don’t say any prayers for me/
just wet your finger and pass it through the flame/
remember me by the tricks i have taught you
Tiny Books/Tom Barbash
17 December 2021
Finally, I experienced--even if just for an evening--what it felt like to be in the world. No longer detached from it, but growing with it, like the young bark of a grafted tree that has created new life within itself. I arrived at the dance in my apricot slippers and matching dress that I had lovingly sewn to perfection. I was determined to have a lovely night, and I did. I felt everything that a young woman my age should, but never had: I felt hope, I felt connection, I felt as if I finally belonged.
What I came home to find that our negligent aunt had foolishly fallen asleep on my side of the bed, with shoes still on her feet, I was far from surprised. Hardly anyone in my life, perhaps apart from Lucille, had ever so much as considered me. But in recent days it became obvious to me that Ruthie was slowly becoming like her: our transient, oblivious, and lonely aunt who, much like the rest of our family, cared little for my well-being, and of the world. Was I willing to continue this stagnant, miserable life running away from everything and everyone? A life in which I end up just like Sylvie, without a husband or a future, spending the rest of my days wandering about aimlessly, attached to nothing but my stacked newspapers and cans scattered about my kitchen, with nothing to care about but my decaying trinkets and distant, dying memories?
“You should at least throw something over her”, I said. And that’s all I could say: because I knew in that moment that I would be leaving, just as my family had left me.
It didn’t take long to get to Miss Royce’s house. I wandered through the dark, stepping carefully through the dry dirt, trying as best as I could not to get my dancing dress or my slippers dirty. I had made my dress from scratch, I had purchased my shoes with my own money. With love and with great care, they were mine. And unlike Sylvie, I wanted to be presentable. Reliable. Dignified. Unlike Sylvie, unlike Ruthie, I wanted to make something of myself. I wanted to be a participating member of society and not simply a passive observer. I was going to be something someday. How could I grow to be the young woman that I wanted to be inside that rotting house?
How painful it was, but how freeing it was, to finally leave that house and know that I needn’t return. How painful it was, but how freeing it was, to know that I might not even be missed. To know I would be leaving my sister was perhaps the most painful thing, but also the most freeing thing. For our entire lives, it seemed, Ruthie and I saw the world through the same eyes. But did we? I thought. Did my sister ever truly see me?
Ruthie would remember it differently. But when we were small, our mother took us through the mountains and across the desert and into the mountains again, and at last to the lake and over the bridge into town, left at the light onto Sycamore Street and straight for six blocks. She put our suitcases on the screened porch, which was populated by a cat and a matronly washing machine, and she gave us a box of graham crackers to share. She knelt down so our eyes could meet hers, and before tucking a wisp of stray hair behind my left ear, she smiled. Tearful, she said, “Things are going to be so much better now.” There was a softness, a hopefulness in her eyes that I hadn’t seen before. I was intent on seeing my mother return for us, but the accident made her disappear from our lives forever. How different it would have been had she not gone that day. How different it would have been if Helen had stayed, and Sylvie never came.
Miss Royce took me in without question. Her house, the yellow house with white trim at the end of the street, always seemed to call for me as I walked past it on my way to school. “Imagine a life” it’d say to me, “wherein you feel as if you actually belong to it”. The trees surrounding the house were lush, green, and cared for. As if nothing bad had ever happened to them.
I almost thought I had arrived too late, because not a light was on in the house. Everything was asleep, but I knew Miss Royce would hear me. I knocked on the door: no answer. I knocked again: no answer. Defeated, but determined, I rapped against every window until finally, a light turned on. Miss Royce finally opened her front door.
“Lucille?” she said, “What are you doing out here so late? Why are you here? Is something the matter?”
“Sylvie was asleep in my bed”, I replied.
She sighed. “Poor thing. Please, come in.”
I stepped inside, and stepped out of the world, and into a new one. Miss Royce kept a beautiful home. The walls were covered in photographs of people, of her family, all of whom were elsewhere but each one had their own elaborately detailed life stories that she would eagerly share with me eventually. I came across a frame of a lovely but solemn woman with long, brown hair. She stared at me with the same hopeful eyes that Helen once had.
“That’s my mother, the late Edna Royce”, she said. “God rest her soul”.
“We don’t have any photographs of my mother at my house”, I said.
I took off my coat and shoes, and Miss Royce began to busy herself with ensuring I had all the necessities of comfort and safety I could want. Before I could even ask, she hurried from room to room, with blankets, pillows, and a nightgown just for me. After making us tea, we both settled down to the soft chairs in her living room, and I told her about everything I wanted to escape from. I withheld nothing, and I knew I didn’t have to.
“You’re safe now”, she said. I had no sister after that night.