The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 11, No. 1

Note to Future Self

by Nicholas Montemarano


My twin sister called me collect last week and told me that her boyfriend had been beating her for the past two years and that just a few days earlier he had kicked her so many times in the face that she had to go to the hospital to have the cuts on her lips sewn shut. She was calling me because now her boyfriend had threatened to rip the stitches out of her lips. He pulled out all the phone cords in the house and went out to have a drink and to think about what he was going to do to her. He took the phone cords with him. My sister was calling from a pay phone down the street from where she lived. She didn’t know what to do.
     “That scumbag,” I said. “I should fucking kill him, that animal. I should—”
     Then I said: “You’re calling me after two years of this?”
     “You’re my brother,” she said.
     “Jesus,” I said. “What do you want me to do?”
     My sister was calling from upstate, where her boyfriend made her move with him because he said he had work there. As far as I know, he stayed home while my sister worked, and it was his strong opinion that she did not bring home enough money. The reason for the last beating, my sister told me, was because she, after three weeks of looking, had not found a second job.
     My sister had not bought a new pair of socks in two years. Her boyfriend had control of her credit cards. This, and other things, I learned from my mother, who did not know about the beatings, but would call me every few weeks to say, “Listen to what he did to her now” or “This guy is just like your father” or “What did I tell you—this guy is no good.”
     Now my sister was crying into the phone. It was snowing, she told me. She wasn’t wearing a coat. I could hear her starting to hyperventilate.
     “Don’t go back into the house,” I told her. “Go to the bus station and take the next bus to the city.”
     “I don’t know where the bus station is.”
     “Call information.”
     “I don’t have a quarter.”
     “You don’t need a quarter to call information.”
     “I don’t want to take the bus,” she said. “I’m afraid.”
     “What are you afraid of?”
     “Strange men.”
     “Nothing will happen to you.”
     “The last time I was on a bus, a man put his hand on my leg. Every time I moved away, he kept putting his hand back on my leg. So finally I just . . . I let him keep his hand there, and—”
     “I kept trying to move away, but where could I go? I was on a bus. Where was I supposed to go?”
     “OK, OK.”
     “I’m sorry.”
     “Jesus,” I said. “Take it easy.”
     “I’m sorry,” she said.
     “Listen,” I said. “If anyone tries to touch you, get up from your seat and go tell the driver.”
     “What would I say?”
     “That some pervert is trying to touch you.”
     “I can’t say that.”
     “Why not?”
     “What if the guy hears me saying that about him?”
     “Let him hear,” I said. “And besides, no one is going to touch you. Trust me. Just get on the next bus. I’ll be waiting for you at the station. As soon as you step off the bus, I’ll be right there.”
     “I don’t have any money,” she said.
     “Go to a friend’s house and borrow some money.”
     “I don’t have any friends.”
     “Go to a neighbor’s house.”
     “I don’t know the neighbors,” she said. “I’m not allowed to speak with anyone.”
     “For God’s sake,” I said, and then I thought about what to say next.
     “Hello?” my sister said.
     “Hello,” I said. “I’m here.”
     “Hello?” she said. “Are you there?”
     “I’m right here. Can you hear me?”
     “Hello, can you hear me?”
     “I’m right here. I can hear you.”
     “Hello?” she said. “Hello?”
     “Jesus Christ,” I said. “I can hear you. I’m right here.”
     “Where are you?” she said. “Are you there? Hello?”
     “I’m right here!”
     “What happened?” she said. “Where did you go?”
     “I was here the whole time.”
     “I thought you hung up the phone.”
     “Now why would I hang up the phone at a time like this?”
     “I don’t know,” she said. “I’m just scared. There’s no one else I can call.”
     “Listen to me,” I said. “Go to the police and—”
     “I won’t go to the police.”
     “Just tell them you need to borrow some money.”
     “I’ll have to tell them what the money is for.”
