It was her idea to splurge on the new computer monitor. It was her idea to splurge in general, whenever a splurge snuck up and presented itself. The regulars would come in, and they would say, “The mirror in the bathroom is bigger! That’s wonderful!” Or: “This new display table! All for candles! Simply Wonderful!”
And you would shrug and say, “Guess we’re doing alright, huh? You keep shopping here, we’ll keep buying bigger mirrors, just for you. Cash or credit?”
The new computer monitor was shaped like a rectangle instead of a square. “Better, right?” she said, the first morning.
“Better for checking people out?” You’d replied, “Or better for work-time movie watching?”
“Better for whapping you in your big dumb face,” she’d replied.
You two had been excited to work together, when you moved in with her. She had presented the idea wistfully, after you’d graduated. She’d said: “Haha well hey, if you’re just sitting around with no clue what to do with your life, why don’t you come down here and help with the store ‘til you figure it out? I hate interviewing. I’ll hire my own little brother all shady-like.” You’d texted her two weeks later asking what if, like, that was a serious idea? That was nearly a year and half ago. You both lived in an apartment in Middletwon, Rhode Island.
That night, you’d had a fight about the monitor that was really about other things. You’d said, “You said you wanted me in a bigger role at the store.”
She’d said, “I said I wanted you to have a bigger role if you wanted a bigger role, David.”
Your head had panged when she called you David instead of Dave. You’d said, “Why would I take it if I didn’t want it, Adeline?” She went by Addie.
She’d said, “Well you should’ve helped me pick out the new monitor.”
You’d said, “We didn’t need a new monitor. Just like we don’t need a freaking sandwich board.”
She’d rolled her eyes so hard that she fell back into the seat at the other side of the little kitchen table. “David,” she’d said, “you do not get to decide whether I spend fifty dollars on a sandwich board. And don’t say freaking like you’re freaking twelve.”
“Do you want me in a bigger role or don’t you,” you’d said.
“I decide the role, David! I’m still the boss! You don’t get to do start inflicting your will on random things!” She’d said.
You’d looked at ther wide, crazy eyes and wanted to pinch them. “I think you mean ‘impose’,” you’d said.
“No,” she’d said. “’Inflict’ is good. You are being an infliction.”
“Wow,” you’d said.
“Yeah,” she’d said.
“Know what,” you’d said.
“What,” she’d said.
“Maybe you can just buy a sandwich board fancy enough to do my job,” you’d said.
And she’d said, “Are you quitting right now.”
And you’d said, “Are you hopeful.”
And she’d said, “Dave.”
And you’d said, “No, I’m not quitting. What I’m going to do is go turn into a sandwich board, and then you don’t have to get all pissy when I have opinions. You can just write whatever you want on me, and I won’t be able to argue because I will be a sandwich board.”
And again she’d said, “Dave.”
And on the way to your room you’d said, “No, I am Board. Congrats on your new board.” And then you’d gone to bed.
Now it’s the morning, and she is being uncharacteristically slow, so much that you have to resort to opening her door. “Your store opens at 9,” you say. She doesn’t hear you, because she’s not in her room. Partially submerged beneath the covers on her bed, there is a sandwich board. You roll your eyes so hard that you very nearly roll your head right off. “Oh my freaking god,” you say.
You go to the store without the intention of working. You are going to really give it to her, regardless of customers. Even if they’re regulars. You are hoping there a regulars, hoping they witness this storm. Two regulars and Micah are waiting outside the door. Micah is the newest of the three other people who work for Addie. She was hired one week ago. She says, “Hey,” with an oversweet smile.
“Where is Addie?” you say.
“I don’t know,” says Micah. “The door’s not unlocked.”
“My goodness!” Says Paula the regular. “You had me scared to death you’d closed for good! Where would I get my yarn?” There is a dedicated yarn shop one street down. Addie is very good at retaining regulars and right now you resent that about her. You unlock the door, and find yourself working because of the presence of customers and because of Micah, who is not ready to be on her own. Addie does not appear in an hour, or three, or five. You have texted her four times and called her twice. You speak to four total regulars, four people you would have rather had witnessed the storm. Your damn sister is, today, doing what you have officially decided is the pettiest thing she has ever done. It’s not that you can’t handle the store on your own. It’s not that you haven’t taken over when she needed. You’re a machine. But this business with the sandwich board, and then to ignore you all day? Ignore her own store which you are running? Well, you simply would have put it past her. Now you know better.
When you get home, you storm into her room, and you have brought Hell itself with you. She is still not present. The sandwich board still is. You grab it with both hands and hoist it out of her bed. You growl at it. There is a dry-erase marker clipped to the side.
