I didn’t ask for a sister. I didn’t ask for any sibling. Unlike other kids, I just wanted to be an only child. Then, I wouldn’t have to compete for attention. I wouldn’t have to be jealous if she ever got better grades than me, or be embarrassed if she was a failure.
But I got Sally anyway, who is two years my junior. I don’t like her, and she doesn’t like me. Sure, she’s the one who I talk about all my friends problems with, and the first one person I show everything I discover to. Overall, though, she and I are too different to be friends. While I was quiet and studious, Sally was immature and lazy.
Now, I have my wish. I’m an only child now. It’s always impossible to imagine someone die, to imagine them eliminated from the world. You could never know what it would be like without them, so it’s a blank shock at first.
It wasn’t my fault that Sally passed away. She never took care of herself. It annoyed me to know end, but the consequences finally caught up to her when she died of a fatal illness. I had sighed irritably that day, seeing her unmoving corpse in the hospital bed, wreathed in white sheets and pillows I scoffed. If only she were actually that angelic when she was alive. I peered down at her, I closed my eyes, mentally chiding her carelessness. I told you so.
That took away the blame I felt for myself. I don’t know why it was there.
It’s Monday, two days after my sister’s death. I wake up and walk mechanically towards Sally’s closed door. Turning the handle silently, I whip the door open and yell. “WAKE UP, SALLY!”
There’s no response. Right. Feeling embarrassed, I go the bathroom by myself, and blearily squeeze the toothpaste onto my toothbrush, anticipating the moment my sister would interrupt me, and come barging in, plopping onto the toilet without bothering to close the door again.
It never came.
I walk downstairs, and prepare breakfast by myself, careful to fry one egg instead of two. I pour a single glass of milk, and sit alone at the kitchen table, staring at the empty space across from me. I check the time. 7:15 AM.
I instinctively stand up, but I sit back down. I have five free minutes before the bus comes. I’m always the early one to finish my food, and I always get ready at a quarter past seven so I can be out the door when I needed. The bus doesn’t come until 7:30, but as Sally’s the world’s slowest eater, she usually ends up dragging out her breakfast until 7:28. The four minutes before the bus arrives is chaos, with me yelling “hurry up and grab your backpack and lunch-- and oh, don’t forget your violin.” Then, we would both fly out the door to where the bus driver is sitting there, already knowing the routine. We would puff onto the bus, and sit down, with me one row behind her. Our friends soon join us, and we would cease interaction.
Today, I wait the ten minutes silently. Then, at 7:25, I walk out the door, where the bus is just starting to turn in. It’s chilly gloomy, foreshadowing a storm. I wave to the bus driver as I walk on. “Hi, Bryan.”
“Sal still sick?” he asks. “She’s doing better, I hope?”
“Actually, she passed away this weekend,” I said delicately. Bryan’s face turns blank, like mine when I first heard the news. Slowly, he puts his hands on the wheel again.
“Oh,” he whispers, almost to himself. He and Sally got along well, better than with me. “I’m… I’m so sorry. You and your family must be…”
“Yeah,” I said. My mother and father were devastated, yes. But me? I don’t know. I still haven’t cried. I don’t even think I missed her. I walk past Bryan and sit in my usual seat, in the front, right behind him.
The bus roars to life again and drives down the road. A few raindrops splatters the windows, and within seconds it’s pouring heavily, the drops’ plopping sounds augmented by the unnerving silence inside the bus.
I can’t help but feel that it sounds like an elegie.
Sally’s friends come up to me during school, asking exactly what happened. Some didn’t know her that well, but nevertheless look saddened. Some are in tears, and there are others in between. Still, I am the only one who isn’t emotional. I relay the story of Sally’s illness, which they are all aware of, from how she got it to her death. It isn’t very interesting, and I tell it in a stoic, bored voice.
