If Julia, Then- Laura Musselman

Maybe her name would be Julia. That’s what he would have named her—after the Julia set. The fractal, I mean. A little piece of him, maybe. Something self-referential, something to follow his curves and repeat, repeat, repeat. Maybe she would have been his first little girl, and maybe there would be pictures of them Eskimo-kissing, he wearing an elephant nose, her a bunny. “You have a bunny nose,” he would tell her. “Button nose,” her mother would correct. These were the things they fought about then, after Julia was born.

Maybe she would have loved mathematics. She would have excelled at anything, maybe. Julia would have been that kind of girl, the kind of girl who sparkles and leaves you in a sleepy daze. She would have been smart, but she wouldn’t have bragged about it. She wouldn’t exaggerate her intelligence. She’d earn straight A’s from kindergarten on. Maybe she’d major in mathematics at an Ivy League school. Later, he would teach her to fly.

I would come along at some point, though at which I can’t be sure. Maybe she would have beaten me in age by only a few years, maybe more. She would have been a role model for me, I think. Something to aspire to. I’d marvel at my big sister, mimic her every move, her floaty walk, her flirty stare. She’d be further along in ballet than I would, but she would teach me steps en pointe in the kitchen, toes balancing delicately upon smokey cool tile. Mom would have been proud. Look at her two beautiful girls, accomplishing everything she never accomplished! Dad would have shined.

But maybe I wouldn’t be such a good little sister. Maybe I’d only be good at faking it, at faking everything really. Maybe I’d be smart and also boastful. Maybe I’d think myself smarter than I really was. Maybe I’d try to be good at mathematics, maybe I’d try so hard to be good at mathematics that it would seem like I really was, but of course I wouldn’t be. And I wouldn’t want to be good at mathematics to be successful like Julia; I wouldn’t want to be her. I’d want to be him. The original shape. I’d try so hard, to the point of pure fabrication, to be good at everything. For him. But I never would be. Maybe, I think, I’d be like me. Like I am.

And let’s say that disappointed him. That I disappointed him. Julia would leave at some point: marry a doctor or a lawyer, have babies. She wouldn’t fall in love with a musician, for God’s sake, a bass player, for God’s sake. He’d only have me, and I wouldn’t be her. I wouldn’t be what he wanted. And Mom would begin to fall apart: she’d worry, oh how she’d worry, that the daughter she’s left with does drugs or cuts herself or cries too much or sometimes wants to die. He’d be so disappointed. Maybe he’d begin to drink. Maybe he’d begin to drink a lot. He’d yell, sometimes. He’d say nasty things. Maybe he’d call her a slut. Maybe he’d notice her weight gain and say, “You’re not pregnant again, are you?” Maybe he’d drink and drink and drink and then finally, maybe, he’d disappear. One day, he’d leave. He’d come back bloody. And the next day, and the next day, and the next. And Mom would cry. She would sit in her bed and she would cry. She would cry so much, in fact, she’d begin to lose her memory. Her speech. Her common sense. Maybe she’d begin to forget her youngest daughter’s birthday, or even her presence. And he would be gone, just gone.

But let’s say I didn’t disappoint. Let’s say I was part of the same shape, the same design as he and Julia. Maybe we’d be a tight-knit, all-American, nuclear-shaped family. Our holidays would be full of tradition, maybe. Maybe we’d take annual family vacations. And if Mom did start to cry and couldn’t stop, if Mom did lose her memory after all, the three of us would cluster around her. We’d calm the storm and bring her back. She wouldn’t need to be alone. She would have so much love, so much love, so much.

Laura Musselman knows Karen Eileen Sikola in real life and her work is currently forthcoming in Monkey Puzzle.



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