Chair, $75 OBOErin Pringle
It snowed all morning, and more snow is expected later this afternoon. If snow falls through tomorrow, that would be fine. They have no plans. Last night, they ate out. This morning, they cleaned the house, and now their son’s at his father’s until tomorrow. It’s the weekend, and aside from the detective show her partner’s watching at a murmur, the house is quiet. It’s quiet outside, too. The sidewalks are shoveled, the stoop swept, and the side street has nothing to do but wait for the plows.
The winter is still new, white and crisp, without slush or ice rutting and sliding beneath boots and tires. Last winter’s car-wrecks, school closures, and parking-lot snow berms wait off-stage of memory. Everyone but the homeless are strolling into the winter dream of cozy sweaters and hot chocolate, ski lodges and fireplaces. Christmas lights, ceramic platters passed from mother to daughter. Marshmallows, kindness, cinnamon, family.
Maybe she’ll make some cocoa later, in a saucepan like her mother used to do.
For now, she sits by the picture window beyond the TV’s reach. A magazine splayed across her lap, words erased by the sun. She feels as lazy as sunlight on a sleeping cat. They don’t have any more cats, so they share the neighborhood cat, which her partner won’t invite inside. It’s a small, purring tabby that presses its skull into the cup of any offered hand.
Her partner finds the cat’s trust worrisome.
She finds sturdiness in the cat’s trust.
Of all the animals, her sister wanted to be a cat. Blinking slowly. The world slipping in and out of focus. Warm fur, sun-dust on her whiskers. Wouldn’t it be so wonderful?
Seems like a lot would depend on the house where you lived as a cat.
It’d be a good house, her sister would say.
What about the family?
It would be a good family.
It’s a daydream, her sister said.
Then why not be a vegan lion? Or a polar bear napping on a cold waterbed?
It’s my daydream.
A zebra curled on a hall-rug.
Her sister rolled her eyes.
When they were kids, her sister strangled the family cat at night in their bedroom. The cat’s arms would stiffen, its eyes bulge, its lips pull back. Until her sister relaxed her grip.
She never knew if her sister would let go.
She also never told her sister to stop it. Though she would scream it in her head.
She’d shut her eyes and try to send her thought into her sister’s head.
How could her sister want to be a cat? Did she not remember?
She never asked. What if her sister laughed and said, I’m always such a bad guy in all your memories.
Her sister wouldn’t say, Bad things were happening to me.
Though they were.
A small gray car turns onto their street and into the frame of the picture window. The car slips, straightens, then trembles as the driver shifts down. That car.
Are you okay? her partner says.
Her partner picks up the remote and pauses the show. Are you okay?
I’m fine, she says.
You made a sound.
Did I? she says, even though she heard the sound, too.
The gray car is driving slowly. But it can’t be her sister’s car. Like it, but not it.
Must have been falling asleep, she says.
Hmm, says her partner in that way.
That’s not your napping sound.
How’s your show?
Her partner shrugs. You know.
She does. Which is why she sits on the far side of the room from the detective shows her partner loves, and why her partner watches them on nearly silent.
She can still see the gray car at the edge of the picture window. It’s a small, boxy car like her sister once drove, years ago. She remembers her sister’s blue shorts, bare legs, the triangle of her kneecaps as she pressed the pedals and shifted gears.
Of course, it’s not her sister. It’s simply the season of snow and holidays, suitcases and family visits—and, thus, unfamiliar vehicles coasting through the neighborhood.
What would have brought her sister here, were that her? Their son’s upcoming birthday? Why do sisters visit sisters? To pass out Halloween candy? To take pictures of their nephew’s costume?
Her sister loved Halloween.
You’re late, she thinks, if that’s what brings you.
The gray car wasn’t her sister’s first or last. Her sister wrecked the first car off a narrow country road on a snowy morning. When she and her mother got there, the car and her sister weren’t. Her mother and she drove the curving road. Evidently, someone had beat them to the rescue. Her sister was fine, the car wasn’t. Her sister and mother argued about it.
Snow floats through the lace of the tree branches and onto the ground.
It’s snowing again, she says.
Mmm, says her partner.
