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Three Blind Mice
Ever since she was born, Belle was my parents’ favorite child. After she learned to talk, she always got her way. Whenever something was not to her liking, Belle would refuse to speak and her blue eyes would well with tears. When my sister had a piano recital on the same day as my ice-skating exhibition, my parents chose to attend her performance. Imagine this child prodigy pounding out “Three Blind Mice” with her index finger. They told me, “She’s six years younger than you. She won’t understand if we do not attend her performance. You understand.” But they never went to any of my performances, only to hers. She was the important one. When Belle learned to use a fork, to count to ten, to recite the alphabet—milestones that I had accomplished years ago—Dad and Mom would discuss her talents ad nauseam at every meal - with friends and even perfect strangers. Dad, never too tired to show case Belle, would proudly prod her: “Belle, tell everyone what 2 x 3 is.” People would nod politely even though they had heard my parents’ revelations countless times.
After Belle arrived in our family, everyone ceased fussing over me. Passing strangers failed to acknowledge my good behavior and cute appearance. I became invisible. Strangers would walk right past me, drawn straight to Belle. She was the “perfect Gerber baby,” the child over whom strangers cooed. I would clench the stroller tightly as strangers remarked on the gorgeous baby. Old ladies loved to pat her blond ringlets. They never noticed me, except to say, “Aren’t you proud of your little sister? What a lovely young angel. Such beautiful blue eyes.” My own brown eyes would stare defiantly back at them although no one seemed to notice.
Even worse, Belle worshipped me. She followed me everywhere and wanted to imitate whatever I was doing. When she first learned to crawl, I was the one to whom she crawled. When she learned to walk, she took her first tottering steps towards me. I was smothered by her constant stream of affection. When I casually stuck out my foot to trip her, she would scream and cry and then run over to hug me, certain that it was a mistake. No matter what I did or said, I could never convince her that I hated her. Occasionally, my parents asked her where she got the bruises that mysteriously appeared on her arms and legs. She would gaze at them with her blue eyes and laughingly say that she had tripped. Dad and Mom blindly accepted Belle’s explanation without question, even though they had never seen her fall. “We love our clumsy Belle,” my parents would say as they hugged her affectionately.
I was good at masking my feelings. People—my parents especially—assumed that because she worshipped me, I loved her. No one knew that my blood boiled with hatred whenever I looked at her. What I resented the most was having to rearrange my life around hers. I had to pick her up from school and take her to Girl Scout meetings, piano lessons and doctor’s appointments. “I am the only one who will pick you up,” I reminded her bitterly. No one remembered that the first year of high school is challenging even without the demands of a younger sibling to watch over.
“Cailyn, I need you to take care of Belle tomorrow. I have my Parents’ Association meeting,” my mom ordered. Mom had just been promoted from staff counsel to assistant general counsel at ABEX. She worked from 8:30 a.m. until 2:00 a.m., trying to handle the impending takeover of her company, demonstrate that she was worthy of her promotion, and be a good mother. She was constantly praised for being the “super woman” who knew just what it takes to balance a career and family. In fact, Mom had so many people fooled that she was the featured speaker at the upcoming Parents’ Association meeting on work-life balance.
“But I have Hunter’s Christmas party. Hunter always has the best parties. I’ve been dying to go to one of her parties forever,” I complained bitterly. I had managed to procure an invitation to the most coveted party hosted by the coolest, prettiest, and most popular girl in the class. It was next to impossible to finagle an invitation. Yet, I had succeeded by volunteering to carry Hunter’s books to class, clean her locker, help her with homework whenever she snapped her fingers, and write her papers on Macbeth and Thomas Cromwell. The Madisons, Hunter’s parents, were bound to throw an extravagant party because her mother’s family was old money, and her father, a successful investment banker, had closed an enormous deal that had made headlines in all the newspapers. Last year, I heard that all the kids who had been invited to Hunter’s Christmas party had received an iPod and a $25 iTunes gift card as party favors. Of course, I had not been invited to that party.
“Evelyn, don’t you think that Cailyn deserves to go to that party? She’s made straight As all term.”