     “Of course you will.”
     “Then they’ll go after him,” she said. “They’ll pick him up and bring him in.”
     “Good,” I said. “That’s what you want.”
     “Then what will I do?”
     “Then you’ll be able to get money from your checking account and get on a bus to the city.”
     “I don’t have a bank card.”
     “Trust me,” I said. “The police will get you on a bus to the city.”
     “Would you drive up here and pick me up?”
     “You know I don’t have a car.”
     “Maybe you can borrow someone’s car.”
     “I don’t want to go asking someone to borrow a car,” I said. “I wouldn’t know who to ask.”
     “Can you rent a car?”
     “Listen,” I said. “Just get on a bus to the city.”
     “I don’t have any money!” she said. “Can’t you please rent a car and drive up here and get me?”
     “It’s three hours at least,” I said, “and by the time I rent a car...”
     “Please,” she said.
     “It will be much quicker for you to just get on a bus,” I said. “Do you want him to rip the stitches out of your lips?”
     “No,” she said, and then she cried into the phone.
     “Listen,” I said. “You need to get your bearings here.”
     “I would feel much safer if you would come pick me up.”
     “It’s three hours,” I said. “And besides, where would I pick you up?”
     “I would be at the house.”
     “And where would he be?”
     “He would be at the house with me.”
     “It’s three hours!” I said. “Do you know what could happen to you in three hours?”
     “I’ll stay out of his way,” she said.
     “Jesus,” I said. “In three hours he could...Jesus, I don’t want to think about what he might do to you.”
     “Please,” she said.
     “What am I supposed to do when I get there?”
     “Just knock on the door,” she said, “and when I answer the door you can say that you know what’s been going on and that you’re taking me home.”
     “Wait a second,” I said. “What if he pulls out a gun, or goes into the kitchen and brings out a knife, and tries to kill me or something?”
     “He won’t do that.”
     “He busted up your lip,” I said, “and God knows what else he’s done to you.”
     “It’s been awful,” she said.
     “I don’t want to know,” I said.
     “I don’t think he owns a gun,” she said.
     “That’s great,” I said.
     “Don’t worry,” she said. “As soon as you knock on the door and say why you’re there and that you’re taking me home, I’ll walk right out the door.”
     “He’s not going to just let you go,” I said. “I mean, we both know he’s not the type of man to just sit there and watch me take you away. He’s likely to try something.”
     “Hello?” she said.
     “Hello,” I said.
     “Are you still there?” she said.
     “Yes,” I said. “Can you hear me?”
     “Are you there?” she said. “Hello? Hello?”
     “I’m right here,” I said.
     “Say something,” she said. “Say something so I know you’re still there.”
     “I’m here,” I said, and then the line went dead.
     I waited about five minutes and called my sister at home. There was no answer. I waited another five minutes and called again. There was still no answer. I waited ten more minutes and tried her again. This time her boyfriend answered.
     “Hello,” he said.
     “Who is this?” he said.
     “Who the hell is this?” he said, and then I hung up.
     I sat by the phone, angry with my sister for not listening to me. She was probably on her way back to the house. Her boyfriend was probably furious that she wasn’t home, where she was supposed to be (I learned from my mother) every minute she was not working. I started imagining his fingers digging into my sister’s lips, and I found myself getting more and more angry with my sister for not listening to me.
     I tried calling my sister again. Her boyfriend answered the phone. “Hello?” he said. “Who’s there?” he said.
     I waited, hoping I might hear my sister’s voice, or any other noise that would indicate she was there.
     “Who the fuck is this?” he said.
     I stopped breathing and listened.
     “If you call here one more time—” he said, and then I hung up the phone.
     I kept telling myself: She’s going to be fine, she’s perfectly safe, she’s going to be fine, she’s perfectly safe. I was able to convince myself that my sister had gone to the police, or had managed to get on the next bus to the city, or was home with her boyfriend and knew, as she said she did, how to stay out of his way.