She should put on her coat and start shoveling. She swept the porch stairs a little after she woke up. Once she’s in her winter coat and plugged into headphones, she could stay out the rest of the day. The rhythm of that work is easy to disappear into.
A woman screams.
Jesus, she says, turning.
Sorry, says her partner and picks up the remote. The green volume grid appears on the screen, losing bars.
Here’s the gray car again. It’s coming from the other direction now, back down the hill. Lost, maybe. She shouldn’t feel so unnerved.
The snow falls.
She can’t make out the driver’s face, but the driver’s wearing a green winter hat like their father did. Their mother’s winter hat was variegated shades of purple. When she and her sister were kids, anyway. Now, her mother wears store-bought hats in nondescript fleece. Grays and gray-blues. Most of her memories take place in childhood. After that, they blur, they float, they stick or sink.
What color was her sister’s winter hat?
She starts dressing hats on the memory of her sister like a paper doll’s ghost.
Their father’s hat had a matching green pom-pom. Their grandmother had crocheted it. She remembers him opening the gift, and Mom wishing he loved it. He wound up wearing it to bed on winter nights because their mother kept the house thermostat down to beat last month’s utility bill. When the cancer came, he wore it through spring and summer.
Now she has the green hat, which their son wore the other day, though he’s only five. It’s the elasticity of the crochet, she guesses. This was your grandfather’s hat, she told him.
What are you thinking? her partner says.
About my dad’s hat.
Is today an anniversary? Her partner keeps track of all the death anniversaries in her phone calendar. She’s seen them listed there. Her dad’s death. Her sister’s. Her dad’s birthday. Her sister’s.
No, I was just thinking about it.
What do you think about it?
I don’t know.
Should you go for a run?
You like to run in the snow, says her partner.
I probably will tonight.
She loves night runs during snowfall, the quiet, being the only one out, how the sky rises into darker and darker grays above the streetlights that glow like smoke. And the chimneys, too, lit for the first time of the season.
Did her sister even wear hats? She had so much hair. Long, curly hair that defied gravity and the rules about how much space a polite girl should inhabit. A hat on her sister would have been like a corset.
Where did her sister even keep her winter hats once she moved out? In their childhood home, they were piled on the floor of the front hall closet.
She tries to remember closets in her sister’s trailers. She was still in grade school when her sister moved out. That was lonely and awful. But her sister let her sleep over most weekends and would come get her and drive her through town to the light-fixture factory near that first trailer, the pink and white one. Her sister’s next trailer was gray and out in the country, off an unmarked road surrounded by cornfields and bean fields. It had a black mailbox, a gray cat named Smokey Joe, and at some point, her sister got a dog named Dog.
She remembers the kitchen cabinets, their fake wood veneer. She remembers her sister reporting that she’d found dead mice under the sink. Their father thought it was funny. She felt bad for her sister. How did her sister seem?
It doesn’t matter now.
Grossed out, probably.
Go shovel the snow. Shovel both sidewalks, the whole block. You’ll feel better. You’ll get your head out of there.
The gray car is back, and it’s pulling over.
It parks in front of their house.
The driver hunches over the steering wheel, looking up the small hill to their house. It’s hard to read their house number where it’s screwed on the porch post. She keeps meaning to paint the numbers with bright colors.
Probably the neighbors ordered delivery. Because of the snow. Because it’s the weekend. Any minute, Jim will come out of his house to take a bag from the driver. Fresh fries, maybe. Pasta. A container of miniature cinnamon rolls. Jim will see her in the window, wave. She’ll wave back. He’ll turn back to the house, she’ll lower her hands to the arm rests, and the driver who is not her sister will drive away.
The gray car is still there.
Could be a salesman.
A signature collector.
The piano tuner.
Stop it. Go shovel in the back yard. Take a bath. Boil hot water for tea. Find a book to read. Toast a bagel. Walk laps around the house dining table like your grandfather used to.
The driver door swings open. The driver gets out, but now leans into the backseat.
Are you expecting anyone? she says to her partner.
Her partner pauses the TV. What’s that?
A package or a visitor or something?
Her partner frowns. Why?
Oh, there’s a car just pulled up.
I’m not. Are you?
It’s a gray car. Like my sister drove.
Her partner looks at her like this every time her sister comes up. Like a large, stained glass chandelier is about to snap from the ceiling, but she doesn’t know whether to catch it or step aside.
