My younger sister, Julie, sits on my bed cross-legged, watching me pack. Even though it’s only April my ten-year-old sister wears beige shorts, a pink T-shirt over a one-piece bathing suit. The purple pansies on the bathing suit can be seen through the thin cotton shirt. Her long brown hair is wet and matted.
“You’re going to take me this time?”
“Yeah, I’m not coming back.”
“Good. I hate it here all alone.”
“There’s the other kids.”
“Huh,” she smirks. “They don’t play with me.”
I zip up my carry-on suitcase. It contains everything I ever owned in this place. I suppose we were lucky. We got to live in our old neighborhood nearby my friends and we had just one foster home and not a dozen homes like so many other motherless children.
Now, I’m an adult with a boyfriend and a scholarship to college, but I can’t escape this place without taking Julie with me. I need for her to come with me.
“Let’s get out of here,” I say. I follow Julie down the wooden stairs, scratched and nicked by years of foot traffic and toys being pushed up step-by-step to the top and rolled back down again. Bump, bump, bump, clang. I can still hear the Transformers, cars, and limbless dolls racing each other toward the first floor and crashing at the bottom.
“I’m so happy we’re leaving,” Julie says, her brown eyes wide with anticipation and low-grade terror.
When we open the front door, Mrs. and Mr. Kirby, our foster parents wait on the porch. When I first came, they wanted me to call them Mom and Dad, but the nearest I could get was using their first names: Linda and Steve.
“Good-bye, Tiffany,” Linda says. “We’re so proud of you.” She’s smiling, but her eyes are dry.
My real mom would be crying with joy and sadness and genuine pride. That’s okay. I grew used to being an orphan. Julie calls, “Good-bye. Good-bye,” all the way to the car. Her open hand waving so rapidly, it blurs into invisibility.
The car belongs to my boyfriend, Mark. It’s used but gets us where we need to be. Mark is waiting at the Best Western about nineteen miles away. I wanted to drive up the mountain alone and get Julie by myself.
We drive for about ten minutes down the mountain, around twists and turns.
As we approach the curve, Julie asks, “Tiff, is this where—?”
“Yes,” I interrupt. I’ve managed to avoid driving this road with Julie. Doing it now, with her in the passenger seat, I feel out of body. Distracted. I lean forward, grip the wheel, and focus on the double yellow line.
“Can we stop?” she asks.
“Please. I want to see.” She leans toward me, smelling of wet hair and a day spent swimming at the lake. “Pleasssssse.”
I might go blind with anxiety. The right side of my head throbs. “No.”
“I want to. Please.”
We’re approaching the curve. It’s so sharp. I turn the steering wheel one-hundred and eighty degrees on pure faith that the road will still be there. Once I make it through, there’s a dirt curb wide enough to pull over. I stop and turn off the car. I’m breathless as if I pushed the car around the curb with my will, I rest my head on the steering wheel.
Julie gets out and stands on the edge. I join her.
She points down the steep mountainside at the rocks that broke our fall. “Did we drive off the road here?”
“Yes,” I say. “More like flew.”
I remember being trapped in the crushed car beside Julie’s still body, howling her name. Begging for anyone to answer. Our parents maimed and dying in the front seats. Their blood thickening the air with a red mist.
Grief pushes against the cavity of my chest, as if trying to force its way out. I kneel beside my sister who remains standing. I cry. Julie tries to hold my hand.
When we get back in Mark’s car, all I can think about is driving as fast as possible towards my new life. But, soon, just three or four miles from the crash site, Julie wants to stop.
“I need to pee,” she says.
“No you don’t.”
“Yes, I do.”
She won’t let it alone. She won’t shut up.
I hate the rest station, but Julie’s stubborn. I pull over as near to the brown building as I can. There’s an older couple walking a small white dog.
I lead Julie into the bathroom and she follows me into the stall. I unsnap my jeans, pull down my pants and urinate. She watches me.
“I thought you had to pee?” I say.
“You know I don’t pee.”
I wash my hands and head back to the car, Julie beside me.
“Do you think Mark will like me?” she asks as she climbs back into the car.
“Sure.” I shrug. “Why not?”
“Does he know I’m a ghost?”
“Yes.” I get into the driver’s seat and sigh. “He knows I’m haunted.”
“That’s good,” she says. “It makes things easier.”
Patricia Ljutic writes because she can’t stop, a disorder called Hypergraphia, for which she refuses to seek treatment. Her fiction, flash fiction and essays have appeared in Cia Travel with Attitude, Down in the Dirt Magazine and upstreet Literary Magazine. Her poetry has been published in Pulse-Voices from the Heart of Medicine, Poetalk, Sage Woman, Circle Magazine, The Beltane Papers and Cradle Songs: An Anthology of Poems About Motherhood. She lives and writes in a San Francisco Bay Area.