Elena parked in front of the yellow and green rambler she shared with her sister and took three deep belly breaths. “Come on, it’s not that bad,” she told herself. Jane is not the enemy, she thought. It was my choice to come back for the flowers. She may not even see me. We may not have to talk. Despite her best intentions, Elena felt a familiar resentment fester in her gut as she replayed the argument she’d had with Jane before leaving.
Her older sister liked to point out during these annual conversations, that suffering wasn’t a contest. There was no one giving out points for who shed the most tears or spent the most time kneeling on the ground by a cold headstone. “Certainly not Natalie,” she’d pointed out. “She was never sentimental, Elena, she wouldn’t care if we showed up or not.”
But some part of Elena kept track anyway. Year after year she wondered why she was the lone mourner, the only one to remember their sister? She lit a candle for Natalie on her birthday, made sure that her favorite flowers were planted in the garden, kept a photograph of her on the mantel, and visited her grave every year on the anniversary of her death. It was an unacknowledged point of pride with Elena, this ability to bear so much pain. And it was in this state of bristling energy that Elena entered the house, ready for a continuation of the argument.
Instead, she was met with a heavy, dark stillness. She opened the living room curtains to let in the late summer light. It didn’t make much difference. Elena strained to hear some sounds of normalcy — voices from the kitchen radio or television, even the old refrigerator humming. It felt otherworldly, this unnatural quiet. Then she heard muffled crying. Relief mixed with concern as Elena followed the sound.