“Oh,” the kids say emptily afterwards, then walk away. I glance their way, and then take my own path down the hallway. In the throng of students pushing through the English corridor, I see my sister’s best friend Izzy trudging along, alone. Sally would usually be at Izzy’s side, helping to clear a path by wildly swinging her violin case. Today, Izzy’s just part of the crowd.
My own friend Tianne pushes her way through and meets me, like she usually does. “Hey,” she puffed, and I brace myself for another condolence. “I heard about Sally. You okay?”
I relax a little. “Yeah, I guess,” I say to her in that emotionless voice. “Yeah, I think I’m fine.”
She gives me a look, but says nothing more about it, and instead starts talking about her upcoming calculus test next hour.
I know she has a sister, Winnie, and that she would be devastated if she died. I know Tianne would later be talking to her friends about my situation, if she couldn’t talk to me about it. “I mean, I know how Rach is feeling right now. I would be in tears if Winnie died.” I can almost hear her.
But she doesn’t know.
Naomi, rude and tactless, comes up just as Tianne leaves. Tianne can’t stand Naomi.
“Sorry about Sally,” Naomi says bluntly as we head down the stairs. It sucks that we have the same biology class, where she always copies off of me. “It’s too bad. I don’t really know what to say, but you must really miss her.”
“I don’t,” I growl, and speed up to walk alone. I don’t know why I’m so mad all of a sudden. Maybe it’s just because of Naomi. She has that effect on people.
The whole day is filled with Sally. Or rather, condolences about her death. After school, as I prepare to head onto the bus again, Sally’s friend Jenni taps me on the shoulder
I know I’m being rude, but I roll my eyes and sigh. “Please don’t talk to me about my sister. It’s fine.”
Jenni raises her eyebrows, but keeps her cool. She’s one of the more mature ones in my sister’s lollipop gang. I don’t know why she still hangs out with them, considering that she tries harder than all of them combined. “I was just wondering when and where the funeral was.”
“Next week Saturday,” I grumble, turning away. “At the Chapman Memorial Garden, on Wayward Street.”
“Okay, thanks.” Jenni hurries away.
There is a peacefulness on the bus that’s somehow brought by the usual rowdiness of the boys in the back. Izzy, who only rides the bus home, huddles with someone else instead of sitting in her usual seat, where Sally would sit with her.
I walk to my house alone, the raindrops drumming down on my head. My mom’s at the kitchen table, an unusual sight. She’s normally at the office until 10. The rainstorm outside matches the mood in the house.
“I took the day off,” she explained, looking miserable. I give her a silent hug and take off to do homework. The serenity that I had on the bus is gone, and the air is once more cloaked in misery. For some reason, I am immune to that sadness.
“Do you want to talk about it?” mother adds, looking at me. “You must feel terrible.”
I let out another sigh. I have to get this off my chest. “No, you are sad. Sally and I were never close. It’s literally her own fault that she got sick and died. I mean, she never brushed her teeth. She never cleaned up after herself. She never put a coat on when it got cold. If we’d scolded her more, fine, maybe. But it’s too late now, is it? Plus, she never listened! Every time we told her to do her homework, she just got all mad. So I don’t understand why I’m supposed to be crying my eyes out over her.”
“She’s your sister,” mom argued, looking disturbed.
“Didn’t make a difference,” I snapped. “It probably wasn’t a good thing that she was in this family, anyway. What if she wasn’t? She would’ve lived. I wouldn’t even have had to know her. Or live with her.” Again, that is impossible to imagine.
“Don’t say that!”
“Whatever.” I go to my room, slam the door, and sit down to wrestle with my stats homework. Anything to get out of this world until Sally’s death blows over.
Am I the only one who doesn’t miss her?
Dinner, at 9 in the night, is a quiet affair. My mom and dad stare down at their plates, and one of them occasionally has to reach for a tissue to wipe away tears. I still haven’t used one.
