Contest #40 shortlist ⭐️

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I decided it was time to visit Laura when I saw the dead tree. I was hiking with Ryan, and didn’t initially see it, hunched in the shadow of the living one. When we got closer, I noticed how the roots of the two trees were tangled together in such a way that one tree was forced out of the ground by the growth of the other. Ryan turned back to see me standing in the center of the trail.

“Are you looking at those trees?” he asked. “Pretty crazy.”

I didn’t trust my voice enough to respond.

The next day I filled out all the paperwork to visit Laura, and one week later I made my way up to Boston.

So, now I’m seated in an airless grey room with no windows, already feeling the claustrophobia clutching at my windpipe. I had been instructed to wait here for the guard who would take me to my sister. I closed my eyes, breathed deeply, and imagined myself in a room filled with natural light in order to calm down. When I was young, I used to have nightmares of rooms like this. It was where I imagined Lisa had been held, slowly losing any hope of being found. Was I the only triplet who wouldn’t end up in some sort of prison?

Laura and I hadn’t referred to ourselves as triplets since Lisa went missing. Were you still triplets if there were only two of you left? It was a question too painful to answer.

I never imagined I would be back in Boston. After Lisa’s body was found, Mom told Laura and I we were getting out of Massachusetts forever. Dad wasn’t a part of the equation. I had felt my parents beginning to drift apart around the time Lisa went missing. He just wasn’t there one day and no one ever addressed it. Laura and I were so lost, we just followed Mom’s lead.

Within the first year Laura began acting out. After she stopped crying herself to sleep at night, she started fights with Mom about the dumbest stuff. The fights led to a lot of sneaking out of the house and skipping school. She and I no longer shared the same circle of friends. She mainly hung out with older guys who scared me. I spent my first years in Florida trying to create peace between my mother and sister. I hid some of her indiscretions, hoping I could eventually reason her out of what she was doing. I was terrified of losing another sister.

And then I did.  

When Laura and I turned eighteen she moved back to Boston, and I was so angry. I couldn’t understand her further breaking what was left of our family to go to a city that stolen our life from us. 

I sent her an occasional card, but eventually they began to come back. She had moved enough times that even the post office lost track. Five years after she moved to Boston, we got word that she had been arrested for some drug charge. She didn’t use her phone call to tell us. I found out because I searched for her online. I was angry, but I was loyal enough to send a few letters, letting her know how we were doing. Sometimes she would respond.

I know Mom worried about her during the times she was lucid. Mom had kept everything together until I finished college, and then she let whatever was left of her mind completely float away.

I would go to visit her at the state hospital, and she’d tell me stories about when Lisa was young. It was like Lisa was the only child she ever had, and I was a kindly neighbor listening to a fond mother. Then suddenly she’d look stricken as if she remembered that Lisa wasn’t her only daughter. She would clutch my arm and say, “Please, where is Laura?”

I tried my best not to resent that she never asked about me. I wondered if she would be more interested if I had been kidnapped or arrested. For the most part, I would lie and tell her Laura was at home, and she’d be in to visit next week. In the beginning I would try to remind her of the kidnapping and the aftermath, but it only upset her. Eventually I realized I wasn’t helping, and it would be best if she thought we were all happily living under one roof. It didn’t matter what I said, since she probably forget the instant I left the room.

A year after my graduation, I met Ryan when he came to the office to set up our new computers. It wasn’t necessarily love at first sight, but conversation with him was instant and easy. I was drawn to how normal his life was. He had two sisters, and his parents were still married. They ate dinner together every Sunday night, and absolutely nothing happened to them. I think Ryan’s mom once hit a mailbox with her car, but that was about it. I wanted that life.

I told him half truths about me. I pretended Mom was just in an assisted living facility. I told him I had a sister who died, and my other sister lived in Boston. So, I didn’t lie. I just left out details.   

“Lily Banner?”

I looked up at a torso. I assumed the torso was attached to a head and legs, but I couldn’t get my eyes past the biggest torso I’d ever seen.

“Yes, I’m Lily.”

“I’m going to take you to the room where you can talk to your sister,” the torso said. “You can give her a hug, but make it quick.”

“Did she say anything?” I said, rubbing my hands on my pants.

“I don’t talk to the inmates.”

The inmates. That’s all he saw when he looked at my sister. I swallowed hard to keep down the tears.

I followed the torso down the longest hallway I’ve ever seen and was brought into a room that looked like a cafeteria. There were women in orange jumpsuits seated at tables, waiting on their families, embracing children, or tensely arguing with their husbands. I felt lost and wanted to run back to the torso as the only familiar thing in the room.

Then I saw her. I saw my own face in that crowd. She sat at a table in the back of the room. Surprisingly she looked healthier than when I last saw her. She smiled at me, and my mouth curved to mirror hers. I walked to her and we exchanged a quick hug and sat at our assigned places on either side of the table.

“I um, they told us to bring quarters. Would you want anything?”

“As a rule I don’t say no to vending machine food,” she said.

