With your brother and his wife, on the way to the rental cottage.
They ask you questions, to catch up.
They say: How's it going? How is work? Are you seeing anybody?
You say: Fine, Fine, and No, because, as you see it, there's little worth saying about data entry and living alone.
The drive to the lake is long and they spend it chatting about the neighbors, or your nephew.
You spend it looking out the window, or tapping fingers to your knee. Always feeling the backpack heavy on your lap.
When you arrive your brother says: Not bad!
His wife says: Not bad at all!
And with the backpack you walk toward the water.
What you know that your brother and his wife do not is that they will return home without you. At the lakefront, shrouded by misted spindly trees, you feel this with renewed certainty.
In the cottage you have your own room. There are two twin-sized beds; you give the backpack its own bed, the left. You take the right. Down the hall the sound of sliding doors, the refrigerator. Your brother: Yes, dear, very nice.
You step to the backpack, open it, check that the contents have not somehow disappeared. They have not. You thumb stiff brush hairs, the prick of a single sequin. Though they've not left your sight for days, it's a comfort to touch them now.
Your brother calls for you, Happy Hour!, and you zip the bag, move like a whisper from the room. Close the door behind you.
A beer with twist-off cap; you've never had much tolerance. Your brother mixes Makers—it's a special occasion, he says—with the ginger ale bought on the way. For the wife, soda water. She tells you she is on a diet. Your brother rolls his eyes, clinks your beer in cheers.
He makes sure you still like steak, with an elbow, half kidding, and invites you outside by the grill. You take distant sips and watch the meat turn, slowly, from red to brown. Gnats spool feverishly under the porch light. Your brother speaks again about his son, your nephew.
He says: He's all into acting, into painting his face and nails. A good kid. But I'm worried, if you know what I mean.
You look at him as if you do not.
He says, About girls.
Oh, you say. You recall some coworkers, not long ago, sniggering from another lunch table. You recall leaving your sandwich uneaten and walking to your car, where, pinned beneath the wiper blade, you found the body of a feral-print butterfly. Trying to free it you ripped a wing clean off, and then you left, went home early. You showered and thought hard of quitting. The next morning you called in sick and spent the day watching park swans, and later, in bed, you dreamed of men in orange-billed masks, men with white-plumed backs.
Behind them, as always, the pale wax boy with gold tipped fingers.
Sudden sweaty wakefulness.
You say to your brother now: He's young.
Your brother nods. The grill hisses and flicks hot lashes as he flips the steaks, a sound as thin and taut as tripwire.
You eat at a round table and decline a second beer. Your brother eats an entire steak; his wife pokes at a speckling of summer squash. Your own modest portion, you do not finish.
There's talk of your mother, how, as your brother puts it, she's so glad you're spending time together, that you're both able to get away.
For you, there is a hum in these last words, a wonder, a fluttering of wings.
After dinner there's a tray of chocolates, of which you eat four or five. You've always had a sweet tooth, worsened with your slow, lonesome aging.
Your brother falls asleep in a love seat, drink balanced on his belly. His wife stitches at what might be a scarf while the TV shows a war movie, shows men in green bursting red and white.
At a commercial the wife looks up at you, at her sleeping husband. She says: This really does mean a lot to him.
You look at your hands.
She says: He gets tired of hanging around his drinking buddies. And of course it's always nice seeing family.
To this you nod. Behind your eyes there are your brother's friends, who you knew in childhood, who once walked into your room as you played with mother's lipstick. There is the ensuing routine of slapping, of howling laughter, the sound like crow frenzy as they forced lipstick to your lips. There is your brother, waking you another night, bruised and black-eyed, offering silence for silence: from mom, from everyone.
And there is the boy, one of the friends, who while the others slept would come to your room, to your bed, where you'd sit across each other in a blade of moonlight, where he'd ask to touch faces with your secret golden paints.
You think: There's much, so much, you do not know.
You say: You don't need to diet.
Your brother's wife quits stitching, smiles at you.
She says: That's between me and my double chin.
You say: I don't see it.
She resumes her work. Curious smile on her lips, as if strained by the compliment.
She says: You can see it from the side.
She says: I can't take my picture in profile.
You say nothing, and the movie returns from commercial. Soldiers bust into a bleak farmhouse. Rifles swing, interrogating the dark, while bedraggled civilians cluster and cower.
A bearded man finds a trapdoor, lifts it, sinks himself into shadowed secrecy.
Your brother's wife puts down her work, swipes a chocolate from the tray.
She says: Orange Liqueur, and she winks at you.
Behind her the bearded man stands alone in dark shelter. His eyes search upward, aware of the loud calamity he's escaped.
A gunshot wakes your brother.
Weirdest dream, he says.
His wife says: What happened?
His eyes close, threatening sleep, but he says: My son had no face.
She says: We've all had that one.
No, your brother says. No.
His wife takes him by the hand, leads him away like a sleepy horse. She says goodnight to you with a sweetness, and you murmur goodnight back, wait for the door. Pan the TV volume down until it's barely there.
The bearded man emerges from the secret door, finds the farmhouse empty.
And you click the TV off.
What you've been waiting for. You sit in your room for an hour, giving them time to fall asleep. Satisfied with the quiet you pick the backpack up, check its weight in your hands. Exit through a sliding door.
Again to the lakefront. The water, black against clouded night. You set the backpack down on the sand and open it. Then the package.
First you undress. You take the gold paint and the sequins and the brush and you coat and bespeckle your entire body. As you finish the moon peeks through a part in the clouds. You glitter.
You think, He's spying on you. Smile at your distant glowing onlooker.
And, of course, you imagine the boy. Peeping through the shades.
Asking, Can I come in?
Next you take the belt of lead, which you have already covered with paint and sequins. For now you hang it over your shoulder, like game freshly killed.
And you fish from the pack the pill bottle. Give it a shake, as if it were a habit, and hear the rattling sound.