When we moved, Dad chose the house next to the apple tree. It was, in all respects, not so much a tree and more of a bush, even if it indeed produced these hard crabby apples. They were always too sour to eat, but that didn’t stop Plian and I from harvesting as many as we could during apple season. It was fun to pretend, at least, that we were eating apples straight from the tree, just like Dad said it was the good kids do.
Dad said it was cute, such a nice little tree.
Very nature-y, he’d say.
Good to get a fresh start from all that gold we were used to, living with your mother. We’re starting new, girls!
Sometimes Melanie says he’s still hurting over the old life. Says he misses Mum, but loves his pride too much to crawl back to her and ask her why she broke it off. Why 4 years of marriage could be dissolved so easily, just because of one “little” accident.
I don’t really remember much of the old house, the old life. Plian tells me stuff, this and that, to get me to remember.
Hey, Christy, remember the crystal bright chandeliers we used to have back home?
No, Pli. I don’t.
Well, what about the cameras that were everywhere, and all the photographers that came because of Mum’s job? You remember those, don’t you? There was so much light in that house, Christy! All the light from the windows, all that Hollywood sparkle, all those colors.
And then there would be a pause.
She would repeat again, this time softer: All those colors.
And I would shake my head once, forgetting that it was useless for my sister, and then verbally say no, and Plian’s childish enthusiasm would retreat back into her usual silence. When Plian went from being excited to quiet in a couple of seconds, I would bite my tongue and turn, so my 18-year-old sister couldn’t see my tears. Not like she could see me anyway.
Dad and Melanie are banging on the door. Come out, they say. It’s such a pretty day today! I look at Plian. She stares straight ahead, out into a universe only she can picture.
We’ll wait for you outside! Dad yells.
I pad over to Plian in my worn bunny slippers and sit down next to her.
I touch my sister’s shoulder gently. Hey. Plian?
Her eyes are exposed to the brilliant rays of the sun that shine through the flimsy curtains at Plian’s desk, but she doesn’t flinch.
You wanna go outside? I ask tentatively.
Plian doesn’t move for a second, but then she swivels in her chair and turns her head towards me. The translucent white sheen spread over her dark eyes used to scare me, but it’s been years. I don’t grimace.
Instead, I say: It’s beautiful outside. Come and feel the wind, at least. I promise I’ll describe everything to you so you can see; won’t that be fun?
Plian pauses. She nods and I smile. I grab my sister’s cold hand and drag her out the front door. The house goes about 16 feet in the other direction, but that’s it. Later I would see Dad’s pictures of the mansion we used to live in, with its glistening chandeliers and opulent staircases, but then I look at Plian.
It’s worth it, I decide. She’s worth it.
Outside on the porch, Melanie’s sitting on the rocking chair and Dad stands behind her with his arms looped around her neck. I sit Plian down on the steps: easy, sis, you’re almost there. Then I stand behind, arms locked around her neck like Dad, protecting what’s mine.
The trees are so green, I whisper to Plian. Right in front of you, the grass is growing so good. The sky looks like happiness. Like it was painted with the bluest blue ever. The clouds are little white dots in the sky. Little white puffy circles.
I describe much more to my expectant sister, telling her the stories Melanie tells me about the nymphs and dryads that are sleeping in the trees.
Dre-ads, I say. Plian’s lips curl.
I tell her of the moss that’s climbing up the big cypress tree in front of us, how the roots are pointing in the direction of the big cliff.
That’s it. Dad says it’s dangerous. I think it looks super pretty. The whole world seems like it just kind of stops there.
Plian stops smiling.
I think you’re right, she says. It feels pretty.
We go back into the house, and the days go by pretty much the same. My birthday last month makes me 13 years old, but Dad and Mel say I look older.
In the room that Pli and I share, there’s a snow globe. It’s Plian’s, from a family trip down to Disney when she was seven. I was only one, so I’m told I was left at home with the sitter, crying my head off. Dad would always tell whoever paid attention: my younger girl, my Christy, she has the voice of an opera singer; I knew it right before we left for Disney.
The globe was Plian’s treasure. Before the accident, the globe meant another world for Plian. Dad tells me how she would shake the little sphere furiously, and then set it gently on a flat surface, and wait patiently in front of it, eyes trained on the little flurries of fake snow that swirled around that unknown liquid. There was a little pedestal inside the globe, protected from the liquid by a small shield of glass. On the pedestal there was, when Mum had bought the globe for Plian, a small figurine of a golden ballet dancer. She wore a diamond pendant. Dad says it was a real diamond. Maybe half a carat, maybe one. Not much, but enough. Plian never cared. Dad hated the globe, says it reminds him of Mum. But he swears that Plian used to stare at the thing for hours, never taking a break, not even once.
I come back from school one day and I see Plian in the house window. She’s in our bedroom, I can see that much, but the window’s too small to see much else. I walk up, staring into it, knowing my sister couldn’t see me.
Plian’s hands are moving rapidly over her desk, knocking things over in their frantic search for something. Nail polish bottles and mint candy containers fall soundlessly to the floor; I see the colors of the polish splash against the dark wood in slow motion. I lift my hand to pound on the glass separating me from my sister. Her face stops me.
Plian’s white. Not her usual pale complexion, but an “I’ve just seen a ghost and it’s following me home” off-white gray color. I bite my lip, bring down my hand, and watch her next movements. She swishes her hands over her desk surface a few more times, until her fingers touch the edge of the precious snow globe perched on the left end. Plian grabs it, bringing it in front of her stomach and clutching it reverently. Her face softens when her hands grasp the glass. The gray goes out of her features, and her usual peachy coloring returns. I catch a glimpse of a smile on my sister’s face, and let out the breath I didn’t know I was holding.
