As she steps down from the bus steps into the bright fall sunshine of Lomax, Maryland, Sandra looks around her. The town is as dusty and quiet as she’d remembered it. This is in stark contrast to Chicago, the city in which she now lives. There is always an air of vibrancy, movement and culture in ChiTown, as it is known as by its more than two million residents. Whether it is a party at a local nightclub, dinner at the latest upscale restaurant opening, or a concert at the Symphony Center on Michigan Avenue, Sandra can always find something to do---even at 4 o’clock in the morning. Looking around at the small town in which she’d spent the first 18 years of her life, Sandra notes that not much has changed since she’d been here last or even from the time when she’d been growing up here.
There are the same stop signs on Main Street and there is even the same drug store where her Mom had bought medicine for her and her sister on the rare occasions that they were sick. However, she did notice that there is a fairly new traffic light at the corner across from the bus station. Apparently whoever now owned the diner where she and her sister had spent hot summer Sundays drinking ice cream floats while swinging their dusty Mary Jane’s, had replaced the front door as well as the picture window that looked out onto Main Street; as long as she could remember there had been a spider web of cracks in the lower left corner window that threatened to spread and one day bring the entire window tumbling down onto Main Street.
It didn’t really surprise her that much hadn’t changed. After all she had grown up here and she’d always felt that it was a place that would always feel . . . well like a small town. Whenever she visited she actually felt as if she had been caught in a time warp.
Even with the new glass in the drug store window and the new stoplight, Main Street was the same—short, arid and leading into the “down town” area of Lomax where the town hall, library and police station were housed. She recalled the countless times she’d been sent to the corner store to buy her Mom a Pepsi, pick up a loaf of bread or, on rare occasions when she’d been able to charm a few nickels from her father, a handful of candy that quickly became sticky in her small little girl’s fist.
Both her parents had died years ago and no one else was available who could meet her so she’d have to figure out how to get to her sister’s by herself. The town was too small to own a taxi company and it certainly didn’t have a public transportation system or a rental car agency. As she sighs in exasperation, realizing she’s going to have to walk the half-mile to her sister’s house, she wonders how she’d managed to get herself in this situation. After all she is used to organizing and heading meetings that include the heads of nationally known companies all the time. But here she is back in her hometown wearing an inappropriate outfit---not to mention inappropriate shoes---and about to walk a half-mile to see a sister she hasn’t seen in 3 or more years.
As Sandra trudged up to the front of her sister’s house, she sees her Mom standing on the porch and waving to her. Her heart leaps and her pace quickens in anticipation of her mother’s hug. After a few steps she realizes that no one is standing on the porch. Of course there isn’t. After all her Mom has been dead for 6 years. This thought hits Sandra with the force of a dump truck and suddenly she feels as if she can barely lift her feet to complete the 5 or 6 yards from where she stood to the porch. How weird that was to think her Mom was standing on Sarah’s front porch awaiting her arrival.
At any rate she has managed to make her way to Sarah’s and no one---not even Sarah---is there to greet her. Of course she hadn’t expected anyone to be there since the reason for her visit was a call from Miss Randall, a neighbor who had been a friend of her parents, telling her that her sister is sick and that she has to return to Maryland to take care of her.
The call had come in to her Chicago apartment two days ago and she’d been running around crazily since then to make arrangements for her absence. She isn’t sure how long she’ll be in Maryland, but Miss Randall had implied that she would be here for at least a few weeks. This really wasn’t a good time for her to be gone for an extended period of time. She was in the middle of a major campaign and she was also up for a promotion. The other person who is up for the promotion is also highly qualified so the promotion isn’t a sure thing for Sandra. She knows that it probably isn’t the thing she should be thinking about right now with her older, and only sister, sick enough to require Sandra’s presence back in Maryland, but she is really resentful that she’s had to interrupt her life to come here to a place she doesn’t like and take care of someone she really doesn’t know any more. Yes, Sarah is her sister, but the fact remains she doesn’t know who Sarah is—her hopes, fears, interests or anything. There must be someone who Sarah has gotten close to in the years since Sandra had moved away that could have come to take care of her. Nevertheless here she is back in her hometown and she might as well make the best of the situation and get back to Chicago as soon as she could.
Knowing the door to her sister’s home would be unlocked, she twists the steel knob and pushes it open. Because the shades are drawn against the strong autumn light, the house is dimly lit and it takes a few seconds for Sandra’s eyes to adjust. Apparently her sister had been waiting for her, because almost as soon as Sandra enters the house she hears Sarah asking huskily, “Sandra is that you?”
“Yes. It’s me Sarah, ” Sandra replies as she enters Sarah’s darkened bedroom to see her lying in bed with a mound of pillows surrounding her. It makes her think of how an Egyptian queen must have looked when she “reposed” for the evening. Personally, Sandra didn’t like a lot of pillows on her bed. Two were plenty. She knew if she had any more than that she’d feel too much like she was smothering. Maybe that was because she’d had several nightmares when she was growing up about being smothered in her sleep by someone holding a pillow over her face.
Sarah looked much the same way as Sandra remembered her when she had come to visit her more than three years ago for the holidays. She looked a little thinner and somewhat tired, but other than that she was the same Sarah—smooth caramel skin she’d inherited from their dad’s side of the family, a thin patrician nose with tiny nostrils that had always fascinated Sandra because she never understood how Sarah could breath through them, thick black hair that she kept cut close to her skull so that her heart-shaped face was shown off to its best advantage and a mouth that always looked ready for kissing.
“Sadie. You know I love you sweet Sadie, ” Sarah sings softly as Sandra enters the room.
“Don’t do that,” Sandra snaps standing up from kissing one of Sarah’s cheeks. “You know I hate when you do that.”
“No. Actually I didn’t know. I always thought you liked the nickname I’d given you. At least you did when we were growing up.”
“Never mind,” says Sandra. “How are you?” I wasn’t told very much about what’s wrong with you, just that you were sick and needed me to come to Maryland to look after you.”
“At least put your bags down before you take charge of things,” Sarah chuckles. “You’re the same Sandra,” Sarah says emphasizing Sandra’s Christian name. “Always ready to jump into the thick of it to get things taken care of even at the risk of neglecting yourself.”
Sandra sets her bags and purse down by a plush, burgundy chair across the room from Sarah’s bed.
“Well don’t worry about that. I’ve learned very well how to take care of myself in Chicago big sister. But we don’t need to talk about that. I’m here help you get better. What is wrong with you anyway?”
My doctor says I have pneumonia, “ Sarah replied. “Apparently I’ve had it for a while because it’s in both lungs and the doctor said it’s rare for pneumonia to start out that way.
“Why didn’t you go to the doctor sooner Sarah? You must have felt badly enough to know you should have gone to see someone.”
“I had planned to go to the doctor of course, but I didn’t feel that badly and I was one of the teachers in charge of helping the students organize events for spirit week at school so I ended up putting off my appointment for longer than I intended.
“Sarah I’ve told you over and over again that you have to take better care of yourself. Especially considering where you live, “ she says looking around her disdainfully. “You know that this town doesn’t have the most up-to-date medical facilities. Or anything else for that matter.”
Sarah just looks at Sandra without saying a word.
Trying not to sound exasperated, Sandra says, “ I’m going to go clean myself up. Do you think you’ll be ok in here by yourself for a few minutes?”
“Of course,” Sarah says in a somewhat mocking tone.
Sandra barely keeps herself from rolling her eyes to the top of her head before leaving the room. Sarah could be really annoyingly exasperating when she wanted to be. Here she is trying to be a good sister and help Sarah out while she is incapacitated and all Sarah could seem to do is make fun of her. Well she would do the job she’d come here to do and then she would leave again as soon as possible. Sarah always had a way of making her feel stupid and superficial; it’s for this reason that she doesn’t make it a habit of visiting her. Of course other than to visit family or really close friends, why anyone would come here is beyond her. Unbelievably Sarah actually loves it here and on the few occasions when Sandra had tried to convince her to come to Chicago, thinking that seeing some place with theaters, museums and actual public transportation would open her eyes to what she is missing, Sarah had always had some excuse for not coming. Finally Sandra stopped asking her and she sensed this was a relief to Sarah.
As she scrubs the dust from her face, Sandra unconsciously grits her teeth. She doesn’t know exactly why coming to Maryland always puts her on edge. It isn’t as though she doesn’t visit her share of small towns in her travels. Usually she makes a point of once a month taking a weekend and getting away from the anonymity a big city like Chicago offered and visiting places that unknowingly remind her of where she grew up. So why is it that coming to the place where she’d actually grown up and been happy make her feel such turmoil? It doesn’t really much matter because she would be leaving again soon and hopefully she wouldn’t be returning for a long time. At any rate all these musings aren’t helping Sarah to get any better or helping Sandra to put as much distance as she can manage between this place and herself.
“Well, you look scrubbed clean,” Sarah comments upon Sandra’s return.
“Hmmph,” Sandra replies choosing not to respond to Sarah.
Changing the subject, Sandra asks, “Have you gotten your prescription filled yet? If not, I can run out and pick it up for you. You do still have a car don’t you?”
“Yes I do,” Sarah responds. “The keys are in the top kitchen drawer next to the sink and the car is parked around back. And no I haven’t had my prescription filled yet. I was just released from the hospital last night. I knew you were on your way and I didn’t want to impose on Miss Randall any more than I already had.”
“What food do you have in the house?” Sandra asked.
“I’m not really sure. I haven’t had a chance to shop the past few weeks. I’ve been eating mostly carry out.”
“Mmmm,” responds Sandra. “Well, I’ll probably have to pick up some groceries as well as your prescription when I go out.
Sandra goes into Sarah’s kitchen and checks the contents of her cupboards and refrigerator. In the refrigerator all she finds are some dried apples and celery, a swallow of milk that looks as if it’s curdled and assorted condiments that could have been there since her last visit for all Sandra knows. In the cupboard she finds assorted cans of vegetables that look as if they’ve been around since the 1950s. Although the kitchen doesn’t contain much in the way of food, it’s very neat, clean and homey. None of this surprises Sandra—their Mom and Dad had been fanatical about keeping their homes clean and they had instilled this same belief in their two daughters.
