The three of us were, at that point, used to sidestepping our mother and relying on our stepfather, Sam, to keep us in the loop. The last few weeks, his emails had become shorter and more alarming. Mom wasn’t taking her psych meds, she was drinking again, she was leaving the house when he wasn’t paying attention. She had threatened him with a steak knife. After that last one, I got panicky. Especially since Sam wouldn’t write me back, not even to ask for more money for a new specialist, or better help around the house.
I’d also been trying to reach my sister for days. No luck. Keira was the yin to my yang, though, always adventuring about. She was probably off camping somewhere, out of range. I was the mellow twin, the one who’d rather curl up with a good book and a glass of wine than almost anything else. Or, if you believed our brother, Tom, I was the sensible twin, the one he didn’t need to worry about.
I called Tom, finally, though I knew he was on a business trip to the West Coast and too far away to do much more than worry along with me. He didn’t pick up, so I left him a message. A long one, telling him about my plan to drive the 500 miles to check up on Mom.
I traveled through the night and arrived just after noon. My seaside hometown looked idyllic in the pale gold light that shimmered off the marina and spilled onto the shoulders of the lunch-seeking tourists. I opened the windows and traced the town’s curvy brick streets; the salt air was glorious, and I let myself relax, a rehearsal for the nap I planned to take as soon as I could.
Before our father got sick, he had lovingly renovated a stately Federal in a shady older neighborhood. From my car, the place looked a bit rundown, its white columns smudged and chipped. Two of its black shutters had peeled away from the brick facade and anguished towards the hydrangea bushes below. I parked in the back, adjacent to what Keira and I used to call our “twinsplace”; one would never know from the sidewalk that this secret expanse of yard was geographically possible. I wanted to linger there, but instead padded around to the front of the house. Here was something new: a brass knocker in the shape of a ram’s head had been nailed onto the wooden front door, which desperately needed a coat of paint. I wondered, not for the first time, what the hell Sam was doing with the funds my sister and brother and I sent him every month.
I had to wait at least three or four minutes before I sensed movement behind a first-floor window. Still, the door stayed closed. I’d brought the keys I kept for emergencies. As I extended my hand towards the lock, the door swung open. Sam stood in front of me, shaking and wild-eyed.
I killed you already, he said.
Behind him on the floor was Keira’s backpack, the fancy waterproof one I’d given her for our birthdays. It was unzipped. Nearby, a lipstick and a pair of rolled woolen socks were splayed across the foyer’s scarred pine boards. I slipped and fell to my knees in something sticky, my fingernails scrabbling for purchase. I heard a sickening thud. My last conscious thought was for Tom: Don’t come here.
We all watched the trial from the rafters of the Suffolk County courthouse in Boston. Our father, an attorney while he was alive, explained that the change of venue was more than warranted given the amount of local fuss over our murders. Tom didn’t think it had much mattered in the end. The city jury convicted Sam on all counts except those pertaining to Mom; her body was never found, which created some technical issues with her case. Occasionally, we’ve tried to figure out its location, but it’s no use. Mom can’t remember anything.
In the evenings, we gather around the fireplace out of habit. Eventually, Keira and I drift out to the backyard, not because we were both buried there before the police came and found us, but because somehow it still feels magical, its sweet earthen perfume as intoxicating to us now as when we were kids. The house has finally been sold at a discount to an intrepid buyer with a young family. It’s our hope that one day soon, we’ll share our garden with children. Maybe it’ll become their favorite place, too. Like our town, it’s especially lovely in the dying light of day.
Carolyn R. Russell is the author of “In the Fullness of Time,” a dystopian thriller published by Vine Leaves Press in 2020. Her humorous YA mystery, “Same As It Never Was,” was released in 2018 by Big Table. “The Films of Joel and Ethan Coen,” her volume of film criticism, was published by McFarland & Company in 2001. Her poetry, essays and short stories have been featured or are forthcoming in numerous publications, including The Boston Globe, 3rd Wednesday, Litro Magazine, Flash Fiction Magazine, Club Plum Literary Journal, The Ekphrastic Review, Orca: a Literary Journal, and Lowestoft Chronicle. Carolyn lives on and writes from Boston’s North Shore. More at WWW.CarolynRRussell.com