Trigger warning: character death, mild profanity, child neglect
She’s much younger than me, and that cherubic innocence clings to her plump cheeks,
and I know when she giggles she does not know I hate her. The shirt she wears, whose pink
leopard print pattern is joined by old spaghetti sauce stains, used to belong to me, but I feel no
connection to that age. Maybe someday she’ll be 17 too and washing dishes while a sister that’s
eleven years her junior sits cross-legged in front of the TV, and she’ll remember bitching about
the days-old broccoli Mom told me to cook up and feel bad. Right now she’s remorseless, getting
cookie crumbs all over the couch and bobbing her head to the Law and Order theme music. I’ll
have to remember to change the channel to cartoons before Mom gets home.
It’s anyone’s guess when Mom will roll in. She gets off work at the diner at nine, but
usually stays out to do fuck all while I have to scrub broccoli bits from Lydia’s teeth and tell my
friends yet again I can’t hang out tonight, I have work to do and someone has to watch Lydia, but
next weekend maybe I’ll be free. Usually she comes back smelling of alcohol, or someone’s car,
half the time wearing different clothes than she left in. It’s better than when she doesn’t come
home alone, and I have to contend with another shifty-eyed jerk who can’t quite decide how to
behave around me. I don’t have much of an income, outside of pocketing a percentage of the
money Mom gives me for the necessities she can’t be bothered to buy herself, but I bought a lock
for my bedroom door. Would’ve gotten one for Lydia’s too, but she always has to get up in the
middle of the night to pee, and she’s not smart enough to operate machinery yet. I even have to
rescue her from her own bedroom when her chunky fingers can’t get the door open. In any case,
I could wake up at the quietest creak of a floorboard. That is, before I simply stopped sleeping
Over the gentle swishing of the dish water, which I always keep as close to scalding as I
can stand, I hear the click of the TV turning off, then there’s a grubby hand at my elbow.
“Evie, I don’t feel very good,” my sister pouts, little eyebrows drawn together in a perfect
display of woe. I pull my hands out of the water and wipe them on a dish towel before crouching
in front of her. My own brow furrows, but I’ve been told I have a resting bitch face, so no one
ever notices when I’m upset.
“What’s the matter, girly?” I ask, my stomach already sinking. She just never lets me
catch a damn break. If she’s really sick, there go my tentative plans to finally go out tomorrow
night. My friends have been coaxing me to take a night off from it all, waste time with them,
maybe go get high and screw around in the school parking lot. Or there’s that new club
downtown, they say, where we could let loose a little. They always direct that last bit at me.
My sister shrugs, unable to articulate anything much better than simply feeling bad, so I
press the back of my hand to her forehead. She’s warmer than usual.
For a moment I have no thoughts but a chorus of “shit” as my plans slip away. In their
place, I just see small child-shaped shackles standing in front of me.
“Okay, let’s get ready for bed, huh?” I nudge her in the direction of her room, and follow
behind with a glass of water. Her pace is more sluggish now, and I can’t help but feel like she’s
exaggerating for sympathy. Unlike most nights, she doesn’t have the energy to fight me when I
get her clothes changed and teeth brushed–fucking broccoli–but I hardly count it as a victory.
I tuck the sheets in tight as a coffin around her body, but leave the glass of water within
reach. The only drugs in the house are Mom’s. Well, they may not have her name on the label,
but for all intents and purposes they’re hers. So just water it is.
“You’ll feel better in the morning,” I assure Lydia, a little tonelessly, as I switch off the
light. Her Tinkerbell night light glows, casting a winged shadow on the little shape in the bed.
“Promise?” the shape asks.
I hate promises, so I just shrug noncommittally and shut the door.
There’s still dishes to do, and I return to water that’s gone cold and resume scrubbing,
wishing, and hating.
Mom comes home around midnight, wreathed in the scent of cigarettes. She spots me
sitting at the table attempting homework as she dumps her purse, and says, “How many times
have I told you to put your damn shoes away? And where’s your sister?”