I mean, it’s not her car. It’s just like her car. A car like she drove when I was little. It’s whatever. It’s nothing.
It’s not nothing.
She shrugs. It’s whatever. Just wondered if you were expecting anybody. Probably it’s a delivery for the neighbors. Flowers, maybe.
Might be our future neighbors.
We’d have to move.
Her partner looks at her steadily.
Joke. Just joking.
But could she bear to see that car every day? She’d have to. Just like her mother somehow bore seeing Dad’s van around town after he died and someone bought it. Life is bearing it. That’s what she’s learned. Put that on a bumper sticker.
Chances are good it’s the next neighbor. The house next door is a rental with revolving neighbors. Nobody stays long before moving out or being arrested. How does the landlord consistently find people who never stay? It’s the only house in the neighborhood like it, but there you go. She thinks of it as a trick house. From the curb, it looks like all the others. Split-level, front and back yards. Trees. Until you look closer. Paint fissuring. Old wasp nests between the guttering and overhang. Dead trees in the backyard. She’s decided the tenants don’t see all that because the surrounding houses aren’t falling apart, just as you’d never know that people disappear if you didn’t know the people disappearing.
Your sister’s been on your mind a lot lately, her therapist will say at the next session.
She’s always on my mind.
The therapist will wait for silence to fill the office.
Yeah, she’ll admit. A lot lately.
Why right now?
I don’t know, but did I tell you about the other day at the coffee shop? This connects. Listen, a lady walked in and stopped. There’s a woman already there, having coffee, reading the paper or something.
The lady who just came in says to her, You look like my sister.
Oh? says the other woman.
Yes. The lady keeps staring at her. Then realizes it. Sorry, she says. I just . . . I’m sorry. My sister’s been dead for four years, and . . .
It’s just . . . it’s so good to see you.
The therapist said, What did you think about it?
I understood it.
You’d like to see your sister again.
Of course. Yes. Absolutely.
And here we are this snowy day, and there’s her sister’s ghost letting down the back seats of a car she drove thirty years ago.
If her sister’s ghost comes up to the house, should she ask for some kind of ID? If you don’t mind, I need to see your knee. There should be a scar where my sister busted her knee on a rock when she was five or six.
Does a ghost retain every scar? Her sister’s scars became more visible after her death.
She and her mother cataloged them.
Did you know about . . . ?
Yes, but did you know about the time when . . . ?
I’ve started to wonder if . . .
If that is her sister’s ghost, this is exactly what she’ll do. She’ll get a knife from the kitchen and cut her sister’s death off of her as one cuts scales from a fish, shadows from feet, memories from time.
So what’s left is just her sister.
That’s what she probably misses most. Having a sister without a death.
Would the ghost of her sister even recognize the sister she was talking about?
Perhaps when meeting your own ghost there’s a space of time reserved to tell your ghost the stories of yourself.
Here we are, your ghost will say.
Looks like it.
You sit across from each other at a table, waiting for the other to speak.
I thought you didn’t believe in ghosts, your ghost will say.
Suppose I’ll have to believe in my own, you say.
In this way, the ghost will say, perhaps reading aloud from a manual, death is not so different from life.
What stories of her life would she tell the ghost? How does a ghost interpret the life it supposedly extends from?
When she and her partner fell in love, she felt relieved never to have to tell her life to anyone again.
The driver straightens, stretches her arms over her head, then shuts the door and looks up at the house. She wears large tortoiseshell sunglasses.
But she is. Look.
Memory of sitting in a wind-up swing, and her sister says, I’ll be right back and runs up the stairs, and when her sister returns, she sets those sunglasses on her. The sunglasses darken her sight.
Her sister laughed. Someone took a picture. How happy her sister was.
Yes, she was happy. She was. Her death wasn’t there, way back then.
And if it was?
Could it have been?
The driver shades her face with a mitten. The mittens are colorful and thickly crocheted. They’re warmer than gloves, her sister said, because your fingers are allowed to touch.
The gray car was always cold. Maybe the heater was broken. It was always the radio or the heater.
