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The little girl makes no reply. She doesn’t look up, but instead continues to stir her uneaten oatmeal, gazing into it intently.
“Sid,” I repeat.
My little sister scoots her chair back noisily, lets her spoon fall into her mushy breakfast and marches barefoot out the back door into the yard. Sighing with frustration, I sit still and watch her through the large window. She saunters towards the birch tree and sits below its low, crisscrossing branches, leaning her ankles inward so that her toes touch. After a moment I follow her outside and sit opposite her in the cool grass, taking in the warm sunbeams that counter the briskness of the fluttering wind.
Her eyes are closed and her head leans serenely against the tree’s white bark, her pale bangs falling into her eyes. She knows I am there and is unaffected by my presence. I look at her. Sid. A small-framed little girl with fairy wings. She doesn’t really have wings, of course, but you get the feeling that they’re there, only invisible to the ordinary eye. You can sense them, sort of like an aura, if you believe in auras, which I don’t. She looks more like herself than she does anywhere else when she’s under this birch tree, her feet bare, her eyes closed, her hands folded on her lap, just sitting, being Sid. I want to take a picture of her right here, right now, but I know she wouldn’t let me. She’s camera-shy.
Right now she won’t talk because she’s mad at me. Not mad at me, just mad. I suppose she’ll tell me why when she’s ready. For now, she basks in silence and the dappled shade cast by the branches above.
Spreading my two legs out in front of me—one flesh, one metal—I gaze up at the little string of red glass beads that dangles from one of the birch’s higher branches, swaying and undulating in the breeze. Sid hung it there last year as a memorial for her late parakeet. My eyes fall once again on my sister and, standing up, I wander back toward the kitchen, take one of the brownies we made yesterday afternoon out of the refrigerator, warm it in the microwave for thirty seconds, and then wrap it in a napkin and venture outside again. I place the veiled confection on Sid’s lap. She doesn’t budge but I know she’s thinking, thank you.
I’m about to go inside again when I hear the word “Helena” spoken from the direction of the birch tree. I turn around. My sister only uses my full name when she needs to say something very serious.
“Sidney,” I reply, with lighthearted mockery. I sit down beside her. She scoots over so that I can prop my head up on the birch’s trunk.
“I’m not mad at you anymore,” she announces quietly, unwrapping the napkin and breaking the brownie in half. She hands one half to me and I wait a few seconds before biting into it, letting its hot moisture soak into my fingertips.
“That’s good,” I say between bites. “Would you like to come back inside and finish your oatmeal?”
“No.” She shakes her head slightly. “This is yummier.”
“Oatmeal is healthier.”
“Brownies are yummier.”
“I could cut up some bananas in the oatmeal. Maybe put in some more brown sugar.”
“No. It already has too much brown sugar.” She wipes her fingers on the napkin and crumples it in her palm. She bites her lip and sighs. I lace my fingers through hers.
“Sid, you’re still upset, aren’t you?”
“Yes. I am.”
“Upset about what?”
“What about school?”
“We don’t learn anything.”
“What?” This surprises me. Sid’s the smartest in her class. I know she must be learning some in school.
“We train, but we don’t learn,” she explains, leaning her head back and letting sunbeams grace her upturned nose. “I want to learn about life, Lennie. I want to learn about why people write books. About the hidden messages artists put in paintings. About all the little things that made the world what it is and how if someone back in Ancient Greece or something decided to go for a walk one day instead of staying at home, the world would be different.” I don’t know if the glints of light in her irises are tricks of the light, but if they weren’t, I wouldn’t be surprised. She closes her eyes and crosses her arms. “But instead, we’re learning fractions. Fractions. That’s what I’m learning in school.”
Neither of us speak for a while. Instead, we listen to the whisper of the wind in the lush treetops. “I hate my name,” I say finally, giving a little laugh to show that I’m not upset, which I am.
“Helena is a beautiful name,” Sid says firmly, plucking a scraggly dandelion from among the grass and scattering its scant fluff.
“Exactly. That’s the point.” I gaze thoughtfully at my left leg, the one that’s metal from the knee down. “Helena—after the Greek queen Helen, the one whose beauty could launch a thousand ships.” I scoff, incredulous of such a prospect. “A beautiful name for an ugly girl with one leg.” I smile and shrug to counter the tears that threaten whenever I talk about this subject.
Sid, who has pulled up several more dandelions and threaded them into a little wreath, places it upon my head like a crown. “You are Queen Helen,” she says simply and sincerely. “Really, you are. Don’t make that face. You are the most beautiful of anyone, Lennie.”
I give her hand a squeeze. The wind pauses for a breath and the air is warm and still. There are still traces of the taste of brownie in my mouth, but even stronger, much stronger, is the taste of something I can’t put into words. I want to go out and make something, do something that will make both Sid and myself proud. The excitement I feel floods me in an overwhelming wave and I feel like screaming. But it passes, and I feel at peace again, calm, feeling Sid’s hand in mine, the pulses in our wrists mingling and uniting. I think about what she said—“You are the most beautiful of anyone, Lennie.” Sitting here, in this yard, this garden—Sid’s garden—I almost believe her.