by Ryan Borchers
There were times when I used to believe, mistakenly, that I had a sister. I don’t remember when this began. I only know that at some point I started sensing a young feminine presence in our home, even though the only children in the family were my little brother and me.
“You don’t have a sister,” my mother said when I asked her if I had one I somehow didn’t know about.
“Then why do I feel like I do?” I said.
“I don’t know. What I do know is your father and I have yet to have a girl.” But she said it with this guilty look on her face, like she owed me a sister and couldn’t give me one.
I called it the Sister Feeling. It wasn’t like having a vision or a false memory, exactly. It was more like what happens when you almost drop something made of glass but catch it at the last second. You feel startled and breathless because, in your mind’s eye, you see the shattered pieces on the floor as clearly as if they’re really there. A few hours later, you might think, “I never got around to sweeping up that broken glass.” Then you remember the truth.
She was two years older than my brother, and I was two years older than she. She had brown hair like everyone else in our family, but she was the only one who wore glasses. She hated sports and loved gardening with our mother. She was a bookworm. If you tried to talk to her while she was reading, she had this annoying habit of holding up a finger to stop you until she could finish her paragraph.
Whenever my brother and I couldn’t find a third person to play Clue, I’d feel restless and frustrated and briefly wonder why our sister wasn’t playing with us. If there was only enough chocolate milk left in the carton for one more cup, I hesitated before drinking it because my sister hadn’t had any yet and I didn’t want to be rude. I’d walk into my room and know she was hiding under my bed or behind my closet door.
One summer day when I was 11, I lay on the couch with a headache and stomach bug. The sounds of the other kids in the neighborhood playing baseball drifted through the window, reminding me of the beautiful weather carrying on without me. There wasn’t anything on television, and I had no desire to make progress on the school-assigned summer reading list, which my mother had suggested I do. I glanced out the window. Maybe I could catch a glimpse of that baseball game.
I saw my brother sitting in a plastic chair in our backyard. It was an odd place for him to be, a place where he and I rarely played because of all the sticks and spruce needles and jagged rocks that made it too risky to run around.
Fighting through nausea, I ambled out back to where he was sitting, even though my mother had told me to stay away from him so I wouldn’t make him sick, too.
“What’s going on?” I said.
In front of him was a blank gravestone we used as a Halloween decoration. A pile of plucked dandelions arranged in the shape of a cross lay before it.
“What are you doing?” I said.
“Nothing,” he said.
I used to think people could look sad only when they were crying. And believe me, I’d seen my brother cry many times. He wasn’t crying now, but he looked exhausted, as if I could shove him over or kick dirt in his face and he wouldn’t have the energy or will to stop me.
“Who’s that for?” I said. The dandelions must have been freshly plucked. They smelled like our mother’s perfume.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Ryan Borchers holds an MFA in fiction writing from Creighton University. His work has been published by Prairie Schooner, Flash Fiction Magazine, Spelk, 50-Word Stories and other places. He is also the author of two unpublished novels, Tranquility’s Broomballers and The Darkness Below. On top of that, he writes questions for and regularly hosts the monthly Pageturners Lounge Literary Pub Quiz in Omaha.