First prize winner of the 7th Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest.
My sister, Kathy, died of lung cancer the day before her forty-fourth birthday.
Yes, of course she smoked.
She smoked and drank in a bar and restaurant in Winnipeg called Carlos and Murphy’s and ate hot chicken wings and hung with the locals after work every day.
She wasn’t Mexican or anything. I swear I’m not making this up.
She worked for the gas company. Then later she worked somewhere else. I don’t know where. She put her severance pay into investments and in 2001 when the buildings came down she lost them, like so many.
She was always thin, and her hair was always thick with the smell of chemical spray. She curled it every day, like my mother. She always looked perfectly polished. Nails, face, clothes. Nothing out of place. She looked more like my mother than either would admit.
One time she invited me over for tacos but she fell asleep and when I rang the doorbell she didn’t answer. I didn’t bother trying after that.
She was the only one of us that didn’t have kids. I think that was for the best.
She loved a man named Rocky. No joke, that was his name. His mother’s name was Dink. None of this is made up. It’s all true.
The carpet in their condo was white. We weren’t allowed on it without a fresh pair of socks. We weren’t allowed to eat or drink in her living room.
She and Rocky divorced when he got drunk one night and smacked her. She never really got over him.
She was my half-sister, same mother different father.
Her father was one of those skeletons in the family closet. He drank, and one night he drank and drove and killed himself, but not just himself he turned some young girl into a vegetable. That’s the legend, anyway. I was only a baby so I don’t know much.
My mother said he was a jerk. No one else even talked about him. But I know that Kathy loved him and resented my mother for leaving him.
My mom kicked Kathy out of the house at sixteen. One of those TV moments. Kathy coming home at six in the morning, Mom: “If you can’t live by the rules of this house ... “ and out she went. Mom didn’t hear from her for three years.
They never really got along after that. Even when Kathy was dying, my mother didn’t get to say goodbye. Mom had come down with shingles and the doctors wouldn’t let her in the room. Scared the cancer patient would get sick, with her last breath.
The last time I saw her was two weeks before she died. Her hair was still perfect. She’d spend hours in the bathroom even though every movement was pain. Her nails, her makeup, everything in its place. But she looked wrong somehow. It’s hard to explain. Something in the line of her jaw, the hollowness of her eyes.
I asked her how she was. She was angry. She was scared. No one knew what to say.
The kids and dogs played while we waited for her to emerge from the bathroom, trying to look perfect, glamorous, pretending nothing was wrong at all.