Nothing’s wrong. She’s fine now.
Then Plian pivots, and walks through the bedroom door, disappearing from my view. I inch along the side of the house to catch my sister as she emerges from the front.
Her steps are brisk, and she moves swiftly to the edge of the cliff when she stops about three or four yards away. I run up to her, yelling her name. Pli! Be careful! The pretty place I told you about is there, but it’s real scary, too!
Plian turns at the sound of my voice. Christy? What are you doing?
I pant and catch my breath, hands on my kneecaps, waiting for my breath to slow enough to speak. I was watching you.
She waits. Why?
I dunno. What are you doing?
Plian doesn’t answer. Instead she feels her way to a rock near the edge of the cliff, a big boulder-y thing that hasn’t moved an inch since our family came to this little Sacramento town. How far is the cliff from here, Christy?
I pause. Pretty close. The distance from my bed to yours, I guess. I look down at Plian. Why?
Again, no answer. It’s silent for a minute, and then I see Plian’s lips start to move. Delicately, breathily.
I think she’s counting.
Plian takes a deep breath in, sucking in air audibly.
Wait. Pli, what are you doing?
I am ignored. Without hesitation.
Plian sucks in another breath, raises the globe over her head and chucks it. I watch the little ball tumble in the air, before gravity pulls it down and it flies straight over the cliff edge into the abyss.
Pli! What was that for?
She shrugs. I don’t need it anymore.
Why not? Are you going somewhere then?
No. Maybe. I don’t know. She stands up suddenly and heads back towards our house. I run up to her.
But Pli, you loved that ball! You had it forever!
Yeah. She doesn’t turn her head, barely breathing the word. She stops in front of the house, sensing the metal habitat on wheels.
We go home without talking about it, but I’m thinking and thinking. Why did she do it? What is she planning? I look at my sister, see the dead look in her features, the washed-out, blank expression.
Sometimes in the nighttime, when we lay in our separate beds, I could hear snippets of a one-man act where my sister had conversations with herself. She would first play my mother, with characteristics I can only assume were trademark for her, and then she would play my father, with his deep, hurried voice. Mostly she would play herself, when she was young, but what came out of her mouth in those nighttime revels taught me more about my sister than from living with her 12 years.
In a high, squeaky voice: Darling, Plian’s crying again, go calm her down for me. My shoot today made me exhausted.
In a low voice, with the words muffled, as if Plian was speaking into her pillow: Oh, come on. She’s crying because her eyes hurt again. You tend to her. Can’t you fix what you broke?
The high voice again, this time rising in pitch, the words coming fast and angry: What do you mean, that I broke? The glass came from the chandelier! You know how hard I worked to buy that chandelier? Not to mention my expensive new French carpet. The blood will never come out now!
Plian usually starts choking off at this point, and her sniffles start out soft but eventually turn into full-blown whimpers. The first time I heard this, I immediately crawled into bed with her. She woke up the instant I pulled my body next to hers and put a hand on her quaking shoulder. She wiped her residual tears with the comforter and told me to go back to my own bed. I soon learned to just listen quietly to her nocturnal theater sessions.
Other times, there was no long dialogue, just soft crying noises from Plian’s bed. I would wake up, and quietly stare at my sister’s back, shaking in the dim moonlight that seeped through our pale blue curtains.
Our apple tree grew its hard crabby fruits until late November, far past when the other apple trees in our vicinity started to lose their fruits. In one moment of true big-sisterhood, Plian taught me something.
Pick an apple, Christy. Feel for the biggest one, that has no lumps or hard edges on it. Pluck it from the tree. Pull hard, Christy. Come on. Plian stands behind me, hands on my shoulders.
I got it! What do I do now? When I turn around for more guidance, she is staring off into the far distance. Pli?
She turns her head down. Come, let’s go to the cliff. Lead me there.
I reach for my sister’s hand and gently pull her to a safe place, at the resolute, immovable boulder. We’re at the rock now. Plian sits on the stone.
Pli scoots over a little on her rock and motions at me to sit. Come here.
I comply. What are we doing now?
She doesn’t answer, but gropes around for my hand. When she touches my fingers, she clutches them. Throw it in.
Throw it in. The apple.
Wait, why? I thought we were gonna eat this apple! My voice rises higher.
Plian smiles at me. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen her happy, but of course, I was too hysterical at the thought of losing my carefully chosen apple to realize the meaning behind that smile.
Just do it, she says. Pretend it’s the biggest something you’re scared of. And throw it down.
I frown. But I trust her, so I grab her hand and chuck my apple into the gaping canyon. I’m scared Pli will leave me. I don’t want to grow up.
Did you throw it?
You gotta do this every time you feel upset, ok? I’ve been tossing apples down too many times to count. It helps some.
Her voice starts to drift again. So we head back in, our hands locked and swinging with every step.
In the end, it wasn’t me that found out the news, or even Dad. Melanie did. She says Plian must have left it on her bed before she left. It was lined paper, but of course, the writing was all over the page. Plian gave us four sentences, in broken speech, like she was sending a telegram from the World War II era.
Leaving for job.
Don’t look for me.
Don’t know how long I will be gone.
Have a good life.
We were all shocked at first, but the little pieces started coming together.
The beautiful snow globe, the crying, the apple-throwing lesson. And then, the unexplainable became explainable. But, Dad never got it, always tried to blame himself. Says it was his fault, because he brought us here, away from Mum and the old life.
I hope she comes back someday. I hope she comes back to visit Dad, to visit me. To learn that the apple tree still sits in front of our house, because, no, Mel never did manage to convince Dad to chop it down. I hope she comes back to know that in apple season, her little sister picks an apple every day, sour because my biggest fear came true, and sweet because I’m still waiting.