She definitely would have to go the grocery store or Sarah isn’t the only one who would require medical attention. She mentally begins a grocery list of the things that she’ll need for the next two weeks to feed them. Luckily, from what Sandra remembers, they have similar tastes in food and so aside from the normal sick foods, she could shop much the same as she did when she was in Chicago. She figured two weeks worth of groceries should be plenty; she is sure that Sarah won’t need to have her stay any longer than that. She also makes a note to pick up laundry supplies in case Sarah is out of these.
Being the type of person who lives in the future she begins planning her strategy for making up the missed time at work and how to turn it to her advantage so that the projects she was working on before she left will either be completed on time or under deadline. Thank goodness she’d thought to bring her laptop and cell phone. That way she could do much of the groundwork she needed to complete on the Evans account. What she couldn’t do she’d have her assistants work on. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t be able to send or receive fax, but that was a relatively minor inconvenience. If she really needed to fax something, she was sure she could find some place around here to do so and pay the ridiculous fee most places charged. It would be stressful, but she’d been in similar situations before and she’d come out holding the prize of her choice and she would do it again.
“Sarah,” Sandra calls from the kitchen. “I’m going to pick up your prescription and some groceries if you think you’ll be ok here until I get back.”
“Sure I will,” Sarah says. “I don’t feel too bad right now, just a little tired. I think I’ll get some sleep while you’re gone so we can catch up when you get back.”
“Sure,” Sandra says thinking that catching up is the last thing she wants to do. She can only imagine what Sarah would think of her life in Chicago and she sure doesn’t want to hear about Sarah’s boring existence living in Maryland, but whatever. She’d worry about that when she returns.
Sarah drives to the same neighborhood grocery store where her Mom shopped when she was growing up—Acme. While there Sandra picks up thick, center rib pork chops, sirloin steaks, skinless chicken breasts, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn on the cob, string beans, spinach, fresh greens and quite a bit of fruit. She also purchases juice, milk, bagels and whole grain cereals for breakfast and of course soup, crackers and ginger ale for Sarah to eat until she is ready for something a bit more substantial.
While at the store she also picks up quite a few curious stares. She’d forgotten how in her hometown people are always curious about newcomers. They made little or no effort to hide their curiosity either. This is rather disconcerting for Sandra having gotten used to being ignored while walking the streets of Chicago—no one paid much attention to whatever you were doing even if that meant rolling down the street pretending to be a beach ball. She can tell that some of the people want to say something to her, but she figures they are put off by her stylish clothes and closed expression. That’s just as well because she certainly didn’t have a lot of time for chitchat with people she didn’t know or barely remembered. She is here for one reason and one reason only and that is to help Sarah get back on her feet. She doesn’t particularly want to share with Sarah so she certainly doesn’t want to talk with anyone else. Plus she did remember that people here could talk your ear off and she just didn’t have time for that nonsense. No sooner had she thought this than someone runs over the big toe of her left foot with his grocery cart.
“God damn it,” Sandra hissed turning to see who had run over her toe—the toe by the way she’d just had surgery on for an ingrown toenail.
“I’m sorry mam,” said a little girl of about nine. “I keep telling Marcus to stop playing with the carts, but he won’t listen. He keeps pretending they’re race cars.”
“It’s okay,” Sandra says tightly. God I can’t believe how people just let their children run wild. They have no discipline. That’s the reason I don’t have any children. The world is overpopulated anyway and it’s putting a drain on the Earth’s resources so why contribute to it.
Suddenly Sandra feels someone staring at her. She turns around to find a little boy of about five with the biggest, prettiest brown eyes she’s ever seen staring at her.
“I’m sorry for running over your foot,” he says.
“It’s ok. You didn’t mean it right?” Sandra says more gently than she’d spoken to the little girl she presumed was his sister.
“No,” he said looking at her solemnly.
“Then it’s alright,” said Sandra.
“You’re very pretty, “ the little boy says and then takes off before Sandra can utter a word.
Sandra is unbelievably flattered by the little boy’s compliment. As she makes her way through the grocery line, a small smile plays around her lips. The smile makes a remarkable difference—it softens her features and the haughty look that has become as much a natural part of her face as her full bottom lip, wide eyes and smooth cocoa-colored skin has disappeared. Marcus is right. She is very pretty—beautiful in fact. Her wide dark brown eyes, are fringed by coal black lashes so thick and lush that they never need mascara and her thick coarse hair that she keeps styled in a professional bob, accent the highness of her cheekbones. She has caught the eye of many men, but because of her aloofness and ignorance of her physical attributes, she has been in only a handful of relationships--the longest one lasting three years while she was attending the University of Chicago where she earned a degree in business. She had broken the relationship off shortly before graduation knowing that it would distract her from her goal of obtaining an MBA. Although she had loved him, things between them were not very exciting. The love had grown from proximity, not so much because he had offered her the things she needed and wanted as a woman.
Also, she knew she hadn’t wanted any children---at least not any time soon, and he kept pressuring her to get married and start a family. She could just envision herself tied to the house cleaning, caring for their children, watching soap operas and exchanging gossip with other stay-at-home Moms. That was a vision she definitely did not have in mind for herself.
Sandra leaves the Acme with a cart full of groceries and makes her way to Sarah’s car. For just a second, as she approaches the car, she swears she sees her Mom. When she raises a hand to wave to her, the image disappears; she quickly pretends to shield her eyes from the late autumn sunshine, gives herself a mental shake and quickly dismisses the second apparition she has seen of her dead mother since arriving back in Lomax. She loads the groceries into Sarah’s spacious trunk and heads back home.
As she is about to turn down the road that leads to Sarah’s, she notices a narrow dirt road about a half a mile from Sarah’s place. Some memory pulls at Sandra and before she even realizes what she’s doing, she turns onto the road. It’s apparent by the length of the grass that grows between the tire tracks that the road is little used.
The day is quite warm and loading the groceries has made her even warmer. She had already removed the jacket to her skirt suit, but sweat still trickles between the valley where her breasts meet. Sandra drives perhaps a quarter mile down the road, which leads into a forest. The trees’ branches meet in an arc that keeps the sun from shining directly into the area; it must be ten degrees cooler in this little area. Sandra opens the driver’s side door and begins to remove her shoes and pantyhose. She then lays them on the passenger side seat of the car. The touch of her feet on the cool grass is so delicious she giggles. She can’t remember feeling this free and joyous since she was a young girl. She begins to run barefoot through the grass towards the sound of running water. As she rounds a bend in the path, she stops suddenly, taken aback by the view of a cascade of clear, blue water tumbling from atop a small cliff. Something in her had known this was here, but if she’d been asked about the waterfall prior to this moment she would have sworn she had no knowledge of its existence.
Sandra unbuttons and unzips her skirt and begins shrugging it down her narrow hips. She then pulls off the short-sleeved brown silk blouse she’d worn under her peach jacket and walks quickly to the pool of water formed at the foot of the waterfall. She hesitates momentarily knowing it will be freezing and then plunges her foot into it.
“Ohh it is cold,” she breathes.
Despite the coldness of the water, she begins to walk further into the pool of water, sucking in her breath as she goes. Gooseflesh has begun to form on her arms and her nipples have hardened from the cold. She is unaware of any of this and continues to wade out further into the water as she allows her body to adjust to its temperature. She then begins making long, sure strokes towards the waterfall; in high school and her first 2 years of college she swam competitively.
Upon reaching the waterfall, she stands beneath the pounding water allowing it to refresh and soothe her. Sandra realizes that she, as well as, her hair is getting soaked. Although this doesn’t bother her, she knows that returning to Sarah’s with wet hair will raise questions. Thinking about Sarah makes her aware of how long she has been gone. Realizing that Sarah might start to worry about her, Sandra swims back to the shore and steps from the water. Not having anything to dry herself or her hair with, she decides to stay a bit longer to allow the sun to dry her clothes and hair as much as possible. Finding a spot along the pebbly shore, she sits on a smooth, flat rock while allowing the sun to continue the work of relaxing her that the sight of the cascading waterfall has begun.
As Sandra sits on the rock, she’s bombarded by memories from her childhood. For some reason they don’t seem to bother her or make her feel the need to force them from her conscious mind as she does when she is in Chicago. Instead she allows them to flit through her mind at whatever rate or in whatever order they want.
After 15 minutes of sitting there completely at ease for the first time in years, Sandra gets up from the rock and begins dressing herself. She doesn’t bother to put her pantyhose back on and because she doesn’t even have a comb, she just leaves the damp strands of her hair hanging untidily to her shoulders. She doesn’t even bother to put her shoes on even though it’s illegal to drive without them. Remembering that she used to drive without her shoes frequently when she first learned to drive, Sandra sits in the driver’s seat with a small smile on her lips.
Arriving back at Sarah’s about 10 minutes later, Sandra feels some hesitancy in going back into her sister’s home. She looks and feels a lot different than she did when she left and Sarah has always been able to see into Sandra as though she could read her mind. Maybe Sarah would still be asleep and she could fix herself up in the bathroom before subjecting herself to Sarah’s keen eyes.
Sandra enters the house, quietly closing the wooden door behind her and walks softly to Sarah’s bedroom to retrieve her bag. As she peeks her head into Sarah’s room, she sees Sarah isn’t asleep at all---her eyes are open and she is looking directly at Sandra.
Upon seeing Sandra’s damp hair Sarah exclaims, “Sandra what in the world have you been doing? I thought you were going to the grocery store and to the pharmacy to pick up my medicine.”
“I did pick up groceries and your prescription,” Sandra says somewhat defensively. “It’s kind of warm out and I remembered there was this swimming hole that we used to go to in the summer sometimes and I just went to soak my feet, but the water felt so good and it was so beautiful there that I couldn’t help myself. Sarah you know how I’ve always loved the water and anything to do with it.”
“I’m glad that’s all it was,” Sarah says looking amused at her sister’s drawn out explanation. She was glad to hear Sandra excited by something in Lomax though. Sometimes she wondered if she and Sandra were really biologically related---if perhaps one of them was adopted and their parents just hadn’t gotten around to telling them before their deaths.
“Well I’m going to get the groceries out of the car,” Sandra states.
