The moment my sister was born, I was done for. I could see it in my mother’s eyes,
green and wet, how she looked at that pretty little girl. She hadn’t looked at me like
that in a long time, or ever.

My sister grew up disliking our mother who tried too hard to please. As our family
logic would have it, the kid adored me: she cheered me on each time I caused havoc. I
hated her guts, of course, her pretty little hands and pink mouth, from the time I
smelled her diapers to the time she ran into a car. She had stolen my mother from me,
and who would I be if I ever forgave her for that?

It wasn’t until I saw my sister in the hospital that the world shifted. There we were,
Mom crying, stunned by fear. Dad misconsoling her. And me standing as far away
from the bed as possible, my back to the wall and my eyes on my shoes—there
seemed to be too much blood on them. A nurse took control of the situation, as nurses
do. She led me to the side of the bed and told me that my sister could probably still
hear me and perhaps I wanted to say something sweet.

I remember swallowing. Was this my punishment for calling my sister a chicken?
After I’d shown her three times how it was done, she still hadn’t dared to cross the
road at rush hour. I looked at her face—or what was left of it—and aimed for her ear.

“Fenna,” I said, “remember when you made me that flower crown and I said I’d
flushed it down the toilet because it was so crap? Well, I didn’t. I actually put it
between the pages of my favorite book, the pretty one, you know, with all these old
photographs of strange kids. So when you get home, I’ll wear the crown, okay, to

I could lie no more and fled to nowhere.

Days went by with us watching the clock blink. At home, I picked daisies from the
garden and braided them into flower crowns. I got it right after about five tries and
even then I still worried Fenna would notice the difference. Her mermaid slippers
were right there, near the door, waiting.

Dad bought hamburgers, which were cold by the time he smuggled them into the
hospital. I ate them too fast and threw up in the hallway. Happiness, he said, is a
pause between misery and regret. His only interest in life was my mother—if Mom
had not insisted on having us, my sister and I would not have been born. He resented
me the most, believing that Mom, with her chest like a bird’s, had space in her heart
for only one.

Perhaps he was right. In the hospital, I often put my head on her lap and felt my
mother’s fingers meet the back of my neck. But her touch would have fooled no one.
It was an automatic gesture like filling your lungs with air.

In the end, my sister died. I was floored yet not surprised. After all, we were a one-
way family, doomed to love in solitude.

Claire Polders

Claire Polders

Claire Polders is a Dutch novelist with a debut in English (Simon & Schuster, 2018) on the way. For the moment, she lives in Paris. Her most recent stories were published in Mid-American Review, Flash Frontier, and Blue Fifth Review.
Claire Polders

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