     But when a half hour passed and I did not hear from her, I dialed her number again. No one answered. I hung up and dialed again. Still, no one answered. I waited ten minutes and tried again. I let the phone ring thirty, maybe forty times.
     Flashes in my head: My sister lying on the floor with blood on her lips and on her teeth and her eyes open. My sister’s body dragged across the floor.
     I dialed her number again, and after each ring told myself that the next ring would be answered, and I was prepared, if my sister’s boyfriend answered, to tell him that I knew what was going on and that I was coming to get my sister and that he had better not be there when I got there because I was going to rip his balls from his body and step on them, and I waited another ten rings, then another twenty or thirty, and then I decided I would give it another twenty rings, and I counted each one, and when I got to twenty I decided to give it one more ring, and when no one answered I hung up the phone.
     I tried to think of where I might be able to get a car. None of my friends in the city owned a car. My mother had a car, but she was the last person I wanted to involve. I did not want to hear her say, “I told you so. What did I tell you about that guy—just like your father.” The first car rental place I called was too expensive, the second was closed for the evening, and the last place I called had no cars available. “Are you sure you have no cars?” I asked the woman who had answered the phone. “We’re sorry, sir.” “But aren’t you supposed to always have cars?” “It’s a very busy time of the year.” And so I thanked her—for what, I’m not sure—and hung up the phone.
     I dialed my sister’s number. I counted forty rings. I told myself I was going to let the phone ring until someone answered—I would not move from where I was standing until I heard my sister’s or my sister’s boyfriend’s voice—but after forty or fifty more rings I became angry at the predictable and very annoying sound in my ear and slammed down the receiver and, without intent, chipped off a piece of the phone, and then I was so furious that I had chipped the phone—and all because my sister would not listen to me and get on the next bus to the city—that I pulled the phone up from the table it was on (what I intended to do with the phone, once in my hands, I cannot recall) and in the process yanked the phone cord from the jack in the wall, and after I sat down for a moment and tried to calm down I realized that at that very moment my sister may have been trying to call me, and so I tried to plug the cord back into the jack in the wall, and it was then that I discovered that the plastic piece at the end of the cord that connects the cord to the jack in the wall had been broken when I pulled up the phone, and by this time I was really beginning to panic at the thought that my sister may have been trying to call me, and was becoming even more furious at the idea that everything that can go wrong will go wrong at the exact moment you can least afford to have anything go wrong, and then I closed my eyes and breathed in through my nose and held each breath to the count of ten and thought good thoughts about things finally working out when you want them to work out, and once I had achieved some semblance of optimism I opened my eyes and looked through all the drawers and closets and cabinets in my apartment until I found a spare phone cord. I plugged the phone back in the wall and waited.
     I closed my eyes, and tried to envision my sister at the bus station where she lived. She was dialing my phone number. I could see her fingers pressing each of the buttons for each of the numbers in my phone number. My phone was going to ring . . . now.
     I concentrated. My sister in a bus station. Her fingers pushing the buttons. My phone was going to ring . . . right . . . now.
     I dialed my sister’s number and waited. Countless rings. No answer.
     I put on my boots and my coat and my gloves (deep breath in, hold to ten, long exhale) and walked to the subway station. When the train arrived, I saw that most of the cars had only a few people inside. I sat far enough away from the other people so that no one would be tempted to speak to me. I tried to look angry, but then I felt silly that I was trying to make myself look angry, so I decided, instead, to close my eyes. I didn’t feel safe with my eyes closed, so I opened them. Above the seats across from where I was sitting were advertisements for wart removal cream, invisible braces, and a debt counselor. I read these advertisements and looked around, and while my train was stopped in the station, another train passed going in the opposite direction. I could see people going home from work standing against one another. The looks on their faces (angry, tired, defeated, or a combination of all of these) seemed to be directed at me. I closed my eyes. I put my hands over my face. The train I was on moved out of the station.
