September 2021 Feature Writer: Martha Cabral

Martha was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, which is unfortunate because she hates the heat. She talks about video games too much and has watched every movie you’ve never heard of. She enjoys a good story, wherever she can find one, but her writing always comes back those angst-filled teenage years. She’s currently pursuing her Writing MFA at SCAD Atlanta.


Lips, Mouths, and Smacking Sounds

There is going to be a night that will look a lot like all the other nights. You’ll be sitting with your brother on the couch in the den, jockeying for the seat under the ceiling fan, playing a video game. It will be a Monday or a Wednesday, because your mother is teaching a class and will not be home until 10 p.m. You and your brother make plans to order a pizza for dinner. Then, the doorbell will ring, and your brother will go answer it. He’ll come back with a friend — a guy you’ve never met before — but you won’t find that strange. You’ll tell yourself it’s one of his new college friends and think little of it. The new guy plays video games, too, so you like him.

After a few games, your brother and his friend will go sit at the dining room table. You’ll notice that your brother is holding his friend’s wrist as they exit the den, but that will not strike you as strange, either; not yet.  

You’ll be content with your own company, as you usually are, especially because you seldom get a chance to play games by yourself. It would be easy for you to stay in there for the rest of the night, unaware of the world around you, but I’d encourage you to pay attention. You’ll hear whispers, and giggling, and a smacking sound you can’t quite place. You’ll feel the air get heavy with tension, the silences calling attention to themselves as they become more frequent. A part of you will want to ignore it, but listen to me: pay attention to the part of you that wants to exit the den and put an end to the secrecy. It’s in your best interest. 

Step out gingerly, don’t alert them to your presence yet. You’ll see the back of your brother’s head as he leans into his friend, whose eyelids will flutter. Your brother’s hand will be on the other boy’s knee, and you’ll hear the smacking sound that you’ll forever recognize as the wet sound of lips coming apart from each other. 

You will not stare at the scene for long — it will make you angry. You’ll start walking down the hallway, and you’ll see your brother’s friend recoil as if stung, his back straight against the chair. His eyes will follow you along the hallway, and as you pass by, you’ll glance at him with venom in your eyes. Your brother, who has always been adept at ignoring anything that might inconvenience him, including you, will continuously ask his friend what’s wrong. 

This next part is important. After the other guy leaves and your mother comes home and everybody gets ready for bed, you will want to talk to someone about what you saw. Don’t tell your mother. If you do, the sound of her crying will keep you awake all night. You’ll listen to her heaving breaths, and you’ll want to console her. You will crawl from under the covers several times that night, but each time you’ll freeze outside her door and remember that if you hadn’t told on your brother, she wouldn’t be in pain. You’ll blame yourself for every breath that catches in your mother’s throat, thinking each time that the pain — a pain you caused — will suffocate her. You’ll crawl back in bed and shut your eyes hard enough to make green and purple moths dance under your eyelids. You’ll try, unsuccessfully, to make yourself pass out just so you don’t have to listen to your mother crying in the dark. 

But I know you. You won’t be able to keep the secret. You’ll tell your mother, and you’ll be doing your brother a favor, though he won’t realize it right away. They will have a stern conversation behind closed doors. It will be the only time they ever talk about how your brother likes to kiss other guys. After that, he will continue to ignore the issue, and your mother will learn that skill from him, or so you think. In reality, she’ll look for an explanation in articles and books written by Catholic priests and take their words as gospel. Words like “choice” and “devil” and “prayer.” She’ll go on silent retreats where she’ll put that last word into practice, practice, practice and assume that if her faith is strong enough, your brother will be cured. 

Your brother is smart. He’ll move a thousand miles away, where ignoring the issue becomes easier. He’ll save himself some hurt by never having to tell the rest of the family. He’ll get married and you won’t attend the wedding. I am still bitter about that. 

There will be one thing you won’t understand for some time: why the image of your brother kissing another guy made you angry. It did not shock you; it did not make you sad. It made you livid. Let me tell you why:  

A couple of years later, you’ll be in your high school’s bathroom, and you’ll see a girl — the pretty Italian exchange student — applying lipstick. You will not be able to look away from her reflection in the mirror. She’ll pucker her lips and, her long fingers deftly holding the small golden tube, paint them a vivid red in two effortless strokes. As she smacks them together with a familiar sound, she’ll catch you looking, and she’ll smile at you. 

That moment will make you think of your mother’s confused face after you told her about your brother and the other guy. It will remind you of her sobbing, and of the tightness in your chest as you lay in bed that night, knowing that it was your fault she was hurting. It will make you realize that, someday, you’ll make her hurt in the same way again.


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