes in this order: Amy, God, Mom, Dad.

It's never forced on her, this belief. Mom goes to church every other Sunday and Dad just doesn't seem to care much of those things. But one night when Jesse was almost six she felt like talking to God and hasn't stopped since.

Amy once said, in a moment of weakness, that it's because God speaks back to her.

It no longer matters whether it was Amy who came to her, in penance or in search of salvation, or whether it was she who touched a hand to Amy's face as though to comfort and Amy merely did not flinch away. If it was Amy who came to her, it doesn't matter the intent; perhaps she thought it would be only once, a temporary grace, or perhaps she intended to give herself over fully, mystic or saint, holy devotee. Intent on its own does not matter. The intent is the act. This is the nature of prayer.

Amy, big sister, with a lackluster beauty and dark tresses of hair that falls in her face like rain when she laughs.

Amy, big sister, whose kisses are like her features; sharp and angular, yet irresistably soft. Sister who became lover and when Jesse calls her that Amy's eyes go hot and dark and she shies away from Jesse's touch and asks how God feels about that.

Jesse knows Amy only says that to make her shut up but she just answers, And bless he who loves his brother, and she who lovers her sister, for we have signed out only certain kinds of metaphorical incest.

And that's the end of that.

-

(It shouldn't be anything, maybe shouldn't have happened, but it does, and it ends, or maybe starts – all things being equal, all things being the same in the end, ash to dust and so forth – like this:

Revealed like a revelation, like goddamn Revelation itself, light-haired girl in a simple blue dress who is your sister, is damned for you sin, and the juxtaposition of youth and that first sign of original sin send shivers down your back. In that one instant, angels-on-a-pinhead-second, you know that Jesse will take the apple because you just did.

One instant and then there is nothing, there is a girl with an almost tanglible shine to her smile and she is saying your name like an invocation, a chant, holy dervish-words.)

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Jesse says Amy's name together with God's when she's on the precipice of orgasm and feels tainted sometimes. Other times it makes perfect sense.

Because Jesse loves Amy and then she loves God.

Amy never begs, never once says please, but God, she says, God, as she is made clean once more by Jesse's touch, and oh, Amy might swear that she never prays, but there, in that rush of breath beneath the blood-scythe moon, Jesse understands that Amy is a liar.

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(A choice, then. To believe in a god, in God, who does things for reasons, who has his reasons, maybe incomprehensible in any dimension, to any faith, or to believe in nothing, in coincidence and chance, in the random fall of dice, and haven't you always been a gambler, baby, born and bred?

He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully, said Lucifer himself, the way they taught it in Sunday school, where you never went but Jesse did and she told you about it. They will lift you up in their hands, maybe all the way to heaven, back to solid ground at least, sure, sure as hell, sure as name and truth.

So even the Devil can quote scripture for his own purpose, sure, make you feel all good and holy inside, but who better anyway than God's own, God's beloved, God's second in command? Lucifer the best and the bravest, the first to question, to deny, best-loved skeptic of all.)

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Jesse has a shock of half gold hair that's darkened over the years to a soft, messy shade caught between fall and summer, and Amy likes to run her fingers through it, braid it and brush it and bury her face in it. Jesse knows it's her most flattering feature, because she's one of those girls that are almost beautiful, almost, in a way that no cosmetic could ever fix.

But she considers herself lucky because Amy loves her and God loves her and so she loves herself, doe-eyes and high cheekbones or not.

Amy tells her that her priorities are fucked up and Jesse says that at least she's not sticking her fingers down her throat and then they're kissing and Amy's hands are in Jesse's hair and she breathes, God, I love you, I love you, and Jesse thinks you don't know what that means.

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(All of this has happened before, all of this will happen again. All of this is preordained, predestined, yet free will is my gift to you. Do the best with what you have, scream at the contradictions you do not understand and fall on your knees at my failings, get drunk in dirty bars and climb in through the window at dawn, curse me in the morning when the sun shines bright and cruel and you can't bring yourself to get out of bed and your sister your life this too a gift does not believe you when you say that you will never touch her again, because you have said it before and maybe you couldn't make it true but you should have, when you are choking on tears but will not let them fall for this, too, is a promise, is who you are, and there are days when this is the best you have, when this is all that you have and all that you may ever hope, and you may hate me for it, but never forget it is I who created you, my name in which you act, my words you speak and my air you breathe, my blood you spill and my arms to which you will return, so sayeth the Lord.)