     What I think was a man’s voice on the train’s intercom said, “Port Authority, transfer here to—” and the rest I didn’t hear. I walked through the station and tried not to question what I was doing. This could be a fine trip, I decided. Sure, this could turn out to be a trip with a happy ending. “Everything is going to be fine,” I said, and then worried that someone heard me say this. What was going to happen when I arrived where my sister lived might be something I might remember for the rest of my life (I told myself), and could very well turn into a story I might tell—and with pride—to my children, if I ever have children. Did I ever tell you about the time my sister called me from upstate and told me that her boyfriend had been beating her, and I took a bus all the way up there, three hours, and went to the house and took her away from him? Sure, he tried to get tough with me. He said I wasn’t taking her anywhere but over his dead body, and I stared at him with this look that said, Listen, I have news for you, my body isn’t going to be the dead body, OK, and then—. I looked up and realized I had been walking in the wrong direction. I turned around and walked the other way, and after a while (deep breaths) I saw the sign for the bus terminal. I checked the departure schedule and found that the universe was starting to work in my favor: a bus was leaving for where my sister lived within the hour.
     I bought, from a vending machine, a bag of corn chips and a can of fruit juice. I read on the back of the bag of chips that there were five chips per serving and approximately four servings in the bag, which meant there were, give or take, twenty chips in the bag. The bus I was waiting for was leaving in forty minutes. I ate a chip, took a sip of juice, and then counted to one hundred twenty before eating the next chip and taking the next sip of juice, and in this way I was able to pass the forty minutes I had to wait for the bus without thinking too much about what I was about to do. A man struggling to carry three bags, a boy and a girl walking behind him, asked me if I knew when the bus to Providence was leaving and where it was leaving from, and I told him that I didn’t know, that I was waiting for a bus going upstate, and he showed me his ticket and asked me again if I knew, and I told him that I had no idea, and while he was asking me all this one of his kids, the boy, had wandered off, and I pointed this out to him and felt good about doing so, but then the man ran after and caught his son playing in a garbage pail and pulled the boy away from the pail and smacked him twice across the face and pulled the boy by his hair back to where I was standing and with an angry look on his face said he was sorry, and then turned and yelled at his son, who was crying, to shut up, and then he asked me again if I could look at his bus ticket and figure out where he was supposed to go, and I looked at his ticket and said no, I was sorry, I had no idea, and the man walked away with the boy and girl walking behind him, and this was why, when I boarded the bus going upstate, I still had a few chips left in my bag of chips and a few sips of juice left in my can of juice—because this man trying to go to Providence had taken up several minutes of the time I would have otherwise spent eating and sipping juice.
     I sat near the front of the bus. Inside the bus, with the exception of a few overhead reading lights, it was dark. A kid listening to music on his Walkman sat next to me, his eyes closed, his head moving slightly to the beat of the music. There were lights on the sides of the highway, and then after a while there were no more lights. A piece of the moon was visible in the sky, and the rest of the moon (I reminded myself) was right there as well. For a while I stared out at the dark part of the moon and wondered if I was the only person in the world actually looking at that part of the moon no one could see, and thinking about this passed a little bit of time. But staring too long at something I couldn’t see made me feel sick to my stomach, so I stared instead at the back of the seat in front of me. It was difficult not to imagine a future me thinking back on the present me and saying, “Man, what the hell did you think you were doing that night? Did you think you were some kind of hero?” I hated my future self for saying this, and I hated my present self for not having the power of hindsight. I was angry at myself for not having thought to buy another bag of chips and another can of juice to ration out to myself during the ride. I closed my eyes and tried to think of something that would distract me from questioning what I was doing, but all I could think about were the two children and their father in the bus station. I spent the first hour of the bus ride creating elaborate fantasies about what their daily lives must have been like, and for some time it was as if I were in a trance or watching a movie, but after a while I discovered that what I thought I was imagining I was not imagining at all: the two children were actually my sister and I, and the imagined father in my mind had become my father, and the slaps to the faces of those two children I did not know had become slaps to my face and to my sister’s face, and eventually my father slapping my sister’s face turned into my sister’s boyfriend slapping her face, and I found myself getting very angry that people smacked around other people, and even angrier that people allowed themselves to be smacked around like that, and to distract myself from these thoughts I ate one of the four chips left in my bag of chips and drank approximately one-fourth of the juice left in my can of juice and counted to one thousand eight hundred (there were, with luck, only two hours left on the trip), and did this three more times, and within thirty minutes of eating my last chip and drinking the rest of my juice the bus pulled into the station.
