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The Uh-Ohs
Andrea Marcusa

Three days after Mom’s funeral, my sister and I are back in New York City from the service in Sonoma, walking the Highline, at night, in the rain. The showers are soft but steady, and the gentle pit-a-pat fills the cautious silence between us. It hurts to talk about her being dead.

We step in unison through the muggy mist high above the shine of car beams on the wet street below. My arm begins to ache from holding the umbrella to my left, so Nikki doesn’t get wet. I switch hands.

Finally, Nikki says, “I’m glad to be home where it rains. I hate how hot and dry it is in Santa Rosa. I think it killed Mom.”

“Who could live there,” I say. “I wish she’d never gone West. She should have stayed here with us.”

I remember Mom, until she left seven years ago, weeding her garden in Connecticut. She’d always complain about mosquitos. “It’s better while it rains,” she’d tell us. “When it stops, they swarm you and you get eaten alive.” After she moved, I’d missed her garden. I wonder if the wild grasses and ivies thick with growth on this abandoned trolley trestle that makes up the Highline hold swarms ready to attack after the rain. “I don’t know why she ever left the East,” I say.

“She wanted to spend her last years with her first-born children. She always preferred them,” says Nikki. As the last two of four, Nikki and I have always felt like no matter what we did, everyone had seen the movie.

 

“I’ll hold it for a while,” Nikki says, and she takes the umbrella. The rain pelts and we squish together to stay dry. Tonight, her cheeks are the same ruddy rose as Mom’s. This thought lands somewhere so deep and sore in me it throbs.

“You think Mom’s watching?” Nikki asks.

She sounds so wishful, as if she misses Mom even more than I do. “Nah,” I say. “She’s busy seeing her dead friends. She outlived them all.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right.”

“She insulted everyone. I never understood why people liked her. She complained about others constantly, especially you and me.”

“You think?” says Nikki, rolling her eyes. She gives the umbrella back to me and says, “Near death by a million cuts,” and sweeps her hands from her shoulders to her toes. Then she adds, “I don’t know, there was something about her.” I recognize a sad face that I haven’t seen since she and I were small. The girl who always acted so tough, but underneath was softer than me.

“When do you go back to work?” I ask.

“Sales meeting tomorrow.”

“Can’t you call in sick?”

 “You mean just hang out and do nothing so I can get even more depressed?”

“I thought you and I could do a few days of mourning together. You know, sister stuff. Like massages, or a movie.” I stick out my tongue to catch a raindrop.

“Emmie, you always get like this.” Nikki’s voice rises.

“What do you mean?  I was just asking."

“You’re always trying to get me to take off from work. Let it rest. I must work. There’s an office full of people depending on me. I don’t freelance like you. Or whatever it is you do. I can’t take a day off whenever I feel like it.”

A condescending jab and in her critical tone that stings, just like Mom’s could. Nikki and my mother have always known how to make a direct hit. I grow quiet and silently argue with Nikki, telling her that she has no idea what it’s like to lose a job, start a consulting business and hop from project to project. There’s no use arguing. Not tonight. So, I keep my mouth shut.

“She’s here. Hovering,” Nikki says. “She’s flying back and forth across the country, watching all of it.”

I barely hear her words, I’m still stinging. There’s something about Nikki that can burrow far under my skin. Finally, her voice trails off. She glances at me as she realizes that I’m upset.

 “You know, it really sucks that she’s gone.”  She tries.

I remain quiet.

“At least we didn’t eat all that pasta at dinner tonight. I’m not getting fat just because Mom died.”

Then she adds, “We’d be the two-ton Tessie sisters. Remember that song Mom used to sing? “Down in Tennessee, there’s a sight you have to see…”

Before I can stop myself, I’m chiming in, “There’s a girl named Tessie town.”

Nikki starts laughing and then I begin and suddenly, we’re both crying. I look away from Nikki and wipe my tears with my sleeve. The rain has kept the tourists away tonight, so the entire thirty-block vista is wide open. Alone on the Highline, it feels like it’s just Nikki and me in this huge metropolis, under this tiny umbrella, making our way. But really, it’s always felt like this. Nikki and me, the only two unplanned kids, the last two, or as Mom put it, “the uh-ohs.”

“You’re right,” I say. “This really sucks,” my voice quavering.

Nikki shifts her purse on her shoulder; her face softens. “Do you want to stay downtown and sleep over in my apartment tonight?” 

I look back at her with a little sister nod and I smile.

Then Nikki does a big sister thing she hasn’t done in years. She puts her arm around me and gives me a squeeze/hug and says, “We survived because we had each other. Nobody paid any attention to us unless they were criticizing us,” she says.

The two of us walk, the rain eases, headlights look like starbursts in the mist.

“Here,” I say and hand the umbrella to Nikki. I walk ahead, feeling my tears flood again and mix with the fine rain. Before us lies at least five blocks until the Highline ends.

 I wonder if we’ll reach the exit before the mosquitos come out to bite.

 

Andrea Marcusa's writings have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, River Styx, River Teeth, The Phare, New Flash Fiction Review, Citron Review, and others. She’s received recognition in a range of competitions, including Smokelong, Cleaver, Raleigh Review, New Letters and Southampton Review. She's a member of the faculty at The Writer's Studio. For more information, visit: andreamarcusa.com or see her on X: @d_marcusa

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