The day my sister disappeared, I found the jar of pansies that Peter had for left her, in the courtyard, by the tree. As soon as I saw that the flowers were still there, I knew she’d split. Every other day she’d sneaked out at dawn, picked them up and hid them in our room away from Dad. And now she was gone. Her drawers were empty, and the purple and yellow flowers were still there.
One night my sister told me that Peter kissed the purple marks on her arms and back, said his kisses would turn them into pansies, the kind with the sunburst yellow centers. That was the same night that my sister told me if she ever left that she’d come back for me.
I threw the flowers down and ground one of them into the cement with my heel. She used to talk about a house in Traverse City. One where they let you stay, gave you food for free, right near the beach, near the surfers. She never said exactly where. She never said how. She just said that one day she’d be gone.
My sister and I share a room. Our walls are covered in colored pictures of places she was bound for. Pictures that she printed out from the computers in the school library. Surfboards at the lake. Houseboats. Places we have never been. Our home is a brick apartment building in Detroit with a cement yard and laundry in the basement. We have bunk beds. I have the bottom; she has the top.
I watched my sister save all the purple and yellow blooms in a cardboard box in the back of our closet. They’re there beside the postcards that Mama used to send. Mama never emailed. Never texted. Never called. Those postcards are all we have of her. Pictures of waterfalls, of hummingbirds, of orchids. Each card arrived addressed to my sister and me. We snuck them out of the mailbox when we could and hid them in the closet box. If the cards arrived on the weekend, when Dad was home to get the mail, he’d tear them up into tiny pieces that would float down and scatter all over the front hall. It hurt to watch him make those tears, I felt each rip, then would try to collect and sort all the little scraps and put them back together.
Most of the postcards came when I was in first and second grade. I always thought my Mama’ d be back. Then the cards stopped. That’s when my sister began talking about a different life, where she’d be free. Away from Dad’s fists. She told me that one day she would find Mama. She would find her and then come back for me. My sister told me that I needed to stay and wait for her and to work hard in the fifth grade. I never believed she would really leave. I heard her say the words but somehow, they never sank in. I never imagined her gone. I tried to be like her and dream of new places. Imagine myself discovering a brand-new world. But my mind always stayed right here, in this courtyard, the cracked cement, the rusting railing, my school down the block, my teacher, Ms. Graff. I never told my sister this. I never told her that the only life I could ever imagine was one here with her.
I bent down and picked up each pansy. I gathered them together, all those purple and yellow pieces scattered in the morning light.
Andrea Marcusa's work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Gettysburg Review, Cutbank, River Styx, River Teeth, Citron Review, and others. She's received recognition in a range of competitions, including Glimmer Train, Raleigh Review, New Letters and the Southampton Review. She lives in New York City with her husband and pet cockatiel, L.B. where she teaches memoir, writes articles on education, medicine and technology and photographs things that interest her on her daily walks through Manhattan and during her pre-pandemic travels to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and USA's coasts and interior. For more information, visit: andreamarcusa.com or see her on Twitter @d_marcusa