Am I just emotionless? Am I just cold? I don’t think so. My friends have gotten all sorts of injuries and illnesses, and I cry my eyes out for them. But nothing comes out for Sally.
I can’t stand to see people sad. Maybe that’s why I’m not usually sad myself. It makes me depressed that my parents are in such despair, and I take the liberty to take bake cookies after I finish my work. They’re tiny, bite-sized, double chocolate cookies, ones that Sally begged my mom to buy. I carefully set out twelve, four for each of us. Twelve is the usual number, but then it would be three for each family member. Tonight, I ration Sally’s share.
I resist the urge to call to Sally, who typically would be just starting her homework, and to taunt her about the cookies. It makes me sadder for some reason. I miss the yelling, but I don’t miss her. I mean, I still haven’t cried yet. And I am still annoyed at her.
If you didn’t get sick and die, you could be eating these cookies, stupid, I silently thought, forcing myself to relish the thought of getting an extra cookie.
I mean, they didn’t taste too bad. It was one of the smarter decisions in Sally’s life. Tonight, I cannot taste anything. I bite into a cookie too quickly, and the chocolate burns my tongue.
“Mozart!” I called loudly, sitting at the bottom of the stairs and grabbing the leash. Mozart the big Labrador comes trotting, but his tail isn’t wagging like usual. Obviously, he has felt the grief in the house, and has sensed that a family member is permanently missing.
“Not you too,” I say as I snap the rope onto his collar. We head out the door, the cool autumn breeze stripping me of the warmth I had felt in the house, and the air smells damp after the storm. The grass is still slightly wet. We always go for a walk right before I go to bed.
It’s unusually black out; normally, the night would be a dark navy blue, the darkness chased away by light pollution. It feels like the whole world, except me, is grieving for Sally.
All the houses’ lights are shut off, and it’s just me and Mozart outside. Mozart sniffs around, then suddenly stops to examine something interesting at the edge of the grass. I walk past and try to jerk his leash to make him leave whatever’s so enticing, but he stays, pawing at an object that I can’t see. Without warning, he jerks his head back and lets out a surprised whine. Then, he goes back to playing with it.
“What is it?” I ask, turning on my pocket flashlight. It shines on a toad, and excitement courses through me, like always, when I spot animals crawling around. What kid didn’t like to see toads and birds and snails?
Gingerly, I pick it up, and it remains motionless. I let go of Mozart’s leash and let him run alongside me as I hurry back into the house, toad in hand, eager to show Sally. She was a fan of amphibians and reptiles.
“Sally, I found a toad!” I called, skipping the steps to reach her room. Shifting the toad to one hand, I place the other on the doorknob. I’m accustomed to entering without knocking. “Are you still doing your homework? I’ve got a toad. Mozart found him outside, and it kept jumping, and Mozart would get all scared, and--”
I jerk the door open, and it’s empty. All of a sudden it hits me, with the full force of a punch.
Sally is dead.
She would never again be able to eat breakfast at our kitchen table, and then race outside, barely making it to the bus. She would never again be able to finish her freshman year of high school, shoving down the hallway, poking people with her violin case. She would never again be able to sit next to Izzy on the way home, chattering her head off about whatever plot twist occurred in her favorite anime. She would never again be able to taste the double chocolate chip cookies that she loved.
And she would never see this toad.
I stand there like a statue, staring at the emptiness. A sudden heaviness weighs down upon me. I walk to her bed, and sit on it slowly, but I don’t feel anything. The lights are off, and the darkness is my only companion. Sal would be sitting across the room right now, at her desk, the lamp on, shining down on her half-completed history homework.
The toad hops away, and I bring my knees to my chest. She’s not here anymore, and never will be.
I don’t miss her.
I don’t miss her.
I don’t miss her.
The chant is empty and forced out. It’s true. It’s really true. Sally’s gone. This room will be unoccupied forever. It feels cold.
The tears finally fall, hard and fast, like water flowing over a broken dam.