“What time is it due?” Anna looked over to her sister and frowned.
“At three. Like the last time you asked me.” Her sister, Emily, stuck out her tongue. She was irritating, but it was a younger sister’s right.
“I bet it comes late. Removal vans are always late. They live by their own clock, how could they not be late?” She sat down on the crate she had hefted to the curb.
“It could be late and still seem early if we don’t have everything ready in time, won’t it?” Anna parked her box close to the other one, deliberately clipping her sister’s ankle, making her yelp.
“Look what I found,” Emily said, pulling something out of her back pocket. She flashed it to Anna, then drew it back at the last minute.
“It’s Dad’s passport. I found it in the bottom drawer.” She stopped fooling and handed it over to Anna. She opened it up and looked inside at the picture; a handsome man still a lot of years from being their father. A stranger with the same name and that was all, she thought, staring at the face.
“He was handsome, wasn’t he? Do you think he went out with lots of other girls before Mum?” Anna looked over. Emily’s voice had lost its fizz; she was asking a real question.
“He said they met and he was her one and only, but I don’t know. Maybe he told it like a fairy story so we’d like it better.” Anna took one last look, then handed it back. She smiled to reassure Emily. It had only been a month since his death and both of them were still close to tears at the thought of him.
“Maybe it did play out like a fairy tale. It has to happen to some people, right?” She pocketed the passport and pushed herself off the box. They had made an agreement; if one kept something to remember him by, the other could pick the next thing; it seemed fair; how do you split love? Anna thought what her next piece of him would be.
“We shouldn’t have spent so long in the diner,” she said, walking back to the grass yard and the next box. Seventeen in all, each ready to be donated to the charity shops. Anna imagined how long she would wait before she went back to the shops and started looking for his clothes, his books; if she would buy them, or how she would feel if she saw someone in the neighborhood wearing the shirt she liked best on him. She knew Emily had the same thoughts, even though they had not mentioned it out loud.
“Come on, sis, it was nice. Don’t put such a downer on everything. I haven’t seen you eat like that since we were kids.”
That morning they had gone to the café they used to visit with their dad when they were younger. The place was still the same; the old man, who knew, had served them and put his hand on theirs; Anna had almost cried, Emily couldn’t stop. They had ordered their dad’s favorite, the greasy breakfast, and made themselves eat it all, even the mushrooms, that they both hated. It wasn’t for them, they decided, it was for him.
The old man refilled their cups, told stories about their old man. ‘The Gent’ was how he called him. When it was over, he waved off the bill, invited them back any time. He looked at them for a long moment and nodded, smiled.
“He has gone to a better place,” he said and opened the door for them to leave. They both kissed him on the cheek, making him laugh; they both knew they could never go back, not now.
“You’re right. It was nice,” Anna finally said. She lifted the box and felt it rattle. Without looking at the words scribbled on the side, she knew this one held the shoes, felt them skid against the sides. She began walking to the concrete, hearing Emily make an over-exaggerated sigh as she lifted the next box, knowing she had picked the lightest one; another little sister ruling.
They went on at that pace for the next thirty minutes or so. Anna enjoyed it, the two of them passing each other, nodding or winking, the sweat starting to shine on their foreheads. It was the sort of work their father had always done and would never allow them to do; it felt as if they were gently breaking his rules, even now. There were no sounds, just the pacing of their feet, the soft crash of the box on the concrete. The day was moving on; the heat growing. Anna tied a bandana round her head; Emily used it for a neckerchief. Anna watched as her sister walked inside for coffee, then looked back to the slowly building house of boxes, creeping up to her waist.
Once she had been with her father at the racecourse. It was after he had retired and they spent time together, going to the places they both knew. That day he had snagged his foot on the railing and fell, tearing the knee of his trousers. The bag he carried, with their supplies—they never bought food and drink at the track as a rule—spilled away. By the time he had pulled himself up he was cursing the metal supports. It was the first time she had seen her dad look like that; vulnerable, shaking. Like other people. Her sister called out and brought her back.
“What was it he used to say?” She asked Anna as she handed over the coffee mug. “The one about lying?” Their father had phrases that he used when they would watch the news or see the headlines in the paper. Anna had always thought they were quotes from the books he read, but steadily became less and less sure of that as the years went on.
“Lying without youth.” She said. He always said lying was only ever acceptable in the young and the reckless. When adults lied there was no joy in it, like there was for kids. The lies had a reason, a purpose; that’s what made them dangerous.
“Do you think we’ll ever forget?” Anna looked over her cup to Emily. “All the things he said, I mean.” She drew a cigarette out of her shirt pocket, tried to tempt Anna back into the fold with one. She shook her head, needing it badly.
“If one of us forgets, then the other one will remember. That’s the way it works.” She nodded, feeling the finality in what she said. Emily nodded, then lit her cigarette.
“I was thinking of getting a tattoo of that, ‘lying without youth.’ I always liked it when he said it, even when we were in trouble. It made me feel safe or something. Like…I don’t know what. Like a prayer or something. Does that make sense?” She blew away the smoke and looked back to Anna. She could never look her right in the eye when she needed to know something; only after.
“I understand,” she said, then put the cup down on the grass. Slowly she pulled her t-shirt up, turned enough for her sister to see. She felt light-headed, showing the tattoo off for the first time. As she turned she let herself smile, hearing Emily’s intake of breath, the gasp.
“When did you get it done?” she said, her voice almost trembling with the surprise. Anna waited, closed her eyes. There was a few seconds when there was nothing but the dark, the numbness, then she felt Emily’s fingers trace over her skin, feeling the ink. Her eyes slipped open with the touch, the light poured in with a rush.
“The next day. I think I was still in shock. I bled a lot from the alcohol, but it didn’t hurt, not really. Do you remember you always used to get it the wrong way round? It used to make dad laugh, didn’t it?” Emily’s palm pressed against it, covering it for a second.
“I used to say, ‘love for all living things,’ didn’t I? And Dad would always say it as slow as he could:
“‘Love for all things living,’” they both said in unison. The palm fell away and the t-shirt rolled down.
“Dad said he met her on the beach. Mum, I mean. He said they danced in the sea and made all the old people angry the way they sprayed foam and kissed. Do you think that ever happened? That way, I mean?” Emily blew smoke out and waited. Anna reached over and took the cigarette from her fingers. Every nail was painted red and each one was chipped.
“We can believe it,” she said, drawing the smoke in, feeling her head get high from it. Then she dropped it under her heel and ground it into the dirt.
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Laura, Toucan Editrice