November 5, 2007


"What's going on?"

"I don't know."

There were voices outside. All sorts of voices. Most of them, I didn't recognize. My bed was in the perfect spot, directly under the window. Mom had put us down for a nap, but we weren't asleep. We never were.

The cool, wooden headboard was barely enough for me to really stand on, but somehow, I managed not to slip. I had the blinds slightly bent, giving me enough room to see what was going on.

There were people everywhere. Or, at least, that's what it looked like to me. There was mom's friend, Pumpkin Claudia, and mom's "brother", John, who was leaning against my dad's car, smoking a cigarette. There was also a very old woman who was leaning on a walker, with two people on either side of her, supporting her while she edged to the front door. Something inside me felt a little sad for her. I hadn’t actually felt that way before. I was, after all, only five.

I dropped the blinds and fell back onto my bed. I turned my head to look at my brother, Jacob, on the hide-a-bed, twisting his mommy-blanket to him. He looked even smaller than a usual three-year-old, and his eyes were big.

"What's going on?" he said. "Who's out there?"

"An old lady," I said. "I don't recognize her."

People were starting to come into the house. They rolled a huge metal bed across the atrium and into Jacob's room next door. That was why he was with me.

The old lady got settled. Several people where still buzzing around, but they were starting to trickle out slowly. I watched from outside Jacob's room, trying to see what was going on. Nobody noticed me. I was invisible. They didn’t care whether I was there or not. I didn’t care either.

After everyone was gone, Mom took Jacob and I to go into her room to say hello and introduce ourselves. Her name was Aunt Ruby, and Mom said that she was going to live with us for a while. She also said that her leg was sick, that it had cancer. I didn't know what it was, so I sat on the edge of the bed next to her, scared to touch her leg, afraid that it'd break like glass.

People were around everyday. Jacob and I thought it was one big party. I asked Mom why everyone was there. She said that they wanted to visit Aunt Ruby.

One day, Mom was off somewhere, talking to some people. I was by myself with Jacob. There were a few people in Aunt Ruby's room. I didn't recognize any of them. I stood by the door nervously, waiting for them to stop talking, trying to keep what I was holding hidden behind my back.

Aunt Ruby looked up at me. Not mean, just curious. "What is it, Sarah?"

"I've got a present for you," I said softly.

"A present?" she said. "For me?"

I nodded, and I held out my gift. It was a stuffed toy, Tigger, from that cartoon, Winnie-the-Pooh. She smiled and took it from me, settling it under her elbow and leaning back on her pillows, smiling slightly. I hadn’t seen her look that happy since I met her. I felt better that I made her smile. I sat down on the edge of the bed, careful not to touch her leg.

Mom came in, and apologized that we disturbed her. Aunt Ruby said that it was all right, and that we could stay for a while longer.

I stayed with her the rest of the day, feeling like I actually belonged there.
The next day, it was early in the morning. Dad was shaking me awake. He said that I had to go with him and Jacob to go get breakfast. I asked why. He refused to tell me.

I put on my sneakers without my socks, still in my pajamas. It was the first time in a week or two that we'd be leaving, and I wanted to say good-bye to Ruby.

When I got there, I saw her leaning on her pillows, eyes closed and completely still. She looked like she was just taking a nap, peaceful and still. I walked over to wake her up.

I was in the middle of the room when a hand grabbed my arm.

"She's asleep," Mom said. "Go with Dad, and get breakfast."

When we got back, I didn't even bother taking my shoes off. I wanted to go tell Ruby that we'd gotten breakfast and that she could eat.

When I got to Jacob's room, the door was closed. So I opened it.

She was gone.

I didn't respond. I just stood there. No Ruby. No Ruby.

Maybe she was just in the bathroom, or the kitchen, getting ready to eat.

No, my mind said. She's gone.


That's when I screamed. I felt my mom wrap her arms around me, but I didn't fight her. She led me back to the kitchen where I sat and buried my head in her shoulder. She let me sit on her lap, never mind that I was too big, even for a five-year-old. Mom didn’t care, so I didn’t either. I lost track of how long I was there.

Dad offered me my breakfast. I refused to eat. He just threw it away, no expression on his face.

That afternoon, I looked out my bedroom window, my eyes still stinging. There were two old people, a man and a woman with tight white skin and stark white hair leaning on a black car.

Mom was standing at the front door, looking at them.

"Who are they?" I asked.

"The caretakers," she said. "They're taking Ruby to the home."

"But this is home," I said.

Mom bit her lip and put her hand to her mouth.

I ran to Jacob's room. Tigger was sitting in the corner, looking abandoned. I grabbed him and ran back to Mom, still standing at the window, looking shocked, younger than she actually was, but older at the same time.

"Give her this," I said.

She shook her head. "Keep it," she said, not looking at me. “Ruby would have wanted that."

That night, Jacob was still in my room. He fell asleep quietly. He probably understood what was going on. It was tough on him, too, and like me he had no way to tell the world that. So he slept.

I was by myself, curled up in a ball, Tigger under my arm and crying myself to sleep, wondering if I’d ever be happy again.

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