Back in college, I wrote a bit for the catharsis, an online literary magazine run by Emerson students. The short fiction stories I wrote can be found on their website.
Here is my favorite one from the November 2013 edition, titled "Margie and Lee-Lee."
Margie and Lee Lee
Receiving the letter from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt had been Christmas morning for Margot. Upon picking up the paper from the front step of her tiny Cambridge apartment, she spotted the pile of yesterday’s mail on the table in the lobby. She had grimaced with the likely possibility of opening up more bills as the end of the month drew near; the rent notice was due, and she was dangerously close to having her power turned off. The smile spread across her face when she picked up the large ivory envelope, stamped with the publishing house logo, was as bright as the sun dawning in mid-August.
Margot did not expect her book would be picked up. The envelope, containing the contract for her tiny novella, had come as a surprise. She had been rejected multiple times; her agent had promised that her work was publishable, since her story felt so real, as if it had been lived instead of told. She had given up all hope by the time that envelope showed up, and she couldn’t believe it was real.
There was a spring in her step as she caught the train into the city. Margot, a stranger to color on good days, wore a surprisingly floral dress as she headed to work. Nothing could bring her down as she skipped into the office to start her day.
“Lauren!” Margot called to her friend who sat across from her. “I’m getting published!”
“Shut up! That’s amazing!” Lauren said, jumping up from her seat to give Margot a hug. “Congrats!”
“Thanks,” Margot said, smiling.
“What’s your book about again?” Lauren asked.
Actually, Margot had never really told her friends what her book was about, mainly because it was based on her life, and Aeighley.
“Um, well,” she began, but she was interrupted when her cellphone rang. “Excuse me, I gotta take this.”
She walked into one of the empty conference rooms as she answered.
“Margot? It’s your neighbor, Patty,” said a wavering voice on the other end of the line.
“Hi, Patty,” Margot said, confused. “How did you get my number?”
“Your sister,” Patty said. “She’s here right now with me.”
“Is everything alright?” Margot asked, in her mind jumping to conclusions just thinking about what her sister might have done. She started pacing the room.
“No, dear, it’s not,” Patty said, swallowing hard. “Your parents are dead.”
Margot almost tripped over one of the chairs, her face going completely white.
There had been a great accident on the I-93 heading north out of Boston. A car had served to avoid hitting a deer, and had been tailgated by a large 18-wheeler carrying large pipes, causing both car and truck to crash into each other, and the truck had flipped over to spill its contents across all five lanes. Margot’s parents were in one of the many cars that got crushed under the rolling pipes. They had been on their way to visit friends in New Hampshire when it had happened, and had died instantly when the pipe hit their car.
Over the next couple of days following the phone call from her neighbor, Margot received calls from the police, giving their explanation of the accident and sincere condolences, and family and friends. Not once did she shed a tear, for the shock of getting the news had numbed her, and kept her from realizing her parents were really dead. The last call she received was from her parents’ good friend and lawyer, James Burns, asking for her and her sister to come to his firm in downtown Boston to here their will read. Margot had Patty the neighbor put her sister on the next train into Boston, and gathered her things to take home
Getting to the law firm in downtown was a nightmare due to bus delays, and picking up her sister from the train station didn’t help. Margot had found her younger sister dressed in very tight skinny jeans, a leather jacket and combat boots with numerous rings lining her nose and ears, and her pet hedgehog in his cage. The sisters didn’t even exchange greetings; Aeighley just got on the train with her sister at the nearest subway station heading downtown. They never said much to each other since Margot left for college, back when everything between them finally had piled up and neither of them could hold it in anymore.
Margot sat uncomfortably in the lawyer’s office with her younger sister as Mr. Burns read their will. Aeighley had come home from staying the weekend with family friends down the street to find a police man knocking at the door. Since receiving the horrible news herself, Aeighley hadn’t been able to return home with her hedgehog Cornelius after several days of being passed between relatives and friends. As far as Margot knew, her sister had not said a word since joining their mother’s sister, the closest living relative, to identify the bodies at the morgue.
This silence continued as Mr. Burns and Margot discussed the will. Margot would get the house, along with half their assets and money. The other half was placed in a trust for Aeighley to inherit when she turned twenty-five. When he finished, Mr. Burns turned to the younger sister.
“Aeighley, would you excuse us for a moment?” he asked.
Aeighley shook the long blonde hairs out of her eyes. She rolled her eyes, exhaled sharply, and grabbed her purse while leaving the office. Her combat boots shuffled along, clumping along the floor like a limping elephant, as she left the room, leaving a dark cloud in her place.
After shutting the door after her, Mr. Burns came to fill her chair. Margot was taken aback by the sudden closeness. It was a ripple in the water, disturbing the calm surface that Margot had fought to keep while listening to the lawyer read her parents’ will. It was getting hard for her to keep it together in public, since now the shock had worn off. This gesture threatened to tear everything apart.
