Below is part of a scene from THE FOREVER CITY. Quick recap: Clare's mother dies in the beginning, and her half-sister Emma (30 years old, from her father's previous marriage) helps around the house following the funeral until the family can transition back to a state of normalcy. Clare and her sister Bree got two weeks off school after the funeral, and now they are preparing to return. Okay, go.
Tomorrow is school. It’s weird. As mad as Clare has been about Dad keeping them away from school, tonight her stomach is doing somersaults at the thought of going back. By now, everyone will know what’s happened. She’s had her cell phone off since Mama’s funeral. But she has to face it sooner or later.
She tells herself this as she and Emma take turns reading pages from Mystical Creatures. Reading to Bree is another way Emma tries to feel useful. Even though Clare was thinking this would be a nice two-sister bonding activity, she can’t begrudge Emma her need for usefulness. Clare has been feeling useless the past few days too. Maybe school will make her feel useful again.When they shut the door behind them softly, after doing all of the goodnight kisses and tucking in, Emma exhales as if she were holding her breath the whole time in Bree’s room and says, “Too young.” Clare says nothing. Go away, she thinks. The pity crawls up and down her skin, almost makes her sick. At that moment, she hates Emma. Then Emma turns around and pats her on the arm. The anger clunks to a halt and evaporates immediately, and Clare feels cold and tired. She’s mad at her father for being empty and mad at Emma for being sympathetic. Unreasonable.“So are you ready for school tomorrow?” Emma asks.Clare thinks about her backpack that she already filled with notebooks. There are freshly sharpened pencils and a new pack of pens in the side pockets. This afternoon, she tucked the explanation for absence her father wrote in his scrawling, unmistakable handwriting in the front flap. She had folded it in half and in half again. Everything is in the right place. “No,” she replies bluntly.“I thought not. Do you want to talk about it?”While Clare can be appreciative of Emma’s gung-ho attitude about being the responsible adult, there are times when it gets annoying. Like now. Do I want to shove splinters under my fingernails, is really the question this amounts to. Talking is what people do when they go to therapists, and Clare imagines a therapist might have better things to say than a half-sister who has been gone for seventeen-odd years of her life. “Um, no,” she says. “Not really.”Emma sits down at the dinner table. Reluctantly, Clare sits down across from her. “If you are really stressed out about school tomorrow, I can tell Dad about it and…”“No thanks,” Clare says quickly. She has to go back, whether tomorrow or a month from now. Tomorrow will be bad, but a month from now would be infinitely worse. Clare has learned that things are best dealt with quickly. Procrastination is just not her style. She quells the shaking in her throat. “I just have to do it, you know? Get it over with. Move on.” God, could she sound any stupider?Emma looks at her, the shadows accentuating the hollows of her eyes and making her look much older. “Okay,” she says finally. “You’ve been very brave this whole time. I just want you to know”—she looks up at the ceiling and Clare thinks incredulously, holy cow, is she crying?—“I feel horrible for not trying to contact you before. Before everything, I mean. I’m a bad sister, I know.”“You’re – you’re not a bad sister,” Clare says, but she sounds unconvincing, even in to her own ears. “It’s just the way things happen.” Stop, please stop, she pleads silently. Stop crying. She has never been equipped to deal with a situation like this, when older people cry. Regardless of the alarming frequency of times it’s happened since Mama’s accident, she’s never gotten better at handling weeping adults. It makes her want to crawl out of her bones and escape.It’s a good thing when Emma reaches her hand across the table and grabs Clare’s hand, squeezes it briefly and lets go. “I want you to know if you need someone to talk to, I’m going to be here. I’m going to be a better sister from now on. I want to be helpful and I at least want to be here. You might not want to talk to me now, and I understand completely if you don’t, but when you’re ready, I will be too.”Clare stares at the chandelier – has it always hung that low? She shakes off the discomfort. “You are being helpful,” she says.“Can I at least drive you to school? Just for tomorrow?” Emma sounds like she’s begging. Clare wonders just exactly who is doing the favor for whom; she can drive, after all. But refusing this offer seems like it would seriously hurt Emma’s feelings, as backward as that is.“That’s fine. Yeah.” Emma wipes her eyes on her sleeve and relaxes into a watery smile. “I’ll pick you up at seven-thirty?”She thinks about how Mama used to drive her to school before she got her license and is sure she’s not going to enjoy the ride over. She doesn’t have to do this, another way to let Emma feel useful. She’s on the verge of saying this out loud.“Sure,” is what she actually says.Another thing to dread on top of school itself.
*It was worth it. As are all of my endeavors to procrastinate in college.
**I need to point out that it took me half an hour to correctly format this post. Technology = +10000, XiXi = 0, maybe even -5.
***Now I ACTUALLY have to go write my paper on Thomas Paine and political history now. Rahhhhhhhhh. Facebook stalking can only waste so much time.