You write, I made $2k at YOUR store for you today. You look at it. The marker is orange. The board is black. You are not satisfied, but you don’t want to erase it because you don’t want to lose steam. You add, Grow the FREAK up you FREAKING FREAK. You lean the sandwich board up against the kitchen table, angled at the entrance door, and you go to bed early.
It is on the darker side of 3am when you awake from a dream about your sister. You do not remember the dream, but it has left you with certain feelings. Though you have forgotten why, you were momentarily, while still in the process of leaving the dream, deeply afraid that your sister had died. The relief that this is not the case is immense. You stare at your ceiling. It’s a popcorn ceiling and it looks extra fuzzy in the dark. It hits you with stark certainty that your sister has turned into a sandwich board. When you finally fall back to sleep, it is after hours of sweating anxiety. Your alarm can’t have gone off much later. You rise from bed with stones for eyes.
The sandwich board is still against the table. Addie’s room is still devoid of Addie, though the covers on her bed could very well have moved since you moved them. You can’t possibly remember the exact orientation of the covers. She must’ve been in and out already. On Wednesdays she has an early morning pottery class. She arrives at the store at noon.
You look at the sandwich board. Unmoved. You had strange thoughts about the sandwich board last night, and you simply can’t believe how long they kept you awake. Your brain late at night is a volatile element. You read your handwriting.
Call mom this week
It’s her birthday tomorrow
(. . . those are not your words). Your right heal slides back because your body is ready to flee. You read again.
I made $2k at YOUR store for you today
Grow the FREAK up you FREAKING FREAK
Right, yes. That’s what it says. You’re eyes feel so heavy. You text Jamaal and tell him that you and Addie will be opening the store at noon today. Sorry for the late notice. Family emergency.
You need more sleep.
You have only started grazing sleep when your alarm goes off again. You grumble. This is going to be a long day. You bring the sandwich board with you to the store. You have cooled off a little about Addie. You are sleep deprived and beginning to worry. You text her that you will meet her at the store. You don’t mention the sandwich board, but you have brought it and will write something on it because you have the nicer handwriting, and that is enough of a peace offering.
Addie doesn’t meet you at the store. Jamaal is late but you are glad for a little time alone in the store. You should decide what you are going to write. You lean the sandwich board against the front counter and stare at it. Your thoughts begin to stray and you reel them in. You should write something funny. You think, Brand new monitor at front counter, come one come all! Addie might laugh at that. Customers won’t get it, though. Probably not that, then. You realize that the sandwich board is most probably double-sided. If that is the case you’ll have to think of two things to write. You flip it to the other side. Something is already written. It is Addie’s handwriting.
A SANDWICH BOARD
. . .
Your sister is cruel. You did not know she possessed this kind of malice. Taunting you? She is seven years older than you, and perhaps that prevented you from ever witnessing her meaner spirits. You erase the words, and write,
Very Slightly Used Sandwich Board
You are going to keep the money, thereby arranging it so that Addie will have spent $50 on $35 in your pocket. You place the sandwich board outside, in front of the door.
Jamaal arrives near 12:45 and you are of course in a rotten mood. You tell him that this will go down as one strike in three toward a write-up. Addie does not implement a strikes/write-ups system. By 3:00 no one has bought the sandwich board. It occurs to you that perhaps you should bring it inside and sell it as if it is store stock. This is bad behavior in front Jamaal. You should not be selling items out of the store for your own pocket. This will rankle Addie considerably. You do it anyway. You send her a picture of the sandwich board in the spot where you’ve placed it. Right in front of the candle table.
No one buys the thing. You bring it home with you because you are going to sell it on Ebay. With Addie watching you are going to take many pictures for your Ebay post and you are going to pretend she isn’t there. She can’t stop you, and what does she care anyway? She only bought it to taunt you.
At home, you don’t have to pretend she isn’t there, because she isn’t. You stand in her room for a while, squeezing your thumb and wondering where she’s gone. You get a text message. It’s from Aldon, who is the store manager of the artisanal cheese shop a few building’s down from Addie’s store.
Hi Dave, it’s Aldon (cheese shop). Ashley said she saw you guys are looking to let go of a good looking sandwich board for $35. I’d take you up on that! Let me know!
You reply almost on impulse, a quick instinct somewhere in the pool of self preservation.
The next morning is your mother’s birthday, and you should get the call out of the way now, before work. She’ll have been up for a few hours already. Also the call can’t run too long because you have to get to work. You have allowed for 45 minutes of conversation. She answers expectantly, and the first ten minutes are easy because you’ve only been required to say “Yeah, haha” and, “Haha, yeah.” Then she asks about Addie. You’ve planned for this.
