I write you this letter as I lay belly-down on the now very faded hammock in our backyard. The same hammock you and I would lay on for hours telling stories and sharing secrets. But the hammock has faded and frayed like one of the tattered book bindings in that back section of the library that only the librarians seem to ever go into. You know, the one with the ancient looking tapestry pulled to the side of the entrance? Remember that room with the audiobooks? You and I would sit in there for days if we had been allowed to. You’d share those stories with me too but that was mostly in the evenings after supper when we lay on the bottom bunk in the cool dark room with the flowered blankets over our heads and the candles on the nightstand. Remember that sticky feeling that would spread all over our skin in only that room? I remember how you loved that feeling and yearned for it as summer grew near. The hammock is still tied taut between the two oleander trees. I remember how you loved those flowers so. That was all before you left, but you never told me why.
Penny, each day when I wake up now I see that blinking alarm clock. I still don’t recall the power ever going out or the winds being so strong so it catches me for a surprise. Then I realize it’s just a memory and the time is correct again and I must move on. What time was it when you left, Penny? I remember you snoring just below me, you had just said “Lilliana, tomorrow I want to be free,” and then you sighed, “Free just like those oleanders and those dragonflies that swarm them.”
“Okay,” I muttered sleepily, “tomorrow we can be anything.” But tomorrow you were gone and we could no longer be anything and we would forever be nothing because you didn’t say why and you couldn’t just stay, and it felt like forever because deep down I knew it was.
Remember the day that we went to the doctors? The woman gave you a grape lollipop and me a cherry one, but we switched because we each had the other’s favorite. I liked that day. Momma cried but we didn’t. I don’t understand, but I think you did. I guess by now I have learned most everything about that night when she lay on the couch curled up, dissolved in tears, but since then I’ve forgotten how to cry. I think after you left, my crying gene broke because I haven’t shed a tear since. I think when you left you took all my tears with you and hid them in a box with my sobs because I can’t find them anywhere and it makes me hurt a great deal because at times, I wish I could.
Before that night we had only ever seen Momma cry one other time. It was Easter two years ago now, when you and I set our silver alarm clock for six-fifteen, before Daddy would wake for good, and we shuffled downstairs in our big hand-me-down tee-shirts and slippers and you made homemade buttermilk pancakes and I made fresh orange juice with the new juicer Momma had gotten from the auction at church that Father Martin had arranged with the support of the local Parent Teacher Association. But by now my alarm clock has changed to the color yellow because that morning you left I smashed the silver one, and we haven’t eaten buttermilk pancakes since the day you flipped them, and sometimes I wonder if it’s because Momma and Daddy threw away the pancake pan because you left us.
The morning you left we didn’t eat anything, especially not pancakes. There was little time to do anything because of the police men, EMTs, and Father Martin scurrying around the house. In a hushed voice from the dining room, I heard Daddy and Father Martin recite three Hail Mary’s and a Glory Be. I only joined in for the last two prayers and said, “Amen.” I still don’t know why though.
Lunch was a pot roast that Mr. and Mrs. Lamonica brought over to our house that day. It was sunny out by noon and everyone on the block had heard that you were gone. I stayed in bed until Momma called me down to say thank you for the pot roast and potatoes but after they left I came back upstairs to do anything imaginable but sleeping, eating, crying or talking. So I wrote. I wrote letters you’d never read. I wrote you letters like this one except the old ones were filled with loads of anger. They were letters telling you how angry I was that you left me and how disappointed in you I was for letting the leukemia win the battle that you had fought for only six short years. I was angry with you for not telling me you were leaving and I was mostly angry for each day that inevitably would happen since you left us. I didn’t eat that pot roast but Daddy told me to eat some crackers because the empty feeling needed to settle. The empty feeling still hasn’t settled, Penny. The empty feeling is still here and it’s been a full year and eight months and I’m still not hungry.
The day of your burial, Father Martin pulled me into the convent to console me. He put his hand on my left shoulder, which was rigid like the rest of my body had been since the moment I found you still hiding under your flowered blanket, and told me that even though you were gone, the church, your spirit, and God would always be there for me, but even though I nodded and forced a grin, I didn’t believe a single word because in my mind God was the one who let you slip through his grip and we did too.
Do you remember Sunday school, Penny? Remember when they taught you about Heaven and Hell and you came home and we laid in the hammock while Momma set up the Halloween decorations along the yard and you told me about all of the Bible verses that proved those mysterious afterlife destinations were real? Well let me tell you something sister, I don’t believe in Heaven and Hell, but if I still did you would be in Heaven. But since I don’t, you shall forever be a dragonfly like the ones that used to dance on the oleander tree and chase us around the yard in the late springtime.
Momma and Daddy went from having two beautiful girls to one and I don’t know how beautiful I feel now that your gone. Is it possible that you took my beauty with the sobs and tears?
Whenever Daddy looks at me anymore all he does is sigh. He tells me that he only sees you in my eyes, and it always looks like someone just socked him in the stomach. Remember when that kid Louis Klein punched that kid Neil from down the block in the stomach on the schoolyard on accident and you fixed it and made everything better? I wish I could have been like you and I wish I were like you in that way now. But I don’t speak and I don’t react and I don’t cry, and to be honest with you I don’t understand what Daddy sees in me at all. You were wearing that embroidered scarf that Aunt Elizabeth had given you for your birthday. I think she stitched it herself. That was when all of your hair started turning blonder than we even thought imaginable and thinning generously. That’s the scarf we belted around your tiny waist before we laid you in the casket and lowered your pale, chilled body into the ground on that bitingly breezy August morning…