The Day After

The day after Marla finds out that her older sister is engaged, she has a dream that Cecilia is eaten by a falling star.

They are collecting stray peacock feathers in the orange grove like old times, except that the oranges are glowing on the trees like fireballs. There is no sun, so everything is cast in an eerie orange light from the glowing fruit.

‘Look at this one!’ Cecilia calls out to Marla, and then she reaches down and picks up the largest peacock feather Marla has ever seen. She starts walking toward Marla, but then she stops when she feels a tug and realizes that the end of the peacock feather is tied to a string.

Marla feels she knows something bad is going to happen, so she holds out her hand and tells Cecilia to stop, but Cecilia doesn’t hear her and she pulls on the string.

The world is ripped away and Cecilia and Marla are spinning and holding onto each other by the ends of the huge peacock feather. They are in space and the stars are streaking by in a way that makes Marla dizzy. She looks at her sister and tells her not to let go, but then an orange ball of light comes up and hits Cecilia on the cheek. She lets go of the feather and Marla watches as Cecilia tumbles into the crooked-toothed mouth of a giant orange-and-red mottled star.

The star’s eyes are green like poison and they are so bright that Marla can’t look at them.

‘Mine now,’ it says to her in a deep, raspy voice like an old smoker. Then it laughs as Marla pukes her guts into space.

 

She wakes up before the sun rises and joins her sister in bed.

‘Not now,’ Cecilia says to her, but then she rolls over so Marla can climb in. Marla watches her sister’s face as the room turns from black and white to blue in the morning light.

‘Do you really love him?’ she asks her sister.

‘Mmmm,’ says Cecilia. Her eyes are still closed.

‘It’s okay. You can tell me,’ says Marla. ‘I won’t tell anyone.’

Cecilia opens her eyes to slits and lets the corner of her mouth come up in a smile.

‘Yes, I really do,’ she says.

Marla lies back down in bed and puts her head on her sister’s shoulder. She plays with the ends of Cecilia’s curly hair, which she remembers she used to suck on when she was a baby.

Marla thinks about what it will be like at home with her sister gone. She wonders who will help her with her math homework and who will take her to the market on Saturdays to sell peacock feathers. Surely, it won’t be her parents, what with the work to be done around the grove.

 

When the sun rises and Marla can hear her mother making breakfast downstairs, she tickles Cecilia’s neck and whispers in her ear to wake up. Cecilia doesn’t move and Marla panics, thinking she is dead, but then Cecilia jumps up and shouts, ‘Tickle monster!’

She pins Marla down and tickles her until she screams from the pain of it. Then Cecilia rolls off the bed and throws open the curtains. She opens the window and the scent of ripe, ready-to-be-harvested oranges drifts into the room.

Cecilia turns to Marla, who is watching her sister from the bed, and asks her what they would like to do today. Marla gets up and goes to the window. It is sunny and the clouds look like bulbous white skyscrapers. She wonders how many more days like this she will get with her sister.

‘Let’s do something different,’ Marla says. ‘Something new.’

Then she takes Cecilia’s hand and leads her out of the room.