     I called for a cab. The driver drove me through the town. I had never been there before, but it looked like what I had imagined many upstate towns looked like. There were a few churches, a school, a grocery store, a row of bars, piles of snow along the curbside and a dusting on the streets. The driver stopped the car in front of a small blue house. “Is this it?” I said.
     “This is it,” he said. “That’s why I stopped the car.”
     I said to him, “Could you do me a favor and leave me off at the corner?”
     First, I walked past the house. I glanced at the house as I passed, and saw that a light was on downstairs. When I reached the opposite corner I waited a few minutes (so as not to cause suspicion) before walking past the house again. This time I stopped in front of the house next to my sister’s house to light a cigarette. I could see nothing I had not seen the time before—a light was on downstairs. I stepped closer to the house. I’m afraid I have some terrible news for my sister. It’s our mother. One of her neighbors found her in the hallway. They’re saying it was a heart attack. I wanted to give her the news in person, of course, and I didn’t want her to travel down to the city alone. The porch light came on, and I quickly moved to the side of the house. I waited to hear the door open, but it did not open. With the nub of one cigarette I started another. I stood where I had been crouching. Through a window I could see the living room. There was a couch and a coffee table and a television set and two chairs, and sitting in one of these chairs, a bottle of beer in his hand, was my sister’s boyfriend. Since the last time I had seen him, more than two years ago, he had put on some weight (I could see it in his face) and had shaved the hair on his head to a dark shadow. I saw his lips moving, and assumed my sister must have been home, but then I realized he was talking to himself. He stood up, put on his coat, and walked to the door. He leaned his face into the door and said a few things to himself and then he sat down with his coat on and talked to himself some more and then he took off his coat and threw it on the floor. I went from window to window, looked into the kitchen and what might have been (had there been a table and chairs) the dining room, and did not see my sister. There were no lights on upstairs.
     I walked to what looked like the main street of this town, found a pay phone, and dialed my sister’s number.
     “Hello,” my sister’s boyfriend said.
     “Who is this?” he said.
     “Listen—” he said.
     “Hello,” I said.
     “Who is this?” he said.
     “Hello?” I said.
     “I said hello,” he said.
     “Is anyone there?” I said.
     “What is this about?” he said.
     “Your wife,” I said.
     “Yes?” he said.
     “There has been an accident,” I said. “Your wife—she must have fallen on the ice and hit her head, and we have her here at the hospital.”
     “What happened?” he said. I could not tell if he sounded worried or annoyed.
     “We’re not sure,” I said. “It appears that she may have fallen on the ice and hit her head.”
     “What do you mean?” he said. “When did this happen?” His voice was beginning to shake.
     “We’re not entirely sure,” I said. “What we know is that someone found your wife on the ground, unconscious, and saw that her head was bleeding and that her lip was split open, and this person who found your wife called 911, and the ambulance went and brought her here to the hospital, and the doctors are running some tests as we speak.”
     “Where did she fall?”
     “Again, we don’t have all the details at this point,” I said. “We only know that she busted her head open, most likely from a fall. Unless you have any other information you can give us.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “Unless you can provide us with any other information concerning your wife’s accident.”
