Still Life with Childhood
For a year my little sister sang everything: directions on how to tie one’s shoes, correct answers to algebraic riddles, descriptions of her favorite meringue, predictions on which coast would crumble first into the angry sea. For some reason my parents put up with this: the pitched arias of grocery lists, injustices of school lunches. They let her warble and chant, yodel, croon and scat a cappella, rendering our home an antic, shifting stage. The day she bellowed Ray Finney is dead in her yellow summer dress we had to admit her voice was improving, that her delivery made Ray’s death a little lighter. So emboldened, she began singing obituaries of people we’d never met, bringing civic leaders and inventors of tool-and-dye shops into our midst and in a stroke, killing them off. I hated her for that and so penned her obit: singing girl, age 9, found garroted by older sister. Eventually she grew out of trilling. Trees stopped speaking in Portuguese to her. Tadpoles no longer told her Arctic secrets. It was the worst death of all, my mother said, textbook, and without pardon.