national anthology of the best undergraduate writing 2014


John Saavedra  • 
Susquehanna University

My sister likes men who have their hair a certain way—greased back and parted at the sides. If she’s out on a date and he doesn’t have it done up the way she likes, my sister reaches over and fixes it for him. No one in his right mind loves my sister.

I always chase her around the house and tell her not to touch my son Bobby that way with the comb she keeps tucked in her bra.

My sister used to be pregnant, and I remember how the milk crusts wrapped themselves around the little black blades of the comb. I did not breastfeed Bobby, and I always thought it was due to a flaw of character, but when I look at my sister, and she’s licking the blades of her comb with her pink tongue, I don’t feel so bad anymore.

There’s a man who is deeply in love with my sister, but he’s bald.

Tim, the bald man, comes to see me at the gas station where I work and begs me to talk to my sister for him.

“This isn’t a thing that can’t be fixed,” he says, rubbing his shiny head. It’s like the surface of a marble table. It is so beautiful I could lick it. I like it when men shave all their hair off. One time I walked into an army recruiting office and asked how I could get a job shaving soldiers’ heads. They won’t take me in the military because of it. I feel what Tim must feel.

“I know,” I tell Tim. “I could pump your tank for free if it makes you feel better.” Tim has a little motor scooter, so my father won’t notice.

Our dad only has hair on the sides of his head. Every morning, he gets out of bed and pulls his graying puffs of hair away from his head until they look like two arrows pointing in opposite directions. My sister tried to style his hair one time while he was sitting at the kitchen table. He gave her a quick slap in the face and told her to put her comb elsewhere.

Dad used to run the gas station, but he’s old now. He mostly styles his hair the way he likes and goes back to bed and reads the same Faulkner novel over and over and over. It’s the one about the brothers who build their mother a casket.

We all live in the house: Dad, me, Sister, and Bobby. It’s a two-story Cape Cod with busted canals and peeling roof tile. There are vines growing up the sides of the house and hugging the fence. Weeds crawl out of the asphalt. Everyone is either too young or too old or too busy to do anything for the house. We live in the kind of house people want to take pictures of. A true testament to the way the earth takes everything back. Nature always wins.

Dad used to work the gas station, but now my sister and I pump the gas. Once, we did it with fat bellies and full breasts. When my sister doesn’t have any customers, she brushes her hair with a brush she keeps in a toolbox. It’s greasy from the wrenches and the screwdrivers. The grease bunches up with the sweat on her forehead.

Sometimes Sister has to threaten Tim, the bald man, with the brush when he tries to approach her.

“Get away from me, baldie!” she yells. “I’ll whack you with this!”

I watch from the office window as Tim puts his hands out pleadingly.

“Shoo!” she yells, swinging the brush at him.

It’s always my job to escort a defeated Tim back to his motor scooter. I put my arm around him as we walk. He’s in tears, and the sun makes his bald head look like it’s made of silver.

People honk their horns because we’re not pumping gas.

I’m in love with Tim, the bald man.

When you think about my family, think about how no one is untouched by love. Or I wouldn’t have Bobby. Or my sister wouldn’t have given away her bald baby.