I smiled at my dad in relief. At least I had one understanding parent.
“No I don’t. Adam, don’t you remember our conversation yesterday? Cailyn, you know that your father is busy looking for another job. And what would it look like if he did not attend the PA meeting to watch me speak?”
Dad, a former banker who had gone to all the right Ivy League schools, had been told three months ago that his services were no longer needed at Chatham Bank. His boss announced that the department was downsizing, but Dad’s position was the only one that was eliminated. In this economy, prospects of a career in finance seemed remote. Dad put on a cheerful, optimistic face in front of his family, but at 1:00 a.m. when Mom was still at work, I would catch him staring vacantly at his computer screen. Mom desperately encouraged each of his outlandish get-rich-quick schemes in hopes that something would work; she still could not accept that she was the family’s sole support. Now Dad was considering a career as a real estate broker even though a number of houses in our community had languishing “For Sale” signs.
Mom said sharply to me, “I’m sorry that I forgot about your party, but it’s too late to hire a sitter now. If my meeting ends early, you can go later.”
I saw my dad’s face crumble. He did not have the courage to challenge Mom and offer to babysit Belle. “I’m sorry Cailyn. Your mom’s right. She’s been working very hard to support all of us, and I agreed that I was going to try harder to support her.”
The next evening while my parents were attending the PA meeting, I pulled out the curling iron and began working on my thin, limp brown hair. Hopefully, Mom would leave the meeting early so that I wouldn’t miss Hunter’s entire party. I carefully laid out the black sequined dress that I had purchased a few months ago with money I had earned from several birthdays and Christmases. Belle barged into my room and begged me to read her a story. “Wait until I am done fixing my hair.” Belle sat on the edge of my bed and watched me put the finishing touches on my hair. “Alright. Belle. Let’s hope Mom comes home soon. Let’s wait for Mom in the living room.” I took the book, A Children’s Edition of the Bible, from her small chubby hand and tossed it onto the coffee table. “Belle, you aren’t a baby. Let me read you the real story of Cain and Abel from the grownup’s edition of the Bible. You do not need the children’s edition.”
I read slowly, emphasizing the words and gesticulating so that her eight-year-old mind could grasp the story. “You see, Belle, no matter how hard Cain tried, the Lord played favorites and always chose to favor Abel. He never appreciated Cain or his gifts. Cain finally stuck up for himself, and Abel got what he deserved.”
Belle listened quietly as she sucked her right index finger. At the conclusion of the story, she burst out, “I can’t help that Daddy and Mommy love me. But I love you best.” She jumped up and hugged me. My stomach tightened. I looked at my watch—half an hour left of Hunter’s party. There was no way that I would make it. Clearly, I did not need to bother putting on the dress that I had so carefully selected for the party. I shoved Belle away, pushing her hard into the bookshelf.
“It is not fair that I have to look after you all the time. I hate you.” I stomped back to my bedroom and slammed the door. I heard Belle begin to sob and then pound on my door. “Go away,” I shouted.
“Cailyn, Cailyn,” she cried.
“Shut up,” I yelled at her. She obediently fell silent, but I could still hear her sniffling outside my door. I wrenched the door open.
“Shut up,” I growled at her, grabbing her and shaking her roughly.
“Stop hurting me,” she screamed. But I couldn’t stop. I just kept shaking her until the phone started to ring. Immediately I froze and looked down at Belle. Her blue eyes were wide with fear and filled with tears.
“Don’t—don’t tell anyone. If you tell Dad and Mom, I will hate you forever,” I managed to get out. “Go wash your face.”
She obediently walked to the bathroom, but looked back at me uncertainly. I followed her silently to the bathroom. “Wash your face,” I repeated.
I stood over her and looked into the mirror. I stared back at my reflection with fixed eyes. The curls, which I had meticulously fixed with the curling iron, were now limp. There were smudges of mascara around my eyes. My heart was pounding in my chest. I could scarcely breathe. I clenched my hands tightly. I scarcely recognized this new girl in the mirror. But I liked her. She was in control.
