by Kristen Eva
14 / 7/ 1-May Contest: Chapter ONE. A woman ponders her sister's whereabouts.
I wish I knew where she was. She hasn’t answered or returned my calls and hasn’t been heard from in almost a week.
The last time I spoke with Maggie, she was feeling down because she had no food in her cupboard and was working two shifts a day to pay back-rent for her basement apartment. Her daughter was hanging out with her friends, enjoying her last few months of waning childhood before the pressures of high school overwhelmed her.
“I don’t have a long time to talk because my battery is dying,” she had warned, ”but I just wanted to see what was going on. I heard you called.”
We talked about the artwork Maggie had been working on and the writing I had started. It was funny that we had both just recently found something we were good at and enjoyed. But, we had not had a chance to meet up and compare (and criticize) the results of our newfound hobbies.
One night, a couple of weeks ago, Maggie was going to come over but she couldn’t get her printer to work. Maggie had wanted me to see her artwork, one piece in particular that showed a neglected house with a cherry tree in full blossom in the front yard, similar to our childhood home. But, since her Internet connection had been shut off, she needed to physically drive the hour-plus to my house to show me. She was angry and frustrated and hung-up with me just before midnight, no solution, no meeting that night. I was disappointed because I really wanted to see her.
Since then, she has been working sixteen hour days and then staying up into the wee hours working on her pictures. Or paintings. I still don’t know what they are, except that they are computer-generated in Paint. I can image her, sleep-deprived and depressed, doodling with a mouse, thinking.
The last two years has taken its toll on Maggie. Dad came down with cancer in 2007 and died eight months later, and the hell of his estate has just dragged on and on since, with no resolution in sight. The bank will probably take the house and force a sale on my grandmother’s as well, which the estate has had a share in since my mom died during the dreary winter of 2001. Either way, our family is screwed right now.
Harder still for Maggie was that her daughter was the closest to Dad. He raised Kaylee, taught her about music and movies, took his 35mm to all of her events, and set money aside for her in his estate. When Dad died, Maggie felt a ton of guilt about her own tentative relationship with him, regretful and powerless to change the past. The mess of the estate, everything from his missing Will to a piss-poor lawyer, got her riled up at first, but that had turned to resignation in the last few months, as it had for all of us. She wanted to help, because it was embedded in her heart and personality to do so, but she told me that she felt like she had nothing to give. Not to the estate, to us or to Kaylee.
As her infamously bad luck would have it, her trip down South during Spring Break had come to a screeching halt on the George Washington Bridge when the used Toyota that she had only had for one month overheated. With Kaylee and her friend in the back seat, they managed to pull off of the road and proceeded to sit in a McDonald’s for two hours, calling AAA, hotels and tow trucks, only to chance an uneventful ride back to her house.
The trip was important to her, to some extent crucial to her, because she was going down there to find a new place to live. New England, Farmington specifically, held nothing for her anymore. She had no parents to stay in town for any longer, her siblings had families of their own and Maggie had lost her place in her own life. She wanted a new start, as did Kaylee. Driving through the streets of our hometown had become too painful for her. So, new streets, new school, new memories were supposed to await her someplace else. Now, she had lost her chance to find them for the foreseeable future. Any money for her vacation was quickly sucked up in the replacement of the heater fan.
During that week at home, with no car and no work, a time when she should have been combing Myrtle Beach or the suburbs of Atlanta, she sat: depressed, lonely and defeated. Her landlord knocked on her door, demanding payment for months of back rent, so Maggie did what she knew; she went back to work with a vengeance.
But no sooner had she paid one months rent, the phone was shut off. Then, she would pay that and the landlord would call again. She would work another week, double shifts, and the electric company would threaten, the landlord would call. And, during the midst of all this, my brother or I would call to complain about money for the estate lawyer or the fridge at Dad’s that needed to be cleaned or the hole in the deck stairs that needed to be patched. Kaylee needed a new dress for a friend’s cincinero; there went the electric bill. She was always running, believing no wonder understood what was happening in her life and no one would care anyway. Farmington has become an affluent town, and no one thinks people live like that there. Well, they would be surprised.
The last time we talked, she had wanted to go out with a friend from work. They were going to have a girl’s night out, but Maggie told me she wasn’t going to go because she had no money. Relegated to the small apartment that has been her home for over ten years, it was now feeling like purgatory. I had started to tell her about my writing when the phone went dead. Figured. It wasn’t about me. I should have taken the hint from the universe a long time ago. Let her wallow and share your life with her later, after she's come out of it.
But now, after nearly a week of trying to get her on the phone, I worry that I won’t ever be able to share my writing with her, that I will not hear her explain her paintings to me, that I won’t know how the cincinero went or when her next weekend off will be. I worry because a person can only take so much. Maggie had tried to start a new, to find a reason to be excited and motivated and, yet again, it hadn’t worked out. I don’t know that she has enough spirit left in her to get worked up about something else. I worry because she is my sister and I know what she has been going through these last few years.
I just wish she would call.
word count: 1181