February 2023’s short story of the month
I know most people find the beach relaxing. But when I’m standing there on the shore at high tide, watching the effect the moon has on the great oceans of the world, I find myself wondering what effect it has on my insides, which are more than half water themselves, and I get dizzy. I’m like that, I think too much about things, like how we’re basically made of the same thing as the ocean.
For some, this might make them feel small or even insignificant in the vastness of everything, but for me, it’s the opposite. I feel connected. I’m part of what makes up everything else, and it’s so much like me that on an atomical level, were similar to everything. I find these ideas comforting, some people do not, so I’ve learned to keep them to myself. For me, the beach isn’t a place to relax—it’s a place to reconnect to the greatness of everything.
I push my hands further into the warm sand and breathe deeply in the smell of salt. Sitting there makes me feel dizzy and grounded at the same time. I love the opposition of forces at work in me. I feel off kilter and…
“Dinah! Where are you?” a voice yells, interrupting my train of thought.
I don’t answer and try to remember what I’d just been thinking about before someone shouted my name. I close my eyes and feel the air move across my skin, some of the sand scratches at my face.
It takes a few moments, but I’m able to lose myself again and disconnect and connect to the universe.
The yelling is much closer this time. I’m snapped back to the here and now.
“What?” I shout back at the person now standing a few feet behind me.
“It’s dinner time.” The voice speaks in a more reasonable volume now. “Come on. I’m not coming back out here again.”
I sigh, hoping the noise will reach the person who interrupted my meditation, but I know it’s unlikely. I want her to know she’s annoying me, like always. It’s just the way we’ve always been. We don’t get along and are rarely civil to one another. It’s been worse since our mom died.
I shake my head and clear that thought away. Dwelling on the past won’t change the here and now.
In the kitchen in our shared bungalow, my sister, Alice, is placing dinner on table with enough force that the sandwiches bounce and fall back to the plates, subject to gravity, like the rest of us. The salad bowl suffers the same forces as she practically drops it onto the table.
I know I shouldn’t say anything, but sometimes, I can’t help but be drawn into her drama. “This table belonged to our mother, and her mother before that, and…”
I don’t get to finish my lecture that I know stings her as much as it pains me to speak of our mother out loud.
“Don’t start with me, Dinah.” Alice places a pitcher on the table, splashing water over the lip.
She says my name the same every time—DIE – NAH. I hate the way she says it. She is the only person I know that emphasizes both syllables equally. No one speaks that way; no one except Alice. Alice the menace. Alice the aggravator. Alice the psycho.
I run through my favorite nicknames for her. She hates them. I don’t say them out loud, not this time anyway. I pick up a napkin and dry the table. I know it’s only water, but I love this table. Like the house, it should be treated with respect. Mom always made us take care of everything under this roof.
We eat our dinner without speaking to each other and without looking up at one another. What would we say anyway?
Despite living under the same roof our whole lives, we couldn’t be more different. Our mom always said we’d learn to get along because we were sisters. It hasn’t happened yet though. And I’m too old to believe everything my mom said anyway.
When we were kids, we fought so much our mother threatened to send us each to live with a different family member. She thought some time apart would teach us to miss one another. It didn’t work. After the first week away, our Aunt Carol sent Alice home.
I was only away for a little over twelve hours. I’d been sent to my Aunt Lousie’s house. She didn’t even call my mom. She put me in her car, dropped me on the porch, and drove away without talking to my mom.
When I’d waddled into the house with my bags and started to put my things away, my mom had shaken her head and sighed. She never even asked why they sent me home.
Alice though was furious when she found out. She claimed I was mom’s favorite because she’d let me come home sooner. I never corrected her because I liked making her mad. I still do. I can’t help it.
And here we are, over thirty years into our sisterhood and we still live under the same roof. I stay here because it’s my house, and Alice stays because it’s her house.
In her will, our mother stipulated that we could only keep the house if we lived in it together. If one of us leaves, the other has to go and the house has to be sold.
Our extended family doesn’t want the house to be sold. It’s belonged to one of us for over a century. Traditionally it was inherited by the oldest child, which should have been Alice. Our mom broke with tradition to punish us.
If she were still alive, she would probably say she was teaching us a lesson, but we’re a little old for her tricks now. Despite how much Alice and I fight though, neither one of us has left yet.
I finish eating and clear my dishes. Alice is still sitting at the table though she finished eating before I did.
It’s my turn to clean the kitchen, but I’m not going to do it with her sitting there watching me.
“Can you go do something?” I ask. I clear the serving dishes and even grab her empty plate.
“A lawyer is coming tomorrow,” Alice says gripping her glass of water with both hands and still not making eye contact with me.
“Ok. A lawyer for what?” I ask.
“To discuss the house,” she answers.
“What about the house?” I step back near the table, not understanding what she’s talking about.
She looks nervous and rubs her head between her eyes like she’s trying to force herself to not be frustrated. I’ve seen her do this motion a million times. I just don’t understand what about this moment is frustrating her.
“I’m trying to find out if there is a legal way for one of us to buy the house from the other so that we don’t both have to continue to live here.” She says it flatly.
“You want me to buy you out? Where woould you live?” I ask.
She shakes her head. “No, you misunderstand. I want to buy your half, and I want you to leave.” This time she looks at me.
If looks could kill, I would have been dead on the spot. I open my mouth to speak, but I stop.
“I’ll do the dishes later,” I say.
I remember the day our mom’s lawyer read the will to us. I remember it very clearly. I thought for sure I was going to lose my home that day, but I didn’t.
Alice had protested of course. She’d spouted something about family tradition, and then she’d cursed our mother’s name. She’d stopped listening as the lawyer continued to read the will.
I remember that there was only one exception that would keep the house in one of our’s possession. If one of us died, the other was allowed to stay.