I answer shortly, “In bed.” Normally I would just ignore her until she goes away, but this
time I set my pencil down and look her in the eyes. Her lipstick is smudged, and the circles under
her eyes aren’t getting any lighter. She looks like me, or rather I look like her, and I can’t forgive
either of us for that.
“And she’s sick. I think you should stay at home from work tomorrow and watch her.”
She scoffs, and I hate everything about the condescending noise. It’s a familiar friend,
this hatred, that fizzles through my bones and asks me why am I surprised. Why I thought that
“Absolutely not,” she replies, drawing out the ‘A.’ “Fridays are the busiest, and it’s your
mama paying the bills, not you. I’m sure you won’t miss anything important if you stay home.
Lydia needs you.”
She doesn’t even finish talking before she’s drifted into her bedroom, forcing me to get
up and follow her to continue the dispute. I watch, hiding the disgust that pulls at my mouth, as
she puts her face right up by the vanity mirror and starts removing her fake lashes, adding them
to the scattered makeup paraphernalia strewn across the surface. The eyelash curler looks
awfully similar to the one I lost a while ago.
“I have a test tomorrow,” I say, digging my fingernails into the familiar grooves in my
palms. I don’t, actually, and she stopped caring about my education a long time ago, so the
excuse is fruitless. Mom just makes another derisive noise, and I want to put my head through
the wall. When she speaks, my insides burn with frustration, until merely one word from her lips
can drive me to screaming.
“I’m sure you can make it up. You’re not leaving your sister here by herself,” she says
with an air of finality. I turn my back and return to my homework, though I’m so mad I just stare
at the same paragraph in the textbook until my jaw goes sore from clenching.
The last time I remember getting something I wanted was when Mom ran over my cat
when I was ten, the same cat whose arrival was precipitated by a long lecture on responsibility,
and she took me out to get ice cream and a videogame. One of her exes broke the game a few
years back, when I was about to unlock all the achievements, but when I complained Mom told
me to grow up. I told her no, and for that “little mouth-off” her boyfriend smacked me upside the
head. Their argument that night made the ringing in my ears even worse.
Tomorrow was supposed to be something I wanted. To leave my sister behind and just go
be a stupid teen for a little while. My friends liked to point out that I couldn’t spend my high
school years babysitting, and I liked to respond that babysitters got paid. Mom could figure out
what to do with Lydia for herself for once, and I could get a taste of freedom for once. Except
not anymore, because I have to play nurse while the world goes on without me.
Her fever deepens overnight. I hear every time she wakes up, since she uses the bathroom
each time, and at the 4am mark I just stare into the black oblivion and think about how fucked I
A miserable dawn breaks, punctuated by the sound of my mother throwing up behind a
slammed bathroom door. Before leaving for work, she walks right past me to give Lydia a kiss
on the forehead goodbye, then she departs with hardly a word of instruction to me. But she
leaves a twenty on the kitchen table.
Most of the day passes with me at Lydia’s sweat-soaked bedside, mutely dabbing her
forehead with a damp cloth. For a moment, I think about smothering her with it, then instantly I
am shocked by my own brutality. However, as I stare into her eyes, drooped with lethargy, I
can’t help the rush of anger I feel. I’m angry that I’m stuck here because of her. I’m angry that
she’s never had reason not to feel loved and cared for. I’m angry that all I can think about is the
fun my friends are having today.
Her fever has not gone down by the evening. By then I am thoroughly numbed by the
mundanity of my day. Lydia’s eaten nothing except for nibbling on some crackers at noon, so I
make her a dinner of applesauce and mac and cheese. She eats slowly, like she’s trying to torture
me, and as I watch her with arms crossed and a barely concealed scowl I make up my mind.
My sister makes theatrically pitiful noises, tossing herself about her bed while I do my
makeup in the adjacent bathroom. She’s conscious enough to notice I’ve changed my clothes
when I come in to collect her dishes.
“Where are you going?” she asks, voice weak. The pathetic tremor in her voice sets my
teeth on edge.