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They are in bed and Amy's hushing her because their parents are just a wall away and for all their patience and kindness Jesse knows that they are only human.

Amy's hushing her yet can't keep quiet herself, Jesse's name and God's meshed together and breathing heavily and her lips are everywhere and Jesse's head is spinning.

Jesse, she hears, feels it right against her lips.

She clings harder.

Jesse…open your eyes.

Jesse hadn't even been aware that she'd closed them, but she obeys, and when it crashes down, she's still surprised by it, by Amy following her moments later, panting against her neck. She presses herself closer to her sister as she climaxes and it's such a release that Jesse almost wants to cry.

Amy lifts the blankets from their heads, but not their bodies, glances a bit at their surroundings. Her thumb is idly stroking Jesse's hip and she looks down again, not quite meeting her sister's eyes, considering.

…It's getting light, she says, eventually.

Jesse hesitates, watches Amy not look at her. Then she lets her fingers loosen on Amy's shoulders. Amy doesn't move away yet. But Jesse will let her when she does.

It's a very different kind of release.

-

(This. This is the truth you never wanted her to know. This.)

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Mom dies – cigarettes, her one vice – and Jesse's world goes into a tailspin. She doesn't cry, can't, and sits there as her mother's friends murmur their condolences. Dad's been crying for two days straight, Jesse can hear him through her bedroom wall, and she doesn't know how to handle it. She keeps thinking Amy will know, Amy will know exactly what to do.

Except Amy arrives at the wake looking more fucked up than Dad and Jesse combined.

The house is filled with white flowers, roses and something else, lilies or chrysanthemums, and casseroles are lined up on the kitchen table, because nothing says I'm sorry like a tuna casserole, Jesse thinks distantly. She's clutching at Amy's hand like they're little girls again and Amy's leading her through the maze of life's uncertainties. She follows her sister up the stairs and into her room and she tries to say something but Amy turns around and smiles at her, and it's odd, disarming, an upward turn of the mouth more than anything else, like watching paper curl as it burns, and Jesse finds herself strangely affected by this smile, so devoid as it is from any real feeling or meaning, that she forgets what she was going to say in the first place.

Yet when they've closed the door behind them Jesse is unseeing, her eyes clouded with autumn-smoke, unable to bring herself to move and unsure of what has just happened, even as on some deeper level, myth-marrow, there is no question about it. Whatever you want, Amy, she's always liked to tell her, which always makes Amy look intensely uncomfortable and turn away from her, but Jesse laces their hands together, to reassure Amy, make certain she isn't afraid. I will never not love you.

Amy lights a cigarette and takes a drag. She speaks and exhales smoke simultaneously.

Loving you has never been right. Not the way I do it.

Pause. Thoughtful inhalation of the thing that killed their mother.

I'm negligent, obsessive, judgmental, jealous, all in turns, but always at the wrong times, always in the wrong ways. And you're in the pore of my being, down to atomic level. I'd have to pick myself apart, piece by piece, and put it back together again minus all that is you, and even then I don't know if what's left is enough to build a whole person.

She laughs, cigarette-dark and dry.

So I love you too much, not enough, not in the right ways. Same old story, just too much blood tying it all together.

Silence.

There are things Jesse wants to say. I'm sorry and But I love you! and I don't understand are all at the top of the list, but what comes out is:

Are you now ready to be accepted into the arms of your savior?

Amy's eyes are clear, and light, but her mouth moves as though to shape a word, to speak a name; the sound, a name of grief and sorrow and heartbreak, does not come.

Jesse does not understand why, a moment later, Amy begins to cry.

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Jesse wakes and sits up in the bed. She had dreamt of angels though not of any angels that she has ever read about or seen pictures of or believed in. These angels had been weary and ancient and had filled her with an aching sadness that seemed to come from somewhere beyond the edges of the world. She sits there and clasps her hands but none of her simple Sunday school prayers come to her lips because in this place and this time and to those dolorous beings in her dream they all mean nothing. She gets out of bed very troubled and first looks next door and sees that her father isn't there and then she goes into her sister's room. Amy is curled up and sleeping peacefully and the room has a faint odor in it of lilies or chrysanthemums. Jesse stands over her sister's bed and puts her hand on Amy's hair and after a while she is crying though she doesn't know why and outside the first drops of rain strike the window and the sky is dark and clouded and lies heavy over the land.

-

you are my sweetest downfall
i loved you first, i loved you first