Britta is fourteen. Her parents named her after the water filter.
"We did it so that you would be pure," her mother says.
Britta thinks that a girl named after a water filter should have pale, clear eyes that are the lightest possible shade of blue.
Her eyes are black.
Her hair should be black and wavy, but instead it is short and straight and the ends are hot pink.
"You grew up too fast," her mother says.
It's not Britta's fault that she grew up too fast, just like it's not her father's fault, not really, that he sometimes has to walk around the house with an angry crisscross of duct tape over his mouth. Britta's mother always puts it on with a smack, slapping the sides of his face as he stands still, not saying a word. He still lets his facial hair grow, even though the tape rips off pieces of his salt-and-pepper beard, leaving bright-pink patches of exposed skin.
Britta's mother should also have black and wavy hair, but she doesn't, either. Instead it is dyed blonde and curled underneath so that the ends touch her ears.
"Like Marilyn Monroe," her mother says. Britta doesn't think it looks at all like Marilyn Monroe's hair, but she is grown up enough to know when to keep her mouth shut.
Britta has a brother who never kept his mouth shut. When he wasn't talking or singing or shouting at their parents, he was eating honey. Stephen is his name. "Stevie," her mother said. "Steve," said her father, when he said anything.
When Stephen turned fourteen, he started eating honey, on its own, all the time.
He ate it only straight from the plastic honey bears, tilting his head back and squeezing it straight down his throat. Britta kept the bears. Britta kept everything. She kept Stephen's old T-shirts, the ones he bought at shows, and the trophies that he won at school and didn't want. She kept her mother's old high-school yearbook and her father's forgotten souvenirs from his semester in Paris — a sack of business cards and matchbooks with French addresses and notes from old girlfriends.
The first time Stephen gave Britta a honey bear, their father was sitting on the sofa cutting his fingernails with a tiny, silver pair of scissors. He carefully snipped a line in the tape so that he could say, "Make sure you wash that out good, baby." Her father felt very strongly about ants. Back then the tape was just a joke, something her parents would do together. They would use masking tape and giggle as they rubbed their sealed mouths against each other. Britta thought it had something to do with sex, but she wasn't sure what.
By the time Britta was twelve, she had 200 little bears. They stood under her bed in neat little rows, twenty to a row. There were other things under her bed — mostly dirty socks and crumpled drawings — but the bears didn't mind. Soon the bears no longer fit under the bed, so Stephen built her a wall of shelves. She had to take down her poster of Einstein (the one at the blackboard, not the one with his tongue sticking out) so that the shelves would reach up to the ceiling, the way she wanted them to. Then Britta turned thirteen and Stephen stopped eating as much honey as he had the year before.
"He's turning into a fucking druggie," her mother said.
Britta was hoping that Stephen would wait a little longer to turn into a druggie, at least until she had 1,000 bear guardians to count before she fell asleep, but he didn't. Instead, he gave her another bear, bear number 852, and told her that he was leaving.
That night Britta woke up to her mother's screaming. She threw off her covers and ran into the hallway, sliding a little on the wooden floor. Her mother was holding an umbrella, Britta's umbrella, and screaming as her brother, Steve, Stevie Stephen, dropped down to the ground. For a minute Britta thought that he was dead, or dying, but just as she felt tears push out from behind her shock, he bounced up off the floor, grabbed the tip of the umbrella, and stared their mother straight in the eye.