"Check this out!"
David leaned over the side of the docked boat, squinting into the lake. From what he could see, all his sister was pointing at was a weedy mess. "What is it, Alex?"
"I don't know, it's something big - - maybe it's Sue!"
"Yeah, right," David snorted. Sue was the monster of Lake Maanameg. Half the town had "watched" the giant catfish turn a rowboat or knock over a water-skier. She swallowed everything that dropped in her path- including anchors and tackle-boxes- and mothered all of the lake's unusually large suckers. "I can't see anything."
"Just look a little closer..."
Alex tackled David and he toppled out of the boat, plunging into a forest of slime. The green mass enveloped his arms, his legs, his head. He kicked hard, shooting up to the surface. Even through waterlogged ears, he could hear Alex, giggling with all she could give. David sputtered and spat, feeling like someone had jammed a pinch of lake weed up his nose.
"You brat!" David coughed. Sticking his arms out in front of him, David pushed the water to both sides, like his mom would with the living room curtain when his dad wasn't home.
Alex slipped into the lake and splashed him with an open hand. David chased after her, promising revenge. Then he kicked off his sneaker. "Shit!" He stopped and dove after the shoe, waving his legs to stay underwater, but all he could get his hands on was a blanket of muck.
"Do you see where my shoe went?" he shouted. Alex shook her head. He went back maybe five more times, with no luck. Even Alex gave it a try. She brought back pieces of the same, soft plant that had gobbled up his sneaker, laces and all.
Now David was really in for it. Alex might as well start planning his funeral. It would have to be closed-casket, after his dad found out what had happened to his shoe.
Alex tried to cheer him up. "Don't worry, David. He won't even notice."
By the time David and Alex crawled out of the lake, the sun dangled low over the water. They didn't talk much - that was, until they got back to the highway. Alex could only go so long without opening her mouth.
"Do you think Sue did it?"
"Do you think Sue ate your shoe?"
David imagined Sue, slurping up his sneaker and brushing his leg with a five-foot-long whisker. He shuddered. "Nah, it isn't Sue's fault. She wouldn't eat anything that was on my stinky foot."
"She does eat garbage."
Falling behind David, Alex pounced on his back. She locked her legs around his waist, her birdlike arms wrapping around his neck.
"Jesus, Alex," David choked, "You're eleven, not six!"
Although he jostled her around a bit, he didn't throw Alex off. He carried her all the way to the front door, scraping his feet of on the faded WELCOME mat. They barged into the kitchen, where their mom was leaning into the stove, scrubbing grease off the burners. She glanced up from her work and back down just as quickly. She looked different from when David and Alex had ditched for the lake - she'd tied her hair back, and she wore the pastel dress from Easter Sunday. David even noticed blush on her cheeks. The bruise she'd earned for burning dinner last week had disappeared from her shoulder.
"Where did you guys go?"
"We went swimming," Alex answered.
"Well, take a shower and put on something nice. We're having company."
Company? Nobody had visited in months. Guests put David's father in a nasty mood, just like commercials, traffic lights, and anger management sessions. David swallowed hard. "Who?"
"The social worker. Be quick about it- she'll be here in an hour."
"I don't have a clean shirt."
"Borrow one of your dad's, then," his mom snapped, then added, a little more gently, "I'll tell him."
David did as he was told. Afterward, he plopped onto the couch, his arms drowning in his father's sleeves. Alex joined him, grinning at him from the La-Z-Boy. She liked Gabby, the social worker; David didn't think much of the woman, with her clipboard and her chewed-up pen and her crooked glasses.
Something heavy rolled over the pebbles in the driveway. David listened, pretty sure that all the slamming and stomping wasn't Gabby. Whoever came inside didn't knock. Definitely not Gabby. He tried to blend in with the pillows as his dad dropped something onto the kitchen counter - groceries, mostly likely - and stormed into the living room. When his dad focused in on him, glassy-eyed and unblinking, David's bones shook a little.
"That's not yours to wear."
"Mom said I could."
"It's not hers to give away."
"Well, why don't you talk to her?"
"What did you say?" His dad closed the distance quickly, towering above him. David didn't answer.
"Delilah, get your ass out here, now!" The hairdryer roared back in response. Apparently, David's mom didn't hear his dad - or chose not to.
Flicking at his right earlobe, his dad glared down at the living room rug. David wanted to ask what was so damn infuriating about a carpet. Was it the triangular patterns? Or maybe the split fringe?
"You're wearing my shirt. My favorite shirt."
David nodded. He didn't dare look to Alex for help.
"Do you think you're hot shit or something?"
"Well, do you?"
"Good. Because you're not. You're shit, though."
David nodded again.
"Take off that shirt, get your own... and goddamnit, put on some shoes."
"What kind of jackass doesn't wear shoes when company's over?"
David didn't move fast enough. With both his ears boxed, he rolled off the sofa and onto the hateful rug. Then came the kicking. Like the pathetic shit that he was, David begged his dad to stop, that he was sorry, that he'd never wear the fucking shirt again and he'd find his stupid shoes, Sue or no Sue.
And just like that, his dad trudged away from him. The hairdryer continued to blare. Someone yelped. Then there was a thud and a shriek. David dragged himself across the rug and out of the living room, his skull squeezing his brain tighter every time he breathed. Finally pulling himself to his feet, he staggered into the kitchen.
The knife block and its contents were spilled over the checkerboard tile. Whimpering into her fist, his mom didn't look at him, staring dumbly at the mess at her feet. David noticed his dad then, curled up on his side and pressing all ten fingers to his abdomen. He was slit open from ribcage to bellybutton, as if someone had expected to find fish eggs inside. Alex loomed over him with the butcher knife.
Catching David's eye, Alex stepped over their dad, plopped down at the head of the table, and pushed the blade away. David joined Alex. He reached towards her, but instead of grabbing her hand, instead of hugging her and telling her everything is gonna be all right like a big brother should, he took the knife and hid it in his lap, rolling it up in the hem of his over-sized shirt. He turned his head away from her and towards the window. Watching the driveway for the social worker's banged-up Chevy, David wondered what it would be like to curl up in Sue's belly, all warm and safe and asleep forever.