The Alive Sister

This is supposed to be a story. It should have two black sisters playing in a park. One twelve and the other ten. They will be playing with foam bats. An older woman, probably white — but I will wonder in revisions and even while I’m typing the word in the first draft if I need to make that obvious and is it too obvious or too little or too far — will call the police about the disturbance. Maybe I’ll tell you why she does it. Because she doesn’t want to watch two little black kids hit each other with bats and scream outside her window. Or because she works at a factory and has a migraine and really, she should quit the factory, but has no skills and has to keep working at a place that sometimes grabs her in its metal fists and crunches her until all she can do is lie on the bathroom floor and ache for days. Whatever. Or I won’t tell and let you think about why someone would do that. Police officers arrive. The girls miss it. They are running and yelling. They’re in imagination land. Each of them is a giant and they’re fighting over who will be the next queen of giant land. The vanquished one will bring the victor candy cake and a golden crown that has you are the best engraved upon it. This is the final battle, the older girl yells, and sees a golden unicorn. Its wings thrill her. Then a police officer — for too stupid reasons that would make someone who thinks of herself as a good reader say in response, “it seems like you are trying to make the villain a caricature rather than a real person,” — shoots one of the sisters. The twelve year old falls back into leaves and the police officers don’t check on her. They instead arrest the sister. The left alive sister learns rage. Or loneliness. Definitely fear. She learns about life’s swamp ugliness. Hate is an alligator pretending to be a log, ready to chomp you in half when you’re calm and looking at it and thinking what a boring piece of wood. She will know what her sister’s eyes looked like right before someone meant to protect them shot her. Maybe someone will blame her or her parents because why should kids have anything that look remotely like weapons. And then she’ll learn what it means to be tired. Maybe I’ll be able to write all this in a way where people say I am so removed and even-keeled. I’ll write it in a way where someone just says what an interesting story and feels no blame. And then I’ll have to wonder if that makes the story a failure or success. There is no clear medicine in this story’s honey. Or I’ll keep going past the point you expect the story to end. Let the alive sister grow up and build a time machine. Maybe she’ll sacrifice her older self for her sister, jump in front of the bullet. Fade into time in front of her younger self, her older sister, and the two police officers. Maybe she’ll go back and stop the police officers from ever being born. No, she won’t be cruel and hurt their families. She’ll just have their mothers meet better, handsomer guys. Maybe she’ll go and live in the past. Meet one of the police officers and insert herself in his life. She’ll become his best friend — even though she’ll always see the way he didn’t even blink or consider, just saw brown, just saw bat, and fired — so that when he comes back to that park, he’ll pause because he actually once knew a girl who looked like those girls. Liked the way she laughed at his jokes. Surprise! Both sisters get to be the alive sister. Or maybe the alive sister will try to think of ways to go further. It’s not enough to just make her life better. She’ll analyze the best place to change things: try to find who or what could have healed the hurt. Try to figure out how people heal. Maybe in fiction I’ll find a way to let her have the answer. But I know that’s impossible because if it was possible, I wouldn’t be writing this story. Or maybe I’ll let her set the time-machine to self-destruct. Take out the entire universe. And because sometimes I am a secret optimist, I’ll let her reboot everything. The alive sister will see stars and planets be born. She’ll be the only person and it’ll be lonely and it’ll be cold. But she’ll build a home of nebulas and silence and eventually, maybe, learn to leave the doors unlocked and the windows open.


“Most of the ghost stories in Cornwall involved ships and drowned sailors. And these drowned people, these ghosts, were always coming back, coming back to harass the living.”

Torture Receipts

“In my husband’s dream, his old girlfriend’s dog flies out of the car, and he is given a receipt from the body shop for replacing the windshield.”

Two War Stories

“She’d heard of miraculous zombie recoveries but she wasn’t counting on anything.”