When You’re Ninety-Eight, I’ll be Ninety-Nine

Sisters and best friends

Continued from last week…

March

Louis and I swing into my parents’ driveway in Holbrook, Arizona, a few days after the last phone call, the one where Sarah sounded more like Sarah, the one where I realized maybe just maybe I could have my sister back.

The car’s clock glows in the desert darkness; it’s midnight. I ease out of the car, let Bella dart around sniffing her old home, and walk slowly to the front door. Light only seeps from one window in the house. Sarah’s window. Everyone else sleeps.

I open the front door. It creaks. I peer into the black entryway. Soft thumping sounds come up the hall and turn the corner and there she is. Sarah. She hesitates, and I hesitate. Are we still sisters, after all of this? The game we played as children unfurls in my mind.

When you turn eight, Sarah says, I’ll be six, but then I’ll turn seven.

And then I’ll turn nine, I say. Nine!

We giggle. Nine, so old, so far away.

But then I’ll turn eight, Sarah says. And you’ll turn ten.

Ten hushes us. We imagine the way we will be at that venerable age—fearless, probably.

And then I say, slowly, then we’ll get so old that when you’re ninety-eight, I’ll be ninety-nine, but then I’ll turn a hundred. And you’ll come knocking on my door, and we’ll go do old lady things together.

I run toward Sarah. She runs toward me. I fling my arms around her, feeling her skin, her bones, her hair, her hands. She feels different—raw somehow. But she also feels the same way she always has.

We talk for hours.

I'll turn 100 and you'll come knocking on my door, and we'll go do old lady things together.… Click To Tweet

May

High in the grapefruit tree at our southern California rental house, I press my phone to my ear and talk to Sarah. The sun sinks, and we keep talking. The streetlights flicker on, and we keep talking. She sounds more and more herself, more and more Sarah. She listens to me speak about my upcoming move to Oklahoma and all its intricacies. I listen to her tell me about Puerto Rico, about New York, about the things her unquiet mind led her to do.

Grapefruits plump and round stud the branches around me like small suns. I trace my finger down the waxy skin of the nearest one and drink in the sound of my sister coming back.

June

I am nervous when Sarah flies to Alaska for the summer. She has told me her frustrations about our father not believing she can last a week without getting fired; she needs someone to believe in her. So I try. I try to believe that she will work well and hard. I try not to betray my own hesitance.

She sends me several pictures once she gets there: a muddy-looking glacier as seen from the freeway. The impossibly sunlit evening hour. And, finally, a tiny log cabin. Red flowers spill from the windowsill. Aspen trees encircle the rustic structure. A little plaque on its side says her middle name on it—Katrina—for she has decided to go by that name, to distance herself from everything now attached to Sarah.

I stare at this third picture for a long time. I touch the warm phone screen.

This little cabin, prepared with care. Her new employer knows everything, yet she believes in Sarah.

I am her sister. I must have faith even stronger.

July

Every week I call her. Every week, the wild notes in her voice become calmer. She tells me about crisp Alaskan days, grizzly tracks, her kind and gentle employers. I tell her about the shroud of wet hot air that is Oklahoma in the summertime, about chigger bites dotting my stomach, about clearing brush with friends in crashing storms and sheets of rain unlike any Californian drizzle. We laugh at the jokes we tell each other; we squeal at each other’s cute stories. Always I ask her if she’s doing okay, if she’s taking her medicine, and always she says yes.

September

After three months, Sarah flies back to Washington to attend college there.

Her Alaskan employers ask her to consider working for them the following summer.

November

On my twenty-third birthday, she texts me Happy birthday!!! Do you have time to chat today?

I call her right away. She tells me stories about her classes and her work and her friends. Funny stories. Hopeful stories. I hear those friends chattering in the busy college cafeteria background.

“I’m talking to my sister,” Sarah says to them.

To be continued…

IMG_5432-242x300Laura Melchor writes from Tulsa, OK, where she works part time and goes to school full time.  She will graduate with her Master of Fine Arts in July.  She and her husband love their teaching jobs and enjoy motorcycle riding and camping in their spare time.  Bella, their German Shepherd dog, fully approves of their love of camping. She and Sarah have been ‘Spider Sisters’ for their entire lives.

Linking up with my friends Jennifer and Holley today.

Anita currently teaches English to 7th-12th graders. She describes herself as a 'recovering cancer caregiver' who gives thanks daily that her husband has been cancer-free for ten years.

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