In Winter

My sister Ariel is sprawled upside down on the couch, pointing with the remote. “News4 anchorman Ron Coleman is totally doing it with special correspondent Cora Butcher,” she says. “I bet they make out like hyenas as soon as Jim Dean starts giving the weather report.”

Her legs are brown and bony. She’s got her sundress hiked up and is in danger of flashing her underwear.

On the news, they’re covering the breaking story of a girl who got killed in the nature park. Or at least, that’s where they found the body. I’m sorry, in a numb, stupid way that doesn’t seem relevant. I just stand there, looking at the stock photo of yellow crime tape and blue flashing lights.

“Are you sad?” Ariel asks from upside down, watching the gurney roll past. “Because of . . . you know.”

*****
Lillian Wald weighed seventy-eight pounds when she died. The outline of her hipbones looked like a basket with nothing in it.

She was cold all the time, always wanted to hug me. I was reluctant to touch her. I told myself it was because I might break her, but really, it was selfish. She disgusted me.

Before, she was a different girl. We lay in the rope hammock and braided our hair together. Hers was black and hadn’t begun to fall out. Mine was butterscotch-yellow. We’d been best friends since elementary school, Wagner and Wald. She’d flop down in her desk and grab me from behind, squealing my name with her arms around my neck. I can hear her voice like the exotic call of a bird, Hannity, Hannity, Hannity! I can feel her hands against my throat.

She died in January.

Now it’s July.

*****
I’m sunburned from spending the afternoon at the pool, and if I don’t put something on it, I’m going to peel.

As soon as I take out the hydrocortisone cream and close the bathroom cabinet, Lillian’s there, standing right behind me. Next to hers, my reflection is sweaty and red. She looks like a cadaver.

“Hannity,” she says, wrapping her arms around my neck and pressing her face to mine. “Tell me everything. Were there boys at the pool? Did you see Brandon Foster? Did you kiss him?”

“No,” I say.

“I miss it,” she says, holding my gaze in the mirror. “I miss the sun. I miss notes in class, and birthday parties, and sleepovers.” She presses close against me and her cheek is freezing. “ You used to call me Lyle.”

I take the cap off the Cortaid and smear it on the bridge of my nose. “You used to be alive.”

*****
Another girl dies in the nature park. And then another two weeks later, and by now, the town is going crazy. Ariel is glued to the evening news, and when there’s nothing to report, she’s on the internet, looking up the Night Stalker and Son of Sam.

She doesn’t come in my room anymore. Before Lillian died, Ariel was always wanting in, offering to do our hair or paint our toenails, like we had some secret club and she wanted to be part of it. Now, I guess, my life doesn’t seem that glamorous.

*****
They find the fourth girl on a Thursday, lying in a culvert behind a stand of cottonwoods. Two boys from Parish Day find her. They’re climbing down into the irrigation ditch to get stoned, but after they see Madison Brooks with her bruised mouth and her bloody wrists, I guess they probably aren’t in the mood.

“I know her,” Ariel says, sounding strangely composed. She’s standing in the exact center of the living room, staring at the TV. “I know that girl. She sits across from me in Earth Sciences.”

*****
Night is sweltering, and the A/C doesn’t work.

“Hannah.” Ariel’s voice is just a whisper. “Hannah, I want to sleep with you.”

And then she’s shuffling her way across my floor, climbing into my bed, and it’s too hot, but I can’t kick her out. Her hair smells like dust and some sweet, fake smell they put in kids’ shampoo—bubblegum, maybe. She hasn’t come into my room in months.

We lie in my bed with the covers kicked off and our heads close together.

“I saw Maddie Brooks in my closet,” she whispers. “She was stretched out on top of the laundry. She wanted to talk, but her mouth was full of dirt.”

I don’t know what to say, so I nod. I put my arms around her.

Lillian is standing in the corner, swallowed in shadow, except for her luminous, emaciated face.

“It’s not going to be okay,” she says from the dark.

Four girls in five weeks, all between the ages of eleven and fourteen.

I pull Ariel closer and press my sunburned nose into her hair. “I know.”

“You’ll have to start talking to me, Hannity.”

“I know.”

18 thoughts on “In Winter

  1. Woo! Some serious creep-factor for our first post-break story! 😀

    “I saw Maddie Brooks in my closet,” she whispers. “She was stretched out on top of the laundry. She wanted to talk, but her mouth was full of dirt.”

    Rock on.

  2. Oooh, deliciously creepy. And it’s uncannily appropriate that middle school girls make each other miserable even from beyond the grave.

  3. She presses close against me and her cheek is freezing. “ You used to call me Lyle.”

    I take the cap off the Cortaid and smear it on the bridge of my nose. “You used to be alive.”

    This made me actually physically shiver.
    Awesome.

  4. I always wanted a sister, and sometimes I wanted to be a girl with a cool sister. I have two favourite bits. This one, because I’ve daughters and step daughters with brown legs.

    Her legs are brown and bony. She’s got her sundress hiked up and is in danger of flashing her underwear.

    And this one because it’s so damn creepy.

    “You used to be alive.”

    More please. Happy new year.

  5. Creeeepy.
    …as everyone else has said.
    And, again like everyone else has said, loved the “used to be alive” line.

    Also, I’m kind of amused because I’m right now sitting on the couch and the news is on. Which is just kind of…well, not actually funny, but it amused me. Nice background noise for this piece.

  6. it’s uncannily appropriate that middle school girls make each other miserable even from beyond the grave.

    I didn’t even think about that–it’s awesome!

  7. Which is just kind of…well, not actually funny

    No, I’m with you–for some reason, I just found the idea of reading this to the soundtrack of the news very funny.

  8. Haha–it’s so cold here right now that even a summer story turned out like winter, so I had to rename it to fit 😀

  9. Yay! (Somehow, the idea of any sentence with the word Cortaid in it being shiver-inducing just amuses me so much . . .)

  10. Happy New Year to you, too, Simon!

    I do have hopes for this one–maybe one day I can make it into a full-length story.

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