“Get into bed,” I ordered Belle coolly. “And go to sleep. Don’t get up, or I’ll get angry again.” Belle obeyed without a word of protest. I shut her bedroom door and waited for my parents in the living room.
When my parents returned home, I was sitting on the couch reading the Bible. “It’s nice to see you reading the Bible,” Mom observed. “Did everything go okay?” she asked as she removed her sweater.
“Everything went perfectly. I read Belle the story of Cain and Abel.”
“That’s a good story,” Mom replied as she walked tiredly out of the room. She suddenly remembered and called out, “You can go to Hunter’s party now.”
I glanced at the clock. Fifteen minutes left of the party. “What’s the point?” I said bitterly as I stormed into my room. I spent the entire night fuming. I swore that this would be the last time that I played second fiddle to my sister.
I woke up early the next morning and dressed quickly. Everyone was still sleeping. I walked heavily past Belle’s room, taking care to bang against her door. I gripped my ice-skates and headed down the stairs. Belle predictably opened her bedroom door and began to scamper after me.
“Wait, please wait for me,” she called anxiously. Her plump cheeks were red from the exertion of pursuing me. She shivered in the new pink silk pajamas that my parents had recently purchased for her. Her feet were bare.
I turned around and savored the power I had over her. “What are you doing awake? You usually sleep late on the weekends. Go back inside. You will catch a cold.”
“I heard you outside my room. Please let me go with you. I have my skates too.”
I pretended to consider for a moment. “Alright. I’ll give you five minutes to get dressed.”
When we arrived at the lake, I announced: “I’m going to skate a little first, then you can join me.” I skated slowly, careful to test weak spots in the ice. The ice was only just beginning to freeze and some parts weren’t very thick. I stopped and looked at my eight-year-old sister, who was hurriedly struggling to tie her skates. She looked up and broke into a smile. “I’m coming,” she called excitedly.
“Hurry,” I shouted urgently.
She sprang up and stepped onto the ice. She wobbled as she tried to find her balance. I started skating again.
“Wait, I’m coming!” She hurled herself across the ice. I almost thought she might reach me. But in the middle of the lake, the ice began to crack. She was so eager to come to me that she remained oblivious—until the ice began to groan. Belle spun around and saw the large cracks in the ice tracing her path. I skated further away from her as she began to shriek in terror. I could almost taste my victory and began to shake with excitement. Larger splinters of ice appeared. Then there was a loud sound, like the cracking of a whip. In less than two seconds, her body was pulled underwater.
“Help me, Cailyn! Please! I can’t swim well! The water is so cold.” She managed to cling for a few seconds to the edge of the ice. But then her grip slipped, and she sank beneath the
surface. She bobbed up again—unable to speak from the cold. Her lips had turned purple, and her eyes were wide with terror. Her wet blond ringlets was now plastered to her pale face.
I stood frozen with indecision for a split second, and then I carefully skated forward, edging closer towards her so that I could savor her last moments of terror. She was thrashing wildly in sheer desperation. I gazed disdainfully at her pathetic form—flailing arms and a bobbing head. “I guess I won’t have to take you to your girl scout meeting tomorrow!” I shouted. Her blue eyes found my brown ones and looked at me reproachfully before she sank beneath the surface, amidst a cloud of bubbles. I watched triumphantly as the blond ringlets were swallowed up by the lake’s murky depths. The water rippled for a few moments, and then all was calm.
I glance at the mirror as I straighten my collar and smooth my brown hair behind my ears. For a moment, I see a flash of blue eyes but it is merely a trick of the light. Today marks the third year anniversary of Belle’s death.
The coroner noted that Belle’s right index finger was missing. He surmised that it had been severed by the blade of her skate as she struggled towards the surface of the lake. That was the finger she used to hammer out the notes when she played the piano. I slowly unlock my desk drawer and remove the carved cedar box that my mother had given to Belle after her last piano recital. I open the lid and look down at the shriveled gray stub that lies in the box. I can hear her playing “Three Blind Mice.”