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Marybeth’s Predicament
by KJ Hannah Greenberg




The drafting table, which she yearned to purchase, and the wallaby, which she hoped to adopt, would have to wait. First, Marybeth Jones, older sister to Albuquerque Quisling Jones, and to Tabitha Jenny “Jazz” Jones, that is, one of the three heirs to the fortune of Sasha and Laila Jones, needed to rehab a computer. She ought not to have let Jazz manipulate her into breaking it.

During a recent afternoon, when the Jones’ oldest and middle daughters had been sitting at their family’s kitchen table, Jazz had been using her PC screen to barricade herself from Marybeth. Marybeth had reached to see that screen, believing that the words typed there were vital for her to read. Jazz had resisted. The ensuing tussle had ended with Jazz’s computer getting broken.

Marybeth should have known better. Jazz had long been stronger, faster, and hipper than her. Jazz bench pressed and ran cross country. Each and every time that their family visited their father’s parents, those elders always asked for Jazz since other than the family’s bodyguards, only Jazz could lift them back into their chairs if they slipped out.

Besides, when the girls at their high school were wearing their hair tucked into their collars and when the boys were wearing their underwear tucked out of their jeans, Jazz had already moved on to a buzz cut and to pushing her shirt completely in, Along with wearing her panties over her slacks. In the same way, Jazz made cat eye stripes on her lower, not on her upper, lids and sprinkled glitter along the edges of her hair long before such choices became trendy.

Moreover, every time the sisters argued, Marybeth was outnumbered. Albuquerque looked and acted like Jazz’s Mini Me.

Even though Albuquerque was challenged by blindness, which had resulted from a sequence of events surrounding her birth, which were known only to Sasha and Laila, Albuquerque was the most geographically facile of the entire Jones family. To wit, Jazz took Albuquerque to rallies. What's more, the youngest sister’s presence guaranteed that Jazz and her mates would find their way home, whether they were leaving a demonstration in an orderly fashion or slipping out of jail.

Anyway, when Jazz got into legal trouble, if she was correspondingly “minding” Albuquerque and Albuquerque’s guide dog, Charlie, customarily, she was acquitted. No law enforcement officer wanted to be photographed “harassing” a handicapped minor, let alone a handicapped minor that was identifiable as the child of a major industrialist. Only the family’s hired help objected that certain of Jazz and Albuquerque’s “adventures” embarrassed their father.

Unlike her siblings, Marybeth, an honors student: participated in no interscholastic sports, held no gym membership, could sing, but not perform magic, could adjust pillows and fill water glasses for their family’s seniors, but lacked the muscle to physically reposition them, wore her hair in neat braids, stuck to a “uniform” of long sleeved shirts, vests, ankle-length skirts, and brief boots, and, until recently, stayed clear of protests. Actually, if Marybeth hadn’t enrolled in a social movements course, she would never have joined her siblings at marches and would never have realized that they had failed to return home from the most recent one.

Unbeknownst to their oldest girl, Marybeth’s parents had made efforts to stop worrying that is, to stop waltzing in panic, whenever Jazz and Albuquerque vanished. Their younger two daughters always managed to reappear. Sometimes, that pair even had an interesting tale about their delay.

The present delay, though, was atypical. Jazz and Albuquerque had never before been detained so long that they missed breakfast. There were no sisters present, that morning, with whom Marybeth could board the school bus or with whom she could quibble.

Worse, Mom and Dad seemed oblivious to the hours that had passed since her sisters left home. However, whereas they said nothing to either Marybeth or to their household staff about their misgivings, they had hired the agents to locate their two youngest.  Had the girls been jailed, they would have merely greeted them with consequences, as per family norm. Had they not been jailed, but had simply returned home past curfew, then, too, they would have given out predictable punishments along with hugs.

Mom panted Marybeth’s head as she refilled her coffee mug. Dad grunted over his shashuka.

On balance, Marybeth was able to eat her eggs and toast without indigestion. Had Jazz been at the table, she would have verbally accosted Marybeth. Lately, Jazz was angry with her older sister not only because of the busted computer, but, furthermore, because Marybeth, who was old enough to vote in the coming election, supported Agudat Yisrael.

Like Mom and Dad, Jazz favored Yesh Atid. Additionally, there remained Jazz’s long-term resentment about Marybeth’s skills in Russian, Farsi, and Arabic and her umbrage over Marybeth’s affinity for sushi. Jazz had poor mastery of all foreign languages, including English, and hated all fish, especially undercooked or raw bites.

Jazz’s bitterness had recently increased so much that she no longer only disrupted meals. She had also begun spreading rumors about Marybeth, at school. She had to carry out that behavior at school since such talk had no buyers at home.

Cook loved bringing Marybeth to the shuk to help him bargain in strange tongues. Roi, the chauffer, encouraged Marybeth, who, like Albuquerque, was proficient with Waze, to help him navigate. There was no audience for Jazz’s rants and gossip at home.

Yet, notwithstanding that her breakfast lacked attacks from Jazz and from their collaborating youngest sister, it was polluted by an uncomfortable silence. Neither Mom nor Dad said as much as a word.

On a “trip to the bathroom,” taken between toast and grapefruit, Marybeth deigned to open her siblings’ respective bedroom doors. That stealth proved pointless, though, as each of their rooms was empty.