The driver steps onto the sidewalk and approaches the stairs. She wears a plaid winter coat and a striped scarf. Her mitten slides along the railing in the way a stranger’s would, but also in that unsure way her sister came down the stairway on prom night, hand on the railing, in that electric blue dress with black netting. Her sister’s prom date waited in the living room. Stewart? Steven? S-Something.
Electric, the prom date said.
Her sister smiled, trying to keep her lips over her braces.
Their mother handed her sister the plastic corsage container from the fridge. Her sister took out the blue carnation and matching wrist corsage.
Several years later, it was her turn to come down the stairs in a prom dress, her high heels catching on the carpeting while her college-age sister watched from the kitchen with their parents and their father’s cancer.
Beautiful, her sister said.
But am I electric? she said.
The driver in the tortoiseshell sunglasses has reached the top stair and now walks to the porch stairs. Is that how her sister walked? She should recognize her sister’s walk.
It’s not her.
But if you keep thinking like this, you’ll have to tell your therapist, and you don’t want another session about your sister.
At least for a while.
What if her partner hired someone to act like her sister? She read an article about Japan or somewhere where actors are hired to be ordinary. One woman has an actor for her child’s father, and the child doesn’t know her real father left years ago. The actor is a good father.
Even if the child wondered, how could the child ever ask?
Are actresses ever hired to resume the lives of dead women?
Is that why so many dead women are never found?
And what about the retirement community in that European village, built for dementia patients who have no idea their maids are nurses.
How many dark worlds exist in order for this one to roll along, as though by an understandable gravity?
There’s the knock at the door.
Did you hear that? her partner says.
I didn’t know we were expecting anyone.
It’s the gray car, she says.
I’ll get it, she says. Her legs have already unfolded, and she stands. She can feel the hole in her sock, the ridges. She feels very aware of the chair, her body, the person waiting a door away. And she also feels none of it. A hollowing.
Perhaps I’ve had a heart attack, and I’m dying. This is dying. She waits to see her partner hurry over, drop to her knees, press her cheek to her chest and heart.
Instead, her partner pulls the blanket up to her armpits and frowns at the TV.
So. Not dying. Just alive in that dying way, I guess.
She watches herself walk across the room.
When she opens the door, their son will be standing there. Why’d you lock it? he’ll say, then push past her, saying he forgot his swim shorts for the YMCA.
When she opens the door, two teenage girls will stand there with a clipboard and say, Climate Change.
She’ll open the door to a traveling salesman holding a vacuum cleaner.
We don’t have carpeting, she’ll say.
Ah! I have just the thing, he’ll say, and snap open a briefcase. From it, he’ll lift a cat with bulging eyes and stiffened arms.
She’ll open the door to her dead sister with her stiffened arms.
She’ll open the door to a neighbor a few streets away. Their mail came to her house. That’s mundane enough to be the most likely.
She opens the door to her sister.
The doormat reads WELCOME.
She and her sister look at each other. Her sister smiles and pushes back the sunglasses. There is her sister’s whole face in the center of all that hair. Her sister. Right there.
Hi, says her sister.
Seeing her sister’s face is different from imagining her sister’s face.
I’m here about the chair, says her sister.
I hope this isn’t a bad time, her sister says.
Her sister examines her face.
Yes, the reading chair that you’re selling. Maybe this isn’t the right address. Her sister pulls off her mitten and reaches into her coat pocket. She takes out a crumpled tissue and stuffs it back in. She reaches into her back pocket and takes out a piece of paper. It’s folded in fours and the fold lines look new.
2418, says her sister, reading off the paper. They both glance at the metal 2-4-1-8 screwed vertically down the porch post.
Liberty? says her sister.
Yes. Liberty Avenue.
Her sister hands her the paper.
She doesn’t want to take it.
But she does. She feels the paper fold back on itself but doesn’t look at it. She doesn’t want to see that note even if she’s read it before. Why did her sister write one? Out of politeness? Out of respect for the genre of suicide? Because that’s just what people do, no differently than people write thank-you notes?
Her sister’s note was more white space than handwriting—so much whiteness that now she dreams of it falling around her like snowfall after extinction, burying cars and people with their screams.
Though she thinks when the world does end, people will be calm about it. Drinking coffee and doing the crossword. Wondering if they need rice or already have some in the pantry.
See? her sister says and points at the paper.
