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“I told her that Dad was dead. I had to be blunt! How else would she get it?” A pause. “Yes, I understand.”
I heard my older sister talking on the phone with someone. I stared at her. I was empty; utterly empty. He was gone. He would never come back.
The picture of our dad on the mantle caught my attention. I walked up to it and touched the glass with my fingertips as if I could somehow make him magically appear and hug us. Laugh with us.
The picture shifted and blurred as I stared at the picture. Dad had an easy smile on his face, a kindness and intelligence in his eyes. I mimicked that smile and my vision cleared, but my face felt like ice had been placed upon it. I put my hand to my face and pulled it back. I was numb. I didn’t feel anything when I looked at the shimmery wetness on my hand that continued to shift in and out of focus at random intervals. I closed my eyes to the world.
Muffled steps on carpet did not make me open my eyes. A hand touched my face. It was warm. Too warm.
“I know. It hurts. Let it out.” Her voice was broken, and hiccups consumed her. The rest of what she said to me was lost by the gasps she so desperately tried to hold back for me. She wanted to be strong. Strong like Dad.
I opened my eyes. She held my gaze for a second before shudders and hiccups racked her body. I put my hand to her cheek. I noticed wet was on her face as well, and still I felt nothing. I couldn’t feel anything. I was empty.
“You don’t always need to be so strong.” My voice was barely above a whisper. But she heard me. Above her gasps, she stopped. She stopped, and her intense blue eyes dove deep into mine.
Her hands found my shoulders and she collapsed onto her knees in front of me. Her whole body shaking. Her hiccups turned into a wail that made me want to collapse to my knees as well, but still, I did not feel. I took the picture into my hands and watched it, even as it blurred in and out of focus.
“He’ll still be here.” I placed the picture of Dad into her hands. She stared at it for a long time. She held the frame to her chest and fell over it, her beautiful body hunched over. I just stood, watching her. I would not feel.
The hiccups came and I scrunched up my face, burying it in my hands. The wetness leaked through my fingers, all over my face. They fell to my lips and tongue; the salt was surprising, but did nothing to fix the dam that had been broken inside me.
I fell over my sister in an attempt to get rid of all despair. She wrapped her arms around me. I felt safe in her embrace. She held the picture at arms’ length. Dad was still smiling, still just as happy and bright as before, again I had to smile, try to look just as easily happy.
My sister’s voice was a broken whisper. “You’re right. He’ll always be… right here.” She placed her lips upon my brow and squeezed me tight.
Her eyes were so beautiful, the color of the sky. Just like Dad’s. Her blotched face and blood-red eyes made her look perfect. The world around her was not. Our life was not.
We stared at the picture for a long time. The warmth of her embrace comforted me, but not enough. We were silent, except for the occasional gasp of air and sniffle, trying to be so strong. But we were not. The house was empty, except for us. The house was empty, just like me.
When Mom came home, neither of us moved. We would not look. She would not see. Mom never spoke. We faintly listened to the sound of her heels coming down on the floor. She was in the hallway, making her way up to the bedroom on the second floor.
“You stay here.”
I nodded, exhausted. I wanted to sleep. I wanted to stare at the picture until my eyes would not see. Only then, would I move.
Above me I heard soft squeaks. Voices I could not understand. I would not hear. I could not feel. Not anymore.
Sister came down with her face blotched red once again. She looked at me once. Just once.
She came to me quickly. I was smothered by her arms. Something kept touching my head. A steady beat that was much to slow. Her voice was broken. I hardly understood.
I never saw Mom. She never came down. Sister stayed by me. It was only her.
“Where is Mom?”
Sister looked at me. Her face was blank. Her eyes were covered by a film of liquid. She dropped her eyes to the floor. I came to her, and wrapped my arms around her legs, pulling her close.
“She –” Her hand went to her face. She fell back from me. Her back hit the counter. The noise was deafening in our seemingly empty house. In my mind, it echoed. Like a clock you stare at forever. It never stops ticking. You hear it all the time. It never stops.
I stood back from my sister, watching her. Her bent over form could not explain. I understood. Mom would be like Dad in the picture frame. I sleep with him watching me. He was still smiling at me.
Mom was gone from us, too. She would not come back. She was an empty shell, just like our house.