I had to haul my baby sister out of the blood-drenched soil once I was done watering life back into the wet, clumpy post-abortion fetal tissue she used to be. Like all babies, she kicked and screamed. Unlike other babies, when she screamed, she opened her mouth so wide I could see down her throat, through flesh and precious arteries and brilliant bone, to her raw beating heart, and that was how I knew she was finally alive. Unborn, debloomed, now blooming and reshaped by my gardening hands into girl rather than ghost.
Growing my sister in this patch of soil was my labor of love. Geraniums would never grow in that patch of soil again.
I taught my ex-ghost baby sister what my mother did not teach me. She learned English like I did, from picture books loaned by elderly librarians with smile lines around their eyes. Rather than subjecting her to Saturday school as my parents had done, I told my boyfriend to speak Chinese around her, forced him to read her Journey to the West before I let her watch the cartoon.
My ex-ghost baby sister smiled in every picture and had the best grades in her class. We walked arm-in-arm around my college campus, running our soft, sheltered fingertips over rough brick.
This is what you could have, because I died, said my sister. I watched her flop on my dorm mattress in the sunshine, her skin unblemished.
My ex-ghost baby sister knew to wash the dishes nightly and how to recite my mother’s favorite Psalm. I caught her mumbling, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil into her pillow at night, beads of sweat vandalizing the mural of her moonsoaked forehead, even with the windows open.
My ex-ghost baby sister always prayed while kneeling in the dirt, sometimes leaning so far that her forehead embraced the ground. I didn’t understand what her prayers said, because they were in Mandarin. At the end of every prayer, she always said the same thing, and I copied it down so I could translate it: my mother thinks she killed me, but she didn’t. I am here. I am alive.
I didn’t teach her there could have been both of us. Or just her. Or just me. Or neither. Only my mother choking on all her ghosts, telling herself about the valley of the shadow of death. This was something my sister already knew.
When my sister told me she was ready, we walked together to my garden, now only a gaping hole that could have held the remnants of a meteor. My sister took my hands in hers, endless pale fingers entwined within each other, and I stepped backwards toward the hole, wanting to drink in the face that looked more like my mother than mine ever did.
I’ll come back for you when you’re done growing, she said.
My sister gently lowered me into the soil, and I closed my eyes as she began to cover my head with dirt.