by Sarah Gyle

The best way to stave off death is to make it something you want because then you’ll never get it. That is what I’ve learned.

My sister sings snippets of songs in the house throughout the day. She never finishes the songs, and she rarely starts at the beginning. They’re brief sections, not even a chorus most times, like you’re walking in a Target and there’s some brat pushing the buttons on that CD demo rack that plays clips of ocean sounds; there’s usually nothing soothing about my sister singing, though, except when she does it in moments of high tension. Maybe when Mom and Dad are fighting again, or the cat has a claw in the dog’s back and he’s whining and hollering about a pain he only comprehends as immediate and there, not one that’s lingering in the back of his mind like a thunderstorm does when there’s a gray cloud the next town over.

There’s a periodic visit in my household with a man who my parents hate to pay. But, like most adult responsibilities they begrudgingly complete, they do it anyway. He comes once a week in his ill-fitting suits – ones he’s been wearing so long that he must realize how ill they actually fit, but maybe his arms are too long or his torso isn’t the right ratio to his legs – and he sits on our patio and asks me about the week I’ve had. Sometimes, I say nothing at all. Nothing true, anyway. Other times, I am so fed up with avoiding it that I spout out everything all at once, and he looks frightened by me, eyes wide with taking in too much of my life in one sitting. I want to tell him that it’s like that for me, too. Only all the time and not just on Thursday afternoons.

There are other times, though, where he starts to ask me how I feel about something I’ve said has happened, and then when I’m about to answer, like this time, I can hear my sister singing a Temptations song from the open window while she sweeps the floor.

“Do you want me to ask her to be a little quieter?” he says in a way that makes it sound like it was something he wanted for himself.

“You can’t,” I tell him, watching the window as if her singing were actually her laughing at me from behind it. “She gets really upset when people ask her to stop singing. It’s not worth the melodrama.”

“If she didn’t, though, would you want her to stop singing?” he asks, leaning in.

“She should never stop singing,” I reply, still staring at the window.

She has stopped singing though, and the sun is too bright, the air is too stale and empty. I can hear the dog barking at the neighbor’s dog through the fence by the pond.

Dogs don’t get the concept of fences, do they? He’ll keep barking and then run inside as if we have him, and him alone, to thank for keeping the other dog away. He wants to take all the credit.

I meet the man’s eyes and the dog is still barking. Every bark makes me blink. The sun is too bright, the dog barks too loudly, my sister has stopped singing. I close my eyes to say, “Can we be done today?”

“We can be whatever you want.” That’s what he always says. I have to wonder if it’s the kind of person he is, if he went through his whole life saying that to people before he got paid for it. He says this, though, and yet he doesn’t move. I am the doe in the forest to him. If he stands too quickly, I’ll scatter, and my thin legs will snap in my effort to get away. It makes me angrier than it should that he thinks of me this way, so I stand up, saying nothing to him by way of farewell, and make for the living room my sister has just swept to sit in the corner by the bookshelf, willing time to stop so I can read White Fang again like I did when I was a kid.

It doesn’t stop, though. It moves far too quickly.

I’ve learned to accept this, but it doesn’t stop me from hating it as I walk across the living room floor, feeling the dust and dirt shift against my skin, making a new layer along the bottoms of my feet. I cast a glance toward the unused broom in the corner. I remember the girl who used to sing while she swept, and how I think I haven’t seen her in a very long time.

I open White Fang to the first page and read.

Sarah Gyle is a resident of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and graduated from King’s College in 2017 with a B.A. in English Literature and a minor in Creative Writing. Sarah led many clubs while at King’s, one of which was Campion Society, a creative writing club. She writes primarily creative nonfiction but appreciates all genres and tries her best at those, too. She is hoping to earn her MFA in Creative Writing before she retires.