by Matt Hollingsworth
Sarah sat at the dinner table as if returned from the dead. I might have fallen over if Dad hadn’t run over, hugging me and yelling “Isn’t it wonderful!”
“Delightful,” I mumbled.
“Hello, Davey.” She did her best to smile. I didn’t want to touch her any more than she probably wanted to touch me, so I kept my distance, arms crossed.
“You came back?”
She blushed, “Yeah, I…”
“‘It would take the assembled armies of Rome, Alexander the Great, and Genghis Khan to drag me back into your backwards, self-righteous house ever…’”
“Davey,” Dad scolded, but I ignored him.
Her head ducked. “Did I really say…”
“Oh, I remember very distinctly. A very odd thing to say: Genghis Khan. Don’t think I’ve heard that one since.”
“I missed you too, bro.”
Dad looked back and forth between us.
“I saw her through the window pacing on the sidewalk, talking to herself,” he said. “What did you say you were…”
“Rehearsing,” Sarah said, “what I was going to say to you.” He laughed, putting his arm around her. I think he would’ve forgiven her if she grabbed my gun and shot me in the face.
“Rehearsing.” Dad smiled. “I ran out, hugged her, and—”
“Why’d you come back?” It was exactly as cold and accusatory as I’d meant it to be, the voice I used during interrogations.
“I, uhm… didn’t have anywhere else to go.”
“Really? What a surprise!”
Dad glared at me. “Sarah, maybe you could set the table. I’d like to talk to Davey.” I think she was as relieved to be away from me as I was from her. He led me outside into the damp spring air, where mosquitos circled like vultures.
“What is your problem? We’ve spent the past five years not knowing if she was dead and the first thing you…”
“She’s a thief.”
“She’s my child.”
I threw my hands in the air. “Well, what am I?” I shook my head. “How about I take her down to the station and run some tests?”
“You notice those marks on her arm. You know what those are?”
He stared with eyes that could melt steel.
“I was an officer for years before you were born. Don’t you think I recognize needle marks? I’m driving her to a recovery center in the morning.” His expression softened. “Please, give her a chance, son. We’re a family.”
I gritted my teeth.
“Just answer me one thing,” I said. “If I was the one who left home to go shoot up drugs, would you have welcomed me back in so easily?”
He looked like I’d slapped him in the face.
“Davey, son, do you really think…” All at once, he was hugging me. When he drew back, his eyes were wet.
“Son, I love you more than you’ll ever know.”
The three of us sat together at the dining room table.
Dad had killed two of his chickens for dinner, frying them into strips which he served alongside overcooked onion rings—Sarah’s favorite from childhood.
It was strange seeing my 23-year-old sister back in her high school clothes—the only genius-level druggie in the town, I imagined.
She lifted a chicken strip to her mouth with her fingers, but a look from me made her put it back down, grabbing her fork and knife.
“You kept my old stuff,” she said.
Dad smiled, biting a piece of chicken. “Didn’t have the heart to toss them out. Not that Davey and I are smart enough to understand your books, but it made us look sophisticated to have a copy of Plato in the house.”
She was only nibbling at the food. Reduced appetite. Her pupils were dilated. Withdrawal symptoms.
We chatted during dinner, stepping lightly. I didn’t want to know about her past, and she didn’t want to talk about it. I stayed as long as I had to, then excused myself.
I passed by her bedroom on the way upstairs. Dad had kept it in pristine condition, a little shrine to the daughter he wanted to have instead of the one he actually did. Maybe he couldn’t see her for what she really was, but I could.
Recovery Center. What a joke! She was here to take advantage until whatever trouble she was in passed. Then she’d stick another needle up her arm and disappear.
I heard them whispering and glanced over the handrail. Sarah’s head rested against Dad’s shoulder, her eyes leaking crocodile tears. For a second though… I shook off the thought, returning to my room.
I stayed up late that night listening for her. I doubted she’d be able to disable the alarms on the doors and windows, but she was always full of surprises. I listened for that quiet patter of feet—Sarah gathering our valuables, vanished by morning. I’d catch her in the act, and Dad would finally see her for who she was. And he’d thank me for seeing through her when he couldn’t, thank me for all those years I stood by him while she was gone.
But morning came, and still she lay on the couch. She and Dad prepared for the drive to the recovery center. I didn’t want to think about what it would cost. We worked hard for our money, and here she came to snatch up what she didn’t deserve. Seeing the way Dad beamed over her just made things worse.
Dad got ready in his room, leaving Sarah and I alone in the hallway. She wore the shirt she’d bought on our vacation to Washington. Knew the history of every monument better than the tour guides. You’d think someone that intelligent would be smart enough not to use drugs.
“You know he kept your school papers. Every single one. Never kept any of mine, but he kept yours.” I glared at her. “I’ve earned my spot in this family. You don’t deserve Dad’s love.”
She looked at me with an expression that could almost be pity. “You’re right, I don’t deserve it. But I don’t have to. And neither do you.” She kissed my cheek. “He didn’t need to keep your papers because he has you with him. He loves you, bro. And so do I.”
Matt Hollingsworth has been previously published in Electric Spec, Fabula Argentea, and elsewhere. He currently resides in Knoxville, Tennessee.