by Graham B.
A story of loss, grieving, and acceptance.
|I'm at Beau's apartment, watching my kid sister shoot up. Lacie's skin looks as lifeless as porcelain, but that pinprick of blood on her arm is shockingly alive.|
I want to grab that needle from her and grind it into dust under my heel, but I can't get myself to move. She's my kid sister and yeah, she looks like a kid. Petite, almost waifish beneath that filthy flannel shirt with her dirty blond hair covering her eyes. The eyes are already drooping as the juice does its work. As she slumps into the threadbare sofa, Beau saunters in. He plucks the needle from her arm, relights the candle and makes himself a fix. As he drifts away, so do I. I'm invisible to them, the wall of drugs obscuring their vision.
I'm at home, frantically shoving beer bottles and pizza boxes into a garbage bag, trying to clean up before the social worker arrives. It's the beginning of summer. School's out, the tourists are trickling into town, and I just lost my job. Doesn't matter why, all that matters is that the social worker doesn't find out before she checks her boxes and signs her forms. Gotta look the part if I'm going to become Lacie's legal guardian. The flowers in the vase by the window are dead. Gonna have to replace them.
My mom used to grow gladiolus, before the stroke took her mind away. Before my car accident. Before my sister discovered how to shut out the pain of the world. Mom grew it in the side yard, along with hyacinths, daffodils, and another that I can't remember. I'm not a flower kind of girl, but I know the gladiolus because Lacie would pluck off a bloom, tuck it in her ear and pretend to be a hula dancer. I remember this because it was always the beginning of summer, and mom would be on her knees in the garden, the sun reflecting in yellow light off her floppy hat as she worked. What was that last flower she grew?
I'm at the hospice, watching my mother breath through tubes. Machines huff and beep nearby, and the smell of antiseptic cuts through the air. Mom's eyes are open a crack, just enough for me to see the golden-brown irises. She doesn't see me. A wall of dead brain cells obscures her vision. Why doesn't she come back? Why doesn't me look into my eyes, and smile, and laugh because she knows Lacie is filching her gladioli? I want to cry because I know it's not her fault. I want to cry because I can't help being mad at her for leaving, for abandoning the garden, for not seeing me.
I'm on my sofa, watching a reality show while I sip a beer. It's a show about people who scheme to get the other people kicked out of the show. It's trite, banal and really stupid, and I can't stop watching it. One of the cast has a meltdown over a perceived slight and the cameras zoom in to catch every tear. I drink them up like fine wine, a complement to the day-old pizza from my fridge. I shift my foot and it upsets the stack of past-due bills that had sprouted from my coffee table. I wonder how much longer I'll be able to watch my shows before they shut off the power. The show cuts to a commercial for some local church. The pastor promises me the keys to the afterlife. I burp and look over at the window and see the flowers are still dead. Really have to get new flowers.
I'm at Beau's again, but he won't let me in, despite me pounding the door so hard it must have enraged the neighbors. I listen, but don't hear anything. Is Lacie in there, shooting up? I go for a walk and cut through the park, then down Pearl Street. It's a long walk, but I don't have a car since the accident. When was that accident? I barely remember it. Screeching tires, blaring horns and broken glass. The smell of gasoline evaporating from the road. I walked away but didn't walk far.
During the summer, Mom would take the two of us to the lake. It was a great way to cool down, even if it was crowded with tourists.
"Watch your sister," Mom would say to me.
And I did. Like a hawk. I would watch her splash into the water and see it turn her hair go from blonde to dark while she laughed. She would do her little dance routine waist-deep in water, adding splashes to the performance, and other sunbathers would smile and point. No one saw dull, practical me at all. But I was there and watched from the shore with the sand crawling up between my toes, and the cool waves lapping at my shins. My feet leave prints that quickly wash away.
I'm in my bed dreaming about birds. At least I think I'm dreaming. It's hard to tell any more. The birds hop around my feet pecking at the ground, but there's nothing there to eat. They look at me and all I want to do is run. Run through the flock to safety. Run away to a place where the birds can't take flight and peck at my face and eyes. A place where the fog is so thick the birds can't see me. Lacie is already there, and the fog keeps the birds away. I wake up and the four walls of my bedroom press against my eyeballs. I hear birds fluttering outside the window and I try to go back to sleep, but sleep won't come.
