Creative

While I Was Gone- Grace Cassidy

By April 14, 2019 May 28th, 2019 No Comments

By Grace Cassidy

“Eggs?” I ask, offering the bowl. “You still like ‘em scrambled, right?” 

Jen returns a tired smile and takes the bowl from my hands. Grabbing a spoon, she begins piling the eggs onto her toast. My sister is thinner than she was when I left. Cheekbones cast shadows on her cheeks; the bones in her wrists stand out sharply through her skin. She’s made up of lines and angles now, where she used to be softer, rounder. I recall our hug at the airport last night. She fit so awkwardly in my arms—like a doll, rather than a person. It’s disconcerting, because we’ve always looked like sisters. When I left, we were almost twins. Across the table, Jen swallows. I watch the ripple-tug of tendons shifting in her neck and think, where I used to meet a mirror in this face, now, I greet a stranger. 

I take a sip of my coffee and unfold Dad’s newspaper; the fragile pages rustle. 

“Where’s Mum?” Jen asks as she sets the bowl down.  

“Out. Had to go into work.” 

“It’s Saturday.”  

I shrug, keeping my eyes trained on the article in front of me. “She said she’ll get Monday off. They had some printing emergency or something. Look, I don’t know,” I say, after glancing up to see her frown. “She left a note on the fridge,” 

Jen says, “Huh,” and looks down at her plate. There’s something about the way she says it. Something that says Mum going to work on a weekend is a thing—a concept that makes a person pause and go, huh. I watch her fingers clench around the fork in her hand. Her fingers are thinner, too, and her nails are rugged. She’s started biting them again. I can’t quite figure out what’s bothering her. I’ve been gone too long.  

The steady ticking of the clock fills the kitchen as much as the pale light from the window. Distantly, I think I can almost hear the whining of Dad’s radio through the walls. 

I take another sip of coffee. 

“So,” Jen starts, after taking a bite of her egg and toast. “How was it?” 

“How was what?” 

Fiji.”  

I set my coffee mug down on the table with a quiet thud. “Nice.”  

She lets out an incredulous laugh. “Nice? Half a year in the tropics and that’s all you have to say? Kat went a couple years back, and she couldn’t stop talking about it for months.”  

“Okay,” I say, “it was very nice.” 

Jen purses her lips, but a few seconds pass, and she doesn’t resume her line of questioning. I move my gaze back to my newspaper and turn a page, but my hands still when my eyes catch the headline, Former Disney Star Checks into Rehab. Beneath it—a sprawling photograph of a tired young woman, her head ducked to avoid the cameras aimed at her. I know that girl, I think. I used to watch her show when I was a kid. 

I hear a scoff and look up, realising that Jen’s seen the headline. “Shocker,” she says, rolling her eyes. “Half those kids seem to be on drugs these days.” 

I bite my lip, a cold feeling settling in my stomach. Softly, I say, “It doesn’t say anything about drugs.”  

There’s a beat of silence. Jen sets down her fork. I glance at her plate. She still hasn’t had more than a bite of her breakfast.  

I can hear the frown in her voice when she says, “What?” 

“Sometimes people check into rehab for other things, Jen,” I say, while watching a milky bubble peruse the circumference of my mug. “Like… depression, you know. That sort of stuff.”  

More silence. I look up. Jen’s blinking at me, lips parted in confusion. Then, it’s like watching the sky clear on a cloudy day. The colour in her face bleeds away, and she sits back in her chair. I hate what I can see growing in her eyes, so I avoid them and turn back to my newspaper.  

“Tracy,” she says, slowly. “How was Fiji?” 

I swallow. “Just eat your breakfast, Jen.

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