After she brings the groceries in, she begins making a salad and grilling a steak for dinner. She also heats up a can of soup for Sarah. She had bought some flowers while she was out and she begins, Sandra begins looking for a vase to put them in so that she and Sarah will have something to brighten the room as they’re eating dinner. She finally locates one in a cupboard over the sink. She fills the vase with lukewarm water and cuts the stem of the flowers at a diagonal so they will absorb more water and stay fresh looking longer. This is something else that their mother has taught her daughters---how to make a place a home.
Sandra realizes she has been thinking about her Mom a lot since she’s returned to Lomax and wonders why. She also wonders why she keeps thinking she sees her mother---twice so far since stepping down from the steps of the bus she caught from Radcliffe, a town located 40 miles from Lomax. Maybe it’s just displaced guilt. Sandra hadn’t seen her Mom much before her death—probably because her Mother had stayed in Lomax even after she and Sarah had reached adulthood; Sandra had pretty much stayed away from Maryland once she went away to college. She only visited when she felt it was absolutely necessary. Why exactly she did this she isn’t sure. She does know that she was very happy growing up here. Statistically speaking most black families in the United States didn’t have both the mother and the father raising their children, but Sandra and Sarah had been an exception. Although most families in Lomax—both black and white, were two-parent homes and anything different was practically unheard of.
Both of Sandra’s parents had been very active in her life both academically and socially. Her parents had spent many hours with their children either alone or as a family unit. This close knit and innocent upbringing had given Sandra a sense of the work and responsibility raising a family entailed, but as of yet she had neither a husband nor any children. As a matter of fact, neither she nor her sister had children or had ever been married. Sarah was already in her early forties and Sandra couldn’t even recall her being in a serious romantic relationship once they’d reached adulthood. It was very strange that neither of them had a family of their own when they’d grown up knowing before they could even speak that family was the cornerstone of everything that was really important in this world-- God and family that is.
She is so caught up in her memories of her home life growing up that she isn’t really paying attention to her dinner preparations and consequently ends up cutting her left pointer finger while slicing cucumbers for the salad she is fixing.
“Ow!” she snaps looking at the blood well out of her finger.
“Sandra are you ok?” Sarah calls from her bedroom.
“I’m fine Sarah,” she replies. “I guess I need to pay more attention to fixing dinner and stop letting my mind wander,” she says while running cool water over her bleeding finger.
She wraps her finger in a clean paper towel, checks her steak and turns off the flame beneath the beef and vegetable flavored soup she’s preparing for Sarah. But even as she admonishes herself to focus on their dinner, her mind again returns to the past.
When she first arrived in Lomax, things felt much as they had when she’d been growing up here, but since returning from grocery shopping something had felt a bit off kilter. She realizes that she has felt a presence almost from the time she stepped into Sarah’s front yard, but maybe it’s just the unseasonable warmth or her thinking she has seen her dead mother twice in as many hours.
“It’s not your imagination Sandra,” Sarah says.
“What?” Sandra asks startled out of her reverie.
“I said it’s not your imagination,” Sarah says gently, but firmly.
“What isn’t my imagination?” she asks Sarah as she walks to her bedroom door.
“You seeing Mom. I started seeing her about 4 ½ months ago, but I just assumed I was working too hard and the heat was getting to me. We had a pretty warm summer here this year and it started fairly early in the season so I chalked my imaginings up to that. At first I just ignored what I saw--what I imagined I was seeing. I did that for about a month and then she started talking to me. At first I was frightened. Then I assumed I was going crazy. This made me feel better and I calmed down quite a bit and I figured since I was going crazy anyway I might as well start talking back to her. Isn’t that what a truly crazy person would do? I mean I missed her so much and I was lonely out here with no children and a sister who very rarely came to see me and when she did, acted as though she couldn’t get out of here fast enough.”
Sandra visibly winces when Sarah says this, but Sarah hadn’t made the statement accusatorily and even though she is looking in Sandra’s direction she really isn’t seeing her. She’s revisiting some place in her head only she can see.
Sandra continues, “I didn’t want anyone in town to know what was going on so I didn’t say a word to anyone which, I suppose in and of itself, was strange for me because I’ve always been very friendly and open with people. But I was afraid that if I said much more than a pleasant good morning to anyone, that everything I’d been experiencing would come out and a trip to the nearest funny farm would soon follow. I mean by this time I wasn’t getting much sleep and I had become paranoid. I’d even started having hallucinations other than those of Mom. Those hallucinations only made me believe even more that me seeing Mom was just my imagination. I realized later that those hallucinations were from lack of sleep and could be easily dismissed, but the images of Mom just wouldn’t go away.”
All of this came pouring out of Sarah like a dam that had broken, yet was said in a voice with very little, if any, emotion. Sandra just stared at her sister lying in bed with the 4 pillows that had come with her bedding set propped beneath her head. Her sick sister she reminded herself. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. First of all, it was totally illogical and second of all, Sarah had always been so sensible and rational and now she actually sounded as if she believed what she was saying. Sandra’s first thought was that Sarah was indeed crazy or at a minimum a little unbalanced. Sandra could understand that. Sarah had said it could be lonely here all by herself and there wasn’t a lot to do in Lomax in the way of entertainment. The closest place to offer a little more to do in the way of occupying an evening was almost sixty miles away.
Suddenly an enormous laugh erupts from Sandra’s throat. She doesn’t even realize she is going to laugh until she does it. Both she and Sarah are wearing identical expressions of confusion and surprise on their faces at this unexpected reaction to the story Sarah had just shared with her. Of all the reactions Sarah had expected, laughter was the last thing she thought she’d hear from Sandra. She had expected incredulity, shock, sarcasm and possibly even a discussion about her commitment to an institution, but definitely not laughter. She wasn’t sure whether to be angry with Sadie or to laugh herself; not feeling the genuineness of either, she just looks at her.
“Why exactly are you laughing? I didn’t think that I’d said anything particularly funny.”
“I don’t really know,” replied Sandra.
Sarah continues looking at her as if waiting for a better explanation.
“I don’t know. It just all sounds so ludicrous,” Sandra says somewhat impatiently. “I mean Sarah you’ve always been so level-headed. Do you really expect me to buy this story about you seeing Mom for months now? She’s dead and has been for years. I don’t know why you decided to make all of this up. I have to admit you had me believing you had actually experienced all this paranormal stuff with Mom or at least you believed you had.”
“You saw Mom and I’m willing to bet more than once. How do you explain that? Especially after what I’ve told you I’ve experienced.”
“I don’t know,” Sandra says even more impatiently, rubbing her right temple with her fingertips. “I’m getting a headache.”
“Hmmmm,” responds Sarah.
“You don’t believe me?” Sandra asks testily. “You know what? It doesn’t even matter. I need to finish cooking our dinner. This is a completely ridiculous conversation and one I don’t intend to have again.”
“If that’s how you want it,” Sarah replies lightly, knowing perfectly well that they will have this discussion again whether Sandra likes it or not.
Sandra returns to the kitchen where she continues preparing the salad that she and Sarah will have with dinner and checks the steak she has left cooking. Once she has completed the meal, she finds a tray in one of Sarah’s cabinets and carries Sarah her dinner.
“It’s nothing fancy,” she tells Sarah “but I think you’ll enjoy it.”
“I’m sure I will too,” Sarah responds looking closely at her sister although it’s pretty obvious that she’s avoiding eye contact with Sarah.
As Sandra sits down to eat at the small dinner table she has set up in Sarah’s bedroom, she realizes she has lost her appetite and doesn’t show much enthusiasm for the meal she’d been so hungry for a few minutes ago. She’s still thinking about the last question that Sarah asked her and that she avoided answering by pretending to have a headache—at least at the time it had been a pretence, but now she is beginning to feel pressure build up behind her eyes. The kind of pressure she’d get when she was about to have one the migraines she used to get as a teenager. The doctor her mother had taken her to after she’d started getting them had said they were brought on by puberty, but she knew better. She’d started getting the headaches when she was about eight. They had been very mild at first—so mild in fact that she didn’t think anything of them, but they had gotten worse as she got older and had to deal with an increasing amount of stress. She’d never been that good at creating an outward outlet to deal with stress and had developed the headaches as a result. The weird thing is that she hadn’t had any migraines—minor or otherwise in about 10 years. She would have thought with the amount of pressure that her job involved that she’d be taking prescription medicine for almost constant headaches, but she had no reason to. At least not until now that is.
By the time she’d finished pushing her food around her plate to make it seem as if she’d actually eaten it, the headache had gone into full throttle. The pain is enormous and she can barely keep herself from vomiting. This is pretty funny; she’d returned home to help Sarah recover from pneumonia and here she is feeling so horrible she isn’t sure if she can even stand up let alone take care of someone else. But she’d be ok. All she needed was to lie down for a bit.
“Are you ok?” Sarah asks. “You look like you’re about to throw up and faint at the same time.”
Don’t be silly Sandra opens her mouth to say, but before she can, the floor and ceiling change places and she feels the nub of the rose and burgundy area rug Sarah has decorated her bedroom floor with pressing into the side of her face.
Sandra actually had fainted and was now lying on the floor in a heap. Sarah immediately reaches for the cordless phone that she keeps on her nightstand and dials Miss Randall’s number.
“Miss Randall my sister just fainted. We were having dinner and she stood up to clear our dishes and just fell to the floor. Could you please come by?”
“Sure honey. I’ll be right over,” Miss Randall responds.
Sarah hangs up the phone and look helplessly at her little sister. She wonders why Sandra fainted. As far as she knows, Sandra has never done anything like that a day in her life. She didn’t even so much as shed a tear the day she’d run her bike into a brick wall when she was nine and burst her nose. Blood had been all over her face and the front of her shirt, but she’d just looked awed at the amount of blood that had come from her nose. Sarah wondered if something horrible had happened to her while she had been living in Chicago. Maybe she’d been raped or mugged. Chicago could be a pretty rough city and even though Sandra acted as if she was completely independent, it was still possible that someone had hurt her.
Sarah looked at Sandra again. She looked so vulnerable and so incredibly young lying on the floor unconscious with her facade of confidence and invulnerability stripped away. She looked almost as vulnerable as she used to look sometimes when they were children. Sarah remembered when she was about 10 and Sandra was 8, she’d walked into Sandra’s bedroom on several occasions and Sandra would have such a horribly sad look on her face that Sarah would feel like crying, but when Sandra would notice Sarah standing there, her face would light up and she’d suggest they go play a game of jacks, hop scotch or something else equally entertaining to girls their age. It was around that time that Sandra had started having headaches. Headaches that had escalated to migraines by the time she’d reached her mid-teens. Neither of their parents knew when the headaches really started because only Sarah had known---she’d been the only one Sandra had confided in. She and her sister had been quite close growing up. Sarah never would have guessed that they would end up barely seeing one another as adults.
