I know that she is my sister, but she is thirteen years older than the last time I saw her. I do want to look at her face, to make sure my cognitive model of what she looks like is up to date, but it’s almost always uncomfortable to look right at people I don’t know very well. It hurts to realise she’s fallen into that category of people.
There is something about me that makes people assume that I don’t care about them. I don’t generally mind too much… probably because I don’t really care about them.
And the people I do care about… they all know me pretty well at this point. She used to know me better than anyone else in the world, but it’s been so long; I don’t know if she’s forgotten what I am like. I don’t know if she’s still the way I remember her either. Or if that’s just the way I want her to be. The way I want us to be. Not the way things were before she left, not even the way things were before Scott. The way things were when we were kids and she didn’t try so hard not to be like me.
“Bibby?” she says.
“Bibby,” I reply.
It’s hard to explain what that means in MumTalk.
I remember the day she left. She told me about it beforehand but it was still a surprise. I still don’t know if I should have suggested something else. I hadn’t realised that she’d leave so completely. A few days after our 18th birthday she left her mobile phone on the end of her bed, and she was gone.
I wonder how much harder it would be to leave like that these days with social media and everything. I wonder if I could have found her online if I had looked harder. I wonder if I was supposed to.
“Do you still hate me?” she asks.
“…I never hated you.”
“It felt like it.”
“No. I was angry though.”
“I didn’t understand why.”
“I was in love with Scott and you had sex with him,” I say. “I thought that was obvious.”
“I missed you,” she says.
“I missed you as well.”
I want to explain how much. It seems like it’s supposed to be better now she’s here but it isn’t, yet. She is right in front of me, but it still feels like I miss her just as much. I know I am supposed to say things. That saying things will help. But I don’t know what to say.
“Holy shit!” says Scott. “Holy shit. Oh my god. What the fuck. Hello. Wow.”
“Hi,” says Cello.
She told me that it was okay if I wanted to call her Michelle rather than Cello. Because I like to call people by their names. I don’t really know why that makes people assume that I want to call them by whatever is on their birth certificate. According to convention I ought to be just ‘Alan’ which I don’t like. I do like to call people by their names. But isn’t someone’s name just the thing they like to be called?
“That’s your sister!”
“Yes,” I say.
“In our kitchen,” he says, “in our house, where we live.”
“Yes,” I said again.
“Wow. Oh my god. Hi! Oh my god. Mani was freaking out about ‘somebody’ being here and I told him he was over-reacting. I’m going to go and apologise.”
I look back at Cello as Scott walks away.
“I’m sorry Mani! You’re handling this very well my darling,” I hear Scott call from the other room.
“I’ve had sex with Scott a lot of times since then,” I tell Cello, “So I think I can probably get over it.”
And she laughs. She doesn’t look as she did, because she’s older. But her laugh is the same and my eyes prickle because it has been a very long time since I have heard it.
I think that if I can find the correct things to say, then it will feel right and normal that she is here. I try to ask questions because Scott says that is a good way to let other people know I am interested in them. But the conversation keeps stopping. I don’t know how to keep it going. And I’m afraid that if I don’t get it right, she will leave again.
I don’t know what to say to make it right.
“I’m going to take Mani out and stuff him full of chocolate,” says Scott, suddenly. “He’s actually not coping at all. I feel bad for laughing. But it’s kind of delightful. I think this is probably the worst thing that’s ever happened to him.”
“It is very good that nothing worse than this has ever happened,” I say.
“We are awesome parents. High five!” Scott says.
Scott rummages in a cupboard to find something chocolate. I tell him where it is.
“How do you think you would milk chocolate? It doesn’t have nipples,” he asks.
“I think that is an impossible directive to follow.”
“It must be possible,” he says, “because otherwise how do we get chocolate milk? Anyway I’m going to go and feed the child, and walk him, and make him look at the ocean so he doesn’t just… implode. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
“Okay,” I say.
“Bye…” he says. But he doesn’t leave.
“You can kiss me goodbye in front of Cello,” I say.
“… can I though? Because I used to put an enormous amount of effort into not doing that. Somehow it still feels weird? It’s like… legacy awkwardness.”
He kisses me goodbye, and Scott and Mani leave, and the house goes quiet.
I can’t think of anything to say, so I don’t say anything. Cello doesn’t either.
So we just sort of sit there. Not saying anything.