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A. Elaine

It is very late and everyone has settled in for the night except an uneven family, four days recovered from a loss. When Kendra graduated high school, she went the way of most high school graduates: as far away from her parents as possible. This landed her on the east coast of the United States, a thousand miles from her hometown, under the pretend excuse of studying graphic design. Over the course of a month, she slowly moved almost all of her belongings from the house, and the final box was shipped off to her, four days ago. In her wake she left a father, a mother, and two sisters that she used to share a small upstairs bedroom and one narrow window with. Stella and Emma are the third and first of the family. Four days ago, they lived in a room too small for three girls, and now they live in a room too empty for two. Kendra had claimed an uneven half of the closet that is now Stella’s by right. Kendra had also left a mattress, a bed frame, two old sweaters, and Stella and Emma haven’t touched any of them. There is something changed in the space where Kendra lived. They don’t speak of it. In old legends, people could not say the names of monsters for fear of personifying them. This system works effectively. Until, one day, Stella walks into their shared bedroom to find Emma carefully moving a miniature model DMC Delorean onto the second shelf of the empty closet. “What are you doing?” she asks, more incredulous than offended. “I’m moving my Back to the Future collectables,” Emma answers briskly, adding a Marty McFly Funko Pop! to the second shelf. “That’s not your half of the closet.” This seems obvious. “Four-day forfeit. Hand me the anniversary special collection.” Stella hesitates. Emma finally grabs the anniversary special collection herself. “That’s not your half of the closet,” Stella repeats. Emma adjusts Marty McFly slightly to the right. “You aren’t using it. If you’re going to be such a baby about it, it is my half of the closet. Your garbage is all over the room. Marty McFly might as well get some stretching room if you’re not planning on growing up.” Stella doesn’t think the ‘garbage’ epithet is merited, since Emma clogs the room with paraphernalia from every dumpster-fire movie that the ‘80s and ‘90s had to offer and Stella never mentions a thing about it. In fact, at this very moment, Stella has to resist kicking at a rolled-up poster of The Breakfast Club that fell off the wall weeks ago. “I was planning on moving in,” Stella promises. “Tomorrow.” “It’s only 7:30. Do it tonight.” “It’s dark outside.” “It’s October. 7:30.” Stella doesn’t respond for a moment. Emma shrugs and adds a bobble-head Dr. Brown to the shelf. Stella snaps. “Get your stuff out of there!” In a fit of protest, Stella grabs Marty McFly by his tiny little arm and wrenches him from the closet. Emma looks deeply offended. “What the hell. Give me Marty.” “Get out of the closet!” “Are you gonna move into the closet? Then give me McFly and go,” a pregnant pause, “mc-screw yourself!” “What are you, a McDonalds ad? Mc-move out—” Stella stutters. “Out of the—mc-freaking closet!” “Mc—whatever! It’s been completely empty for four days. People have come back from the dead in less time. Closet is mine. Go die.” With this, Emma attempts to grab the Funko Pop! from Stella’s hands, but with an ironclad stubbornness, Stella holds on. Stella grips the puffy-vested three inch body of Marty McFly like her life depends on it. This is the great struggle, as it were, man vs. man vs. Funko Pop! though Funko Pop! has rarely been known to ever come out on top. Unsurprisingly, half a count later, the Funko Pop! breaks apart, Marty’s plastic head flying across the room and ricocheting off the wall with a sad little thunk. For just a moment, they look at the beheaded figure, both murderess and vilomah. Emma looks like she’s considering recreating the incident with Stella in place of McFly. Emma opens her shaking mouth and Stella premeditatively winces. At this moment, the power goes out, drowning them in darkness. The body of Marty McFly falls to the floor with a thud. You can imagine how it goes. Someone turns on their phone flashlight, and then there are drawers to be rifled through. A flashlight sends refractured gray beams off of the bedroom walls and two young girls sift through the darkness for the decapitated head of a Marty McFly Funko Pop! and just as one of them claims it, the flashlight flickers and, all at once, dies. Six minutes later, after more rifling and more flickering, the two girls are climbing into a car, hoping they have enough cash to pay for the batteries while the card readers are out. Stella stares out of the passenger window, examining the strange crystalline clarity of the frigid night sky. A cluster of stars burn through the velvet dark like cigarette butts, and the silence is too much. “You know,” she tries, “the universe is expanding more and more. The moon is significantly farther away than it was millennia ago. It looks smaller.” “That’s. . . nice,” Emma replies eventually. It’s so weird, without Kendra. She had been a constant in Stella’s life, like a limb. Her absence has thrown Stella’s balance. She doesn’t know who she is without her; it is a kind of relearning how to walk. Kendra usually bridges the space between her and Emma, and Stella is only beginning to grasp the length of the abyss now that the bridge has collapsed. “So the distance between the stars is greater,” Stella finishes, her voice softer, more tentative, almost buzzing into the silence like radio static. “They’re getting farther away.” Perhaps humanity has proven its scope of forgiveness surpasses damages caused to a beloved Funko Pop! But Emma tightens her hands on the steering wheel, and they silently walk through the grocery store, dimly lit with emergency lights, and they do have enough in cash for the batteries, and Stella thinks, perhaps not. Under their mother’s bed, there is a collection of photos, printed out and intended for scrapbooks that may one day exist. One such photo is of Kendra, Stella, and Emma, 7, 6, and 9, respectively. The girls fell asleep on the couch while watching some movie, and all three are curled under the same white blanket, tucked up to their ears. They melt into each other, a tangle of limbs and hair caught in peaceful coexistence, punctured