by alicamel


It was wintertime, early evening, the cold penetrating the house through tightly closed windows and doors barricaded with rolled up jumpers. In the front room, Carmel sat on an armchair angled towards the fire, immersed in her school project. Liz was stretched, cat- like, in front of the fire, reading a magazine and painting her nails in various shades of pink. Their father was holding a heavy book in one hand, the other arm wrapped tightly around his wife who was sleeping against his shoulder. His head had lolled forward, his glasses askew on his face.

Susan sat on her brother's lap on the second armchair, pushed behind the others, against the far wall, huddled beneath a blanket. In one hand he is holding a text for his English class; the other is beneath her skirt, hot fingers against her skin. Susan pulls the blankets up to her chin, wrapping her forearms tightly in the fabric. Her face is carefully blank, staring straight ahead into the fire. His head is inclined slightly towards her ear, as if reading aloud, though he's saying no such thing.

She's nine and he is nearly seventeen. This is wintertime, hot breath against her ear, snatches of Shakespeare entangled with his shuddering words of praise. She closes her eyes and imagines she is burning away.



It was summertime and she and her brother went down to the lake near their house to swim, to cool off. The lake is beautiful, enclosed by wet rocks and trees that cast green shadows on the water. It's isolated by five miles of fields. Her brother dives in, splashing her where she stands on the side, unsure. His hand snakes up her leg, dripping water on her foot and turning the earth to mud. She kicks him off her, but gently, laughing. He is more forceful when he grabs her around her waist and drags her into and under the water. It encloses her, and she is temporarily deaf and blind and dumb.

When she stands on the floor the water reaches her shoulders, the edges lapping at her skin. Currents wash around her, hands moving through the water. She stands still, unmoving, arms out to the side as if she is flying. He rests his head against her shoulder and his hands are burning though the cool water. Afterwards she leans back, arms out to one side and buries herself in the cold.

She has just turned ten and he is seventeen. This is summertime, cool water and dapled shadows, Liz and Carmel escaping to their friends home's while their mother dies slowly in her room.



It was springtime and he disappeared shortly after her eleventh birthday, for which he gave her a copy of Shakespeare's Collected Works, and a ring on a chain. "It's a promise," he whispered, as he fastened the back. "I won't leave you here. I'll come back." His hand rested for a moment on the back of her neck, hot and heavy, before sweeping her hair back into place.

She stayed up every night for three months, struggling through Shakespeare's heavy language, sitting by the window. Outside, spring turned to summer, the heat scorching the grass. Susan caught the flu, and shivered her way through three weeks in bed. The doctors gave her medicine and told her to sleep. Her father told her it was too much time by a drafty window late at night, but quietly, because her mother was sick and shouldn't know these things.

It was autumn and she was alone, buried herself in orange and brown decaying leaves by herself. He didn't come back. Not for her mother's funeral, not for her father's funeral, not for her. His room was stripped bare, though she still liked to crawl into his old bed during thunderstorms.



It was wintertime when he died, and she was eight months gone with her first child. She was thinking about naming the child after him, if it's a boy, though Karl prefers Malcolm, or maybe Charles. She was thinking of giving in to Karl, because she can't imagine a future for a child named after her brother.

She went to identify the body, as Liz and Carmel were out of state. He looked smaller now, against the crisp white sheets that came up to his neck, hiding the wounds that killed him. His face was pale and stiff. Suddenly, she can't remember what he looked like when he laughed. She shivers in the cold freezer of the morgue as the physician slides her brother's body out of sight. What she remembers at that moment is Shakespeare, and a log fire that burned hottest against her ear.


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