Photograph by Shawn McClure

I had every intention of answering your angry email, the one in all caps where you called me names and promised to haunt the crap out of me. I kept trying to think of a response, but I ended up with a whole book of things I was eventually going to say, but never did.

On the day of your escape, a gentle, mad dream lingered: a flock of birds moving as one body; a cloud dispersing an undiscovered kind of rain. I couldn’t ponder the meaning of the dream for long, because the pipes burst and we had to call a plumber.

The rest of the day dragged as if through flood waters. Pinpricks of your darkness decorated the sky like black stars. I guess I knew there was something wrong.

Still, I didn’t know for sure until three days later when Mom called at an unusual hour. Small hairs stood up all over my skin when her number lit the screen. She spoke with soft bravery about the policeman who found you and how kindly he broke the news. We both knew how it happened; you had been trying to tell us for years. When I finally hung up the phone, I ran outside, through the cold, toward the mailbox to see if you had reached out one last time. The box was empty. I felt the blade of my guilt and measured its sharpness against your death.

So, I can’t tell you I wasn’t mad or that we loved the nice version of you. I call Mom every day now. She has a new habit of saying “I love you” at the end of our conversations. I know she speaks to both of us.

Together we took out the quilt you made for her so many years ago. We admired your stitches. We love the vintage fabric. We ran our fingers over the satin trim, touched the bumpy, white knots of flowers. We agreed that you were the most talented of all of us.

But I am the one who always notices signs, symbols and omens. There are tiny flowers stitched into the pocket of the quilt, along with the words ‘pride and joy’. I am the one who noticed that there is one for each sister except you. You stitched yourself out, like you never existed at all. I folded up the quilt that had the wrong number of sisters, and bit my tongue to keep my observation from Mom.

I haven’t shed tears. I am outside myself. I like to hear the things Mom remembers. We keep turning you over in our palms. We turn you this way and that, so we can watch your facets flash and dim. We look at your manic joy. We remember the little depressions. I wanted to tell you I remember that time when I was ten when you tried describe your sadness, and the time you tipped a pine log toward the light to show me the tiny green world that grew there. We look at your miracles and the flaws all at once. Sometimes I can tell that Mom is crying in the phone.

We see your pain now, we see what you were trying to say. We saw both the beauty you brought, and the damage you caused, and we tried to separate them. We saw the quiet. We felt the wind stir and pick up force. We saw the sky darken and get ready to open. We witnessed the pipes burst. We saw your last emails blinking, threatening us from our inboxes. We heard you scream into the phone and instead of slamming it down, we hung up quietly, because we were not angry.

We saw you gather yourself and disperse like a flock of birds, all noise and motion, here for a moment, and every moment after, and never truly gone.

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Shawn McClure writes short fiction from her kitchen table in a house in NJ and sometimes publishes it on the web.