Places You Should Avoid (They'll Remind You of Your Dead Sister)
THE GROCERY STORE
Two years after his sister's death, Matt starts seeing her everywhere.
Ice cream always melt so easily and it's not even summer yet; strawberry-flavored from the grocery store five blocks from where he lives is an even worse choice, fingertips not just sticky but also pink-red in the end. There she leaned against the music magazines with childhood scratches in milk-white scars under the knee. Here Norah from two rows behind in school beats him to the counter and makes him three minutes late. It's not late if you have nowhere to go, but Matt is annoyed nonetheless. Maybe annoyed by the way the white uniform socks roll down on Norah's ankles just like they did over Claire's.
The girl takes the classic cone with a bar of Cadbury chocolate half-buried on top.
`You know Margaret Thatcher invented soft ice cream?´She tells him.
And that's the kind of thing Claire might say, on a day like today, and the kind of gesture she would make, lick a drop of ice cream fallen on her knuckle.
THE END OF THE STREET
Towards where he and his sister used to walk every morning and then wait at the bus stop and then get in the bus together because his school and her high school were two blocks from each other. Claire never minded that people saw her chatting with her little brother on her way to class. Not even when she was sixteen and he was fourteen, or when she was seventeen and he was fifteen and things like being cool and hard had started to matter for girls.
Now he kicks the air or some invisible dust along the street and notices the weeds slowly eating their way up the steps to Mr. Tyler's front porch and Matt cheers them to grow even faster, swallow up the whole house, the whole neighbourhood like a sci-fi novel.
`Why are you here? This is not on your way home,´ he asks Norah one afternoon.
She shrugs and Matt thinks she is making fun of his habit of not answering her questions but then again maybe it's the only way she can really answer, the only way that means nothing and everything all the same time and Matt thinks, as an afterthought, without realizing, that she is pretty. But not as pretty as his sister (and this part is definitely not an afterthought).
It was weird to see mum at the funeral, after so long, old and her mascara smudged and looking like she was about to cry, face bloated and all, but then she didn't cry, which was a let down, if you ask Matt.
`Where were you yesterday afternoon?´ Norah asks during History, leaning into Matt's desk and blocking the sun that was falling on the wood, in patterns that had started to make sense in his mind, after twenty-one minutes of Roman conquest and set-backs in Germany.
`I was- Mmm- You know,´ Matt shrugs.
His textbook open on a page with a drawing of what the south of Germany must have looked like in 15BC and Matt thinks it all looks terribly cold and frozen and suddenly he feels sick to his stomach.
THE BENCH IN FRONT OF THE FOUNTAIN
The spring Claire shortened her skirt by 2cm she and Matt discovered this spot on the park where they could sit and close their eyes and let the murmur of the water dripping fill their heads until they were blank. After class it was “wonderfully distracting”; after Saturday morning football practice it was “blissfully cooling”. Those were the expressions she used.
Claire loved sunlight and her legs turned pink then brown then golden during the summer. That's why Matt thinks it was particularly cruel the way she died, and he hates to think about her trapped in the cold forever.
And that's why when Norah makes him walk to the park with her and takes his hand and says Hey, I know a great spot, Matt's heart fills with dread and an irrational dislike for Norah.
But in the end Norah just wants to show him the kiosk where some times bands play, string quartets and, some holidays, the wind section from the police orchestra.
Matt feels a bit disappointed it's not the bench.
HIS OWN ROOM
It's still odd and some sort of treason, the way it catches him by surprise, the way his body expects to turn a corner in the hallway and into his room and find Claire sitting on his bed, or messing with the filing system of his homework in his study table.
`You never paid any attention to me,´ Norah protests, when he finally invites her in.
Matt shrugs, not wanting to examine any cheap excuse going through his mind now, a throwaway line from a B-movie, like you make me remember and all that stuff.
Norah stands on the bed, shoes knocked to the floor, and examines the tiny white spots on the otherwise-blue ceiling.
When she was eight Claire took liquid paper and painted little white dots on the ceiling of her room. She had been vying for that star-map wallpaper for a long time but she didn't want to ruin her own room without trying it out on her little brother's first. But they don't glow in the dark, Matt pointed at the obvious flaw in her DIY plan.
SIXTH FORM CLASSROOM B
Claire never carved her name and some guy's on the class desks.
Matt looked for those at the beginning of the year; he looked under the desks too, the part were the wood is unvarnished and soft and rough at the same time, hoping to find a trace of her handwriting, her blue felt-tip pens, like he did at home (a moment of great discovery, on the side of the table legs in her room, random lines from Buzzcocks songs, but he only found that out much later, after research). It's just coincidence and family tradition that he ends up in the same high school, but still.
For some reason he starts doing it again, looking for clues, these days, after months of leaving it alone.
He gets down on his knees and studies the underside of his desk, maybe there was something he overlooked in his first examination.
Mr. Collins catches him.
`History class is up here, Matt,´ he says, pointing at the blackboard. `Not down there.´
The whole class laughs at that and Matt can make out Norah's laughter through it all, shrill and accusatory.
If your body temperature goes down to 28-30º C there's risk of hypothermia quickly leading to clinical death.
If it approaches less than 2º C outside it's time to salt the roads to avoid traffic accidents.
Matt wonders if he should tell Norah all this, warn her.
Dad couldn't get rid of everything.
There were things that were, simply, stupid to throw out. The books (Claire's collection of Japanese horror novels, paperbacks always with black covers and a character named Ryoko) for example.
Matt admits to salvaging some things, under his father's nose, illegally, like a smuggler.
Claire's pink lipstick for example.
`It's chipped now,´ Norah declares.
Matt wants to point out that it's two years old now, of course it's chipped.
Norah puts it on, in any case, spreading it over her lips with one fingertip. She leaves it on the desk -Matt makes a mental note to retrieve it later, and return it somewhere safe- and sits by him at the very edge of the bed. Her weight makes the mattress move and waver, like a raft, like they are rowing through a wild river, full of crocodiles.
Norah leans in – a bit awkwardly, as they are side by side – and kisses him.
Lara Alonso Corona was born in a small city in
the north of Spain. She completed her Film and TV studies in Madrid
before moving to London to work towards a Creative Writing degree. Her fiction has been showcased in ABC Tales and
the Glass Woman Prize, and more recently she has been published by The
Copperfield Review, Devilfish Review, 50-word Stories and The WiFiles.
Photo credit: Estefania Rivera