     “What does that mean?”
     “I’m talking about her medical history,” I said. “Your wife has quite a few stitches on her lips. Since we don’t have any medical records for your wife, and since she was brought in unconscious, we were wondering if you could tell us exactly what happened that she needed stitches in her lips.”
     “What is this about?”
     “It’s about your wife,” I said. “We’re interested in her medical history. For example, the stitches in her lips. We were wondering—does she fall often? And if she does fall often, are her falls the result of seizures of some kind, or is there some other reason your wife has a tendency to fall?”
     “My wife does not have a tendency to fall.”
     “We’re not saying your wife has a tendency to fall,” I said. “We’re not saying that at all.”
     “What are you saying?”
     “We’re merely trying to get some information from you.”
     “Who is this?”
     “I’m calling from the hospital.”
     “What hospital?”
     “Sir, there is only one hospital in the area.”
     “Tell me the name of the hospital.”
     “Surely, sir, you must know the name of the only hospital in the area.”
     “I don’t know,” he said. “I’ve never been to the hospital. I want you to tell me the name of the hospital, and your name, and what your position is, and then I want you to tell me exactly where the hospital is and give me directions how to get there.”
     “Excuse me,” I said.
     “I want to know your name,” he said, “and I want to know the name of the hospital.”
     “Don’t you know the name of the hospital?”
     “I know the name,” he said, “but I’m asking you to tell me.”
     “Hello?” I said.
     “Hello,” he said.
     “Hello?” I said. “Are you there?”
     “I’m right here,” he said.
     “I think we must have a bad connection,” I said.
     “I can hear you just fine,” he said.
     “Sir?” I said. “Are you still there, sir?”
     “I can hear you,” he said.
     “Sir, I can’t hear you, and I think we may have been disconnected, but if you can still hear me, let me tell you again that we think your wife may have fallen on the ice and landed on her head, and the doctors are running tests, and it would be helpful if you could come over to the hospital right away.”
     “Tell me your name!” he said.
     “Thank you, sir,” I said. “I hope you heard what I just said.”
     “I know who you are,” he said.
     “Goodbye, sir,” I said, and then I hung up.
     I walked back to the corner of my sister’s street and watched her house.
     Snow was falling on the snow and ice already on the ground; wind blew snow from the roofs of houses, from the hoods of cars, and up from the ground.
     My sister’s boyfriend did not come out of the house.
     I started to walk through the town, looking for the police station, but when I found it I had no idea what I was supposed to do or say.
     I’m trying to find my sister. Is she missing? Yes...well, no, not exactly. Why are you looking for her? She called me earlier this evening and told me her boyfriend, who she lives with, has been beating her for the past two years, and she was afraid he was going to hurt her again, and I told her to get on the next bus to the city, where I live, but she didn’t have any money, and she didn’t know where the bus station was, and then we were disconnected, and then— Hold on, hold on, where is the boyfriend? He’s at home. How do you know? I called. Give me the address. What for? We’ll go over there and ask him a few questions. I don’t want you to do that. Why not? I don’t want to get involved with him. Why not? I just want to find my sister.
     I waited outside the police station for a half hour, and then decided that it was foolish to expect my sister, if she had gone to the police, to walk outside.
     I found a pay phone and called for a cab. While waiting for the driver, I tried to distract myself by kicking the heel of my boot through the ice on a puddle, but I lost my footing and fell on my back and when I stood I could not keep my back straight without pain, and I found myself angry at my sister again for not getting on a bus when I told her to get on a bus, and when the pain in my back began to move down into my legs I knew that I was going to be in for a rough three hours sitting on the bus to the city, and I was furious at my sister for not walking into the police station and telling them that her fuckhead boyfriend had been beating her and had threatened to rip the stitches out of her lips and that she wanted him arrested and wanted to be able to get money for a bus ticket from the checking account she worked every fucking day to earn money to put into, and this anger, coupled with the pain in my back and legs, led me to start punching the glass around the pay phone, not hard enough to break through it, but hard enough to start a crack in the glass and to cut open my hand, and the harder I punched the glass the more I was able to forget the pain in my back and legs and the anger I was feeling towards my sister and towards everything that had ever happened, but then I heard a car horn and saw that the driver was there, and I walked, not without pain, to the car, and told him to take me to the bus station.