While thinking about the state of their relationship, a knock comes at Sarah’s front door and then the creak of the door being opened as her neighbor Miss Randall enters.
“Miss Randall we’re here in my bedroom,” Sarah calls to her neighbor.
“Oh honey,” Miss Randall exclaims as she kneels next to Sandra and feels for a pulse. “Her pulse is still strong,” she tells Sarah. “I imagine that a little cold water to the face would revive her. I don’t see her turning blue anywhere so we know she’s getting enough oxygen,” Miss Randall says examining Sandra’s nails and eyelids. “I’ll just go get a cold cloth to wipe her face with. Don’t you worry about a thing, ok?”
Sarah nods her head while continuing to look at her sister worriedly.
When Miss Randall returns with a wet washcloth, she begins to gently pat Sandra’s face with it. At first there is no response from her, but then she begins to moan softly, eyelids fluttering.
“No. I don’t want to. Mommy said little girls aren’t supposed to do that,” she murmurs.
Miss Randall looks confused, “Do you know what she’s talking about?” she asked Sarah.
“No,” Sarah says faintly. “I have no idea.”
If Miss Randall had been looking at Sarah when she asked that question, she would have had plenty of reason to doubt Sarah’s response. Sarah had suddenly experienced a chill that went straight through her and made her look as if she was the second Madison sister that day on the verge of fainting. She’d recalled using a very similar phrase when she was about 10. She didn’t want to think about what it could mean that her little sister was using practically the same phrase she’d used all those years ago. She wouldn’t think about it. Not right now anyway.
Sandra couldn’t believe she had fainted, but apparently she had because Miss Randall was now helping her from the floor of her sister’s bedroom and over to the burgundy chair where she’d put her belongings when she’d first gotten to Sarah’s. She almost tripped over the bag containing her laptop and fell heavily into the chair. Sitting down felt wonderful. That’s when she noticed how hard her head was pounding. She put her fingers to her temple while shielding her eyes from the lighting in the room. Even as dim as it was it still hurt her to have her eyes open.
“Sandra, are you alright?” Sarah asks.
“No. Actually I feel horrible,” Sandra says. “I feel as if a train wreck has happened inside my head.”
“Do you have any idea of why you fainted?”
“I’m sure it’s just the headache I mentioned earlier. It just came out of nowhere, but I’m sure if I take some headache medicine I’ll be fine.”
“You should probably lie down too,” says Miss Randall gently.
“Yes, that too,” Sandra agrees weakly.
“Do you need help getting to the other bedroom?” Miss Randall asks.
“No. I’ll be fine,” Sandra responds as she gets to her feet.
Suddenly she sways noticeably, almost falling back into the seat she’d just exited before Miss Randall can catch her.
“Honey, I think you had better let me help you get to the other room. You might end up on the floor again and we don’t want that.”
Sarah looks on helplessly wishing that she felt better so that she could take care of Sandra. After all, as kind as Miss Randall is, she isn’t family. Then she remembers that if she hadn’t gotten sick, Sandra wouldn’t even be here in Lomax; Mom always did say “that the Lord works in mysterious ways”. That used to really annoy Sarah when she was growing up, but the older she gets the more true it seems to become. Perhaps the reason she’d gotten sick was to give the sisters an opportunity to reconnect. Maybe that’s why Mom had started coming around.
Both of their parents had always been so proud of how close the girls were and had bragged endlessly to neighbors and friends about it. Sarah and Sandra had pretended to be annoyed and embarrassed by the bragging, but really they just took it in stride because they took their closeness for granted—they thought all sisters were like that. Maybe if they hadn’t assumed they’d always be as close, they wouldn’t have lost touch with one another. Chicago really wasn’t so far from Maryland. She could at least have tried to visit Sandra. She might have really enjoyed herself there and if nothing else she would have gotten some insight into her sister’s current lifestyle. She sighs loudly. Well there isn’t really anything she can do about it now. However, she could try to understand Sadie better than she did now. She wanted to get up and check on her, but knew she’d be better off getting some sleep; she was still recovering from a pretty serious illness.
The next morning Sandra awoke feeling disoriented. The lighting in her bedroom was all wrong and dark, heavy curtains were hanging up to her windows. When had she changed the curtains from the light, flimsy ones she liked so she could take advantage of the view of Lake Michigan her 71st floor condominium afforded her? She paid quite a bit of money for that view and she certainly didn’t want it obscured by the type of curtains that she was now looking at. That’s when she remembered that she wasn’t at home; she wasn’t in Chicago. At this time of year, at this time of day her bedroom was filled with the cleanness of early morning sunshine. There were no shadows in her room as it was in this one. In Chicago the natural light bathing her room helped to energize and refresh her. Instead she felt as if something heavy were trying to drag her back down into sleep.
Perhaps that feeling was due to the heavy comforter that covered her body. She was still dressed in the skirt and top she’d worn on the plane---only her shoes had been removed. Even though there wasn’t bright sunshine streaming through the windows like at home, after she removed the comforter she felt surprisingly light and ready to face the day.
When her eyes found the digital clock on the nightstand beside the bed she’d slept in she understood why. She had slept for almost 12 hours straight. She didn’t think she’d slept that many hours uninterrupted since she’d been in high school and recovering from one of her migraines. That’s when she remembered exactly where she was. She had returned to her hometown of Lomax, Maryland because her sister had gotten sick and needed someone to look after her until she recovered. She hadn’t done a very good job of that last night. She had no idea how Sarah had fared through the night or if she’d needed something and had had to go without. Sandra had slept through the night and wasn’t aware of anything from the time her head touched her pillow until now. Now that she was awake, she’d better go check on Sarah to see if she needed anything.
When Sandra goes into Sarah’s room, she finds her sleeping soundly and a note from Miss Randall on the burgundy chair that Sandra had collapsed into the previous night. Apparently Miss Randall had stayed with Sarah all night to make sure she had someone around if she needed anything. Sandra felt guilty. The woman had to be in her sixties. She shouldn’t be staying up all night, especially to take care of someone who it was Sandra’s responsibility to take care of. She’d have to do a much better job of looking after Sarah than she’d done so far otherwise Sarah might end up having a relapse and then she’d really feel guilty.
Until Sarah woke up she couldn’t do much in the way of helping her to recover. Besides she was starving. Getting some breakfast would be a good way to start her own recovery. By the time she completed breakfast, Sandra would probably be awake and she could get her taken care of and then begin doing some work on the Evans project. She’d already informed her assistants that she would be contacting them daily from Maryland and not to expect their workload to lighten just because she was out of town. Yesterday had been a really strange day and she hadn’t had an opportunity to contact her home office like she’d hoped. She hoped today wouldn’t be a repeat of yesterday. She needed to get her head together or she’d never get any of the things she wanted to accomplish completed.
Sandra had just drank the last swallow of orange juice and was eating the last spoonfuls of bran cereal she’d prepared herself for breakfast, when she heard Sarah beginning to stir. That meant she would be awake soon. She could get Sarah her breakfast and have most of the day left to work. Now that she thought about it, she isn’t even sure if Sarah has started taking the medicine her doctor had prescribed for her. The sooner she started taking the medicine the sooner the infection would clear up and the stronger she would feel. She had checked the prescription yesterday and the dosage had been just enough for two weeks. She wasn’t entirely sure if that meant she should stay longer than two weeks to be certain that Sarah had completely recovered, but she really didn’t know how she could stay any longer than two weeks even with doing as much business via her laptop and cell phone as she could here in Maryland.
She bit her lip in frustration. It wouldn’t be right to just leave Sarah here if she wasn’t completely recovered. This was a tight knit community and people watched out for one another, but she was still Sarah’s closest blood relative.
She could hear that Sarah was now completely awake so she got up, rinsed out her glass and bowl and started for the bedroom to see how Sarah was doing.
“Good morning Sarah,” Sandra says.
“Good morning,” Sarah responds as she studies Sandra’s face. “You look a lot better this morning. I hope that means you’re feeling better.”
Sandra feels herself tense. She hopes that they aren’t going to rehash what happened last night. “As a matter of fact I feel wonderful. I’ve already had my breakfast and am feeling much stronger so I’m at your beck and call,” she says hoping to divert Sarah from a discussion of last night’s events.
Sandra smiles, a slightly embarrassed look on her face. “Well I do have to use the bathroom in the worse way. I could use some help getting there otherwise I get a bit winded.”
“I can manage that,” Sandra responds. “Exactly how should we do this?”
“I really just need to have someone to lean on and once I get to the bathroom I can take it from there.”
“Well, I should be able to do that,” Sandra says helping Sarah to stand and then wrapping her arm around her sister’s waist to support her weight. Sarah has lost more weight than Sandra realizes; it doesn’t feel as if she weighs any more than a hundred pounds. She hopes that Sarah isn’t sicker than she thought or that the doctor hasn’t misdiagnosed her and something more serious is wrong with her. But then Sarah has always been the type to work too hard so when she got sick she probably lost weight more rapidly than she would have otherwise since she hadn’t been taking care of herself.
Sarah had said she wanted to take a bath before she had breakfast and Sandra had told her to let her know when she was ready for her to run the water for her bath. She figured that Sarah would appreciate some fresh sheets on her bed so while she waited, she found sheets in Sarah’s linen closet and begin to change her sheets. She also clears away some of the clutter that had accumulated on Sarah’s nightstand. While doing this, she noticed that the top wasn’t completely screwed onto Sarah’s medication; apparently she had started taking it. That was a step in the right direction. She was determined to get this healing business back on track and get some work done today. As she is searching for Sarah’s vacuum cleaner when Sarah called through the bathroom door that she was ready for her bath.
