At the end of the summer, I awoke to the sound of her leaving. A suitcase thumping down the stairs then rattling the gravel of the driveway. I lay in bed and imagined her sitting in the car, waiting to see if I’d come out and say something.
After I heard her drive away, I went out and sat in the glasshouse, like every other day that summer. It was always warm in there, even if it was cool outside and I liked the heavy smell of tomatoes that hung in the air. I sat there every day that summer and read and drank coffee or lemonade. She had started making lemonade that July, almost obsessively. I’d come inside and the squeezed-out shells of lemons would be piled up on the countertop like carcasses. The local pharmacy started refusing to sell citric acid to her. After that, she would disappear for hours, sometimes even the whole day, driving to the farthest pharmacy possible. I think she just wanted an excuse to be away. I think maybe she bought other things in the pharmacy, but I was never sure. She often returned home slightly different, as if some part of the fabric of her being had been altered almost imperceptibly, face flushed, eyes bright. The day she left, I searched the house for any hint of evidence, even the bins. I wanted the satisfaction of an incriminating, ominous bottle of pills but maybe she just didn’t leave anything behind, not even a note or a message on the answering machine or any feeble attempt at an explanation. I suppose maybe she thought that it was all perfectly apparent. I thought it was a bit rude. That night I got a bus into the city. I was planning on celebrating, I think. The start of a new life or whatever. But I just ended up walking around in the dark. I found this street, lined with red brick houses and big leafy trees. It was nice. Expensive. I got a kick out of walking down it slowly, staring through the windows. Each scene of perfect family life framed in golden light. I stayed outside each house as long as I could before there was risk of being noticed. People can feel it when they’re being watched. I stopped outside one house because I liked the front garden, big towering sunflowers bending over the path up to the door. The downstairs curtains were drawn but I glanced up towards the light spilling out of the upstairs window. There was a man, unbuttoning his shirt slowly. He was handsome and looked tired. When I saw her, I nearly snorted laughter at the sheer serendipity of it. Her hair was still wavy from the plaits she had in the night before. She came up from behind and wrapped her arms around him, resting her cheek on his shoulder. She didn’t glance out the window and see me standing, staring up. I briefly considered throwing a pebble, or ringing the doorbell, just for the sheer fright that I’d give her, but I decided that ultimately, it’d be a very awkward and unpleasant situation for everyone involved. They moved out of view suddenly, her pulling him back into the room, fingers clutching at the fabric of his shirt. I wanted to shout at them to come back, so I could get one last glance at her face because I think I knew, even then, that I’d never see it again.
I left on the first of September because it felt like the right time of year to start something new.
I thought about leaving a note. Maybe tucked in amongst some withering flowers or in the drawer of my desk. It could have said, “I’m leaving,” it could have said, “I’m sorry.” But I thought that might be a bit melodramatic. I thought I’d just slip away quietly, and she mightn’t even notice that I was gone. She was never here that summer anyway, always in her head, or a book or out in the greenhouse. And she’d just come inside and help herself to lemonade that I had slaved away to make without even a word of thanks. I kept making it. I started wishing that her teeth would turn yellow and rot, maybe even fall out. I used to have horrible thoughts like that that summer. I think maybe because I knew that she hated me and that he loved me. I used to go on really long drives, just to get a break from the way she looked at me. He’d drive to meet me, wherever I ended up, be it some beach or forest or small village. He didn’t even mind if he had to drive for ages.
We always had sex in his car, not mine.
We used to go for long walks as well, wherever we ended up. He liked walking, probably because he was from the city and city people always get a kick out of walking around places with no lampposts. He would sometimes ask to meet her, usually when he suspected that I was in a particularly good mood, which didn’t happen very often. He had this dream where we all lived together, one big happy family in his nice red brick house. He was full of silly ideas like that. When we decided I’d be moving in with him he asked me to bring her with me.
He said something about family responsibility. Something about me only having one sister. I said we had spent enough of our lives living together already. I didn’t choose her to be mine, genetics did, but I chose him. And besides, my parents had left it all to her, the oldest. Everything. The house and the fields and even the fucking greenhouse. It was all hers, I was just living in it, and I knew she was just waiting around for me to leave. So I did. I got up early and I drove to his house in the city and we spent the day lying in his bed, which would gradually become ours, watching the light change on the leaves outside the window. I lay in his arms all day, drifting between tears and laughter until night and exhaustion crept into the room. I watched him undress by the window and wondered if we’d be happy. I wondered if I’d be happier. Then I went to close the curtains, to shut us in from the outside. I looked out at a world all lit up by streetlamps. The view from his house, our house. The street was almost deserted, aside from one person, who for a moment I almost imagined was her, walking down the street, walking away from me.
Robyn Gill is in her final year of English and Drama in Trinity College Dublin. Previous publications include Sonder and Lilun Magazine. She recently attended the International Literature Festival Dublin as one of the Young Writer Delegates.