only by the thin rupture where Emma’s small toes stick out at the bottom; she’s too tall. Electricity has a hum. Its absence is the primary impetus for its discovery. The eerie silence is itself a noise, impressing on Stella’s ears at a painful volume. She recites songs in her head to drown it out. The world seems too small, illuminated by the headlights of the car as they work their way down main street. The tall, quiet streetlights rise up out of the darkness one by one like obelisks as they pass them. Stella’s eye catches all at once in the dim outline of a shadow that reverberates into her skull like a gunshot. “Pull over!” Emma casts a scalding glance at her sister. Perhaps it is the ease of the empty roads, or the pleading look in Stella’s eyes, but Emma huffs out a frustrated breath and pulls to the side of the road. When Stella unlocks her door and scrambles down, Emma even puts the car in park, and, finally, turns it off. It’s a dilapidated park. With the power out, the lamps are inactive and dumb, but the waning light from the moon illuminates the shapes and shadows. There is a playground that is new; the city tore the old one down years ago when it rusted enough that a slide collapsed and a little boy broke his head open. But this is the same earth, the same dirt. Stella stops just shy of the grass. “We used to come here,” Emma says. “You remember?” “I remember.” When Stella was a kid, they would come here all the time. She’d climbed that tree, fallen on that sidewalk, flown out of that swing. It is the same, but different. The trees look smaller now, the sidewalk smoother, the earth farther down. It is like the park is holding Stella’s breath for her, keeping a tight unbreachable knot in her stomach. It suddenly becomes much colder. “Don’t you think that there are places that remember you?” “I don’t think so. I don’t think they can.” Emma nods, turning her collar up against the wind. The sky is piercing, piercing black, and Emma contrasts against it like the carcass of a crow in the river. “I guess that’s what people are for.” “Is it?” “Something has to. Remember, I mean.” Stella steps back, blinks, hard. She suddenly wants to run, but there’s nowhere to go. The old swing creaks in the wind. A storm is coming, the first winter’s snow of the year. “Can’t I just miss her?” she hears herself say. “Four days? Four days is my limit for missing her? Four days before I have to stop pretending to be okay with it and start meaning it? It’s like Ken moved out and you just—you just celebrated, or something. Don’t you feel the missing, Em?” The wind twists stray hairs around Emma’s expression like dancing flags placed by kings on parapets. “She didn’t die,” Emma says fiercely. “She’s not dead. Look, if we had service, you could call her right now. She’s not dead.” Of course, they both understand. It isn’t about dying. It’s about an empty top bunk in a three-person room. It isn’t the conversation. It’s the distance that the words have to reach. It is the changing and the fear of the changing, the knowing that, for the first time and always after, their sister will be evolving just out of arm's reach. It is not that Kendra is dead, but that she is still living, and still somehow gone. It is not death, but life that reaps the most of separations. “I don’t want to call her,” Stella snaps. “Okay, okay.” The wind whistles in the silence. “Emma?” “Yeah.” “Can we please—” thick with tears, now, “can we please just go home?” “Yeah.” On the drive home, it begins to snow, quarter-sized cotton balls falling from the sky in the droves of an army. “I like the snow,” Stella whispers, afraid to disturb the contention between them. A moment of silence passes, punctured by the sound of the windshield wipers. “Me too,” Emma concedes as forgiveness. “I’ll move into my half of the closet.” “You’ll buy me a new Marty McFly.” “Sure, fine.” “I think you mean ‘mc-fine.’” “Marty McFine.” “Buh-buh-du-du-duh,” Emma sings for a jingle. Stella laughs. It doesn’t quite fill the empty space, but it’s a start. The car doors shut in quick succession. Already, inches of snow have collected in their driveway, and without even the light of the moon, it’s difficult to make out the edifice of the house. Stella pulls her coat tightly around herself, not noticing, in the darkness, that Emma left hers in the car. She opens the door to the house; waits. “Emma?” “No, no, you go in. I’m just… gonna stay out here for a second.” A second of hesitation, and then the door closes. In the darkness, when the streetlights are silenced, Emma can’t even see the snow coming down. She never realized, before, that you can only see the falling snow when it catches light. With the light gone, it’s hardly noticeable, no more than feather-light brushes painting her body. She kicks off her shoes, allowing her bare feet to sink into the snow bank up to her ankles. First, it’s so cold that tears spring to her eyes, but then her nerves adjust and the snow feels as warm and ethereal as a spirit. She looks up at the sky, and she can feel the snow, then, the flakes sticking to her eyelashes. Something strange and warm is wending a burning path down her face. The cloud bank is low, and she can’t see them, but she knows that the stars are just getting farther apart. She cries, standing alone in the snow. She cries her heartache to the quiet presence of the universe. She cries until the whiteness covers her and she is herself again. Then, she goes inside. Her mother covers her in a warm blanket and pretends the leftover tears are melting snowflakes. There is something changed in Emma. They don’t speak of it. This is the night she knows that her life must change. That is what lives do. Ashes to ashes, sister to sister. Toda a toda, everything to everything. Hail everything full of everything, everything is with thee. Marty McFly Funko Pops! will be beheaded, lights will go out, and somehow at the end of the day when your feet are covered with blisters and you’re tearing up, it will all still be worth something. At some hour the snow will melt, seen or unseen, loved or unloved, and it will disappear into the earth and up to the sky and fall as new snow for another day, for loneliness and apathy and joy. It is the way of things, amen. The lights turn back on at three in the morning, long after she is sleeping.
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