As though turning a knob jutting from her ear, she lets her head tilt down, taking her eyes with it.
Between the folded lines is not her sister’s handwriting. It’s a picture of her reading chair. The one behind her. The one she was just sitting in with the blue velvet pillow and cat scratches.
The only difference is that the chair floats in white space instead of beside a wall half-covered by a bookcase.
My chair, she says.
Oh, good, her sister says. So you haven’t sold it yet?
She shakes her head.
Excellent, says her sister or her sister’s ghost. It doesn’t matter which now.
Her sister says, I should have called, but then I wound up in the neighborhood. Maybe they’re home, I thought. So. Sometimes whims pan out, I thought.
Not always, she says.
Her sister shrugs. Here you are.
Here you are, she says.
Of course her sister would drop in without calling, because her sister died before cell phones, before people knew to text ahead.
People killed themselves for different reasons. Or different causes for the same feelings. She has thought of her sister’s death like a craving, but was it one that would have weakened, or was it one that strengthened?
She thought her sister knew, but clearly her sister doesn’t know about her death. How could she, in a warm coat and with snowflakes in her hair?
One time her sister said, If I came back as anything, it would be as a cat. The neighborhood tabby is not her sister after all.
She returns the paper to the driver of the gray car who is coincidentally a lot like her dead sister. Coincidences, you know they do happen. Or feel like they happen.
You should come in, she says. It’s cold out there. She wants to say, You look good, but she doesn’t want to make the woman feel awkward or uncomfortable. Who says that to someone who’s come to buy used furniture?
Her sister-who-can’t-be-her-sister smiles and slips the paper into her coat pocket. The coat looks nice on her, wherever she got it. Put together. That’s how their mother would describe her. The jeans her sister’s wearing don’t have grass on the knees, as the autopsy described.
Turns out her sister didn’t die, after all.
So, where’s the burst of confetti? The news cameras? The three-story cake?
I’ll wait, she thinks.
But of course, she won’t. Instead, she opens the door and steps to the side, nearly falling over her son’s snow boots, so her sister can walk off the porch and into the house. She glances down at her sister’s footprints coming up the snow on the path she swept from here to the stairs. The gray car is still down at the curb.
Hello, she hears her partner saying.
Hello, she hears her sister say.
Why did you keep thinking of the stranger as your sister? she imagines her therapist saying.
She follows her sister inside, pulling the door shut behind her.
There’s snow on the floor where her sister stands. Her sister crouches and unties her snow boots. They’re nice boots, expensive like all the other mothers wear at the preschool where her son goes. Her sister never visited her in the Northwest, never saw this house, never addressed a letter to here, never met her partner, never even learned she was gay. That came after. Their mother got to learn that by herself, over the phone.
So, there you go, she said.
Her mother didn’t answer.
Mom, I know you’re still there.
Well . . . ?
I don’t know. I don’t know what to say. What should I say? What would your father have said?
Only their mother would say exactly the same words to her about being gay as she would about her sister’s suicide. I just don’t understand it, their mother said as they drove to the funeral. What would your father say?
He wouldn’t believe it, her mother said. Do you believe it?
The cornfields passed from windshield to side windows to the rearview mirror, field after field moving from front to back, powerline after powerline, until she started thinking the car must be sitting still while the world did the moving, the world was what pulled the road like a crumpled ribbon out from under them, the world spun the fields, tossed the clouds, took her sister’s breath away and locked it in a treasure box that no she and her mother had to bury.
Did you hear what I said? her mother would have said usually, but instead she’d slipped into one of the fogs they both fell into since then.
I used to help her memorize lines.
That’s what you’re thinking? her mother said. Her mother had clear ideas about what to think about when grieving. And she never did it right.
She’d sat on her sister’s bedroom carpet, holding another play script while her sister sat in front of her on the dresser, eating an ice-cream sandwich while waiting for the cue for her next line.
That’s you, she’d say.
Doesn’t so and so have to say such and such first?
Are you sure?
I’m the one with the script, aren’t I?
Fine. What’s my line?
She’d read it, and then her sister would hop off the dresser and repeat it, slowing it down, pausing, with a tilt of her head or a flourish of her hand.
When her sister died, she kept thinking, This was not in the script.
