Published in West Magazine Spring 2012
Spring was in the air. Everyone knew it because school was nearly out for the summer and the children counted down the days until they could chase the dogs barefoot in the sun all day and sip lemonade from waxy Dixie cups. The sun had just gone down, and Ashley took her littlest sister outside to catch fireflies. They held hands and danced on their tippy toes, giggling and waving around a glass jar they had stolen from their mother’s pantry. Ashley remembered the first time her mother took her outside to catch fireflies at the beginning of each spring. Nothing was more exciting than knowing that her lazy, humid Kentucky summer was right around the corner. Their golden blonde hair glowed in the light that reflected from their living room where their father was watching T.V. and smoking out of his pipe as he did every night. The putrid smell wafted in the air. They hated the way it smelled when he smoked, but they loved the way it made his jacket smell when he left it draped over the living room sofa before going to bed. Ashley remembered sniffing the brown houndstooth coat when she was little and she missed him while he was away after a long day of work. It always made him feel a little bit closer to her and she knew that he would soon be walking through the front door with a big smile on his face before he knelt down to hug her.
And all of a sudden, the world stopped. The loudest crashing sound pierced the air, and everything just came to a standstill. She had never heard that sound, except when she went hunting for the wolf who had been terrorizing her aunt’s dairy farm. Immediately, she knew what it was, but she didn’t want to believe it. There was no good reason for why she heard a gunshot coming from her own house. She knew that her father had a gun locked in a cabinet in her parent’s room, but she had never seen it. She just remembered hearing her mom and dad arguing about it when she was her little sister’s age. Her father wanted to keep it around, “just in case”, but her mother worried about having a deadly weapon under the roof of a home with little children around. Of course, her father always got his way because of his charming smile. He just seemed to always know best and he never lost an argument. It was a magical quality that she had never seen in anyone else, which is one of the reasons why she loved him so much. Ashley grabbed her little sister’s arm and tucked her behind the closest tree.
“Baby--promise me that you won’t move from this tree. I’m going to be right back to get you, but don’t you move.”
“Pinkie swear” she said, while reaching out a tiny finger to clasp around her big sister’s.
Ashley mustered up all of the courage she could and managed to hide her little sister without so much as single tremble on her part, even though her heart felt like it had fallen into the pit of her stomach. Her hands and head poured sweat as she glided in the grass towards her dimly lit home. She didn’t even flinch as the spring time bugs flew into her face. She had bigger things to worry about.
She ran to the front door and silently clicked the screen door open, nearly sure she would come face to face with an intruder. All she could hear was her own heartbeat. She entered the kitchen, where her brother stood, shot gun in hand.
He dropped to his knees and the gun fell out of his hand and onto the floor. She didn’t know it, but the sound of the metal killer dropping to the dinged up hardwood floor was a sound that would reverberate in her head until she took her last breath.
In front of him, a hole the size of a dinner plate was blown out of the double wide’s wall leading to the middle sister’s room.
Through the hole, they looked at Dana slumped over, barely being propped up by her desk and they knew she was dead.
This is when time stopped, just for a few minutes. Ashley’s eyes closed, and she went back to the time just a year ago when the family had been vacationing in Florida. The kids rode around on a golf cart while their father and their uncle played golf. They didn’t even really like to golf because it was actually quite boring, but it made them feel fancy and they liked to get dressed up and drink whiskey afterwards. One day, as the kids rode around on the golf cart, Dana and her brother started to play fight. Dana fell off the golf cart, and somehow managed to get hit by it and end up under it. No one really understood how it happened because it was so weird. One minute she was fine, and the next minute, she was under the golf cart. The kids started to scream and lifted up the golf cart, halfway expecting to see their sister maimed and bloody. Stunned, but not hurt, Dana feebly called out “I’m OK!” Except for a few scratches, Dana had been hit by and run over by a golf cart. Ever since then, the family joked that Dana was invincible. What could have ended up a tragedy ended up being a family joke.
It couldn’t be real. The girl who survived being hit by and run over by a golf cart without any injury could not be dead. The world started to move again, and Ashley moved as quickly as she could, sliding on the hardwood floors to get to her sister.