“She had to get to the store early. She’ll call you later. You get two calls for two kids this year.”
This delights your mother. You earn eight more minutes of the easy stuff. You pace while she talks. You’ve never been able to sit still while on a phone call. You trip on the broom and stumble but it doesn’t deter her. You’re still good. “Haha, yeah.” You’ve fallen so far into the rhythm that you are delayed in realizing when the phone is quiet. It’s your turn to speak. Your mind folds back to recall what she had left you with. It wasn’t a question for you; she had simply run out. It’s your turn. You are scanning the last eighteen minutes of monologue. You mustn’t ask her about something she’s already mentioned. She’ll think you weren’t listening. She’ll tell Addie later and then Addie will chide you for it. You are searching the apartment with your eyes as you search your brain with your brain. Your manic gaze lands on the sandwich board. It says:
Ask her about Arnold.
Arnold! The new boyfriend! Of course! You ask about Arnold, with all the gusto of a genuinely interested son. Viola, a full sixteen more minutes, and around seven of them are more than you need to know. You are putting in the leg work this morning. You do not end up needing the full 45 minutes. You asked the question she was fishing for, and she was satisfied with her catch. The call ends with a bout of her quintessential rolling, high-thrown laughter.
You sit on the sofa and release a big, cleansing breath. You have run the gauntlet. “Thanks for that,” you say.
. . .
Who are you talking to?
You look at the sandwich board. A smiley face is drawn on it. You say, “Addie?” You get a text.
Gonna be running late! Ashley has cash for you whenever you wanna bring the board by. Sorry and thanks!
Last night, after agreeing to sell the sandwich board, you had texted Aldon asking if Addie was with him. They are fairly good friends. He said no. He asked if everything was alright. You said Lol yeah everything’s fine! Have a good night! For your part, you hadn’t had a great night.
There is no longer anything on the sandwich board. No longer? There couldn’t have been anything at all. You are known to enter a trance-like state when speaking with your mother. You are also running on something like 5 hours of sleep over the course of two nights. You consider keeping the store closed for the day. You do not have that kind of authority.
You call in Micah to work for the day. You are going to need the extra help. Jamaal can direct her on anything she doesn’t quite know how to do. The new monitor makes checking people out easier, honestly. That should help her out. With those two manning the store, you bring the sandwich board to the cheese shop. Ashley sees you approach from inside.
“Morning Dave. How it do?” she says.
“It do do,” you say. You’ve never quite known how to talk to Ashley.
She says, “35, right?”
You say, “Yup.”
She says, “Dope.” She hands you a stack of cash and only the top bill is highly crinkled.
“Sweetness,” you say. “Thanks.”
“Didn’t need her, huh?” she says.
“What?” you say. You are stricken. The change in her expression indicates that there has been a drastic change in yours. She staggers one step back.
She says, “Didn’t . . . need the . . . sandwich board?”
You look at the sandwich board. It says, Yes.
You say, “No.” You return to Addie’s store.
You are not quite right today. You are setting horrible examples for Jamaal and Micah, and you are supposed to be their superior. You are not justifying Addie hiring you, promoting you. Her own little brother. Both Jamaal and Nikki have worked for her for longer than you have. You would fire you if you were your sister. You end up shielding yourself behind the front counter, behind that big, bright new monitor. The regulars can sense something is wrong with you. You are the charm to Addie’s business acumen, usually. Micah asks if you are alright. Micah asks. Jamaal asks where Addie is.
You stare. He is caught in your gaze, stuck by it. He’s been re-doing the puzzles display. He drops one. The sound of the box hitting the floor seems to align with the most forceful heartbeat you’ve ever had. You are crying.
You must go to her.
You fall to your knees before her. She has never looked so radiant. Someone at the artisanal cheese shop has beautiful handwriting, and a flare for design. They even had different colored markers. Yellows and greens and purples and a wonderful deep indigo. There is a lace pattern drawn on her corners, and a delightful wheel of cheese with bite taken out at her top. The words are written in the most impeccable script. They say:
I didn’t ask you about the monitor
Or the mirror
Or the candle table
I could have
I should have
I’m so glad you’re here
I don’t know what I’d do without you
Please don’t freaking leave
Cheese of the day is smoked gouda
11.99 for a wedge!
You hug Addie, press her dazzling face against yours. You are streaming tears. Someone has come out of the cheese shop, but you don’t hear them. Addie’s colors are spreading onto you. You are swept up into a glorious myriad of feeling, and you roll into the prismatic tide of your sister’s love. You aren’t going to leave, Addie. You promise.