She didn’t expect to think that, didn’t expect her sister to die, so how did her mother expect her to guess what her father would have said about her sister’s death or her own gayness?
This was not in the script.
You know. The script. The script.
There isn’t a script.
I was told there was a script.
Who told you about a script?
I don’t know. I have a feeling. I just had a feeling.
It has been both long and not long since her sister died, and it always will be like that. Maybe that’s why her sister doesn’t recognize her. She imagines the world looked very different to her sister before the end. And wouldn’t she have been included in that view of the world her sister held?
Lately, she has started seeing her sister around town.
What’s that like? said her therapist.
Like when her bike was stolen from her yard years ago in a different city and state, but still, she sometimes sees a bike like that one—for a second. It never is her bike or her sister. But for the moment that it is, it’s nice. Really nice.
Inside the house, her partner sits in front of the TV, and her sister stands by the tray where they set their snowy boots. The TV is paused. Two investigators sit in a tavern over a pint and clues to who murdered this episode’s dead woman.
Her partner looks from her to her sister, then back.
Probably she should just introduce them. Get it over with. This is . . .
Oh! says her sister, pulling her other foot out of her boot. How rude of me. Her sister laughs. Sorry. I’m Faye.
Faye, her partner says.
It’s Faye, she says. Gray car.
Her partner’s eyes widen.
That’s me, says her sister Faye, then gives a little wave. Then laughs. And her sister’s laugh blooms from that one. Evidently, she didn’t do well folding them into one, packing it away with the family videos her mother sent her from time to time. But that she never played.
She leans against the door. She can feel it against her shoulder blades.
Faye’s a lovely name, says her partner.
She can tell that her partner’s not having the same experience that she is. Her partner never heard her sister laugh.
I’m here about the chair, says Faye.
The chair? says her partner, holding the blanket under her armpits.
My reading chair that’s for sale.
I didn’t know you were selling it.
Her partner slowly shakes her head, trying to catch up.
Would you like to sit in it, Faye?
Faye nods, then smiles. Those dimples.
She never imagined ghosts would smile so much.
I knew I shouldn’t have come in on you like this, Faye says. Who does that? That’s what my sister would say.
Faye nods and steps past her to the chair. She stands in front of it, admiring. I love it, she says.
Are you buying the chair for your sister?
Oh, no. Faye stops smiling. She would have loved it, though. Can I try it?
Faye turns and sits, then leans back, her arms on the armrests. The chair creaks. It’s warm, Faye says.
I was just sitting there, she says.
Faye looks out the window. How long have you had it?
I bought it after my sister died, she says.
Oh, Faye says, and turns to look at her.
It was a while ago.
Still, says Faye. I can’t imagine.
I’m going to make some popcorn, her partner says and stands up.
That’s right, says her partner. Faye, would you like to stay and watch a show with us? That way you can really know if you like the chair. I’ve wished I could do something like that when I’ve been furniture shopping.
Really? Faye says.
We don’t have plans, says her partner. Do you like mysteries?
I was going to shovel, she says.
It’s still snowing.
Better to stay ahead of it.
Do you like mysteries, Faye?
Not really, Faye says.
She laughs. Faye and her partner look at her.
Can you help me in the kitchen? her partner says and starts toward it.
She starts to follow. But what if when she leaves the room, Faye disappears? Or, what if Faye starts to remember that she’s dead? Once she remembers, will she want to leave? Will she feel embarrassed? Even if she did end her life, she can imagine her sister being embarrassed at being found out. As though she didn’t hide the evidence well enough. Like when she’d sneak snacks from the kitchen and their mother would find the plates gathering ants under her sister’s bed.
I just don’t understand, their mother would say.
I was hungry.
But why hide it?
Her sister would shrug.
Her partner leans against the kitchen sink. So, she says.
I don’t think she knows.
Your sister wants to buy your reading chair.
Do you think I should just give it to her?
Her partner rubs her eyes and slowly shakes her head.
She steps back to see into the living room. Faye is still in the chair. Faye must see her in the reflection of the window because she turns and gives a little wave. It’s really snowing, she says.
You could get snowed in.
Then you’ll never get rid of me, says Faye.
That’s a good one.
We’ll have to share the chair.