I'm at the lake and it's summer again. This time it's just me, Mom and Dad. Lacie won't be born for another year, and Dad won't leave for another year after that. We roll out towels to sit on and watch the snorkelers wade out into the water looking for secrets. Sun lights the water with yellow-white sparkles that leave little green points on the backs of my eyes when I blink. I splash into the water and turn around in circles, but I don't go too deep. I look up toward Mom, who is dozing on her towel. Dad has a deep tan and a very hairy chest, but no hair on his slightly protruding belly which he feeds beer in the evenings. I can't see his eyes because of the sunglasses, but I can see the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes when he smiles smiles broadly at me and waves, and the gulls shriek with laughter.
It's dark out but hot and muggy on this summer night. Tourists are out and about, crowding the sidewalks and jostling in front of the bars. Is it just me, or have people gotten ruder around here? Even free-flowing booze can't explain how the indifferent the crowds are as I thread my way through them. I'm following Lacie as she trudges along the boardwalk, heading who knows where. I can't see Lacie's face, but I can see her worn-out sneakers. It starts to rain, a rare summer shower, but I don't mind. It's somehow cleansing, as if the water can wash away the scars I've collected. Lacie finds a park bench and sits down, heedless of the rain as it soaks her hair, making it go from blond to dark. She is holding a polaroid photo in her hand, and as I get nearer, I can see it's a picture of Lacie, Mom and me at the beach so many summers ago. Lacie's shoulders shake and I think she might be crying, but I can't be sure because of the rain. I want to reach out and comfort her, but I can't bring myself to move. She doesn't notice me standing there.
I'm at my apartment trying to clean up, but somehow the trash keeps creeping back, like it's growing or something. Only the dead flowers at the window don't grow. I'm still trying to make the place ready for Lacie so we can live together, and I can take care of her and keep the ugly things of the world away. A reddish-orange light slides through the window - sunset looking in. It illuminates those dead flowers and now I remember the last flower that Mom use to grow in her garden. It was lilies.
I'm at a clinic. The walls are painted soft pastels and soothing music plays. People there are going to meetings, doing creative activities, and following routines. Stuff to keep them from going back to their destructive habits. Structure, routine, recovery. I'm here to visit Lacie. She is sitting at a window looking out at the fields where rabbits scamper about looking for green succulents. The needle tracks on her arms have faded, and the color has come back to her face. Now she is eating an organic, gluten-free lunch with gusto. Now she is painting. I never knew her to be an artist. The colors leap from the canvas like sparkling summer sun and I am mesmerized. Now she is in group therapy, talking about her issues. She says she misses Mom, who used to take her to the beach. She says she misses her big sister, who looked after her for so many summer months. Why does she miss me? Doesn't she see me?
I'm lying in the street, feeling broken glass poke into my skin. Something wet is pooling around my fingertips. My head lolls to the side and I can see into the open door of my wrecked car. A bouquet of fresh lilies still sits on the passenger seat. A man runs up to me carrying a large bag. He pulls out a light and shines it into my eyes. Another man sticks a needle into my arm. The needle is connected to a bag of water. There are flashing lights and gawking crowds. The two men lift me onto a stretcher and put me in the ambulance, which jerks into motion making the contents rattle. One paramedic is doing something to me with stuff made of plastic and fabric. The other is making worried noises and pulls out another bag - this one filled with shockingly red fluid - and attaches it to my arm. The ambulance's siren shrieks a dirge, and my eyes start to droop. I'm still thinking of the lilies when darkness -
I'm at the lake. The sun is bright and glinting off the water making millions of little sisters to itself. The light is so bright it seems to shine through me. Lacie is standing next to me. She's holding a bouquet of lilies. There are tears streaming down her face, but her eyes are bright and her expression serene. She steps to the water and holds the lilies out, then lets them go. I don't hear her walk away, but suddenly I'm all alone except for the gulls at the water's edge. They are quiet this time and are looking expectantly at me. I so, so want to stay but the waves are washing away my footprints, and the cool water is inviting as it pulls the lilies away from the shore. I wonder if I will miss the endless summers.
Word count: 1889