by K. M. Frantz
On the eve of your fortieth birthday, I sat and glanced at the chalkboard hanging on the wall adjacent to my chair. On its surface were colorful reminders I’ve left for my family—usually things pertaining to our day-to-day. Occasionally, I’d give a welcoming shout-out to a visiting guest or friend, but that particular time I had just added an inspiring acrostic called “THINK.” I didn’t write the poem, but as the mother of moody teens I liked its “think before you speak” message.
Despite the throbbing headache that started days earlier, I considered those letters T-H-I-N-K at great length; though, my thoughts weren’t focused on its surface meaning at all. Instead, I was remembering you. It was kind of ironic, really. That a simple, five-letter word written on a chalkboard was the key that unlocked nostalgia’s door and took me back to the second floor of that white, two-story house on Maysville Pike we lived in with our mother. We stood at the top of the staircase enveloped by white plastered walls and brown carpet, or maybe it was olive, that had age spots where some of the diamond-like patterns were once weaved in.
The year was 1987. We were both fair-skinned with long blonde hair, but your eyes were green and I had bright baby blues. You were taller than me, but that’s to be expected as I was the little sister and only five years old. Though four years apart, we kept our mom on her toes . . . especially once that giant chalkboard—like the one on my now dining room wall—came into the picture. I don’t even know how we acquired the chalkboard. I bet the manufacturer never would have guessed what we had planned for its use. To say we were rambunctious would have been an understatement. We behaved like two fearless rule breakers, and our task was to turn that chalkboard into a makeshift rollercoaster.
We placed the large board at the top of the stairs. We climbed aboard our flimsy coaster car and held onto each other. I wish I remembered which of us sat in front. Probably me. I was a naïve child. Together, we counted down, “Three. Two. One. Go!” We sailed down the stairs like we were teammates bobsledding for an Olympic gold medal. Our speed grew faster and faster until—THUMP! Stopped by the wall, the ride was over as quickly as it began. A thousand giggles erupted almost immediately. Of course, it’s unclear whether the sound was truly original or just a figment of my grown imagination. Is it even possible to remember the sound of someone else’s voice when it’s been silenced for so long? I whispered. Did I truly hear you, or did I only hear myself? It didn’t matter, I suppose. We skipped back up the stairs, hands clasped together.
The mind is a mysterious place full of secrets and hidden passages. The subconscious feeds on our inner emotions, so it was no surprise when my head felt as if an ice pick had forcefully taken residence behind my left eye; it happened about a month prior as well, in July. In fact, that damn ice pick had been torturing me twice a year for the past twenty-eight years. Why would I have thought this year to have been any different? But, it was no secret as to why. It had never been a secret. The reason was you, dear sister.
The fourth week of each July proved challenging in every way — this past July was no exception. I was moody, somber, and had a splitting headache. I even ate emotionally. I felt as if a cloud hung over me the entire week, though there was no logical reason for it. Most people probably chalked it up to PMS, but that couldn’t be the excuse for every shitty day. No. Like the eve of your birthday — like always — it was you. And, I couldn’t even be mad at you, Shauna, because . . . well, it was not your fault. I took another look at the chalkboard in my dining room and, once again, entered its portal to the past.
There was an apartment complex that rested next to an open field where a small forest of grown oaks lived. We didn’t live in the complex, but our mom’s friend did. She babysat us that day, but I don’t know why. It was hard to even recall whether you lived with us during those days, or were simply visiting. Sometime before, your dad and stepmother threatened to take our mom to court for full custody, so you implored her to just let you go and keep the peace. You were wise beyond your years, and I have no doubt your heart was in the right place. I just wish your evil bitch of a stepmother would leave our mom alone now. There has never been anything to gain by basically stalking our mom.
We played in the creek beside the babysitter’s apartment that day. We stood on a gigantic rock—one large enough for the two of us — that rested in the water at the bottom of the bank. We had matured by two years and I remember you wearing these black ankle boots. Of course, I was barefoot. I wish I knew what game we were playing. At least then I might have some idea about what was to come next. I watched as you splashed through the shallow water and bent down to pick up the glass bottle you had spotted.