     The next bus to the city was leaving in a few hours. I sat on a bench and rubbed the cut on my hand so that I could feel the pain from the cut and could feel very little else.
     By the time I was on the bus and well into the ride back to the city, I had rubbed the cut to the point at which I had gotten so used to the pain that it was no longer pain, and it was difficult then to keep my brain from thinking about other things.
     I was riding my bicycle down the street and saw a girl slap my sister in the face and pull my sister’s hair, and there were other girls watching, and I stopped riding my bicycle and watched, and the girl kept slapping my sister, and the other girls laughed, and my sister did nothing, and I wanted to run over to my sister and shake her and say, “Why don’t you do something? How can you stand there and take that?” A few minutes later there was another thought—the time a girl at school lit my sister’s shorts on fire and my sister stood there while her shorts burned and did not move to put the fire out, did not cry, did not jump or scream, did not react in any way, just looked down, until a teacher saw what was happening, ran over to my sister, pulled off her shorts, and threw them in the bathroom sink. “What are you doing?” the teacher said to my sister. “What is going on here?” she said. “Who is responsible for this?” she said, and looked at my sister, who said nothing. I shook this thought out of my head, but there was another one right behind it—the time on our street when my sister and I were about thirteen and one of my friends kept squeezing my sister’s breasts between his fingers, and all of my other friends were watching and laughing and kept saying to me, “Hey, look, he’s giving your sister a purple nurple, why aren’t you looking, he’s giving your sister a purple nurple, look at that, do you see what he’s doing to your sister,” and I looked at her and then looked away, and said nothing, and my sister did not flinch, did not back away, did not raise her hands in defense.
     In the sky in the distance I could see the first glow from the sun. I could not sleep. Every time I closed my eyes I saw shapes in the dark under my eyelids.
     The bus pulled into Port Authority. I walked through the station and waited for the train back to Queens, and I was grateful for all the people around me because I could look at them and wonder about their lives and create stories in my head about who they were and what they were like and everything that had happened to them, and in this way I was able, at least for a short while, to forget what I had remembered about my sister, and to forget that I still did not know where she was.
     There was some hope, as I turned the corner and walked up my street, that my sister would be waiting for me outside the building where I lived, but she was not there.
     I went upstairs and changed my clothes and made a cup of coffee and turned on the television. I dialed my sister’s number. There was no answer.
     An hour later I dialed her number again and waited.
     Though I could not see it behind all the buildings, I knew the sun was up. In a few hours I would have to leave for work.
     I hung up the phone.
     I took a shower. My sister was under my eyelids: her hair was on fire and her hands were at her sides.
     When I turned off the water I thought I heard something. I stood where I was in the shower and listened. Then I heard it again. I went to the intercom and pressed the button to speak. “Who is it?” I said.
     “It’s me,” my sister said.
     After a while she said, “Hello?”
     I waited with my finger on the button.
     “Hello?” she said. “Are you there?”
     “Is that you?” she said.
     “Hello?” she said. “Is anyone there?”
     “I’m looking for my brother,” she said. “Is that you?”
     “Hello?” she said.
     “Would you please let me in?” she said.
     “Are you still there?” she said. “Hello?” she said.
     “It’s cold out here,” she said. “I’m tired.”
     “Will you please say something?” she said.
