Just Listen

Author: P Hana

Page 13

   

When he and Whitney came back in, she wouldn't look at anyone. Instead, she kept her head low, eyes on the floor, as my father explained that she was going to eat some food and then go back to sleep, in the hopes that things would look better tomorrow. There wasn't a discussion of this deal, or how they had come about it. It was already decided.

My mother asked me to go upstairs then, so I didn't get to see Whitney eat her dinner, or hear if there were any more arguments about it. Later, though, when the house was so quiet I knew everyone else was asleep, I went downstairs. There was only one plate left of the three I'd wrapped up, and while it looked like it had been poked at since, it was nowhere near clean.

I got a snack, then went into the TV room, where I watched a rerun of a reality makeover show and some of the local news. When I finally headed back upstairs, it was that weird time of night when the moon was shining really brightly through the glass, lighting everything up. There was always something strange about seeing so much moonlight inside, and as I passed through it, I covered my eyes.

The hallway that led to my room and Whitney's was lit up as well, the only shaded part in the middle, from the chimney. As I stepped into that sudden dark, I smelled the steam.

Or felt it. All I knew was that suddenly, it was like the very air changed, becoming heavier and more moist, and for a second I just stood there, breathing it in. The bathroom was all the way at the other end of the hall, and there was no light beneath the door, but as I moved toward it, the steam got thicker and more pungent, and I could hear the sound of water splashing. It seemed so bizarre. I could understand leaving a faucet running, but the shower? Then again, Whitney had been acting weird ever since she got home, so anything was possible. I finally reached the half-open door, pushing it open.

Immediately it hit against something, then swung back at me. I eased it open again, the steam now thick in my face, already condensing on my skin. I couldn't see anything, and all I could hear was water, so I reached blindly to my right, my hand moving over the wall until I found the switch.

Whitney was lying on the floor, at my feet. It was her shoulder the door had hit when I first tried to open it. She was curled up, slightly, a towel knotted around her, her cheek pressed against the linoleum. The shower, as I'd suspected, was on full blast, and water was pooling in the bottom, too much for the drain to handle.

"Whitney?" I said, crouching down beside her. I couldn't imagine what she'd been doing here in the dark, alone, so late at night. "Are you—"

Then I saw the toilet. The lid was up, and inside was this yellowy mix, tinged with red that I knew, somehow, with one look, was blood.

"Whitney." I put my hand on her face. Her skin was hot, wet, and her eyelids fluttered. I reached down, shaking her shoulder. "Whitney, wake up."

She didn't. But she did move, just enough that the towel came loose. And then, finally, I saw what my sister had done to herself.

She was all bones. That was the first thing I thought. Bones arid knobs, every bump of her spine protruding and visible. Her hips poked out at angles, her knees were skinny and pale. It seemed impossible that she could be so thin and still be alive, and even more so that she'd been able to somehow hide this. As she shifted again, though, I saw it, the one thing that would stick with me forever: the sharpness of her shoulder blades as they rose out of her skin, looking like the wings of a dead baby bird I'd once found in our backyard, hairless and barely born, already broken.

"Daddy!" I screamed, my voice so loud in the tiny room. "Daddy!"

The rest of the night I remember only in bits and pieces. My father, fumbling to put on his glasses as he ran down the hallway in his pajamas. My mother behind him, standing in that one shaft of light at the other end of the hall, illuminated, her hands to her face as he pushed me aside, then crouched down beside Whitney, putting his ear to her chest. The ambulance, the swirling lights of which made the entire house seem like a kaleidoscope. And then the silence once it was gone, with Whitney and my mother inside, my father following in his car behind. I was told to stay where I was, and wait for word.

I didn't know what to do. So I went back to the bathroom and cleaned it up. I flushed the toilet, looking away as I did so, then mopped up the water that had spilled out on the floor, and took the towels I used down to the washing machine, putting them in. Then I went and sat in the living room, in all that moonlight, and waited.

It was my father who finally called two hours later. The sound of the phone ringing jerked me awake, and as I picked up the receiver, the sun was rising in the front of the house, the sky streaked with pinks and reds. "Your sister is going to be okay," he said. "When we get home, we'll explain what's happening."

After we hung up, I went back to my room and crawled into bed, sleeping two more hours until I heard the garage door open and knew they were home. When I came down to the kitchen, my mother was making a pot of coffee, her back to me. She had on the same clothes as the night before, her hair uncombed.

"Mom?" I said.

She turned around, and when I saw her face, my stomach dropped. It was just like all those years ago: her face so tired, eyes swollen from crying, her very features haunted. A sudden panic made me want to wrap myself around her, putting myself between her and the world and everything it could do to her, to me, to any of us.

And then it happened. My mother started crying. Her eyes welled up, and she looked down at her hands, which were trembling, and then she was sobbing, the sound seeming so loud in the quiet of the kitchen. I stepped forward, not knowing how to handle this. Luckily, I didn't have to.

"Grace." My father was standing in the doorway to the hall that led to his office. "Honey. It's all right."

My mother's shoulders were shaking as she drew in a breath. "Oh, God, Andrew. What did we—"

And then my father was moving across the room toward her, taking her in his arms, his big frame encompassing hers. She buried her face in his chest, the sobs muffled in his shirt, and I stepped back, over the threshold, out of sight, and sat down in the dining room. I could still hear her crying, and the sound was awful. But seeing it was worse.

Eventually, my dad got my mother calmed down and sent her upstairs to shower and try to get some rest. Then he came back down and sat across from me.

"Your sister is very sick," he said. "She's lost an extreme amount of weight and apparently hasn't been eating normally for months now. Her system just shut down last night."

"Is she going to be okay?" I asked.

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