October 19, 1998
All I can think of is that last shoot in the burnt woods. I saw death, and you saw peace. I never understood. You took all those dead trees—ashen husks, decades old—and turned them into art. Fucking photographers.
“Look at all this,” you said, hopping over roots. Branches grasped at the fraying cuffs of your jeans. “There’s so much nothing here.” Your eyes twitched and narrowed, flitting around to scan for prey. With a mane so blonde it was almost white, you looked like an eagle fixing to dive. My sister, the sniper.
You remember how we wrote to Dad when he died? That was your idea. I’m pretty sure I punched you for bringing him up at all. Guess I wasn’t ready to talk about it yet. But I came around.
I think I’m finally ready to write to you. It’s a Monday, and it’s been a few weeks. A lot of this probably sounds dumb, but hey—I’m a pretentious little shit who misses her big sister.
I spaced out at the funeral. Whatever June wrote put everybody in tears, but no matter how pretty it was, it couldn’t have captured you. It felt wrong to remember a photographer with a poem, anyway. Even if she was your best friend. After the ceremony, I found her by the window. She balanced a coffee on the sill and scribbled into a pocketbook. I eased myself into a lean beside her. “Doing okay?” I asked.
She clicked her pen before pulling her gaze up to meet me. “I’m all right, yeah.” She sighed. “I’ll be fine.” She propped her notebook against the window and grabbed her drink. “What about you? We haven’t really seen you in a while.”
I shrugged. “Rest of the family’s being weird about it. Me? Still thinking about everything.” I ran a hand into my hair and coiled some around my finger. “Partly ’cause I can’t stop, partly ’cause I don’t know what to tell anyone.”
June scrunched up her face. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t know, exactly. People keep asking me what I think. You know—’are you okay’, ‘what happened’, ‘what do you think’—you know.” I scratched my hair. “I don’t know, though.” I stared at the corners of the room, looking past all the suits and dresses. “Didn’t realize that I was supposed to get all wise because my sister died, you know?” I coughed out a laugh. “I mean, fuck. What do they want me to say?”
June crossed her arms. “I feel you. Everybody keeps acting like I’m depressed. I haven’t had time to be depressed yet.”
A week later, I passed by the forest on my way to the store. The streetlights had just turned green when I noticed a basket of flowers on the curb, a few feet away from a scratched and lonely hubcap. Little coloured pedals hopped to the beat of the breeze, pretending to dance. I smiled and zipped up my sweater before crossing the street.
On Wednesday, I stared at a spider on my wall for half an hour. It waddled and crawled past the corpse of an identical spider in the stucco. I turned the lamp toward it, turning its shadow into a giant 2D tarantula. You know, one of those crazy Amazon ones that eats birds. I gave the little guy a minute to run. Then I squished it with Carl Sagan’s Billions & Billions: Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium.
On Thursday, I met up with June for coffee. I got there first, so I got a coffee and a table and I sat and watched the snow. Winter’s early this year. June showed up a few minutes later and stared through the window with the kind of melancholy that only amateur poets are allowed to feel. She took a long breath. “Remy died and all the fire in the world died with her.”
I pressed my lips together and looked away. June trailed her gaze into her cup and apologized. I didn’t say anything. Probably better not to tell her I was actually hiding a laugh, not tears.
On Friday, I passed the basket of flowers again. The colours had faded. I knelt, cradled them in one arm, and took a few steps into the forest. My sneakers smooshed into the grass.
We walked through those woods so many times. I tapped my fingers along the wicker and looked between the trees. The trunks barely hid the next road over. When we were kids, the birds kept us company there—magpies and cardinals and bluejays and all the other birds whose names I never knew, but you tried to teach me. That was back when the trees were living and green, and you couldn’t see that other road. Now the forest was like old firewood.
I toed along the path, tuning out the traffic. I replayed what we talked about on which logs and over which drugs, and who we were dating at the time. About which CDs we liked that week. You remember when we discovered Regatta de Blanc? Jesus, I never thought I’d get tired of “Message in a Bottle”. I’d write out the lyrics, like we used to do on our binders in pink sharpie in high school, but I’m afraid the R-I-double-A would pull a JFK on me if I did. Fuck those people, and fuck that song.
We used to sit on the hill by the stream, just on the edge of the woods. The moon would rise behind us and we’d lay back and make up new constellations. You had a favourite you traced somewhere in Orion: the Sixty-Nine Camaro. “One day, I’m gonna get it,” you’d say.
Last summer, we laid on that hill and you drew that muscle-car-in-the-sky with your finger. You laughed. “Hey, I’ve got a big surprise for you.”
I twisted in the grass, taking in a bundle of forest perfume. “Oh yeah?”
You turned to face me. “Yeah.” You smiled. “I got the car.”
“No way!” I darted up and pushed you over. “Come on, you’re serious?”
“I wouldn’t joke about the Holy Grail.” Your eyes adjusted, and I almost heard a camera whirring behind them. “You wanna see?”
I answered with raised eyebrows, and we stood up. You grabbed me by the hand and ran up the hill. “This is why I met you here instead of at the corner,” you said. “I parked her over by the school.”
Moonlight trickled down your hair as you dragged me through the breeze, sneaking along the walls of the elementary by the woods. We rounded the last corner, and, sure enough, there she was: a lightning blue 1969 Camaro, glowing under a streetlamp.
“Come on,” you said. We ran over and I hesitated to touch it.
“She’s gorgeous.” Goosebumps spread as I glided the pads of my fingers across her, stepping over to the grille. Two racing stripes, white as sunlight, blazed down the hood. The headlights stared forward, wide-eyed and ready to race.
You leaned over from the driver’s side. “Get in, nerd.”
The engine blasted into the night. We put in our favourite CD—Zeppelin’s third—and sang the whole way through “Immigrant Song” and “Gallows Pole”.
But we didn’t finish. And I still can’t finish that album. Hell, I can barely start it. How’s that for an anti-climax?
Anyway. That’s a good six-and-a-half pages of angst and ink. I appreciate you letting me go off like that, as always. Hey—you know how I said it felt wrong to remember a photographer with a poem? Let me do you a solid. I still have that picture I took in the woods. The crooked one, where you’re laughing at how I held the camera sideways like a wannabe gangster.
I still have space down here, so I’m going to tape it in at the bottom. It’s a shitty picture, but at least it’s not a poem. I’m really trying to think of how to end this without it sounding stupid. But like I said, I’m a pretentious little shit who misses her big sister.