“Margot,” he said. He had yet to address her by her first name. “I don’t know how to tell you this.”
“You already told me my parents are dead,” she said, fighting with the lump in her throat and shifting uncomfortably in her chair. “It can’t get much worse.”
Mr. Burns had avoided eye contact with her until that moment, and even then it was just a peak to see how she would react. “Aeighley has to be put on a train to Framingham as soon as possible with all her things.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You can’t keep her,” he said. “Aeighley is going to have to move into foster care.”
Margot blinked dully, then shook her head, her brow crinkling.
“When your sister was put into the mental ward, and wasn’t responding to treatment, your parents had papers drawn up, along with their will, to make sure Aeighley would be taken care of in case something happened to them. Since both your mother’s and father’s parents are dead, part of those documents stated if they were to die before she turned twenty-five, she would have to have a government-appointed guardian to manage her and her affairs, until the state was able to declare her a competent adult.”
“I can be that guardian,” Margot said. “I’m over twenty-five, responsible, have a stable job. A publisher wants to publish my book.”
“I’m sorry, but there isn’t much that I can do,” Mr. Burns said. “You have to be interviewed by social workers to see if you meet government standards for proper guardianship. And she’s a special case, with her mental history and all. Your parents thought it would be best for you not to have to worry about her, said that you believed it would be a burden for you.”
Margot sat straight in her chair, gripping the arms so tightly that her knuckles turned white. The memory of a conversation she had long ago with her parents came back to her. It was shortly after Aeighley was put into the mental ward, when Margot was still mad at her. Her parents asked her, if they died, would she take care of her sister. Her answer had been quick and curt: “Hell no.”
But something changed in Margot as she sat here in the law firm, discussing their parents’ will. Even though she was still angry at her sister for what she had done years ago when she had a psychotic break and was moved into the mental ward, they were still sisters. They had grown up together, playing with Barbies and taking ballet together. She could still remember how they laughed together, had fun, and loved each other. All these memories had been forgotten when Aeighley went insane, but now flooded back as Margot panicked.
“But I’m her sister!” she said. “I’m family, doesn’t that count for anything? I know how to handle her mood swings and personality changes better than some stranger.”
Mr. Burns shook his head, his eyes cast down. “I’m sorry, Margot. You’re still too young and don’t qualify for half the requirements for guardianship of a mentally disturbed minor. There is nothing we can do. Aeighley has to be moved into a foster home in a couple of days, once her things are packed up.”
Margot said nothing more as Mr. Burns rose, patted her on the shoulder, and packed up the documents and papers to take home with her.
When they returned to their childhood home, both sisters paused on the threshold of the front door for a good minute before entering. For Margot, she had not been home since after beginning her junior year of college in Boston. For Aeighley, the last time she stood inside their house was while taking with the police and getting the news of their parents’ deaths. She was the first to enter, leaving her older sister at the door as she took Cornelius the hedgehog and his cage inside to feed him.
They tried to act normally as Aeighley made dinner for them both as Margot made up the bed for herself and the aunt that was coming to stay with them. The sisters camped out in the living room like they did when they were younger, eating mac ‘n cheese on the floor and watching TV. They had not done something so simply innocent since when they were two kids running around in the back yard. It was refreshing and comforting after the past couple of days dealing with what their parents left behind. But there was still something dividing Margot and Aeighley, like a large black curtain had been hung between them.
Margot had left for good shortly after Aeighley was committed to the local hospital. Aeighley had always been a bit off since she was young, when she had several imaginary friends who lasted much longer than they should. In middle school, she tried to hide the fact that there were voices in her head that talked to her, telling her Margot was the reason for why anything bad happened to her, and to kill her. It was the summer before Margot went back to college for her second year and before Aeighley entered high school when Aeighley came to dinner one night with a knife and stabbed her sister without saying a word. Margot was rushed to the hospital, while Aeighley spent the night at the police station, questioned by officers and child psychiatrists. When she tried to stab them, she was moved to the mental hospital and strapped to her bed.
It had been five years since that night, and Aeighley had been released from the ward to live with her parents. She was on medication, and still had meetings with her therapist several nights a week, but she was pretty much back to normal. She was getting her G.E.D., and applying to art schools near home, where she would stay and commute from. She had always been extremely intelligent, and could paint like Monet. Margot had refused to come welcome her sister home for Christmas that year. The two had been close, but it still surprised Margot to find her sister was considered mentally incompetent. They hadn’t been in the same room or talked since Aeighley came home.
Cornelius sat in Aeighley’s lap as she ate. He would look up at her, then sniff his surroundings before settling in a ball, cuddled between her two crossed legs. Margot watched him, saying nothing to her sister.
Aeighley saw her sister staring at the hedgehog.
“Can I hold him?” Margot asked; she had never held a hedgehog before.
Aeighley shrugged then nodded. She put down her dishes, scooped up Cornelius, and plopped him in Margot’s lap. At first, Margot was scared of frightening the little creature, for he defensively curled up when she touched him. The tiny little animal who was probably more scared of her, and shivered in her lap, puffing up his quills to make him appear bigger.
