Saturday morning was cold when I woke up; the windows behind the shut curtains of my bedroom were misted over. As a child, I used to love Saturday mornings like these, when it rained just hard enough to imagine oneself stuck indoors during a thunderstorm, and the clouds were just grey enough to make mother switch both the hall and kitchen lights on as she hummed softly and made breakfast. Always, there would be a cup of hot chocolate waiting for me at the table. I couldn’t remember a time in my life when I felt as safe and loved as I did then.
That seemed like a lifetime ago.
Today, the grey outside matched my mood inside; I wanted only to pull the covers over my head and just… be. Until I no longer was.
I thought about that for a moment. I’d often thought about it on grey days, and sometimes even bright days. What if I stayed here, in my bedroom, under the covers, long enough to just stop being? My mother, pious as she was, would be appalled if she could hear my thoughts.
I still recall her silver cross necklace glinting in the daylight as she performed her mother-and-wife duties around the house. I put my hand up to my throat, touching the cross pendant on my own necklace. She’d given us matching necklaces, just like hers, when I was ten and Angie was seven .
That was before Angie left us.
I willed myself to move the covers aside and sit up, rubbing sleep out of my eyes, and hoping to rub away my discouraged mood with it. It was on rainy Saturday mornings like this one, years after hot cocoa and pretend thunderstorms, when I had to run errands and visit the supermarket to replenish my refrigerator and pantry, (and tend to other things people my age tend to when feigning adulthood), that I most often thought about Angie.
Maybe it was because of her love of the rain, or the way she would always chime in and sing along with mother. Though it has been twenty five years since she left us, I recall her laughing, little-girl exuberance, her sunny nature, as though I’d seen her just yesterday.
Angie was a lovely, slender child, at least half an inch shorter than most children her age, with hazel eyes and golden-brown curls. I used to call her, and children who looked like her, ‘sugar cane children,’ because of the beige undertones to their skin, and the almost-blonde color of their hair. They all seemed like they were part of one gene pool. In fact, Angie didn’t look anything like us. Mother, Father and I all had cinnamon brown skin and dark hair and eyes; one could easily tell by looking at us that we were relatives. Mother used to say that Angie must have taken after some relative of ours a few generations back; that physical features sometimes skipped a few generations.
Distracted by my musings, I passed the living room area on my way to the kitchen of my small apartment, and was vaguely aware of the phone ringing. I let it go to voice mail and listened for the message, filling the kettle up as I did so.
“Good morning Stephanie, just a reminder of your one o’clock with me this afternoon…”
I let the voice thin out beneath the fog of my thoughts. It was Dr. Eisenberg, the shrink who had been working with my family since Angie had left us. A wry smirk curled my lips upwards as I thought about that – ‘working with the family’ – yet, somehow, it had always seemed as though I was her chief project. She was always stressing the importance of me feeling completely comfortable with her, yet she insisted on calling me ‘Stephanie’. While that was indeed my government name, to the people I was actually comfortable with, I was ‘Steffy’.
I didn’t think that she was doing much for mom and dad, or for me, anyway. I had long since realized that mental health professionals couldn’t truly help you to get rid of your pain. They could only teach you how to stifle that pain well enough to at least be a functioning member of society.
The minutes tumbled into each other into one blurry mirage, and somehow I found myself showered, dressed and opening and closing, then locking the front door of my apartment behind me. Oddly, I couldn’t remember if I had gotten through breakfast, or even if I had bothered to put on any makeup.
I stood on the sidewalk, watching the concrete transform into an almost clear mirror, reflecting the buildings and people and cars that went by waiting to cross the street. It was on a Saturday morning almost identical to this one, that Angie had fallen victim to a terrible accident. A vehicle passed by swiftly through a small puddle, splashing me slightly as it went along. I tried to flick the droplets of water from my sweater and jeans.
We’d both attended ballet classes at a dance school not far from our home. For me, it was just a hobby, but for Angie, it was what she lived and breathed for. She was going to be the star. Everyone said so.
Father sometimes gave us a lift to our ballet class when he didn’t have to work. On this particular Saturday, however, he had been called out to the office. Mother had wanted to take us, but, going through our phase of struggling to be seen as capable, as ‘big kids’, we’d insisted on walking as it wasn’t that far away. Mother had eventually reluctantly agreed, and we’d set off, hand in hand, secure in our companionship, expecting nothing out of the ordinary to occur.
As was her custom when we went out together, Angie had let go of my hand and was skipping lightheartedly a little way ahead of me. If mother was there, she would scold me for allowing her to let go of my hand, but I felt within me that, in letting go of my hand, Angie was just doing what little sisters do – establishing her independence and sense of self. She was trying to, in her own, playful way, assert the fact that she was growing up and could look after herself. I had gone through the same phase a few years earlier. Who was I to rain on her parade?
It had seemed as though only a moment had passed since she’d let go of my hand. That was all it took. A moment. I had looked away for what seemed like only a second. Suddenly, there was a commotion about me – screeching tires and shrieking pedestrians. My sister must have attempted to cross the street ahead of me when I looked away. Now, in what seemed like a nightmarish waking dream, she lay, eyes still wide open in terror, in the middle of the street, her purple glitter tutu glinting in the morning light, like a broken doll.
The rain drumming lightly on the sidewalk brought my focus back to the present time; the droplets had now turned into a drizzle. As I bent my head slightly to retrieve a small umbrella from my tote, something shiny, like glitter, caught the corner of my eye. I can’t say now what made me raise my head to get a better look. I only know now that I wish I hadn’t.
What glittered was a purple tutu, worn by a small girl, no more than seven, who gaily skipping across the street.
Her almost-golden hair, its thick, rippling strands brushed into a high ponytail, shone in the daylight. She was Angie.
Caught between fascination – a maddening kind of joy – at seeing her alive and well, and horror at the impossibility of it all, that she was actually here, almost close enough to reach out and touch, looking exactly the same as she did twenty-five years ago, a spider web grew in my mind, gluing my feet to the sidewalk on which I stood.
I was vaguely aware of an elderly woman passing by me.
“Sweetie, are you alright?”
She asked as she went by, but I could not turn away long enough to look at her and give a response.
Angie was looking back at me now, hazel eyes glinting playfully, beckoning me to join her.
“Come on, Steffy,” she called in her sing-song voice. “Hurry, or we’ll be late.”
At that precise moment, I saw the black Laurel come barreling down the street, the driver unable to see through the misted-over windshield. I did not stop to think. I had not been looking the first time. This was my chance to fix it.
I hurled my body across the street, diving between Angie and the Laurel. I felt metal bite into my ribcage, but only for a moment. The cries of shock and terror around me faded. All was silent.