     When my sister and I were fifteen, maybe sixteen, we made plans to meet each other in front of Macy’s. We were shopping for Christmas gifts. I said to my sister, “Meet me right outside the main entrance, where they keep all the perfume.” I waited and waited and waited, and after an hour had passed I started to become excited that my sister was late and that I had every reason, when and if she showed up, to scream at her, to make her feel like nothing, to unleash all the anger inside me, to tell her what a fuckup she was for always fucking up the simplest things, and with every minute that passed I grew more excited about being able to unleash all this anger on someone I knew would do or say nothing in her own defense, and after another half hour had passed I called home and asked my father if my sister had called, and he said no, and asked what was the matter, couldn’t my sister and I do anything right, Jesus Christ, couldn’t we just meet each other where we said we would meet each other, and I told my father how it was my sister’s fault, how at that very moment I was standing—and for the past hour and a half had been standing—in the exact spot where my sister and I had agreed to meet, and my father told me to call back if my sister did not show up within the next half hour, and when she did not I called my father and he said, “Jesus fucking Christ, this is typical, whenever the two of you make plans, you can bet someone is going to fuck up,” and I explained how it was my sister who had fucked up and how I was exactly where I was supposed to be, and then he said that now he was going to have to stop what he was doing and drive across the bridge from Queens to Manhattan and “probably kill myself with all those crazy drivers over there and probably circle the block two hundred times before I even find you or your sister,” and I told him that he didn’t have to come, that I would take care of it, and my father told me that there was nothing I could take care of, that if I was the type of person to take care of things I wouldn’t be calling him with “all this bullshit about your sister being lost,” and I told him again that he did not have to come, and he said, “And then what? What will happen to you and your sister if I don’t come?”
     Ten minutes later my sister showed up, crying, and said that she had been at the main entrance near where they sell perfume, and when I didn’t show up she started to worry about me, and thought about looking for me, but then she remembered what I told her, that under no circumstances should she leave the main entrance near where they sell perfume, but after more than an hour had passed she went inside, just for a moment, to ask one of the women behind the counter if there was another part of the store that sold perfume, and the woman said yes, there were other perfume counters around the corner near the other main entrance. My sister said, “I’m sorry, please say something, I’m sorry, would you please look at me and say something, I swear, had I known there were two main entrances where they sell perfume I would have looked for you here much earlier.” My sister stood next to me and cried and I refused to look at her. Then I saw my father’s car in the street, and saw my father waving us over to him, and my sister followed me, and no one said anything on the drive over the Williamsburg Bridge and through Queens to our house. When we got inside my father took off his coat and sat on the couch and I sat on a chair and my sister asked my father if he wanted something to drink, and thanked him for coming to get us, and asked if she could get him anything. My father turned on the television and said nothing. My sister walked out of the living room, but a short while later she came back and asked my father if she could bring him a sandwich, something to drink, anything, it was no problem, and when my father said nothing my sister thanked him again for coming to get us and offered to give him money for gas and for the tolls, and it was then that my father stood up and walked over to my sister and slapped her across the face, knocking her off balance to the floor. He stood over her and said, “Everything is after the fact, everything is always after the fact,” and then he sat back on the couch and looked at my sister and said, “It’s not about the gas or the tolls. Jesus, if only once you could do something right and listen,” and then I stood up and walked past my sister and out of the room.
     “Hello?” she said, and I could tell that she had been crying.
     My finger was on the button. I was trying to breathe deeply.
     “Hello,” I said.
     “Where were you?” she said. “I got on the next bus, like you said, and I came here looking for you.”
     She waited a moment and then said, “Are you there?”
     “I’m here,” I said.
     “What’s wrong?” she said.
     “I don’t feel well.”
     “Are you going to buzz me in?”
     “No,” I said.
     “What do you mean?” she said.
     “Don’t move,” I said. “Don’t do anything. Just stay where you are,” I said. “I’m coming down to get you.”
     I put on some clothes and walked down the stairs. I opened the door and let her inside. The stitches were still in her lips.
     “I’m sorry,” I said.
     She walked up the stairs. I walked behind her.