As she scrubs Sarah’s back, she recalls how their Mom had always scrubbed their backs so hard that it left their skin tingling. Because Sarah’s skin was lighter than Sandra’s, her back was always really red afterwards too. They would have to lotion one another’s back to keep it from peeling and itching where their mother had removed every bit of moisture their skin had contained. They’d tried to tell their Mom that she didn’t need to scrub quite so hard, but their Mom had always said that a clean back was just as important as having on clean panties. Both girls had thought that was completely ridiculous, but of course had never shared that opinion with their mother.
“Do you remember how hard Mom would scrub our backs when we were little girls?” Sandra asks.
“I sure do,” Sarah chuckles. “I was just thinking about that. ‘You know a clean back is just as important as clean panties girls.’ ”
Both Sandra and Sarah laugh. Their Mom had had a set of beliefs like that that she had felt was her duty to pass on to her daughters. She had been a strange lady in some ways, but for the most part she had been a pretty cool Mom. Even their friends and boyfriends had liked her, not seeming to mind having her around when it was Sarah and Sandra’s turn to host whatever party was currently being thrown. Even though she’d gotten on their nerves at times, they had always been proud that she was their Mom.
In contrast to their Mom’s desire to share every piece of wisdom that she had accumulated in her years on Earth, their father hadn’t talked much, but the values he’d instilled in his two beautiful daughters were just as important as the ones their mother had taught them. Their Dad had always been more of a lesson teacher than a talker. He would tell them stories of things that had happened to some far away relative or friend of the family and then leave them to think about it or when one of them would ask them what they should do when they faced a dilemma, he would listen patiently to their story and then say: “Sarie or Sadie I think you already have the answer in your heart. When you find out, come back and tell me what your heart said.” It was strange because they always did. Sometimes they would ignore what their heart said, but they would still come back and tell him. It seemed as if even when they didn’t make the right choice that he knew, but maybe that was because at that time they believed that he knew everything anyway. He never did make them feel stupid for any of the decisions they made, but continued to let them choose and then would be there to hold and comfort them if they needed it.
Both Sarah and Sandra sat quietly thinking their own thoughts as Sandra finishes bathing Sarah. After rinsing the last of the suds from Sarah’s back, Sandra hands her a towel and turns her back to give Sarah privacy.
“I’m ready,” Sarah says after drying herself thoroughly.
Again Sandra helps Sarah from the bathroom to the bedroom. She helps Sarah into fresh underclothing and a clean robe. After Sarah is settled comfortably in bed, Sandra goes to fix her breakfast. As with the dinner she fixed Sarah last night, she keeps it simple without adding anything extra to the bagel, fruit and juice she has decided to give Sarah.
“Here you are,” she says to Sarah as she sets the tray on Sarah’s bed. “I brought you a glass of water to take your medicine too.”
“Thanks Sarah,” says. “You know I feel better just having you here. It’s really good to see you after such a long time, even if it is under these circumstances.”
“It’s good to see you too. Now don’t forget to take your pills. Can I get you a book or a magazine to read? Is there anything on TV you’d like to see?”
“Ummmm…….,” Sarah says taking a swallow of juice. “There is a book I was reading last week that I’d like to finish eventually, but I thought that you and I could spend some time together. We could catch up and I could find out more about what you do in Chicago.”
“Oh,” Sandra says. “Well, I was actually going to do some work for my firm. There’s this big project that I was working on that still needs to be completed.”
“Why don’t you tell me about it?” Sarah asks taking a bite of her bagel.
“Oh I don’t know how interesting that’ll be for you,” Sandra replies. “It’s not really something that’s very interesting to hear about unless you’re actually in the business. It’s difficult for most people to understand how someone can get excited about coming up with a really innovative or creative marketing strategy. Most of it isn’t exactly what you’d describe as fun, but it’s the challenge of it that really keeps me passionate about what I do, especially when it’s an idea that you came up with that has given focus to the entire campaign.”
“Try me,” Sarah says. “Sometimes talking out a strategy leads to more ideas or a better focused idea and so far it sounds like something that uses skills you’ve always had. You were always the one coming up with unique themes for our parties and proms and different ways to raise funds for our school events.”
“Well,” Sandra says getting excited despite herself. “Right now we’re working on a campaign for this technology company. It’s a very diversified company. They make everything from microwaves to cell phones from washers to security systems. They have a brilliant group of engineers working for them too so these people are really at the top of their game. They have all the latest information and product manufacturing techniques at their disposal. They’re working on perfecting a lot of top of the line electronic devices right now, but are trying to introduce themselves into the market in a way that appeals to the average shopper---the ones that do a lot of convenience buying and who, although they might not have thousands of dollars to spend immediately, will spend money for the convenience of having products that work faster and last longer and will buy these products over and over again. I can’t really discuss all of the details of what they’re working on because a lot of it is very secure and we have to sign these contracts containing confidentiality clauses and what not.”
“My team has already come up with a concept that we believe is just what our client is looking for and that within 18 months will have their name on the tip of the consumer’s proverbial tongue. We’ve already gotten preliminary approval from the client and are just putting together the entire presentation for the client to preview before we begin production. The company wants its name to become as familiar to the American consumer as GE, Maytag and Electrolux. I have to admit that I’m really excited about the project and can’t wait to see it come to fruition. I believe this is the best work our team has ever done and we’ve been working together for 3 years now.”
“It sounds like a wonderful opportunity for you and your company Sandra. I’m sure you all will do a great job.”
“Thanks. I think we will too,” Sandra laughs somewhat self-consciously. “We have a really great team that works well together. That really makes the difference in how a campaign is executed.”
“What have you been up to?” Sandra asks after a brief silence.
“The same thing really. Teaching doesn’t change all that much---just the students. I still find it very rewarding to work with children and to influence them in such a way. I feel really good when I can see that a child really understands something that before had been giving him problems. It’s also wonderful to come across that child that is especially enthusiastic about learning and takes in everything you have to teach and then challenges you to teach him more. That keeps teaching fresh for me and it really has made me happy.”
Sandra begins playing with her hands. “Do you ever feel like you want something more, feel as if something’s missing?”
“Well, I do wonder sometimes what it would be like to have children of my own, to have a husband who loves, cherishes and supports me, but for the most part I’m pretty satisfied with my life. Although………..”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I wish that you and I spent more time together. We were so close growing up and we don’t really live that far apart. I guess we’ve both just changed a lot since becoming adults.”
“Yea I suppose,” Sandra says absent-mindedly. “If you’re ok here, I really had better get started on the work I brought.”
“Yes. I’m fine,” Sarah says disappointed that Sandra didn’t say something more about their relationship or express any desire to change it.
“I’ll just be in the dining room if you need anything and in a few hours I’ll prepare us some lunch. Did you want me to get you that book you’d mentioned earlier?”
“Sure,” Sandra replies. “I believe I left it on the coffee table in the living room. It’s The Glass Slipper by Martha Thompson.”
After Sandra brings Sarah the book, she gathers her bags and goes into the dining room where Sarah listens for a few minutes to her working and then tries to get back into the plot of the novel she’d started a couple of weeks ago. For some reason she can’t seem to get back into the book and finds herself reading the same lines over and over again. Finally, after 45 minutes of this she sets the book aside and reaches for the remote control that Sandra left on her nightstand. She doesn’t expect there to be anything on TV of interest to her since it is a weekday and the only thing on are game shows and soap operas---neither of which she’d ever particularly enjoyed in. After a few minutes of flipping channels, she gets bored with this too. For some reason she feels very restless and can’t focus on anything. Her mind keeps returning to what her sister muttered when she was coming out of her faint the previous night. Something about it has Sarah really worried. Even though she refused to think about it before, it seems that now she can’t stop thinking about it.
When she was 10 and Sandra was 8 there had been a man who had come to town looking for work. Several people in the area had given him jobs to do around their homes, which kept him in Lomax for a little more than a month. He had said he was a former carpenter and that he had come up from Georgia and was headed for Indiana while working along the way to pay for his trip and feed himself. Because Lomax was such a small town and no one was ever turned away when they needed help, several families managed to find a roof that needed re-patching or a cupboard that needed refinishing to help him out. One family had had him sand and varnish the wooden floors in both their living and dining rooms—that was what kept him in town for the majority of his stay. The townspeople also kept him well fed so that little of the money he’d earned had to be spent for food. If they had known that their trust in him was so little deserved, they might have just as likely have poisoned him as fed him.
Sarah, of course, didn’t know about the other children he had molested, which meant she also didn’t know that Sandra had been one of several children he’d molested that summer; she’d thought she was the only one who he had played his sick game with. Now after hearing Sandra talk about doing something that “little girls aren’t supposed to do”, she has begun to wonder if there were other children he’d hurt---possibly even Sandra.
The strange thing is he’d never done any work for her family that summer, because their Dad had always taken care of the repair work that needed doing around the house. He and their Mom, Diane would do it together. Their dad would do the main part of the job and his wife would assist him---that usually meant she kept him company, reached him tools when he needed them and brought him something to drink when he got thirsty. There had been occasions when their Mom would be right alongside him sweating harder than he had been, but Sarah had come to realize that those occasions were just another opportunity for them to spend time together. Throughout the years of their marriage their parents had remained in love.
The first time Sarah had played the game with the stranger she had been walking along one of the paths in the woods that bordered their back yard. She and Sandra often explored the woods alone and felt safe doing so. Even when she’d seen him she wasn’t alarmed. She didn’t know who he was, but she figured that someone did and that if he were a bad person, that no one would let him stay in town.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hello, “ he responded.
Then they just stood staring at one another for a few seconds.
“Would you like to play a game?” he asked her.
She and Sandra had just had one of their rare fights and she had been planning to go sit in the woods until she felt better, but she figured playing a game would be more fun.
“Sure,” she responds.
The man was wearing a hat that was way too big for him and the woods weren’t as bright as their back yard so she couldn’t see his face very well even when she went to stand in front of him as he’d asked her to do.
“Do you know the story of Sleeping Beauty?”
“Of course I do,” she says. “But that’s not a very fun game to play. I’m 10 you know.”
“Oh 10,” he says. “Well, in that case I know a different way of playing it that will make it fun for you.”
“I only know one way to play it and I haven’t played it in years.”
“I’ll teach you how to play it this new way and you’ll like it a lot,” he says smiling at her and taking her hand to lead her further into the woods.
She had trustingly given him her hand and had followed him further into the woods. Once he reached a spot he felt was far enough away to keep him from the possibility of being interrupted, he told her to lie down on the ground with her hands folded across her stomach.
