They went on with the boxes. Her sister started singing ‘waiting for the van’ to the tune of the Lou Reed song, making her laugh. Now that their dad was gone, Emily was the only person left who could really make her laugh now, Anna realized with a shock. But it didn’t scare her; she understood that then, not really. Instead she felt lucky. The boxes kept growing and she noticed there was no traffic, like the world had forgotten about them, and that was okay, that there was just them. It felt right. It felt safe. When there was only a few boxes left, she reached out and touched Emily on the shoulder, making her smile; she did not make her sister laugh but smile.
Anna brought out bread, some chocolate bars and fruit. They sat on the grass, eating like it was some sort of picnic, like back when they were kids. They poured more coffee, looked up into the sun. An airplane cut across the blue sky, moving soundlessly. She looked back down to the food and saw her sister waving at the plane, like she always did.
Once, Emily had told her to always keep her purse inside her boots if she was staying some place unfamiliar; that way you always knew where to look, you never have to search for it, reaching in the dark. It was one of the smartest things she’d ever been told.
“You know, he never wanted anything, did he? Dad, I mean. I never heard him bitch about not having something, even when things were really tight. Do you ever remember him saying anything like that?”
“Once,” Anna said. She drew her hand across her face, the sun full beam in her eyes now. She shifted, and then finally gave up, moving onto her elbow. “We saw a chandelier once, in a hardware magazine, where he used to buy fittings and things.”
“You’re kidding? Dad wanted that? No way! That sounds too… I don’t know…rich or something.” She watched as Emily broke the last chocolate bar in half, handed one piece over to her. After she did, she smeared her thumb with the melted chocolate on Anna’s forearm.
“Gotcha!” She beamed, making a show of pressing the whole chuck of the bar into her mouth. Anna crossed her eyes and licked off the mess, then ran the tea towel over her arm.
“It wasn’t just for him. He said they’d talked about it, him and Mum, before they got married. I think he meant they talked about it in a joke way, like it was impossible, but the way he was looking at that book, I think that was one thing he would have liked.” She shrugged and then dusted down her jeans. She pulled herself off the grass, then brought her hands down to hoist up her sister.
“Do we have to, I mean, right now? What about digestion?” Anna didn’t respond. Instead, she just wriggled her fingers, waiting. Eventually Emily gripped her hands, trying to pull her down, making them both laugh and stagger, before finally coming up onto her feet.
“You’re mean,” she said, still smiling.
“You’re lazy,” Anna said, not quite managing to lose the smile off the edges of her mouth when she spoke. The two of them walked back to the boxes, the sun on them now, not giving them any shadows to hide in.
The last box slipped onto the top of the pile. It was done. Anna collapsed on the grass and started to clap for Emily, who curtsied and waved to the non-existent crowd. Then she tumbled to the ground next to Anna. Then she shifted, so they were sitting back to back, resting against each other. Their bodies hummed from breathing deeply. They both looked sideways to the empty road.
“It’s like they’ve forgotten about us. It’s like there’s no one else,” she whispered. Anna put her hand out on the grass and her sister took it. It was shaking, just like the day when her father fell at the track.
“It feels okay, though. That’s it’s just the two of us.” Emily went on, squeezing her hand.
“It feels perfect,” Anna said, squeezing back. She felt nails dig into her skin, but she didn’t mind that. They sat quietly for a few seconds, their breath steadying, their bodies still rocking forth against each other in a kind of symmetry.
“Do you think he was scared?” She said, barely loud enough for Anna to hear. “In the end, I mean.”
Instead of answering, Anna just kept holding her hand. In the distance, the van began to make its way up the long flat road. Soon it would be upon them; people would climb out, things would start moving again. But not yet. For now, Anna gripped as tight as she could, letting the shadows fall across them, bathing them in shade as the sun fell, letting them catch their breath.