“Dana...DANA...DANA!!” she screamed, holding back the tears like she was holding onto Dana’s life. She grabbed her by the hair and pulled her head back. Dana’s eyes were rolled back into her head, which rolled limply in her hands. Ashley dropped the head back onto her bloody notebook that she had been doing her math homework in, and her hand was covered in bright red blood. She looked at her sister in front of her, and the blood began to form a pool around her that grew and grew by the second. The blood dripped from the desk onto the floor. Ashley breathed in and smelled the metallic death. In the other room, her brother layed on the floor, vomiting on himself, unable to even blink his eyes. Ashley fell in the pool of blood, holding her sister’s body on top of her math textbook. She looked up in the doorway and saw her father in his houndstooth jacket, kneeling on the hardwood floor and crying. It was the first time she had ever seen her father cry. He fell to all fours, hitting his head on the floor and cradling it in his arms. He became completely silent, unable to utter a word or even breathe.
Soon, the sound of sirens filled the night. Even though the neighbors weren’t too close, everyone knew that there was no reason for a shot gun to have fired in this house. The first officer to arrive at the house opened the screen door, and felt the sadness and death in the air before he even saw the dinner plate sized hole in the wall. He was young, and it was his first year on the job. In that year, he had never experienced anything as sad as this. Walking into a murder scene is certainly not for the faint of heart, but realizing that the victim was a child made it hard for him to even breathe. Seeing the girl slumped over her homework, completely innocent and caught in a moment of some kind of bad luck made him sick. How could the world be so horrible?
The next few moments were all a blur. Ashley cried so hard, she could barely get enough air in to continue to breathe herself. She wondered if she even wanted to. How could she go on living after seeing her dead and bloody sister? How could she love her brother whose accident cost her sister her life? The world closed in on her and everything just went dark.
Then she remembered--her little sister. Time was frozen, but it had really been only about forty minutes since she left her little sister behind the tree. Ashley picked herself up from the pile of herself, cuddled around her father on the couch while six police officers did their job inside Dana’s room. She looked down at her pale yellow dress that was now stained not only with dirt from playing outside with her littlest sister, but also with the wet blood of her dead middle sister. She nearly ran into the screen door, then smashed into it, nearly ripping it off its hinges. She ran barefoot, as fast as she could into the dark. She could see the corner of her little sister’s white dress glowing in the dark, along with a tendril of her perfectly blonde hair sticking out from behind the same tree. Ashley held her arms out and dove onto her sister, collapsing in her hug.
“I’m so sorry...” she weeped.
“For what? You told me to stay here so I did.”
Ashley sobbed even harder and her little sister noticed the dark, blackening stains of coagulating blood on her dress.
“Why are you all dirty, Ashley?”
Ashley sobbed harder, nestling her little sister into her at the trunk of the tree.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Ashley ran away from Kentucky as soon as she turned eighteen. With just enough money to buy a plane ticket and pay for her first month’s rent in a cheap apartment, she longed to get away from the memories left behind in Kentucky. An aspiring actress, she hoped that her pain and her experiences would be enough to create a career better than being the drama teacher at the local high school.
Wherever she went, Dana came with her. On windy days when she walked alone, certain gusts brought with them the smell of the perfume that Dana wore every day, a gift from their grandmother on her 9th birthday. Dana was always the girl who was wise beyond her years and full of life. She couldn’t wait to grow up and see the world. She dreamed of having a huge map in her house, marked with red X’s on every country she had visited. Dana kept a collection of Encyclopedias in her room, her request for Christmas gifts instead of Barbies and dresses like the other girls her age. Her grandmother gave her a nice perfume, which no other nine year old on the planet would have worn except her. The smell was woody and musky, almost even masculine, but Dana loved it. She liked smelling like a “grown up”, which some people might think was weird unless you actually knew her.
Some nights, Ashley laid in bed, unable to sleep for even just five minutes. She wondered why Dana had been taken from her life like she was, especially after surviving the incident with the golf cart less than a year before. She sometimes even laid awake, wondering if the accident had really been a mistake. At the bottom of her heart, she knew that it had been, and she had already forgiven her brother, but when something like this happens, you never stop asking yourself questions. In fact, you never stop asking yourself the same questions over and over again, even when you think you finally know the answers.
One night in particular, Ashley had somehow found peace, even though she was hours away from the most important audition she had ever gone to. She felt light in her bed for the first time in a long time, instead of the heaviness that haunted her. Suddenly, the window burst open when a huge gust of wind thrusted toward it. “Ashley...” the wind seemed to say. Suddenly, the scent of her sister’s perfume danced around her and she smiled. “You are a good sister” the wind hissed. Ordinarily, she should have been frightened, but this time everything felt OK. She thought she had heard her sister’s voice before, but this time, Dana really felt close. Ashley closed her eyes and imagined herself holding her sister, tangled in Dana’s sandy blonde hair that made her different from the rest of the pale blonde siblings. She closed her eyes and fell into a deep sleep, smiling for the first time in a very long time.