“Like this?” Sandra asked lying down on the cool dark brown dirt of the forest floor, her hands folded daintily across her chest.
“Yes. Exactly like that,” he answers. “Now I’m going to remove your shirt and your shorts so we can begin the really fun part of the game.”
“But you can’t. Mom told my sister and I that little girls only get undressed in the privacy of their rooms not in public even if no one else can see us. We don’t do that.”
“Your Mom is right too, but that’s only if you’re really undressing. This is only play undressing---you won’t take off your panties.”
“Oh,” Sandra says somewhat doubtfully.
“Ok. You have to be quiet now so we can begin to play the game ok?”
“I . . . I don’t think I should play this game any more. I have to go.”
“We’ll just play for a little while and then you can go ok?” he says as he begins kissing all over her body.
“Sarah,” Sandra calls again.
“Yes?” Sarah responds returning to the present.
“Where were you?” Sandra asks. “I’ve been calling and calling you.”
“Oh. I must not have heard you.”
“Yes I know. What were you thinking about? You had a really strange look on your face.”
“I don’t really remember,” Sarah says. “I was probably just sleep with my eyes open,” she chuckles in an attempt to laugh off Sandra’s questions and the memory of what had happened to her when she had been a little girl—she had been repeatedly molested and it had left her feeling ashamed and guilty. She wished she hadn’t remembered, but she remembered more than she cared to. She assumed that Sandra had pulled herself away from her work because it was time for lunch. She really wasn’t feeling very hungry, but she didn’t want Sandra asking her any more questions about her behavior so she’d have to force something down.
“There’s still some salad fixings from dinner last night,” Sandra says. “I’ll make that for our lunch and with some fruit that should be enough unless you think that you’ll need something more.
“No. That’s fine,” Sarah responds trying to sound as normal as possible and succeeding rather well.
By the time Sandra returns with her lunch, she feels pretty much normal. She’s not ready to talk to her little sister about what she has allowed herself to remember about that summer almost 30 years ago. She knows that eventually she will have to, especially in light of what her sister said last night when she was recovering from her faint. Sandra looks so peaceful and cheerful right now. Sarah doesn’t want to be the one to change that. Her work really seemed to agree with her—she obviously did a great job at it; Sarah could tell that the clothing and luggage she’d brought with her were expensive, quality products and as busy as she knew Sandra’s job kept her, she didn’t doubt that she made good money. From the look on Sandra’s face and feeling the energy she has brought into the room when she brings in their lunch, her working morning has infused her with energy. Sandra confirms this with her first statement after returning with her lunch.
“Wow! I had an enormously productive morning. I didn’t expect to get as much accomplished as I did. I thought it would take me 3 possibly 4 days to get to where I am now. I think that dip I took yesterday really refreshed my spirit.”
“That’s really great,” Sarah responds trying to sound cheerier than she feels. Now that she has remembered what happened that summer, she can’t seem to get the images of the man from that summer out of her head, but instead of her being the one he’s touching she sees Sandra and how she looked when she was eight years old. She had been beautiful even then and had become even more so as she grew older.
“Sarah, are you okay?” Sandra asks, stopping in the middle of what she is saying. “You don’t look well.” Then she laughs self-consciously. “What a stupid thing to say. Of course you don’t look well—you have pneumonia. Do you want to lie down? I can take this tray away and go back to work.”
“No. No,” Sarah says. “Please continue. It’s great medicine for me to see you like this. I really haven’t seen you so lively in years. It’s really great to see,” she finishes quietly looking at Sandra.
“Well, to be honest I’m not sure I have felt like this in years.”
Sandra feels her stomach turning on itself knowing that very soon she will more than likely extinguish that light from her sister’s eyes, but then again maybe she’s reading way too much into the relatively innocent remark her sister had made last night. After all she could have been talking about any number of things that their Mom said they shouldn’t do. Regardless of what Sandra had meant, now wasn’t the time to bring it up. She wanted to concentrate on what her sister was telling her and enjoy her company while she could. When she went back to Chicago, Sarah was pretty sure that it would be a while before she saw her again. She forced herself to bring her attention back to what Sandra was saying.
“……….and my assistant will begin putting the graphics together for the animation department. It’s really exciting to actually see our ideas coming together into concrete form.”
Sandra’s eyes sparkled as she looked at her sister. She gives a small laugh.
“Listen to me going on about this project. I haven’t stopped talking since we began lunch.”
“That’s ok. It’s good to see you like this. It changes your entire face and you actually look happy. I’m not sure when the last time is that I’ve seen you look happy.”
“I’m not sure when the last time I was happy,” Sandra blurts out before she has a chance to think about what she is revealing. “What I mean is not this happy,” she says in an attempt to cover her slip.”
“Sandra if you’re not happy then you can talk to me about it. I’m your sister. Has something happened in Chicago to make you unhappy?”
“No not at all. I didn’t really mean that I’m unhappy. I just would like to be passionate about something other than my work. I love Chicago, but I’ve begun to feel this intruding restlessness more and more when I’m not working. How many clubs, dinners and concerts can you go to after all?”
“You don’t have a boyfriend or someone special in Chicago?” Sarah asks her.
“Yea right,” Sandra laughs self-consciously. “I’m too busy with work to really have the time to get to really know a man. When I do have the time to go on the occasional date, the men are usually intimidated when they find out what I do and find out that I’m an assertive, intelligent woman. I don’t think I should have to be more interested in anything he has to say no matter how stupid or boring it is than in having opinions and thoughts of my own for a man to appreciate me.”
“You know something funny?” Sarah asks. “I have no idea if you’ve ever even been in a relationship with someone you’d consider marrying.”
Sandra laughs softly. “Well, I don’t know if you have either. But to answer your question, no there’s never been anyone I’ve loved so much I wanted to marry him--- although my boyfriend in college wanted to get married.”
She laughed again. “I could not see myself married to him. I mean we had a lot of fun and all and I even loved him, but I could tell that the feelings I had for him were not the kind of feelings you should have for the man you intend to spend the rest of your life with. He wanted children right away and I didn’t. I’m not sure that I even want children at all……,” she trailed off shaking her head.
“I think a big part of the reason I became a teacher is because I can’t have children.” Sarah said softly. “I truly love what I do and even some of the most difficult children always manage to find a place in my heart.”
“You can’t have children?” Sandra asks in shock. “But you never told me. How long have you known?” Sandra sounded hurt.
“I’ve known for years,” Sarah sighed heavily.
“But you never told me,” Sandra repeated in a small voice. “We’re sisters and sisters normally tell one another things like that. Did Mom know?”
“Yes, she knew. Her and Dad both knew.”
“So you’ve known for at least 10 years” Sandra says.
“I’ve known since I was 27,” Sarah replied dully.
Shaking her head slowly and looking at Sarah with hurt in her eyes, “I just don’t understand why you never told me.”
“Sandra you had moved out of Lomax, you were busy with school, then work and we had grown apart. It’s not something you tell someone in an e-mail or over the phone. At least I didn’t want to tell you that way. Then when you did visit there never seemed to really be a right time and you always seemed so aloof as if you weren’t really interested in our lives here in Lomax.”
“Oh so it’s my fault,” Sandra says jumping up from the edge of Sarah’s bed where she’d been sitting since finishing her lunch.
“No. That’s not what I’m saying at all,” Sandra protests. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It’s just that the situation was what it was and somehow almost 15 years passed and I still hadn’t told you that I couldn’t have children. Looking at this from your point of view, I can understand why you’d feel hurt, but that was never my intention,” Sarah says a pleading quality in her voice.
Sandra looks at Sarah and sighs heavily, some of the hurt has left her face, but she remains standing.
“I’ve really missed the bond we had when we were growing up Sandra. I felt as if we had regained a little of that since you came back,” Sarah says quietly.
Sandra sighs again and then sits back down on the side of Sarah’s bed.
“I know,” she says looking at the pleats she is making in Sarah’s quilt. “I’ve felt closer to you this past day and a half than I have in years.”
She pauses momentarily. “So how do you deal with not even having the choice of being a parent? Do you know why you can’t have children?”
“Well, I’ve had quite a while to adjust to it---much longer than you,” Sarah chuckles self-consciously. “So I’m pretty much fine with it now. I haven’t actively thought about it in years. I’ve adjusted. I have my children at school,” she says shrugging her shoulders. “As far as why I can’t have children I really don’t know. The doctors that I saw when I first found out performed every test imaginable and they couldn’t find anything physically wrong with me.”
“So then how do they know you can’t have children? I mean what prompted them to make that diagnosis if there isn’t anything physically wrong with you?”
“Well,” Sarah says sighing deeply, “there was a man I was very enamored with in my mid-twenties and we had been trying to have a baby. Month after month we would hope that I was pregnant, but nothing ever happened. I finally went to a doctor to find out why I couldn’t seem to get pregnant.”
“How do you know that he wasn’t the one who couldn’t have children?” Sandra asks.
“Because he already had a daughter.”
“Oh,” Sandra says.
There is a silence between the sisters for minutes. Finally Sandra breaks the silence.
“You had actually been trying to have a baby? Why didn’t you tell me about that either?”
“Because you don’t tell people when you’re trying. You tell them when you’re actually pregnant and you usually tell them months into that, but since I never got pregnant there was nothing to tell.”
“Sarah, I’m so sorry,” Sandra responds. “I didn’t realize how we had lost touch over the years. To think I didn’t even know you were involved enough with someone to even try to start a family.”
“Sandra at the time a year could easily pass without us speaking or writing. Sometimes it was even longer. He and our relationship lasted a little less than two years and once it was over there was no point in telling you about it.”
“I guess,” Sandra said somewhat doubtfully. “I suppose it doesn’t really matter---you’re telling me now. When I think back I’m not really sure when or how we even stopped talking to one another, but I don’t want that to continue.”
“Neither do I,” says Sarah.
The following morning the sisters are in Sarah’s bedroom. Sandra has just helped Sarah back into her bed after giving her a bath and making sure she’s taken her morning medication. After a short silence, Sarah asks: “So what’s on your agenda for today?”
“Well first of all we need to get you some breakfast. How does toast, scrambled eggs and applesauce sound?”