Marybeth returned to the table and allowed soundless deliberations to occupy her. No one, except Cook, had ever openly questioned the objectives of the caucuses that her sisters joined and no one had ever urged them to embrace alternatives. None of the grownups in her world had ever posited that joining swarms of bellowing people might not be the best way for those young Joneses raise questions about the class with which they were associated. Further, no authority had sat the girls down to discuss the dangers concomitant to attending protest rallies.

Marybeth spooned sugar over her fruit mindlessly. It made no sense that Mom and Dad failed to object to her siblings’ frequent, publicized remonstrations against moneyed, privileged people. At the same time, it was equally odd that they voiced no disapproval of, and pointed out no contradiction concerning, Jazz and Albuquerque’s habit of frequently dipping into the family’s discretionary funds. Those girls complained about money and privilege, yet were not at all at odds with using those fortune and fame to their advantage.

Rather than worrying over her sisters’ inconsistent behaviors, over their greed, or over their stupidity, Mom and Dad seemed to focus on the family’s heterogeneous religiosity. More exactly, Mom and Dad balked at Marybeth’s insisting that she legally change her name to “Miriam” and on her insisting on lighting Sabbath candles weekly.

Disenchanted by her overly sugared grapefruit, Marybeth reached for her tea. She had had a familial duty to accompany Jazz and Albuquerque to last night’s rally, specifically, and to assuage Jazz’s self-esteem, in general. She and her siblings might be divided on spiritual practices and on political representatives, but they agreed on the importance of nullifying terrorists. The demonstration, at which her sisters had allegedly appeared, the night before, was a demonstration against radicalism.

More to the point, Marybeth had been foolish to tell Jazz, who was only slightly younger than her, that she had been offered full merit scholarships to both Ben-Gurion and Bar-Ilan, and had been foolish to tell her sister that Dad was suddenly busy seeking a marriage partner for her. Likewise, there had been no reason for Marybeth to tell Albuquerque that she had to immediately repay Marybeth for Marybeth’s smartphone, which Albuquerque had borrowed, but had lost during her impromptu, unsupervised trip to the Shuk.

Marybeth sighed as she sipped the last of her tea. If only her priorities had been better aligned, she might still have sisters with whom to communicate. Breakfast minus haranguing was no meal at all. She should have given her sisters blessings, not rebuffed them.

As she cleared her dishes, Marybeth sighed once more. Except for a few events, which had occurred a long time ago in a high school chemistry lab, and except for Jazz’s more recent gossipmongering, there was little to hate her. As per Albuquerque, she was annoying, but ultimately loveable.

As Marybeth filled her backpack, it was Charlie’s whine that she heard first. In strange harmony, she heard her sisters’ voices overlay the canine’s whimper. Roi, who had been leaning against the kitchen island, drinking his third or fourth cup of coffee, sprang to open the front door.

Charlie ran straight to his water bowl. Albuquerque, who was leaning on Jazz’s arm, limped to the table. Both sisters were blotched with what looked like spray paint. On top of that, both had deep circles under their eyes and both were crowned by thin loops of orange fabric.

After drinking the glass of water her mother had provided, Albuquerque emptied her pockets. Watches, rings, and other valuable bits and bobs spilled onto the table. Noticing their child’s ill-gotten gains, Laila looked meaningfully at Sasha, but said nothing. Apparently the girls’ parents knew about their youngest child’s predilection for picking pockets.  

The school bus beeped, waited the requisite two minutes, and then drove away without Marybeth aboard it. The time for skirmishes among the sisters had passed. Marybeth wanted, no, needed, a better rapport with her sisters.

No matter how many times that her parents gurned over her choices on important matters, going forward, she didn’t have to respond. She could just smile and say nothing. Family unity outweighed retaliation for hurts from her loved ones.

At the same time as Mother shooed Cook aside and insisted on scrambling the eggs for Albuquerque and Jazz, Marybeth took the marmalade and butter out of the refrigerator. She refilled the kettle for their tea, to boot.

Sure, her siblings meandered, time and again, into communities of questionable judgement.  All in all, though, Jazz had faced down the locker room toughs who were pummeling Marybeth, and Albuquerque had gifted Marybeth with money, albeit from questionable sources, so that Marybeth could buy the atlas that she had coveted.

Faces washed and breakfast partially consumed, the girls began to speak. As her sisters talked, Marybeth scanned her family’s faces as if observing a lineup. She shook her head to clear it; coming home late was irresponsible, not criminal.

While her sisters might be perspicacious in wanting to witness, to validate, and to aid the bodily challenged, the learning different, the publicly inexpert, it was tough for Marybeth to put aside her lingering certainty that they were, concurrently,  imprudent in the ways in which they made their views manifest. On one hand, no life was supposed to be trod upon, no bullying or other kinds of coercion were supposed to be tolerated, and all efforts at curtailing social horrors were to be applauded. On the other hand, curfews needed to be obeyed and parents’ wishes needed to be abided.

A piece of buttered toast, which had been lobbed at her head, pulled Marybeth from her musings. Her eyes glinting, she poured the rest of the mostly full marmalade jar over the offending sister.

Maybe disturbing instances of human behavior should be objected to, en masse, with as much media attention as possible. Nonetheless, disturbing instances of sibling behavior too, had to be objected to if the balance within a family system was to be retained.





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