10 Bent Sunflowers

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A crack of thunder jolts me awake.

Sitting up bone-straight, I fumble around, reaching for Mercy. When my fingers come back empty, I almost cry.

Then I remember.

She's gone.

A sweet-sick dampness is in the air. Peeling curly hair away from my eyelashes, I peer around the darkness. The old analog clock tick-tocks above the antique, wooden mantel, as loud as the repeated cock of a gun. It's too dark to tell the time.

Fragments of the afternoon piece together. After Maryanne's panicky visit, I left Sheila's with a hundred questions buzzing in my head. I drew the curtains when I came home, collapsing on Aunt Shannon's vintage, rose-motif couch.

The dream needles at me. I stare at the green, velvety drapes on the bay windows and the vintage floor lamp standing between them.

My skin prickles as if someone's watching me.

Another slap of thunder rocks the house. It shudders the fringe on the lampshade.

Mercy, I have so much more to say to you.

In the dream, my twin wore a white, cotton dress that swayed at her ankles. A wreath of baby's breath adorned her head. Standing in a field of tall sunflowers, she waved at me. Her almond-shaped eyes disappeared into her smile.

Mercy wasn't mad, after all.

It felt like I was a thousand yards away, my feet sinking in wet mud as I called to her. She couldn't hear what I screamed.

One time when we were seven, Mom forgot Christmas and tried to make it up to us by buying one of those old-school, red Viewmasters from the thrift store. She told us to share.

In my dream, each click of the Viewmaster changed the scene, bringing us together in slow motion. Mercy in her frilly, white dress, baby's breath slipping from her curls. Me with bile burning the back of my throat, click click click, until she was close enough for me to touch. She smelled like I remembered: Dove soap on sun-kissed skin.

The sunflowers around us bent their heads as I wept. I tried to stomp my feet clear of the mud, but the more I did, the more I sank. She took my hand. I stopped struggling and grazed the softness of her cheek, the curve in her ear. Her face was a mirror, but I didn't shrink away from what I saw.

"Mercy, Mercy," I whispered.

Though Mercy's mouth ran a mile a minute, no words came out. It was like one of those old black-and-white silent movies Mom watches when she's drunk.

As I tried to make sense of Mercy's muteness, the ground under her burped, gurgled, and opened like a wide yawn. It sucked sunflowers and dirt into its belly. The mud didn't pull me under. It shackled my legs and made me watch the earth take her.

Before my sister fell into the hole, the look on her face said everything her mouth couldn't: Why?

I said: I'm sorry.

Thump thump thump

A pounding at the door.

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