“It sounds wonderful. I’m pretty hungry. I took my medication after dinner and pretty much slept until right before you came in to take me to the bathroom.”
Sandra nods her head in acknowledgement of Sarah’s statement. “I’ll go get your breakfast started.”
Twenty minutes later Sandra returns with the golden brown toast, fluffy yellow eggs and smooth, almost creamy, applesauce she’d prepared for Sarah’s breakfast, carrying it on the same tray on which she’d brought Sarah her dinner the previous evening. She’d taken one of the flowers that she’d put in a vase with their dinner last night and placed it on the tray beside the silverware. The flower was a deep purple fading to a pale lilac orchid---Sarah’s favorite flower. Last night Sarah hadn’t really noticed the individual flowers that Sandra had put in the flower arrangement and she exclaimed with pleasure when she saw the exquisite flower Sandra had placed on her tray.
“What a beautiful orchid Sandra! I haven’t seen one so beautiful in a really long time. Where’d you find it?”
“I got them from that nursery that’s about five minutes from the Acme where Mom shopped when we were growing up. They have all different types of flowers there. Some I’ve never even heard of and they’re all absolutely beautiful, so full and lush. I had seen them on my way to Acme and decided I’d stop by after grocery shopping. Seeing your reaction I’m really glad that I did.”
Sarah smiles at Sandra. “I know you’ve already had breakfast, but would you keep me company while I have mine?”
“Sure. It’s still early and I have plenty of time to get some more work done.”
Sandra spoons some of the applesauce into her mouth, followed by some of the eggs. She’s not sure if this is the right time to bring it up or not, but then again there really is no right time to discuss what it is she has to talk to Sandra about.
Sandra, who has been studying her sister while she eats her breakfast, asks: “Is something on your mind? You wanted me to keep you company, but then you got quiet.”
“Actually, I do have something I’ve been thinking about that I’d like to discuss with you,” Sarah says glancing at Sandra without quite meeting her eyes.
“Well, what is it?” Sandra asks.
Sarah hesitates. This conversation could take her and Sandra’s relationship back to where it was before this trip---or worse. Would knowing the meaning of the remark her sister had made the first night she’d been here be worth that? She really didn’t know, but she felt as if she had to know if Sandra had been molested that summer too. She didn’t think she could return to normal unless she knew for sure. She takes a deep breath and plunges ahead.
“Sandra the night you fainted you made a comment when you were coming around that I’ve been wondering about since.”
“Yes,” Sandra says. “What was it?”
“You said it kind of low so I’m not entirely sure I heard you correctly, but it seemed to be something about Mom telling us that little girls are not supposed to do something.”
“I said that?” Sandra asks looking puzzled.
“Something like that, yes,” Sarah responds again not quite looking at Sandra. “Do you remember what you were thinking when you said it?”
“Sarah I was recovering from a faint. How would I know what—or if I was thinking of anything?” Sandra replies.
“I only ask because I remember saying something very similar the summer I was 10 that’s all.”
“Oh?” Sandra responds.
Instead of avoiding eye contact with Sandra, Sarah is now studying her sister’s face closely. Speaking hesitantly, Sarah says: “Even if you don’t remember why you said that I do remember the circumstances under which I said it. I remember I was playing in the woods one day like we did from time to time. I was alone…….”
“Sandra why are you bringing this up? I’m sure I meant nothing by what I said. You know for yourself there were a lot of things Mom told us we shouldn’t do, things that weren’t appropriate for little girls to do. I’m sure that’s all I was referring to.”
“Yes, I’m sure that’s what it was too,” Sarah responds. “But something about coming back to Lomax might have triggered a memory about something specific we weren’t supposed to do. I think I know what it might be.”
Taking another deep breath Sarah says: “ I want to tell you about something that happened to me that summer. Something that I think might have happened to you too.”
“Sarah, what are you talking about?” Sandra exclaims clearly perturbed.
“Just please let me tell you Sandra,” Sarah says.
“Ok,” Sandra says. Something about Sarah’s manner makes her reluctant to hear what Sarah has to say.
“As I was saying before, I was playing alone in the woods that were beside the house we grew up in. I don’t know if you remember the man that came to town that summer that some of the people in the neighborhood had hired to help them fix things around their house. While I was in the woods playing, he came through there. When he noticed me he just stopped and stared. I could tell he hadn’t expected to find anyone in the woods. I just stared back at him for several seconds. I wasn’t frightened or anything because I’d seen him before and besides what was there to be frightened of? I knew who he was and the neighbors he’d helped had only nice things to say about him, so finally I said hi. He said hi back---so low I almost didn’t hear him.”
“Sarah I don’t think I need to hear this.”
“Yes, Sandra you do need to hear it and even if you don’t, I need to tell it,” Sarah says quietly.
“Sarah…….,” Sandra begins standing up from the chair where she’d been sitting while she listened to her sister tell her story.
“Sandra please just listen to what I have to say. If not for your sake, then for mine.
Sandra sinks back into her chair and looks at Sarah for her to continue.
Sarah begins again as if there’d been no interruption. “After he spoke to me, he asked me if I wanted to play a game. I agreed and he told me to take off my clothes—my shorts and shirt.”
Again Sandra interrupts her. “Sarah my God. Are you going to tell me that he molested you?”
“Yes he did. And not just that one time either.”
“I don’t know what to say, Sandra says shaking her head in disbelief.
“You’re the first person I’ve told Sandra. He did it a several of times before he left town and after that I didn’t think it mattered and I wanted to forget it ever happened. Not that I could actually forget something like that.”
“Sarah I’m so sorry this happened to you. I wish you would have told me so I could have been there for you, but I don’t understand what this has to do with my trip here?”
“I honestly hadn’t thought about what he did to me that summer for a long time, but when I heard what you said the night you fainted, it all came back because what you murmured was so close to what I said to him the first time he molested me.”
“Are you saying that you think I was molested? Sarah, that makes no sense. If I had been molested, I would remember.”
“Not if you didn’t want to remember Sandra. You’re a very determined woman and you were just as determined when you were a little girl. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since you came back and I remember that summer was the same year you started having your headaches. I used to think they were just stress headaches related to you becoming a teenager like the doctor had said. You did sometimes get them when you were under a lot of pressure, but now that I’m remembering you hadn’t had any headaches before that summer and you didn’t always have them when you were stressed.”
“Well, that may be Sarah, but that doesn’t mean that I was molested. My God! You must think I’m crazy or something if you think I could forget something so horrific.”
“No, not crazy. Just a very hurt little girl who didn’t want to remember that hurt.”
“I’m telling you Sarah I wasn’t molested,” Sandra protested.
“Alright Sandra. I didn’t mean to upset you. I just wanted to make sure. I’m sorry I brought it up.”
“It’s fine,” Sandra says stiffly, but looking relieved. “If you’ve finished your breakfast, I can take this tray away and go get some work done for the day.”
“I’m finished,” Sarah says. “I think I’ll read a bit while you’re working. Could you reach me that book on my bureau dresser?”
“This one?” Sandra asks holding up The Glass Slipper.
“Yes, that’s the one. Thanks Sandra,” Sarah answers.
Sandra nods her head in acknowledgement of Sarah’s thank you then turns to leave the room with the tray in her hand. Sarah watches her walk out the door and then begins to read her book.
Apparently, Sarah had she’d fallen asleep while reading her book because something had awoken her, some repetitive sound. There it was again, a whining kind of drawn out sound. She listens closely trying vainly to figure out what could possibly be making such a sound. Finally, in frustration she gets up from her bed to try to find the source of the noise. As she heads for the dining room, the noise gets louder. She pushes open the door to the dining room, to find Sandra crying, her head on the dining room table and her arms wrapped around her middle as if an attempt to hold in her sobs.
“Sandra, what’s wrong?” Sarah asks alarmed.
Sandra continues sobbing and ignores her sister’s question.
“What is it?” Sarah asked again growing even more concerned.
“Sarah,” Sandra sobs. “It’s true. It’s true.”
“What is? What is true?”
“Sarah, he did molest me. He touched me and kissed me and did other things to me that I don’t even want to think about and he made me touch him. I hated it and I hated him for making me feel like I was no longer Daddy’s beautiful, good little girl.”
She looks at Sarah pleadingly. “How could I have forgotten something so terrible?”
Suddenly Sandra’s eyes widen in horror. “Oh God,” she exclaims. “Oh God, Sarah. I hurt him. I was tired of him making me feel dirty and bad so I hurt him. I don’t know how he would always find me when I thought I was staying out of his way. It was always a different place too. It was like he knew what I was thinking. I really was trying to stay away from him, but he just wouldn’t let me alone,” Sandra says angrily gritting her teeth. “One day he found me like he always seemed to. I had one of our kitchen knives with me. When he came up to me, I had it in my hand and I stabbed him in the stomach. He just stood looking at me, but I could see the pain in his eyes and I didn’t care. I wanted him to be in pain. I wanted him to suffer. I wanted him to go away and he wouldn’t……………..so I made him go away. Do you understand what I’m telling you Sarah?” Sandra asks frantically, her voice unrecognizable in her panic.
Sarah just looks at Sandra in shock her mouth agape. Sandra had killed someone. Sarah sinks into one of the dining room chairs. If that’s what Sandra was telling her that she’d done, then what happened that long ago summer was much worse than Sarah had even realized. Her sister was a killer. She’d taken the life of another human being.
“Sandra, did you kill him? Is that what you’re telling me?” Sarah asks her sister quietly still reeling.
“Yes, Sarah. I killed him. I didn’t mean to, but I wasn’t sorry either. When I realized he was so badly hurt, I didn’t try to get help. He already had his belongings with him so I didn’t have to do anything, but wait for it to be over. Once it was finished, it was easy enough to make it seem as if he had just left town. After all he had just wandered into town and now he had just wandered right back out,” Sandra says, her voice much calmer than it had been a few minutes earlier.
Sarah just looks at Sandra in shock. So she had killed him. She had been an 8-year old little girl and she had never let on. She never told anyone. She never let it bother her. Well, maybe that wasn’t entirely fair. More than likely that was why she’d started having the headaches and apparently she hadn’t even remembered what happened until now. Even taking all of that into consideration, it was unbelievable that her sister was a murderer. She shuddered at the use of that word. She just couldn’t think of her sister in those terms. She wasn’t a murderer---she had been defending herself against someone who had hurt her repeatedly. Even knowing Sandra had been protecting herself from a serial pedophile when she’d let the man die after stabbing him didn’t stop Sarah from regretting having Miss Randall call Sandra back to Lomax. Miss Randall would have been perfectly happy to have taken care of Sarah, but Sarah had wanted her sister with her.
