Her mother called to say that she walked in on Otoyo’s brother eating raw meat. She had left a pound of steak to thaw on the kitchen counter. Now the entire pound was marinating in his stomach acids, slowly dissolving to a perfect degree of tenderness.
“Is he dead?” Otoyo asked.
“Fucking Christ. No. What should I do?”
The logical options were either to call for an ambulance or to drive him to the hospital. Considering the nearest hospital was six blocks from her mother’s house, Otoyo couldn’t understand why they weren’t already there.
“Why are you asking me?”
Her mother snickered. It was a gross sound, and Otoyo could feel the spit hitting the phone receiver. If there was one thing her mother was good at, it was being crude. She definitely wasn’t good at taking care of Otoyo’s disabled brother. Ran had no voice of his own, which by default made him the most eloquent member of the family.
“I called the hospital, you rude cow. They said to keep an eye on him. But I don’t know what to do. He looks fine, but he can’t be, right?”
Otoyo’s frown could be felt on the other end of the line.
“Yes,” her mother said. “I know it’s bullshit.”
“If you know they’re giving you bullshit, just take him to the hospital!”
Her mother muttered a few more curses before hanging up. Otoyo and her mother were never good at phone conversations. They were even worse than their face-to-face interactions, because they couldn’t hang up and call back and ignore each other’s calls in an endless, exhausting cycle that made Otoyo consider changing her phone number.
But there were important reasons for her to not change her number, including situations like this. She would always very much like to know if her brother was at risk of serious food-borne illness or anything serious in general.
Otoyo put her phone in her pocket, but the muscles in her body were tensed in anticipation of her mother’s next call. There was always a next call and a next call and some texts and, when her mother finally realized that her daughter was not going to answer, a lengthy email written in all-caps about what a shitty daughter she was.
The next call did not come.
Otoyo felt restless. These kinds of situations made her itch for a beer. This was bad, because she had been working so hard during the past couple weeks to save her money and her liver. Her abstinence had absolutely nothing to do with the time her mom called her “Little Miss Alky-holic.” After chugging a glass of water, she walked to the neighborhood six-pack shop.
It was during the walk that she began to dig into the skin around her fingernails. By the time she reached the shop she had already drawn blood. She wiped it on her lips, giving herself a smeared red pout that contrasted starkly with her otherwise bare face.
She muttered a hello to the cashier, who was too busy talking to a customer to notice her. It didn’t matter; she went directly to the fridge and grabbed her favorite beer: an IPA made with orange and grapefruit. It was a bit out of her budget, but she could always rationalize beer.
“Again?” was the only thing the cashier said to her when she was ready to check out.
On the walk home, Otoyo could only bite the skin on the hand that was not carrying the beer. She evened out the damage once she came home.
She never saw muscle before, at least not what it looks like under multiple layers of dermis. She thought it would feel cool to pour her citrus IPA onto the exposed area. It did not feel cool at all.
Six beers later, Otoyo went onto the internet. She looked at Google Street View tours of India, Japan, Spain, and Iceland. She looked up how long it would take to drive to Guatemala—53 hours. She looked at how long it would take to drive to her mother’s house—65 minutes.
She pulled into her mother’s driveway 71 minutes later. The family car was still there. Otoyo knew it. Her mother was too lazy to take him to the hospital. But she had enough energy to sprint out onto the porch, yelling, “What the fuck are you doing here?” It was four in the afternoon, yet she was still wearing her nightgown, which was unbuttoned far enough to reveal a long line of sad cleavage.
When Otoyo stepped out of the car, her mother let out a primal scream. Otoyo’s hands were red; so were her eyes, cheeks and lips. She painted them when she was sitting at red lights, looking at her reflection in her rearview mirror. Tendons visibly throbbed, burning against the air.
“What did you do?” her mother cried.
“You’re an unfit mother,” Otoyo said. “I should’ve applied for custody of Ran when he turned 18.”
Her mother was a babbling river of incoherent screeches as Otoyo drew near. Otoyo reached a bloody hand out and drew a crimson line right down her mother’s trembling chest. She then walked past her mother and into the house.
“Get out of here!” her mother cried. “What are you doing, you crazy bitch? I’ll call the cops! I’ll ruin your fucking life! Get out of my house, now!”
Seconds later, Otoyo came out of the house with a loose grip around her little brother’s wrist. He was twice her height with eyes just as still as hers.
“I’m taking him to the hospital.”
As the siblings drove away, her mother pulled out her cell phone, dialing Otoyo’s number over and over and over and over and