He pounded on his younger sister’s door until his index knuckle cracked. That finger started doing that after his sister slammed him in that fence, all those years ago. He shook out his hand and knocked again. He heard the brass lock click and paused. His shoulder rested against the side of the house and he shook his hand once more. The door opened like a sloth, but he expected that. Sarah had been through a lot in the past couple days.
She kept a stale face and didn’t say anything. She left the door open and walked down the hall. It was noon on a Wednesday, yet she was still wearing pajamas. One of her pink slippers was halfway on her foot, exposing her dirty heel, as she stepped into the kitchen. He followed behind, noticing the coat rack with her blue Arctic jacket– overkill for a Texas winter. Below it still laid the matching gloves, alpine climbing harness, and bag filled with various camp supplies. Everything was unmoved from the last time he visited, when they had their last argument.
He entered in the kitchen. She was standing with her arms cross by the pantry. Her hair was messy in the same way he use to do before family pictures. He knew she hadn’t been outside since the funeral, and was surprised to see mascara still stained on her cheeks. He pulled out a chair at the table. She noticed him check out the climbing stuff and attacked before he could sit down.
“Go on, say it!” she said.
“Say what?” he said.
“Tell me to get rid of the gear out there!” she said.
He adjusted himself in the wooden chair.
“I’m not here for that,” he said.
She took a few steps closer. She rested her hip against the stove, and crossed her arms again before chiming back in.
“So, why are you here then?”
“We’ve been trying to call you since …you know-“
“Michael’s death. You can say it.”
“Okay. Yea. Since Michael’s unfortunate death,” She rolled her eyes as he continued.
“I just came over to make sure you were alright Sis. Mom tried to call you, Dad tried to call.”
A laugh burst out of her mouth.
“We both know Dad didn’t try to call. He hated Michael! He couldn’t stand him. He’d tell me all the time he hated our climbing adventures!”
He let out a little smile and looked back in her eyes.
“Okay Sar, you got me there. But he still loves you and wants to make sure you’re alright.”
She peered away into the microwave on the counter, as if she was waiting for popcorn to finish. Time paused. He jumped back in to fill the silence.
“Are you okay?”
She took a deep breath.
“Am I okay?”
Her volume rose at the end of the sentence, like she was gearing up for a street race.
“Do you know what it’s like? Do you understand? LOOK AT ME!”
She pointed to her face.
“I was SUPPOSE to FUCKING be there next to him climbing, OKAY? I was suppose to help him tie his harness. That’s what good wives do. Do you get me? We sacrificed weekends, holidays, hell, your son’s birthday party! All to Tackle Everest!”
She stood up straight and walked towards him. Her head tilted as she used her hands as exclamation points.
“And for WHAT? For me to get sick a few days before and not pass the physical. Y’all can chalk it up anyway you want, but I already know it! I KNOW IT’S MY FAULT. I SHOULD’VE BEEN THERE!”
He lifted to his feet and grabbed her arms.
“Don’t do this to yourself Sarah!” he said.
A tear ran down her face as she tried to look away from him. She snorted a giant gob of snot and freed her arms.
“Don’t you tell me what to do! You and your fucking high horse! You don’t know! Just. Just. JUST GET OUT!”
She punched his shoulder. It was like they were six again and he stole her teddy bear. Get out! Get out! She kept screaming. More punches flew into him and he just stood there. Tears broke out and all words were stifled. She collapsed into his shoulder. He started patting her back. No forethought as to why, just a reaction. He looked up at the white kitchen ceiling.
He didn’t know what to do in this situation. All his life, he barely knew what to say to his sister. They had only really started to get alone once Michael came in the picture. He liked Michael. The guy understood Sarah, which was weight off his shoulders. But everything was different now. No more avoiding this.
Sarah wept harder. He wanted to say something, anything, but decided against it. Instead, he kept rubbing her back. He figured the words would come when he needed them.