Make a schedule. You take it on the weekends. I’ll take it through the week.
She ducks back into the kitchen. My sister says it’s really snowing, she says to her partner. And when she hears herself, she remembers saying it all the time.
My sister says you can sit on a tack.
My sister says the Mona Lisa feels uncomfortable.
My sister says sex isn’t that at all, and she’s in fourth grade so she should know.
My sister says frogs don’t realize they’re in boiling water if it starts cold and warms up over time.
My sister says she’ll be over for Christmas in the afternoon because her boyfriend’s family has some kind of morning tradition. I don’t know.
My sister named her dog Dog.
My sister says don’t make the mistake she did majoring in literature.
My sister says nothing, I haven’t heard from her since I called and she said she felt so heavy.
My sister says she’s feeling better. This new medication should help.
My sister wants to know what she was like before the medication. She doesn’t believe she could have been that bad. She just wants to remember that self.
In the kitchen, her partner takes her in her arms.
They stand there like that a while. Her partner is warm and solid and safe. Focus on that, she thinks. The soft nubby yarn of her sweater. The ridge of her shoulder. The sweet smell of yesterday’s gel still in her hair. Her tender cheek.
We’re going to watch a mystery show, her partner says.
And eat popcorn.
With your sister.
That’s right. That’s fine.
It’s not usual, she says.
No, says her partner.
But it’s fine. It has to be, right?
And it has to be okay that this Faye doesn’t recognize me.
It’s okay if this Faye doesn’t know she’s a ghost.
She is who she is.
Whoever that is.
Ghost or not. We don’t know what ghosts don’t know. And it might be nice to get to know this Faye.
Maybe this Faye won’t. . .
They look at each other.
Should I call my mom?
Would she believe you?
She’d want to know.
Yes. Her partner nods and continues to hold her.
She rubs her forehead. She’s glad not to be let go of. How did they let go of Faye? How did she get so far away before anyone noticed? Or was she not far away? Surely there were footprints.
Then they let go, and she focuses on cutting open the popcorn bag.
I am making popcorn for my dead sister, she thinks. No, for my sister.
For Faye who bent every summer over handfuls of jacks she scattered across the sidewalk.
Faye crouched in a school hallway during a tornado drill.
Faye coming down the stairs in that prom dress. Electric.
Faye pushing down her hair, grimacing in the bathroom mirror.
Faye saying kissing will get better, you’ll see. It’s just your first time.
Faye on the ground as policemen walk around her.
And now Faye sits in their living room watching the snow fall.
The popcorn starts hammering against the bag.
I’ve always wanted to meet her, says her partner.
And I’ve wanted to know how she’s doing.
So this is good.
Can I invite her to dinner?
Sure. You could offer to deliver the chair to her house.
I don’t think it will fit in her car, even with the seats down.
It fits in yours. Then you can see where she calls home.
I love you.
And I love you.
The popcorn stops. She opens the microwave and takes out the bag. CAUTION, it says, OIL CAN BURN.
Her partner takes a bowl from the cabinet.
Should we have more than one bowl?
When she carries the popcorn into the living room, Faye’s still in the chair but now curled up sideways. Her eyes are closed, but she’s breathing. She watches the lift of her shoulders to be sure. She’s napping.
It’s still snowing.
She carefully sets the bowls on the coffee table. Then takes the wool throw off the back of the couch, and gently unfolds it across her sister’s body. She tucks it around her shoulders and between her back and the cushion. It’s not the best napping chair, but it will work.
She kneels in front of the chair and rests her cheek on Faye’s lap. Faye is warm and so real. She can see the fine hairs on her cheek and where her eyelashes meet. Outside, a crumble of snow falls from the tree and into the snow that passed through. The snow should fall awhile longer.
Erin Pringle is the author of a novel, Hezada! I Miss You, and two short story collections, The Whole World at Once and The Floating Order. She has written three chapbooks: How The Sun Burns Among Hills of Rock and Pebble; The Lightning Tree; and The Wandering House. Her work has been selected as a Best American Notable Non-Required Reading and performed in L.A.’s New Short Fiction Series. A recipient of a Washingto State 2012 Artist Trust Fellowship, she lives in Washington State with her partner, Heather, and son, Henry.