Mother’s rule about him not hitting us gave Elaine and me free rein. Elaine teased him about not really being our brother. About being an ugly silly boy who Mother, Grandmother and Grandfather allowed to live with us on the Sugar Estate. We smeared shoes polish inside his shoes, put grasshoppers in his socks and lizards under his sheets. We chased him one Friday afternoon as he went to meet his cub troop, dressed in his freshly washed and pressed uniform and shiny black shoes.
“Good riddance to bad rubbish,” we yelled.
He made a fist at us.
“You can’t hit us,” I shouted, making a face. “You’re not allowed, because a boy who hits a girl is a coward.”
He made two fists and then got on the school bus. A few minutes later the driver closed the doors and Edward left for his weekend cub camping trip. We jumped up and down, hooted and hollered happy we were finally rid of him. Then we missed him. We missed his stories that always ended with him as the hero, saving the day and world from another villain. We waited for him to return on Sunday afternoon and fill our heads with tales of danger, fun and intrigue. Instead the only thing he talked about was Father Carmichael teaching them to box. He also brought home two pairs of boxing gloves.
“Father Carmichael was a boxer when he was young,” he said, dancing around and jabbing at the air. “And I want to be one when I grow up.”
“You’ll ruin your handsome face,” Mother said.
“I don’t care. I want to be like Cassius Clay.”
He tied a pair of gloves on my skinny wrists and began to teach me how to protect myself. Unable to raise my arms, I soon tired of the game and the heavy gloves and took them off.
Edward laughed. “You’re a sissy,” he said.
I shoved him to the ground, straddled him and punched him with my fists.
“And you hit like a baby,” he mocked.
Tears rolled down my sweaty cheeks and I was about to cuff him as hard as I could when Grandmother walked into the room.
“Eleanor,” she yelled, pulling me off of him. “Nice little young ladies don’t fight.”
I ran from the room.
“Edward, you’ve been told never to hit your sisters,” I heard Grandmother say. Then she went into the dining room. I heard her take the old leather belt she had nicknamed “Charlie” years ago, down from the hook behind the dining room door. I didn’t tell her Edward didn’t hit me. I didn’t have to. I knew by the time she returned to the living room, he’d be out the kitchen door and down the red gravel road to his special place across the cricket field. He kept that place secret from Elaine and me even though we begged him every day to take us. So one day we’d followed him. After we waited for him to scramble over the high white wooden gate, Elaine put her feet on the heavy chain and padlock, pulled herself up and sat on the top.
“Hurry, he’s nearly at the other end of the cricket field,” she’d said, looking down at me.
But I was too small to crawl up the wooden slats and she made her way down.
“Don’t worry,” she said, “tomorrow we’ll start digging under the fence so next time it’ll be easy.”
By the time Edward came home, Grandmother was busy setting the table for tea and had forgotten about giving him the strap.
“I don’t want to be boxer anymore, I want to be a drummer like Gene Krupa,” he said.
“I think that’s a good idea Edward,” she said, passing him a slice of cake.
After tea he found an old black suitcase and a rusty cake pan in the storage room. He hammered a spike through the pan and stuck the pointed end into the suitcase. It became a cymbal. Then he whittled and sanded two pieces of wood and made them into drumsticks. Every day he came home from school and practised his drumming on the suitcase drums. But it didn’t keep him from getting into a fight with the other boys during Lent. Not even when I told him he had to give it up, because we all had to give up something we loved. I had given up candy and recess. I spent every day after lunch in church saying the Stations of the Cross. In class I listened to Sister Angela preach about Judas’ betrayal, and about Saint Theresa the Little Flower. I promised Sister Angela that when the Communists invaded I would be more like Saint Theresa than Peter the Apostle. As Sister Angela said, Saint Theresa refused to denounce Jesus to non-Christian soldiers while Peter denied knowing Jesus not once but three times.
“I don’t have to stop because I fight as a Good Samaritan,” Edward said, “and I don’t know who the Communists are, and I don’t care about them.”
Yet Sister Angela chose him to be Jesus in the Good Friday play. The thought of it plagued me all during Lent. Edward would never make a good Jesus. Sister Angela always told us Jesus wanted everyone to turn the other cheek, something Edward didn’t know anything about and refused to do.
“Can we go home after mass?” I asked Mother as we made our way to church. “I don’t want to see the play, and I don’t want to see Edward as Jesus.”
“Good Friday is a day for little girls to be quiet and not annoy their mothers,” she replied, and gave me one of her warning looks.
Elaine was lucky. She got a cold and didn’t have to spend her afternoon in church listening to Father Carmichael telling us that Jesus died on the cross because of our sins. I couldn’t understand how my sins had anything to do with Jesus dying thousands of years ago.
Finally, mass ended. Father Carmichael said the last prayer, made the sign of the cross and stepped away from the altar. People rushed to the statue of Jesus, crying and begging forgiveness, as they rubbed his painted clay feet. I snuggled closer to mother.
“You would never do what they’re doing, would you?” I smiled at her. “Because ladies don’t that, do they?”
She squeezed my hand and pointed to the front of the church. In a tattered robe, a cross on his back, Edward was entering from the side door along with the other altar boys dressed as Roman soldiers. When they hung Edward on the cross with ropes, the crowd howled and dabbed at their eyes. Mother grinned proudly at him. From where I sat I could see the boys poking him hard with their cardboard swords and Edward kicking them.
After the play, Edward and the Roman soldiers rolled around on the ground outside the church cursing each other. I ran to tell Sister Angela. I thought that once she heard about the fight, she would march over and stop it. I thought she’d make them scrub the chapel floor for a month or give them some other horrible punishment. I thought she’d never let Edward be in another Good Friday play as long as he attended St. Mary’s. But she didn’t. She waved me away.
“Boys will be boys,” she chuckled.
I turned to leave but she called me back and peered at me over her glasses.
“Eleanor, wasn’t it tattling that got Jesus crucified?” she asked.
I kicked at a pile of gravel. Dust rose and fell, leaving a grey powder on my brown shoes and white socks. Sister Angela changing her mind about wrong being right confused me. Not only that, I wasn’t certain tattling got Jesus crucified, but one thing I knew for sure: I was going to be in trouble with Mother for getting my new shoes and socks dirty. And Edward and the Romans would continue to brawl every Good Friday.