SLICE • by Barbara Boehm Miller

My sister slices the pie, her lips drawn together in a tight purse, the disapproving grimace of a person performing an unfamiliar task.

We sit at the dining room table. I look because I can’t stop myself from staring over her narrow shoulder, past her frowning face, into the room behind her. Large shapes are covered in thick sheets of plastic: the complicated outline of a huge piano, the rising back of a colorless sofa.

“That’s where it happened,” she says. Her admission makes me less shy about studying the room. “Right out there in the open where you’d see him first thing when you came in the house. Wearing a suit and tie.” A more thoughtful, ordinary person, her tone suggests, would have sliced his wrists behind a closed door in a tub of very hot water, rather than leaving behind an inescapable mess that would be impossible to clean or put in the past.

Our father liked to draw in his belly paunch and twist his torso to the side for photos; he never would have wanted to be seen naked and flabby — vulnerable. Even I know that much about him.

She is my half sister really.

Her anger is a common enough reaction, I suppose. As the older sibling, the true daughter, the legitimate one, her dominance is immovable. She will be the one to tell the story of our father’s death, describing him as an entitled dandy, a peacock perhaps, who had to have all eyes on him.

“The pie is good.” I only want something to say to crack the awkward silence, but my words fill with truth as I chew. The crust must be made with full butter. The blueberries taste fresh and sweet with the smallest tinge of lemon. “Did you make it?”

“Oh, God, no. One of the neighbors brought it over.” My sister smooths the sleeve of her blouse. “These old ladies,” she continues, “I think they just come around to see where it happened.”

I am expected to nod along with this statement, just like I am supposed to share her anger and perception of my father as weak and self-indulgent. The richness of the pie crust, though, the precise fluting around the edge, and the sugary brightness of the filling speak of the careful hands that constructed it.

“Maybe she was just being nice,” I say. I put another forkful of pie in my mouth. My sister’s gaze flits to the soft rolls of my stomach. A quick look of distaste crosses her delicate features. She eats nothing.

“Maybe,” she says. My sister does not like to be contradicted.

I could agree with her on one thing. Our father did want to be seen, like he had made my mother see him and love him until he had left her and me and returned to his lawful family — a decision that seems to have brought no one any joy. I break off a large crescent of pie with the side of my fork. The powerful deliciousness of it makes my eyes glaze over with tears.

A blanket of silence covers the house, eating up the sounds of my sister’s mother walking on the thick carpeting upstairs. Growing up, I had ached to know life with the family my father had wanted more, and now, seated, at last, at the table where they must have eaten their dinners, I find myself, after many years of rehearsed speeches and inexhaustible lists of things I wanted to get off my chest, with nothing to say.

I am quiet as I trail my fork in a swirling, purple figure eight, determined to devour whatever sweetness I can.

Barbara Boehm Miller is an emerging writer and a graduate of the Master of Arts in Writing Program at the Johns Hopkins University. Her work has previously appeared in Sweet Tree Review and Gemini Magazine. She currently holds a position as a senior diplomatic translator of Romance languages and has published several translations, primarily in the field of children’s rights. She lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband and twin daughters.

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