“I’m just going out for a bit,” I say, not meeting her gaze. “Mommy will be home soon to
take care of you.”
It’s a shitty thing to do, but I don’t care anymore. Her symptoms seem stable, and she
knows how to acquire food or more water if necessary. I tell myself that a few more times as I
slip on my boots.
“But I feel like I’m going to throw up,” she says the moment I return to say goodbye, and
I almost smack the doorframe in impatience. Surely she can walk three steps to the bathroom if
need be. She just likes acting helpless so everyone will cater to her needs.
“You’ll be fine. If you have to, just go to the toilet. See you later.” I don’t wait for
confirmation before grabbing the car keys and twenty dollar bill and leaving the house, almost in
I can’t remember the last time I could take a free, exhilarating breath of new air, and
despite the cold that has everyone in line for the club rubbing their arms and stomping their feet,
I lift my face to the wind and let it rattle me. Let the cold reach all the way to the burning bitter
thing that is my soul. Nobody knows I’m here, not even my friends, whom I deliberately did not
tell about my escape in a burst of spite and of possessiveness of this hastily snatched moment of
freedom. Let them be the ones left out for once. I feel like an adult, and not the kind who’s
saddled with a dependent kid but the kind who can go out and do whatever they want.
However, I am not an adult, and the bouncer takes one look at me and jerks his thumb for
me to get lost. I debate arguing with him, or maybe just paying him, but the look he gives is
menacing enough. I could try to get into a different club, I think as I make the walk of shame
past the others in line. Pretending I haven’t just been summarily dismissed, I prop myself against
the brick wall of the adjacent building and try to come up with another option.
A young man who’d been standing at the end of the line slips away to approach me
instead, arms wrapped around his torso. Brown hair. Nice smile. Generically handsome. He tells
me he’s also underage and alone, but he knows of an unguarded back entrance, and if I wanted
we could stick together.
I’m not an idiot. He’s eating up the sight of me in a tiny crop top, but I push off the wall
and return the favor, taking in the tastefully undone shirt. Tonight is about letting go, trying new
things, so I follow him to the back door, our suppressed laughter at our own cleverness bouncing
off the otherwise silent walls.
It’s ajar, spilling liquid light and bass-boosted audio into the alley, as well as quite a few
cigarette butts. With a quick grin at one another, we enter the dancing throng.
I’ve gotten shitfaced at my friends’ parties before, but the club scene is entirely new to
me. My new friend must sense my nervousness at the crushing mob of bodies, because he puts
his hand on my lower back and keeps it there as we begin to dance. The music is more vibrations
than anything else, but it sends an electrifying thrill through me, drowning out all other sound.
I’m not hearing the lyrics, I’m not hearing my little sister calling my name, I’m certainly not
hearing those ridiculous school assemblies warning against underage drinking. At one point I ask
for the boy’s name, but can’t hear it over the noise of the crowd, and it’s not important anyway.
We stop using words pretty quickly. I don’t need words to know when his breath is on my ear
that he wants to get out of here, and I don’t need words to let him lead me to his car, nor do we
really need to say anything as we strip in his backseat.
My phone keeps buzzing, and he lifts his lips from mine to give me a quizzical smile I
can just make out from the slash of light from a nearby streetlamp. I fish the phone from my
pocket and toss it into the front seat without looking, unwilling to see my friends' attempts at
taunting me, or to be reminded of the sister at home. This is my opportunity to do something for
myself, to feel something other than hatred, so I pull him back down, because even if it hurts, it’s
a hurt I chose.
When we’re done and beginning the awkward reshuffling of clothes, I notice sirens
passing by on the main road. For a moment, urgent flashes of red and blue fill the car and paint
our faces as we stare at one another.
“Do you think they’re here for us?” he jokes, still panting slightly, and I smile
indulgently as I pull my hair up into a ponytail.
“Nah. There’s more important things out there than two teenagers sneaking into a club
with watered-down drinks.”
