This story is by S.E. Laughter and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I like the way the air feels like cotton, fluffy and quiet, right before it snows. I’m sitting outside in the corner of the deck smelling the snowy air and looking inside through the big glass doors. My favorite friend, Sage, is sitting beside me with her head in my lap, keeping me warm while she whacks her tail on the porch.
Sissy is yelling again. “I don’t want to go back!” I can hear her even through the glass doors.
“The medicine helps you get better, honey.” And there’s Mama being so calm.
When I see Mama, my heart feels heavy. She is there, but not.
That’s how it’s been for both Mama and Daddy ever since Sissy started going to the hospital. There was a lot of talk with words, like tumor and chemotherapy, but mostly about me being a big girl. I guess being a big girl means being all alone, because that’s what it’s been like ever since.
Sissy is lying on the couch. Mama sits down beside her and touches Sissy’s face. That heavy feeling in my heart comes back and I have to breath hard to make my cry go away. Mama leans close and whispers something to Sissy and I can see her tiny face wrinkle.
“It isn’t making me better.” Now Sissy is crying and yelling. Ugh! I wish she would just be quiet. “It’s making everything worse!”
I shiver but I don’t want to go in. It’s getting dark and I jump at a noise in the woods behind me, but Sage is still, so I guess it’s alright.
“I hate her.” I tell Sage. She lifts her head and looks at me. Mama doesn’t like that word; hate. Especially when I talk about Sissy. But I really do. She’s bossy and mean and hits me when I don’t play what she wants.
“She was mean before she got sick.” I continue and Sage tilts her head to the side. “But now, she knows she’s never going to get in trouble. Only I get in trouble. Just because she has cancer.” I sigh and push my teeth tight together.
Mama gets up and looks at the door. Her eyes are crying. For a minute, I think she sees me, but she turns and walks into the kitchen where I can’t see her. I lean back on the rail behind me. They’ve probably forgotten all about me. “I don’t think Mama loves me anymore.” My voice is really small, but I know Sage can hear me. “She says there is no limit to how much you can love. But she’s wrong! My limit to love Sissy was up a long time ago.” I fiddle with Sage’s soft ear. “Mama’s limit to love me is all gone too.”
“Eliza!” There’s Daddy. He opens the door and has his mad face on but then he smiles with his mouth, even though his eyes are sad. “What are you doing outside? I’ve been calling for you.”
“I don’t want to go inside. Sage and I are sleeping out here.” I hit the porch with my fist, so he knows I am serious.
“Honey, it’s going to snow. Come in and get ready for bed. We can read…” He stops and looks behind him. I can see Mama looking at Daddy. She doesn’t even look at me. Her eyes are puffy and red. Daddy steps back inside and closes the door.
I can’t hold my cry anymore. My tears feel hot on my cold face, but I don’t wipe them away. Mama is still standing where I can see her. She’ll make me feel better. She always makes me feel better. But she turns away without seeing me. Daddy will be back. Any minute. But I sit in the cold corner of the deck forever, waiting and watching the door. Nothing.
Everything is quiet for a long time. It’s dark and I’m a little scared. Finally, I get up and walk to the door and go inside with Sage beside me. I can hear Mama and Daddy whisper yelling in the kitchen. I don’t want to go in there. The air makes my skin feel prickly. I wrap my arms tight around my chest and bite my bottom lip.
I put my foot on the bottom step. I want to crawl in my bed and pull the covers over my head. I can see Sissy’s door at the top of the stairs. It looks too big, like it’s going to swallow the whole upstairs. She isn’t yelling anymore. I listen hard for her, but all I hear is my breath. I creep up to the door and open it just a tiny bit. It creaks and I look back downstairs but all I see is the light from the kitchen. I peek in her room. Sissy looks like a black lump on her bed.
I tip toe a little closer. It smells funny, like the hallway at school when a kid throws up. The light from outside makes it a little brighter in her room and I can see just enough to walk around the side of her bed.
I see her head first. It’s bald and smooth and looks a little blue with the light from the window. I have to swallow a few times to make the ball in my throat go down. She looks fragile and tiny. I can feel tears on my cheeks again and I’m not sure if I ever really stopped crying.
Sage pads in and jumps up on the foot of Sissy’s bed. She turns around twice and curls up in a ball of brown fluff.
Sissy opens her eyes. They look huge and dark.
“Eliza.” She says and reaches her hand out to me.
I look at her for a second and don’t take her hand.
“My tummy hurts.” She says.
“Are you going to throw up?” I ask. “I could get you a trash bag.”
“No.” She whispers.
I take a step closer to her bed. “I could lie with you, until you go to sleep.”
Her tiny, bald head nods twice. I carefully and slowly crawl in her bed beside her and she curls up on my shoulder. My heart feels heavy again, but I don’t need to cry anymore.
I wake up confused. I don’t know where I am for a minute until I see I’m lying in my own bed. Mama is beside me. I roll over and look at her and I can see the dark part of her eyes watching me. She brushes her hand across my check and leans over to kiss my forehead.
“Hi little bug.” She whispers.
“Hi Mama.” I whisper back.
“I love you so much.” She says and I can hear her smile in her words.
I roll back over and face the window on the other side of my room. It has started to snow. I can see the white flakes falling like tiny ghosts outside. I smile and push my back into the curve of Mam’s body. I feel her arm wrap tight around me before I head back into sleep.