I arrived at my sister’s home in the evening, a bit after she got home from work, looking like I crawled out of hell. There’s no bus out to the country, so I got a ride with a farmer my father once knew, who I met at a gas station outside the city after the stranger I’d hitched a ride with left me there to fend for myself. He dropped me at the edge of the winding driveway and waved goodbye, but not without a worried look over his shoulder.
The house looked the same as when I last saw it three years ago. It still needed new paint. Maybe the roof in the back got fixed, but I couldn’t tell. I hesitated at the door, my fist hovering an inch from the wood. I wondered if she would be happy to see me. Or angry at what had become of me. I hoped she wouldn’t care I didn’t tell her I was coming. I knocked.
My sister opened the door. Her hands and apron were dusted with flour. Her blue eyes blinked at me once, looked at the bruise on my face, a striking deep purple against my sunken skin, and said nothing. I slid past her and said nothing. She sat me down on the living room couch and disappeared into the kitchen. The TV was on, though the volume wasn’t. The glare from the setting sun made the screen incomprehensible anyway.
When my sister returned, she handed me a bag of frozen peas, then sat beside me, her head on my shoulder, arm around my waist. She gripped my shirt so tight I thought it might tear. My sister always cried quietly—I was the ugly one—and I only knew she did because she sniffled once, then my shoulder was wet.
I set the bag in my lap and put an arm around her. She cried on my shoulder until the sun set. We said nothing to each other, but she moved to hold my hand, and I knew that she missed me.
She sniffled once more, raised her head, and wiped her eyes. Then she put the peas on my eye, much like she did when I was a kid. It was like all those times we’d play too rough, or some kid would beat me up, and she’d kneel in front of me, brush my hair back, and shove frozen veggies on my face until they melted while I tried not to cry.
She was the first to speak.
“Garrett is on a trip with the kids until tomorrow morning,” she said. “You want me to tell them you’re here?”
I shrugged. “Doesn’t really matter.”
“You can stay in the guest room. I’ll change the sheets.”
“It’s OK,” I said. “I know where they are.“
After a few moments she pulled the bag from my face and stood with a nod. I sat on the couch for a few seconds while she put them away. The living room looked the same, though maybe it acquired more plants. They lined the windows, up until the sliding door. Through the door I saw they lined the porch. My sister wasn’t into gardening, but maybe Harper was.
I heard her on the phone through the door and decided it was time to split.
Back when I lived with her toward the end of highschool, I made myself at home in the guest room. I left everything there when I ran away. And when I came back just before I got married, it was still there. And now... When I opened the door, the room was still preserved as if I’d died and they needed something to remember me by. The posters of musicians I no longer cared about gazed back at me. My clothes were still heaped in a pile at the end of the bed. And my desk was still cluttered with incomplete sketchbooks, pens strewn about.
I thumbed through them, gazing over old art. I couldn’t remember drawing. I missed it—the smudge of my hand on graphite, the eraser shavings, the broken pencils. The men on my pages gazed back at me, their eyes unblinking. I dare say they were beautiful.
On the last page of one book there was a sketch of my husband, one I did right after we met, when I lived on my own: a bust of him smiling, his hair tousled. I knew now he couldn’t smile like that. His eyes didn’t crinkle that way. He never showed his teeth. There was no color, but I could see the pale green of his eyes and light pink of his skin. My eyes fixated on his name, hastily scrawled at the bottom. A note I wouldn’t forget. I pushed at it with a finger, smudging it enough until I couldn’t read it any longer. I guess I left it here after me and him started dating… The last time I visited her. I didn’t remember it much.
There was a picture of all of us—my sister’s family, me, our mother—on my desk. Before I left for the city, when we fought, I broke the frame, shattered the glass. My sister took the picture away after, then she cleaned up the broken remnants. She cleaned it up before we started dating, because it hadn't been there the final time I visited, either. It was the only thing that ever changed. I don’t know where she put the picture; maybe I gaze at her as she sleeps.
The sheets were kept in the linen closet in the family bathroom. The ones for my bed were buried at the bottom, underneath my niece’s old toddler blankets. I laid down on the bed without looking, because I couldn’t really be bothered to change them. I sunk into the comforter and closed my eyes. I melted into my bed while memories of our argument danced behind them.
We weren’t yelling at each other; we’d done enough of that. My sister watched me throw shit in my backpack from the doorway, her arms crossed. I bet she thought to try to convince me to stay, that it would be fine here with her. I could go to college, get a job, normal things. All I could think about was how much I didn’t want to be near my mother. No one else mattered.
Just before I left, I ran a hand over the shards of the picture frame on my desk, then slung my bag over my shoulder. She shifted her weight and raised her brows at me, then stepped aside to let me pass.
I only put clothes in my bag. I regretted that.
I stood in her driveway in the middle of the night while she watched me. Our yelling match had woken the kids, but not her husband—too heavy of a sleeper when it didn’t concern him, even now. They peered at me through the kitchen window, eyes wide. Six pairs of eyes watched as I stood motionless, pretending I had set my mind to anything. That I had a plan. It was too dark for me to see my sister’s expression, but I could feel her disappointment.
But it wasn’t my fault my mother didn’t love me.
Or maybe it was. I don’t know.
I walked to the edge of town, content to hitchhike when I made it to the freeway. But if I got killed for being stupid I knew my niece would at least be sad, so I called a friend to drive me to the city.
He did, reluctantly, and he didn’t ask any questions, except if he’d ever see me again. I can’t remember what I told him, but I think I said no.
“Faust,” my sister called, interrupting my reminiscing. A second later she opened the door. We briefly made eye contact, but she turned away when her gaze landed on my bruise. Her eyes were still red from crying. I didn’t get up, just rolled onto my side. Sleep was coming for me, exhaustion from the whole traveling ordeal getting to me.
“Tell me if you need anything,” she said, sitting on the edge of the bed. “I’m here for you, OK?”
“OK,” I replied. “Sure.”
“I told Garrett. Just that you’re staying here. Nothing else.”
“I don’t care if you tell him what happened.”
“You didn’t tell me what happened,” she sighed.
“Why don’t you take a guess?”
“Don’t be like that, Faust.”
“I don’t wanna talk about it,” I said.
“Sure, whatever,” she sighed again. “If you want food, there’s food. We’re going to talk about this. Eventually. You know that.”
I shut my eyes and rolled onto my stomach, making an attempt to be asleep. She left the room promptly after.
She was right, as she always was. I think it’s just hard to figure out how to word that my husband hit me without weirding people out for being too casual, or weirding people out for not talking about it. Or for worrying people over needless things that would be solved eventually. And my sister was one of those worrying people.
The bed shifted as she got up. She left me alone, wallowing in my thoughts, sleep scraping at my eyes.
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