Buried Treasure

Aug 27  |  Lauren Voeltz

The first time I see you, you’re carrying a sack of apples. I’m outside with my little sister enjoying the light rain. I don’t expect you to see her there, standing on her head, catching raindrops with her feet. They bead on her arches like pearls. Death Magic, I guess. She’s lost to the world. Her world–on pause, before she was even twelve.

Your face splits into a grin as you toss an apple to my sister. She catches it with her toes.
For six minutes, you and I dance in the wet garden, toes squishing the mud, and that is enough for me to know I will love you forever. Heaps of mulched leaves, rotten cucumbers, and lettuce in mushy piles decorate the plot. You don’t seem to mind the mess until the grasshoppers descend like a summer rain. Then the three of us sprint inside.

When my sister shows up on our second and then our third date, you don’t complain, you incline your head towards her. Listen to her unspoken words. Her face is cherub-like as she combs out her dark hair with her ethereal fingers. She sits next to me and watches me eat.
After our wedding, you drive us to the Ramada Inn by the beach. I think of my sister, so pretty in her pink dress today as she stood by my side. Though her face was downcast, her eyes teary, like she was giving me away instead of Dad.

You sign our paperwork at the front desk, but don’t seem excited anymore when you see my sister standing there. She seems fainter than before. Your shoulders droop. Have you changed your mind about being with me?
When we get to our room you ask, “Do you ever want to?” Then clear your throat. “Do you ever wish it was just us sometimes?”

“Sure. I mean, I wish I could live in the present, but I can’t leave her. My sister…”

A lump rises in my throat, so I go to the bathroom. For an hour, I sit on the floor stacking loose change in my purse, my breathing uneven, my body aching while my sister sits on the edge of the bathtub. I’m too nervous to look at her. Too nervous she’ll be hurt by my complicated feelings.

You knock, coax me out for dinner. You kiss my forehead. Say, “Are you okay? Look, we don’t have to talk about this right now.”

“Okay,” I say.

My sister sighs. I see the sadness in her blue eyes, paler than before.
When we get to Red Lobster, you stand at the counter, while I stare at the lobster tank, tap, tap, tapping on the glass.

I say, “At least free the poor beasts. Their memory of the oceans they’ve lost haunt them.”

You give me a strange look.

“What did I say?”

You shrug then we follow the waitress to our booth. We eat alone for the first time.

In a dream that night, I reach for my sister. My steamy breath fills the room until I can’t see her. She brushes her frail hand against mine, and I plead, “Please, don’t go, please don’t leave me.”

“It’s okay,” she says. “You’re ready and so am I.”

She morphs into a dandelion—a thin stem, fragile in my grasp. Then it withers, and the seeds, like tiny umbrellas, are taken up by the wind, floating over the billowing sea.

Foamy water crashes against a cliff and the dandelion seeds become birds, flying towards the sun. They leave the harbor and they never come back.

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