“What are you thinking Sis?” Sandra asks evenly her voice blank.
“I don’t really know to be honest,” Sarah replies. “I’m still in shock. I had no idea when I told you about what happened to me that summer that I’d end up discovering you’d killed him.”
“Do you regret having me come to Lomax?” Sandra asks.
Sarah starts guiltily. “No of course not,” she says. “You’re my sister and I’m going to stand by you no matter what.”
Sandra exhales noisily. “I’m just not exactly sure what standing by me means at this point,” Sandra states.
“Honestly neither do I,” Sarah laughs without humor.
Sandra sits at the table with her head hanging down. Her tears have dried, but they’ve left dusty tracks down the length of her cheeks. And as Sarah had predicted, the brightness of her eyes has been extinguished. Sarah’s heart squeezes in agony at the change in her little sister’s demeanor and guilt worms it’s way through her at her part in seeing her sister at such a low point.
“I don’t really see why we need to actually do anything,” Sarah says.
Sandra raises her head and looks at her sister. “What do you mean?” she asks.
“Why do we have to do anything? No one has any idea of what happened that summer---other than the two of us and after all the time that has passed, it’s doubtful that anyone ever will. There’s no reason to put yourself through all of the commotion that would be caused by making this public. He obviously had no connections to anyone. No one ever inquired about him and when he was here everyone said that although he was friendly, he never talked much about himself, friends or family. He just seemed to be one of those rare people who didn’t feel the need to stay connected to anyone or any place. No one questioned the suddenness with which he left so there wouldn’t be anything gained by us sharing this information with anyone else.”
“But would that be right and would you be ok continuing to keep this a secret?” Sandra asks.
“Was it right what he did to us?” Sarah asks angrily. “For all we know he did this to other children as well. I’m not saying him dying the way did what happened was right, but it wouldn’t be right to ruin your life either.”
“No of course it wasn’t right. I’m just not sure that keeping this to ourselves is the right thing to do either.”
“The right thing to do is to continue on with your life. He already took a part of your childhood and it would be wrong to let him take anything more from you. It’s not as if you hurt him without provocation. He was a dirty, nasty man and he got what he asked for. I know I can’t tell you what to do Sandra, but at least think about what I said.”
“I will,” Sandra replies wearily. “I think I’ll go lie down for a bit.”
“Yes, I think that would be a good idea for us both. Could you help me back to my room first?”
“Of course. This can’t be helpful to your recovery Sarah.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine. You know our family has a strong constitution,” she says smiling wanly.
Sarah and Sandra return to their bedrooms each engrossed in her own thoughts. Sandra is uncertain how her confession that morning will affect their lives, but she doesn’t want it to change the paths they have chosen for themselves. She doesn’t know how that’s possible though. Just by sharing her secret with Sarah their lives have already changed. At least before even she was unaware of the secret that had remained buried in her subconscious all those years. Now if they decided to keep this information to themselves, it would be something that she and Sarah would both have to live with. It wasn’t just the changes in her life she had to consider. Even if she’d never told Sarah about what she’d remembered, it would have affected her since she still lived in Lomax. She just wasn’t sure what she should do.
As these thoughts whirl around her head, crowding out everything else, Sandra sits staring at nothing with the slightly dazed expression of someone in shock she hears the voice of her mother. At first she ignores the voice, but as is the unique privilege of motherhood it, can’t be ignored for long.
“Mother, what do you want?” Sandra asks impatiently, secretly disgusted with participating in the hysteria that her sister’s story of their mother’s visits and the revelations from her past have induced.
“Sweetie, I want what I’ve always wanted. I want you to be happy,” her mother replies.
“But, what does that mean?” Sandra asks her eyes closed. “I have no idea what me being happy means any more. Before I came here I thought I was happy, but now I’m just confused. There was a big part of myself that I didn’t even know about. Since my return to Lomax, I’ve found out that my sister has been talking to our dead mother, we were molested as children, and that I’ve killed someone. Now I have to make a decision that could totally change my life—has totally changed my life. Mom I wish you were here so badly. I really need you.”
Sandra opens her eyes expecting to see her mother before her telling her what she should do, how she should handle the situation in which she finds herself, but it wasn’t going to be that easy. This was her decision and her decision alone. She was on her own. No matter what Sarah thinks she should do, ultimately she is the one who has to decide how her life is going to continue from this moment.
She sighs despondently and lies back on her bed, eyes closed, arm flung over her face. She should just pretend that things are as they were before her trip here, but she just can’t seem to do that. She knows it would be best for everyone involved to do so, but she just doesn’t seem able to come to any decision---let alone that decision. She’s tired of being in this emotional limbo. The same thoughts have been going around and around in her head ever since she returned to her bedroom and she is no closer to a decision than she was prior to coming here. At least she now understood why she would always become tense when she came home. This thought followed her down into sleep where her dreams continued to torment her.
When she awoke about an hour later she felt no more rested than if she’d been sitting in her room worrying the entire time over the decision she needed to make. Her eyes burned and she knew if she looked in the mirror that the lids would be red as if she’d been crying. For some strange reason her ears seemed to be stuffed---she couldn’t hear sounds as clearly and her head seemed harder to hold up than normal. She still felt confused, but upon opening her eyes she’d decided that she wasn’t ready to take the chance on going to prison; she would just keep her secret between her sister and herself. She swung her legs over the side of the double bed in preparation for telling Sarah her decision. She imagined Sarah would be glad since she’d felt from the beginning Sandra should just keep it between the two of them.
A rhythmic creaking sound from the side of the house changed Sandra’s course from her sister’s bedroom to the porch that ran the entire length of the left side of the house. Pushing open the screen door by which she could enter onto the porch from the kitchen, she found her sister sitting in the wooden rocking chair that their father had used to sit in while smoking his pipe; their Mom had not allowed smoking in the house and since smoking was the only vice that their father had had, their Mom felt he could be allowed to do it at home.
One year she’d found the rocker at a yard sale in the next town over and had paid someone to repair the broken chair arms and varnish it until one could almost see their face in it before having it delivered to her. When she had presented it to their father, as was typical of his personality, he didn’t say much, but you could tell that he loved that chair from the moment he laid eyes on it. From then on the chair had been dubbed “the smoking chair”. Although neither girl had understood the pleasure people got from smoking, they had often enjoyed sitting on the porch while their father silently rocked away summer evenings smoking his pipe. To them their Dad always smelled of smoky apples—they didn’t realize until they’d gotten older that it was the scent of his favorite pipe tobacco. They’d just known that it was how their Dad smelled and they’d loved it.
Sandra found Sarah sitting in the chair, a light blanket across her knees slowly rocking to and fro. For a second Sarah’s face became their father’s face and Sandra could barely contain a gasp of astonishment.
“Sandra,” Sarah says without looking at her sister.
There’s a heartbeat of silence during which time Sandra can hear the sounds of crickets in the woods, birds singing in the trees of Sarah’s back yard and traffic passing along the rural streets of a small town in Maryland that had been named after a Civil War hero when it was founded in 1902.
“Good,” says Sarah. “I was hoping that was the decision you’d make. It is for the best you know.”
“No, I don’t know, but it’s what I’m going to do and since it’s what I’ve decided there’s no point in whining about it,” Sandra responds registering no surprise at her sister’s knowledge of the decision she’d made less than a minute ago. She guessed that so many strange things had happened in the past two days that Sarah’s apparent ability to read her mind didn’t really seem to be out of the ordinary.
“Sandra, you’re my sister.”
“Yes, I know,” Sandra responds not really hearing what Sarah is saying.
Sarah looks at Sandra for the first time since she came outside. She looks intently into Sandra’s face and grabs Sandra’s hand tightly in hers.
“I don’t think you heard me Sandra. I said you’re my sister.”
“Ouch Sarah that hurts,” Sandra says rubbing her hand below the knuckles where Sarah had been squeezing it. “And yes I heard you. I’m your sister. I know this and I’ve known this all my life.”
“I was there the day you stabbed him. I’d actually wanted you to do it. I had no idea you had the knife on you, but I followed you that day. I’m not sure why, but I did. I saw you go into the meadow that was behind the Miller’s barn. I remember they had built that barn about a half an acre away from their home. I thought it was the stupidest thing anybody had ever done. I never understood why anyone would want to build a barn on their property when they didn’t have any farm animals and why so far out. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that the barn wasn’t for them at all. I guess you must have realized it a lot sooner than I had because that’s where you headed that day. It was beautiful in there and it smelled……safe. You’d even spent some time in the barn reading one of your favorite books. It was Charlotte’s Web. I found it on one of the bundles of hay after you had left and took it home with me. You must have gotten tired of reading and was wandering around in the meadow near the barn. There was never anywhere anyone could go in town where they were too far from some woods. You had just wandered into the edge of the woods when he found you. I stood watching you for a few minutes and was about to approach you when you made a sudden thrusting motion at him. He got really still and remained standing for a good 30 seconds before he fell to his knees. After he fe1l over onto his side, you kneeled beside him---checking for his pulse I guess. You left him at the edge of the woods. It wouldn’t have been that difficult for someone to have come around there and discover his body so after you left I pulled him further into the woods---a few miles anyway. It was incredibly hard work, but I had played baseball for the last three summers and was usually the first one picked for teams in gym because I was so athletic so I was strong enough to handle it. The woods themselves weren’t a place people in town hung out so I wasn’t too worried about anyone discovering his body. A long time went by and no one ever said anything about a body found in the woods beside the meadow near the Miller’s barn so after a while I forgot about what had happened that day although I never forgot what he did to me.”
“So you already knew he’d molested me?” Sandra asked.
“No. I never knew why you had stabbed him and strangely enough it never occurred to me to wonder. What matters now is that you’re my sister,” she said again, holding out her hand to Sandra.
This time Sandra took Sarah’s hand voluntarily and when Sarah again gripped her hand hard enough to crush the delicate bones, Sandra ignored the pain and held on to her sister’s hand for dear life.