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Frayed

Margo was my sister. Twins. Though, I met her when I was six. That's when she moved into the slums with us. She lived in my building. We have - had - the same wavy brown hair. The same large, green eyes. We played games together. Her mother was never home. My father always drank the thick, clear liquid from the brown bottle. Her dad always screamed and hit. My mother always cried. We were the same. Sort of.
***
Margo spent the night with me every other day. She would knock on my door with bruises on her face, black eyes, a busted lip. Sometimes she could barely crawl across the hall to my apartment. But she was always smiling when I opened the door for her. Always smiling. One day it was raining. We played with dolls, ratty hair eyes like silky marbles that opened and closed as you tilted the things' bodies. It was late. We only had one flash light to see by.
"Riley, we're sisters," Margo said. We must have been about ten. "We're sisters. I know it. No one else is brave enough to say it, but I am. And I know you are too." She sits her doll down and rakes a broken comb through the thing's hair.
I swallow, putting small Mary Jane’s on mine. They didn't want to fit her feet. "Sisters," was all I said. But it was like some magical bond. From that moment on, we were inseparable. We went everywhere together, did everything side by side. That's how it always was. We'd run through the street, shouting at the chickens, smearing mud on our dresses. Her father would always yell when she came home dirty. So I gave her my dresses to wear. I didn't like the mud much. And she didn't like getting hit anymore. It worked for us.
***
"I want to leave, Riley," she said. Margo broke half of the loaf of bread and passed it to me. It wasn't raining, but it wasn't sunny either. We were sitting near one of the transit stations, on the curb. Watching as carts raced back and forth, up and down the streets, as the trains rolled in. Whistles howling.
"Where are we going?" I ate my bread.
She grinned. Her bright eyes shining in the sun. I wish mine would shine like Margo's. "The city." The words came out as a whisper. I still remember my shock at hearing them. We'd have to take a train to get to the city. I'd never been outside the slums except for once, when I was five and Mother and me ran away for a while because Daddy had gotten into trouble with the commanders. All I can remember is how light everything was. How perfect, and clean, and nice. Nothing like the slums. The city was a world filled with wonder to my eleven-year-old self. "I want to go tonight. I can't stay here anymore."
Margo came to my room after dark. It must have been either really late at night, or really early in the morning. I'd been doing nothing but packing and worrying. What would happen if we got caught? What were our parents going to say? What were they going to do when they woke up and we were gone? It took me forever to realize that I didn't care. I didn't care if they panicked and called in the commanders, I didn't care if they didn't care at all. I didn't care if they had already forgotten that I existed the second my foot left our front door. I still don't.
We ran to the transit. Margo had taken enough money from her father's drawer to buy two tickets to the city and a bit of food after. But she didn't buy us tickets. The train was too bright inside, and we didn't want to be seen. So when the train stopped and the passenger doors opened onto the platform, Margo jumped off one edge and ran back to the cattle cars at the end of the train. She pulled me up the ladder after her, and we slept on the roof that night, under the stars and the raising sun with nothing but our small, blue dresses, and our little bags. By that point we had left the dolls and dreams of princesses long behind.
The train ride took three days. We jumped off at King's Street. It was a slower area. People looked at us. Judged us. We stood out. It sucked.
Margo found Hector. The dark-haired, Mexican boy. She called him Tex-Mex. She told me once that she wanted him to kiss her. I don't remember how that made me feel. I must have been fourteen. Fifteen, maybe. And Hector would have been almost eighteen. But he was nice. And he acted like we did. He is innocent - or was for a while. He would watch me a lot the longer we stayed in the city. He told me we were all connected, the three of us. That we felt things that other people didn't. Margo started to have bad dreams about a few weeks after he told me that. She said she saw people dying. Hector said he could feel people's anger. Me? I felt pain. Loneliness and lots of pain. Margo only dreamed of her people. Hector only got flashes. But me, I felt pain. All the time.
Sometimes I managed to ignore it. But there would be days when it would hurt too much. Where I'd just curl up and spend all day in bed. Margo always stayed with me on those days. She made Hector make me food that I wouldn't eat. Sometimes it would hurt so much I'd scream. That's when Hector would hold me. He'd hold me so tight. I thought I'd snap in half sometimes. He said I felt the imbalances in the universe. Between people. He said that's why it hurt so much. Because so many people were hurting at the same time. I hardly ever spoke to Hector then.
There were people who would whisper about the three of us. Hector said that we needed to find the others. That there were thirty three other people like us. That there were always thirty-six of us. Always. When one of us died, another would take our place and feel our pain.
Trees and countryside blur past me between the gap in the door of the cattle car.
Margo said that when one of us falls, the other wouldn't be far behind. Because we were sisters. Because we were linked. Because we loved each other.
***
There was a fire. I remember the fire. I also remember the people. How Margo had been working in the kitchen. Cooking dinner for the three of us. I had gone to put a book away. There was a bang. Hector said it was gunshots. He grabbed me to run, but I couldn't leave Margo. I went to the kitchen. The stove was on fire. Everything was an eerie sort of orange. Margo was on the floor. Crying. I picked her up. We walked to the landing at the top of the stairs. I could hear voices behind us. People shouting. More gunshots. Hector was waiting at the bottom of the stairs for us. Margo said we should jump. We'd make it down faster.
We fell together. Margo never got up.
***
I can still taste the fire. It mingles with the cool, night air slipping through the door.
Hector said it was the commanders that came after us. That they were threatened by our abilities to sense the injustices. To know that the world was wrong. We stayed on the south side of the city for a while. Me and Hector. I would still spend days in bed. He would still hold me while I screamed. He kissed me one night. And all I could think about was how Margo had wanted that. That Margo had wanted that kiss. That I didn't deserve it. I tried to jump from the kitchen window one day, but he found me. He only held me tighter after that.
He told me I shouldn't blame myself for Margo's death. I don't blame myself. I don't know who to blame. I'm just . . . confused.
I would lie on the floor like Margo had and wonder what it would be like to never get up again. I don't think I ever cried for her. Not until one rainy night. It must have been two years since the fire. Since she died. I was in the bathroom. I'd cut my finger on a razor. Not on purpose. It wouldn't stop bleeding, and I couldn't think of anything but Margo. I cried harder than I'd ever cried before. Hector found me with the shower running. He sat on the floor with me and held me tight. He kissed my hair and told me it would all go away soon. That all the pain in the world would go away. He promised it would. But I didn't believe him. I knew it was a lie. The pain never truly goes away. But he held me tight and he wouldn't let me go. Even when I kicked and screamed.
Why do trains sound like piano keys? The same tone over and over again, never changing tempo.
Margo always liked the piano. I did too. I don't know if I still do though.
Yesterday Hector said that the commanders are looking for us again. That we needed to hide somewhere. I did what Margo would have done. I still remember the way it felt to jump off the platform without her. To run to the train's end on my own and climb the ladder. Hector followed, but it was like she was there too. We climbed into the cattle car this morning as we left another station. I still remember how I saw her waving from the platform at me. She was pale, almost transparent. But she was there. And I know we are connected.
Hector wraps a strong arm around me and I lean into his chest.
Even though I know Margo's gone. Even though I'm running for my life. I know, somehow, she's still with me. That she will always be my sister.



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