He laughs, I laugh, he kisses me one more time and says something about his number that
I completely ignore, then I climb out and return to my own vehicle, slightly more sore but feeling
freer than ever.
I decide my mind feels clear enough to drive home, which means I’m sure I’m not seeing
things when the flashing lights only intensify the closer I get to home. All excitement drains
from my body as I round the last curve and see the emergency vehicles are, in fact, parked in
front of my house. I’m moving slower now, or maybe it’s the whole world that’s slowed down,
but I abandon the car and make my way toward the commotion. What could possibly have
happened in the few hours I left Lydia alone in her bed?
The front door is open. Inside there are frantic, raised voices, but I do not make it very far
before Mom materializes, grabbing my shoulders with crazy in her eyes.
“Where the fuck have you been?” she cries, her fingers digging bruises into my skin.
“I’ve been calling and texting and you didn’t pick up and you were supposed to be here! With
I wriggle away from her, patting my pockets before I realize my phone must still be in
that boy’s front seat. There will be hell to pay for that one later, but that clearly isn’t the most
“What’s the matter? What happened?”
People in uniforms--police uniforms, I see, and windbreakers with “CPS” emblazoned
on the back—are clustered in the hallway where our rooms and bathroom are, and dread fills my
empty stomach in a steady drip as I push my way past them. Mom clings to my arm, making
hysterical noises while my brain simply goes… silent. Not even a buzz from the alcohol.
She’s lying on the bathroom floor, still. Her pajama shirt is covered in vomit, but I can
still see the faded pattern on my old hand-me-downs. There’s a picture somewhere of me
sleeping in those exact pajamas, but this is different. Lydia isn’t sleeping.
There’s gloved hands on my arms, I hear the word “shock,” and I’m drawn aside by a
young female officer who hesitates for a moment, her sad brown eyes searching my face before
she tells me Lydia choked. A tragic accident, she says, but the stern expressions of the other
officers say otherwise when they look at my mother. When they look at me.
I slide into a chair, wrapping my arms around my knees and staring straight ahead as she
leaves in a black bag, while Mom follows, sobbing. The emptiness inside me is leaving, and I
can feel that anger slowly leaching back. I see a couple officers escort her to a vehicle, while
another starts back toward the house. Probably coming to get me. They’re going to ask us
questions, going to want to know how we let this happen.
I let him take my arm and guide me toward the cars all lined up on the road in front of
our house. A few of our neighbors stand on their porches, staring, whispering. They want to
know what happened too.
I left her here. I left her, and she needed someone to take care of her, and why did it have
to be me? Me, who hated her, me, who secretly wished for this outcome at least once a week. A
dull roar, whether it’s the sound of my heartbeat or the growing animal rage within me, fills my
head. I left her, because why should I have to take care of her when our mother acted like she
didn’t care. Mom will demand to know where I was, will never forgive me for leaving her little
girl in her time of need, and will not realize it was my time of need too, and where was she.
Partying. Drinking. Hooking up.
But so was I. The officer is leading me toward a squad car, but I stop in front of the car in
which my hypocrite mother sits, tears coursing down her face while she stares at me through the
window. The police lights continue flashing as the officer tugs on my arm, saying something, but
I continue to stare, for every time the lights come back on I can no longer see my mother’s face
from the dark interior, and in her place is my own reflection. The man is still pulling on my arm
insistently, and my reflection is alternating with my mother’s accusatory eyes, the eyes that look
so much like mine, and I remember all the nights I railed against her for doing just what I had
done, letting the anger just simmer until now as the flames are reaching up, out, burning white
hot, and the kettle inside me is screaming.
No, I am screaming.
I hated my sister. I hate our mother. But in that moment, as I scream and scream, I can
only hate myself.
Native Texan Katherine Larimer (she/they) is a third-year English major at The Ohio State University. She enjoys incorporating themes of feminism and anticapitalism into her writing and has been known to geek out over morally gray protagonists. They have yet to be published. When not writing, she can be found fencing, rock-climbing, or rewatching Star Wars.