“He won’t bite,” Aeighley said, her face softening as she watched her older sister struggle with the hedgehog.
Margot froze. It was the first time she had heard her sister speak.
“You’ve got to cradle him through the blanket,” Aeighley said, taking her sisters hands and wrapping them in the blanket around the hedgehog. As Margot steadied her hands, Cornelius fell asleep in her lap.
“You know,” she said. “He’s actually kind of cute.”
For the first time since Margot could remember, Aeighley smiled.
They continued watching TV in silence as the night went on, watching horrible soap operas and game shows. It was after the third game of Jeopardy that Aeighley got bored and spoke again.
“What did Mr. Burns say to you?” she asked her older sister, picking up their mac ‘n cheese bowls.
“Oh, nothing important,” Margot said, avoiding her sister’s gaze by focusing on Cornelius asleep in her lap.
Aeighley scoffed, rolling her eyes. “Don’t lie to me, Margie,” she said, calling her sister by her hated childhood nickname. Their father, when they were younger, liked to call them Margie and Lee Lee for short, which bugged Margot a lot as she started going through puberty. Aeighley still liked being called Lee Lee, but there wasn’t much occasion to do so after she was put in the ward. “I’m not a kid anymore, and I’m not in that fucking hospital either, so don’t treat me like that.”
“You won’t like what he had to say,” Margot said.
“You don’t know that,” Aeighley said, walking into the kitchen and putting the empty bowls in the sink. When she returned to the living room, she sat back down on the floor facing Margot and pulled her legs into her chest. Margot saw that her sister was starting to go over the edge again; she always closed up like that when she didn’t feel stable. Instead of trying to change the subject, which might make it worse, Margot decided to just tell her.
“Mr. Burns said that, because you spend the past couple years in the hospital, you have to go into foster care until you’re twenty-five.”
“What?” Aeighley said. “But, aren’t you family? You’re old enough, too, to take care of me.”
“It’s not that,” Margot said. “There are documents--”
Aeighley interrupted her by picking up her cup and hurled it across the room. It shattered to pieces against the wall, scaring Cornelius awake and making him puff up into a ball. Margot nearly flung him from her lap, jumping at the sudden noise.
“Aeighley! What the hell?” she shouted. Her voice shook, scared of repeating that night from five years ago.
“I can’t fucking believe it!” Aeighley shouted. “How can they do this? Who gave them the right to tell us how to live?”
“Mom and Dad did,” Margot said. “They decided it would be best for you to be taken care of by professionals in case they died. I’m not qualified like that to take care of you.”
“They told you this when I was in the hospital?” Aeighley asked.
“Did they even ask you or Aunt Meredith if you guys were willing to take care of me?”
“I don’t know what Aunt Meredith said.” Margot avoided her sisters eyes as she said this.
Aeighley studied her sister. “You didn’t want to do it, did you?” she asked.
Margot didn’t answer at first, and when she spoke it was to only say: “I’m so sorry, Aeighley.”
She sat there, staring at her sister in disbelief. Aeighley then curled up in a ball and starting to rock back and forth, screaming and crying. Margot watched her for a moment, unsure of how to approach her. Before she was sent to the ward, Margot had always join her mother as she cradled her sister when she cried, helping her calm down and feel better. She kept her distance, not knowing how Aeighley would reacted. But her sobs deepened, and her shoulders shook, pain weighing out anger. She became the little crying girl that skinned her knee, rather than the young woman who would stab her sister as soon as look at her.
Margot scooped up Cornelius, put him back in his cage, and came back to her sister. There was no point in talking to Aeighley when she got like this; Mom was better at being comforting. But Margot had to try; she sat down next to her sister, and wrapped an arm around her to rub her back.
“I’m sorry, Aeighley,” Margot said. “I was scared and angry when they asked me. I still had stitches where you stabbed me.”
Aeighley didn’t say anything, but she stopped crying, choking back sobs.
“But I’m here now, though,” Margot said. “You can stay with me on weekends, if your foster parents let you. And you probably won’t be there long, since you’re going to college soon.”
Aeighley looked up at her sister. “I didn’t want to stab you. The voices made me do it.”
“I know,” Margot said, wrapping her sister up in her arms. “Are you still hearing them?”
Aeighley put her head in her sister’s chest and hugged her back. “No,” she said. “The meds keep them out, and even when I forget to take the pills sometimes, they don’t say much anyways.”
They stayed cuddled on the living room floor until Aeighley decided she wanted to go to bed, exhausted after crying so hard. After she cleaned up the broken cup, she was headed upstairs to bed when she ran back down the stairs to give Margot a hug. Surprised, Margot hesitated on hugging her back.
“It’s good to have you back, Margie,” Aeighley said.
Margot smiled and wiped away the tears that were forming in her eyes. “It’s good to be back, Lee Lee.”