“Here! We can use this,” you said as you climbed your way back to the top of the rock. Upon standing, the slick soles of your boots slid out from under you and you crashed to the ground. The bottle in your hand smashed along the side of the rock and sliced your right arm at the wrist, right across the major radial artery. I could see the blood gushing down your arm. I could see the tears as they streamed down your face — but I couldn’t hear a sound. I ran for help. Your arm was submerged in a bowl of freezing ice water clear up to your elbow. The ambulance came, but I knew nothing more. I guess my brain had experienced its fill for the day and blocked everything else out.
Back in my dining room I started thinking about your accident. No, not the one in the springtime with the glass bottle; the other one — the one that took you from me. I had just celebrated by eighth birthday a few weeks before, and it was about a month before your twelfth. I had been spending time with my dad that hot July, but it was unclear whether it had been a weekend visit or the two-week stint I often did during the summer. It was unimportant anyway. Dad and I were at my grandmother’s house when he sat me down and told me about the accident you were involved in. Of course, I didn’t learn all of the details at that time, then again, maybe I did and just had no recollection, but later found out a red and green light, and a screaming ambulance, were to blame. Irony could sometimes be cruel.
At some point that day, a child had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance. Your stepmother was driving a station wagon with multiple children in the car. She was stopped at a red traffic light. The light changed to green and she began to cross the intersection, I was told, at the same time the ambulance barreled through. The two vehicles collided. The station wagon spun from the impact, and you hit your head on the dashboard before being thrown from the car where you landed, head first, on the sidewalk outside of a local business. It has been said the businessman complained about the blood and gauze left behind at the scene of the accident. As if that were important.
One last time, I left my dining room through the portal and found myself walking down a long, white corridor that looked as if it could go on forever. There were people all around me and the lights were as bright as the sun. The windows were too high to really gaze through, but I could see a hint of sky that peeked through the glass. It appeared dark and gray—like the gloom that hung in the air. We sat in a large room filled with tables and chairs for what felt like hours. It was an ugly room with two, large ugly silver doors — which for some reason children weren’t allowed to cross. But you were back there behind those doors, and I wanted to be there too. “We don’t want you to remember her this way,” someone said to me, “she doesn’t look the same.” But I was eight, I didn’t understand. If I couldn’t see you, then why was I there? That’s a question I continued to carry with me for years.
I couldn’t remember anything else about that day — just that you were sleeping in peace. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw you, or the last time we played. Those memories had faded away. All I could see as I stared at that chalkboard adjacent to my chair was the pink crocheted blanket you loved so much, and your golden crown. I could even see the framed picture of you that was surrounded by a blanket of red roses. But I couldn’t see your face.
I’ve always wondered what you looked like after that accident. “Her head was swollen as big as a basketball,” Mom said. “Her head was shaved.” A basketball? Is that really possible? “She was a vegetable.” It wasn’t clear to me how I came to understand what she meant by “vegetable.” It seemed as if I simply knew what it meant, but that was not likely. Someone probably explained it to me. The only thing that ever became clear was how angry I later became at never being allowed to see you, or say goodbye. Didn’t I earn that right as your sister? Our mother said goodbye. Your father said goodbye. Even my father said goodbye. But I didn’t have that chance. I wasn’t given the choice; the choice was made for me. It’s probably the reason I didn’t cry at the funeral. I knew you were gone, but there was no finality of it.
Didn’t I deserve closure?
I’ve always wondered what our relationship would have been like had you lived, and I’m often plagued by a myriad of unanswerable questions. Would we have been best friends? Would we have gotten into trouble together? Would you still eat pickles wrapped with slices of American cheese? Seriously . . . I never understood how you could stand eating that! Would you tease me about the time you filled a cup with a yellow substance, coerced me to drink it, then convinced me it was pee? For the record, it was pickle juice. Would I try to get you back for your childish trickery? Would you have had children of your own, or just enjoyed playing “auntie” to your nephews? Would I have been at your side when your time finally came, or would it have been you at mine? Would I have had these almost debilitating headaches and mood swings for any reason other than PMS had I simply had closure? That’s the million-dollar question.
The businessman received his closure once the blood was cleaned up. Maybe, had the blood stained the sidewalk permanently, I would have been able to seek closure through its image. Instead, I’ve allowed my subconscious to call the shots, and it’s tricked me by having closed the gate to what’s true, and open the gate to what’s not.
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student