Who else was offering, I wondered, as I excused myself and began pushing quarters into the vending machine. It was so strange and sad to be worried that no one was buying off-brand chips for my sister. No one probably came to visit her at all except a lawyer. I used up most of the quarters, overbuying from the small selection of items that were still in stock. I decided to save the rest of the quarters in case she needed them. It felt like such a paltry way to make up for almost seven years of abandonment. I grabbed the handful of snacks and brought them back to the table.

“So, how are you?” I asked, instantly hating myself for it. She was in prison. How did I think she was doing?

“Good actually. I know that sounds weird, but it’s kinda hard to get drugs in here. I’ve been clean for two years, and I don’t really miss it. I found this group of women too. We’re like sisters.”

I looked down at my shoes. I was her sister.

“How’s Mom?” Laura asked.

“She’s...crazy.”

Laura winced, but how else could I describe her?

“Does she mention me at all?”

“Yeah, she asks where you are, and she tells me stories about Lisa, and how wonderful she is.”

“She doesn’t remember?”

“I tried to remind her, but eventually I realized it was just best for her to be happy.”

Laura nodded and waited until I looked her in the eyes.

“Are you happy?” she asked.

“I met someone.”

I hadn’t intended to tell her about Ryan, because I didn’t think he would stay. Life hadn’t made me believe things would work out in my favor. I wanted him, but our relationship always seemed on edge, like I was just waiting for him to find out I didn’t deserve him.

“A guy? Please tell me everything. My dating life is extremely limited. Blake, who brought you in here, is pretty hot though. What do you think?”

I glanced over at the guard standing by the door.

“I was calling him The Torso,” I said.

Laura let out a shout of laughter, causing the torso to twitch slightly in our direction.

“I am totally going to steal that,” she said. “But anyway, your guy. What’s he like?”

“He’s wonderful. His parents are still together and they eat dinner together once a week. I mean, the whole family. He has two sisters. He’s the oldest. He’s the IT guy in our building.”

“Oooh, a nerd.”

“But with a good body.”

“As good as Torso?”

“Well, I think that’s too much to ask of most people.”

Laura laughed, and I found my face imitating hers. I didn’t know how she was able to laugh in a place where I could barely breathe, but I was glad she could.

“So, how serious are you?” she said.

“Me and Ryan?”

“Yeah.”

“I mean, I don’t know. I haven’t told him about Lisa. Or Mom really. Or...anything.”

“Or me?”

“Or you.”

“You can’t worry so much about other people, Lily.”

I was quiet but angry. I had spent my life worried and cleaning up after her, for nothing. Mom ended up losing her mind, and Laura was in jail. I hadn’t even been able to grieve for Lisa because Laura sucked up all of the available emotion. It was her fault I had to worry so much. I thought I was the thriving tree that had toppled Laura, but I was the withered one, dried up from trying to hold everything together by my own power.

“I know I didn’t make it easy on you guys,” she said. “But you deserve someone who loves you despite your circumstances.”

She opened a package of chips and began to eat while I thought that over.

“I’m sorry I haven’t visited you before,” I said. “I think I couldn’t understand why you came back here.”

“It’s all I have of Lisa. I couldn’t understand why we ever left.”

“But I was still alive. Why would you leave me?”

 “I guess I probably took you for granted. I was really thinking about myself a lot at that time. I just had to get out of there. You were a much better daughter than me.”

“I was just trying to...” my voice tapered off. I didn’t trust myself to not cry.

Laura reached for my hand, but pulled back sensing a movement from the torso.

“If your guy doesn’t love all your cracks, he doesn’t deserve you.”

“Time’s up,” Torso said.

I looked up at him, suddenly desperate for just a few more minutes.

“Please,” I said.

Laura stepped in for a hug and I struggled to get a full breath. It felt impossibly sad to leave her again.

“I don’t regret my choices, Lily,” she said. “Some of them have been harmful, but I believe it has made me a better woman. You might not see it now, but yours have made you better as well.”

“Can you keep this food?” was all I was able to choke out.

“Girl, please. I’m definitely keeping this. Say hi to Ryan for me.”

Two weeks later, I sat Ryan down and told him everything. I was sure he was going to get up and walk away, but he sat quietly for a while holding my hand. Eventually, he put an arm around me, and told me he couldn’t imagine how life could be so unfair. My heart cracked wide open.

 

 

May 08, 2020 17:08

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4 comments

Artemisia Pearl
15:32 May 14, 2020

The way a person ends a story is very important. You did an amazing job at that. I loved the last sentence. "My heart cracked wide open." A beautiful sentence! Keep writing!

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Heather Laaman
01:37 May 15, 2020

Thank you very much. I figure the first and last sentences are definitely important.

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Navya Jain
16:34 May 09, 2020

okay wow. I was hooked till the end, it was like I couldn't get my eyes off of the words

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Heather Laaman
17:07 May 09, 2020

Appreciate your kind words! This one was a tougher one for me to write, so the feedback is so welcome.

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