I forever wait in this house for a figure that will guide me. I forever wait in this house for a lecture on how to grow. I forever wait in this house under the false pretense that someone will be a caretaker to me as I am to them. In this house, I will try to build a home.
When Older Sister comes home from college, I am shocked to see her in front of the house. I open the door and see her standing in the night. My feet stumble to reach her as I hesitantly pull my arms around her shoulders and remember what it is like to have her next to me. When I look at her face, I ask Older Sister why she is crying, and she does not answer, only comes inside the house with one suitcase and a collection of tears for me to dry. I watch her sit on the edge of the couch, untie her shoes, and slowly stretch her feet over the sofa cushions.
Older Sister asks me to go to the kitchen and bring her back a glass of water. When I go back to her, she grabs the glass but does not drink it.
“Why don’t you ever call?” Her words are brisk as she places the cup on the ground, her tears dispersing like the droplets of water on the cup’s rim.
“Because you said not to.” I respond fluidly to her and recall the day she said she was too old to remember her family. That day, Older Sister had gathered her things into her arms and had driven off with her friends in the backseat, leaving Mother to cry, leaving Father to pace around the room, and leaving me to help them. But it seems as if Older Sister has forgotten that day. Yet, I vividly remember the dismal absence of her presence blanketing the house.
Older Sister remains quiet on the couch.
“Why are you here?” I ask Older Sister. “Why did you suddenly decide to come back home again? Why did you not call to tell us you were coming? Why were you crying?”
Older Sister finally takes a sip of water and closes her eyes.
“How are mom and the baby?” she asks, ignoring me.
“They are both fine.” I dismiss her question abruptly as she always dismisses mine.
“When will the baby be born?”
“Soon. Very soon.”
She softens her eyes until they close. Her breath becomes light.
She sighs, “I miss this house.”
When Older Sister says this, I do not believe her. I simply am reminded of a time when I did not have to take care of her. And it seems as if I will always find myself holding her, catching her pretzeled words with my ear, balancing her tears in my hands, and constantly consoling her.
Older Sister soon falls asleep on the couch and forgets to say “good night.” I grab a blanket from my bedroom and slowly entangle Older Sister in it, tucking her feet in at the bottom and folding her hands over the top.
Mother slides her wedding ring off her ring finger in the morning when she braids her hair in the bathroom mirror. She balances her pregnant stomach on the bathroom countertop and combs through her hair. Sometimes, Mother tenderly places her hands on the underside of her belly. Intricately, she weaves her black strands together. Then, she calls from across the house and asks if she can braid my hair. I always say yes because I know this is the only time she will love me for the day. At this moment, Mother will say I am beautiful, and I will only believe her then. Afterwards, I will ask her how the baby is doing. “Fine,” she will say. “Just fine.”
But I know it’s not true. At night, she will scream, yell, and beg for her dreams to stop.
I will run to the room and console her. I will ask her what I can do to help her. Unlike Father, who sleeps soundlessly next to her, I will bend forward to hold her hand in mine.
“Get this baby out of me,” she will scream. “Get this baby out of me.”
At that point, I will cry with her because I know of the anxiety she gets for holding the baby inside of her. I understand her fear of caring for something and having that thing solely rely on you.
“Hush. Hush. Hush. It’s alright.” A breathy whisper will escape my mouth and soothe her.
Mother’s quick-paced breathing will soften and soon it will become a faint collapse of air in her throat.
I will later sleep in bed on the right of her and curl my body around hers, careful to avoid the curve of her stomach.
Throughout the night, to the left of us, Father will not stir the sheets as he sleeps silently.
Father waits by the windowsill in the morning. He sits quietly, surrounded by a ream of newspaper from thirty years ago, “the good old days.” Opaque pen ink is scribbled on the bed of newspaper laid out before him. His eyes scan the printed words, following the curves and stiffness of each letter. His under eye bags are a discolored purple grey—spoiled grapes—and his eyes are drooping brown on his face.
He has not talked to me for weeks now, I think. I didn’t think he wanted to anyway.
I shuffle towards him in the kitchen. He is unappalled by my presence as usual. I will give him something to eat because I know he has not eaten anything yet.
He accepts the offering of food by rolling the sleeves of his blue and white pinstripe shirt. He eats, eyes still on the daily news, and finishes by ruffling his hair and popping the collar of his shirt up.
I will not see him until later today after work when he unravels his tie from his neck and throws it carelessly on the floor for me to pick up.
At night, I wait for the bathtub to fill with cold water. This is the only time of day I will be alone.
This is the only time of day I will care for myself. I slip my clothes off my shoulders and slowly dip my big toe on the right foot in. Freezing. The only temperature the water is in this house. One by one, I dip my legs in antarctic waters until my entire body is submerged below the surface of the bathtub. I rub a bar of rose soap on my skin and let the bubbles rise as I sink deeper and deeper underwater.
I imagine one year ago. A fond memory of Older Sister, Mother, and Father laughing all around me before the peace was disrupted by Older Sister leaving, Mother announcing her pregnancy, and Father enveloped in work and ink.
When Baby Sister is born, I hold her in my arms and imagine that she is only cloud sky; delicate, pure, newborn substance. When she is sleeping, I cake her skin in baby powder—bleached vanilla— and pretend she is an angel that was sent to me. Her nascense remains abundant, skin riddled in marvelous pink undertone. One by one, I fiddle with her toes and press them into my cheeks, trying to birth dimples in my skin.
I linger over the thought of how Baby Sister was made to bring the family together—peace offering—but her value was soon diminished by everyone. She was supposed to be a proposed olive branch that would seamlessly mesh the family together, but clearly, it did not work.
I remember how Father in the early stages of Mother’s pregnancy, when he still loved her, would graze the side of her growing stomach and smile. I remember when Mother would glisten, blush raspberry, twirl her black braid over her pale fingers, and shortly drop the braid on the side of her breast. I remember how Older Sister would laugh at their love. I remember how I would wish to feel as loved as Baby Sister was in Mother’s stomach.
I am awoken from thought by Baby Sister’s laugh. She is gripping the hem of my long sleeved shirt and tugging it. I stand with Baby Sister and kiss her small, round head. Soon, I am followed by the rest of my family. Father slips into the nursery room and stands behind me, overcast shadow. Mother sulks into the room and lingers next to Baby Sister and me. Older Sister watches from the door, but then huddles around Baby Sister and me.
And I realize now I will have to care for Baby Sister endlessly. I understand now I will care for Older Sister’s tears, feed Father, nurture Mother’s nightmares, and build Baby Sister.
Immediately, as if my body knew before my mind, I drop Baby Sister on the floor.
Father looks palely at her plump body resting on the floorboards. Older Sister silently bends downwards to touch her, and Mother shrieks.