My sister was thirteen when she died. All crooked and soft white like a dogwood flower floating on the water. I heard my mother sobbing on the phone that she had broken her neck nearly to a ninety-degree angle, a detail I proudly recited for years after when people would ask me how my sister died. I would rattle off the fact then tell them all the no diving signs at the dam were because of my sister and no one else.
My mom made Meredith take me with her that day. She kicked and screamed in her lake-stained pink-brown two-piece for twenty whole minutes while I stood awkwardly in the hallway in my one-piece the color of deep empty outerspace. She changed her attitude when she realized she had no choice. She did that a lot. She helped me over the fallen trees in the woods and let me say cuss words.
We met up with Tommy and Bart Locklear at the dam. Tommy was Meredith’s boyfriend and Mom thought he was fourteen but he was really sixteen. He and Meredith kept trying to get me and Bart together but even though he was short and still had his baby nose he was too old for me. He already dipped tobacco. Sometimes I wonder if I had kissed him by the picnic tables like Tommy and Meredith had pressured me to while they stood watch it all wouldn’t have turned out how it did.
I was still sore from Meredith calling me a little girl for not making out with Bart, avoiding his disgusted gaze, at the top of the cliff where everybody jumped off, pouting in the clearing while Meredith and Tommy stood at the edge. Meredith convinced me to come look at the water with her before grabbing me by the shoulders and making like she was going to throw me over. My head flopped dizzily down toward the water before Meredith jerked me back.
“Saved your life!”
“Go to hell, bitch!” I screamed, putting two cuss words together as best I could. She just laughed, and I stayed nearby because I didn’t want to be near Bart in the clearing.
Tommy said he would go first, soon as he checked the water depth. He was still looking over the water and the rocks below like a seafarer with his hand over his eyes when Meredith jumped.
“You snooze, you lose!”
Famous last words.
I would tell many therapists about this moment. Tommy, who had about as much depth as the water did his whole life leading up to this moment, let out a scream of utter agony.
The police wrapped us remaining three in blankets and we had to stay at the dam until it got dark.
And now I have to see her every day in my daughter. Waking her up for school. Picking her up from the bus stop. Staring at her blonde hair while she eats dinner.
“Go to hell, Mom!” she’ll scream and slam her door.
Fascinating how she can look and act just like an aunt she has never met, never even seen pictures of. She doesn’t know about Meredith. I consider telling her about the whole thing to make her feel bad when she goes on a teen tirade at me, but I always decide to save the ammunition for later. She’ll just make it about herself anyways — call me a terrible mother for hiding a whole relative from her.
Did you mean to do it, Meredith? In therapy I can’t even recall what your life was like. Did you have troubles? Was there more to you than yanking me off the couch by my hair and bribing me to cover for you the very next minute? I hardly knew you. There have been two suicides at the dam since you died, both with verified notes. No more accidents. What a blessing, says the city. But why did it have to be you?
Zoë Däe is an emerging writer from North Carolina who is working on her first novel to avoid other pressing responsibilities. She lives in the mountains with her wife, dog, and three cats. Her work has appeared in Sixfold and The Peel Literature & Arts Review. You can find her on Twitter @zoughey.