By Pamela Gullard
Featured Art by Mallory Stowe
The day after Marta Holmen’s older sister Iggy called to say she was coming for a visit, Marta cleaned her small house overlooking the historic Santa Barbara library. She washed the kitchen and bath towels in case one of them was stale or dusty, cleaned up stacks of work files on the dining room table, scrubbed the kitchen floor twice, and bought a new lamp from Dorman’s for the guest bedroom. Marta hadn’t seen her sister in seven years. Iggy, a certified, well-tested genius, was hard to reach or predict. Maybe you said the wrong thing; you’d never know. Iggy would frown and leave the room. Marta was now thirty-four, already a respected attorney who could guide her clients through an intricate divorce. Her sister brought her back to being a kid caught up short and tongue-tied.
Marta brought her guitar out of her bedroom and propped it in the corner of the kitchen so Iggy would see it. See she was learning something new.
Agnes Ignacia (Iggy) Holmen had graduated from the Seattle Academy for Gifted Youth at sixteen and, as the sisters’ sardonic mother said, bolted to the other side of the world. Iggy got the academy counselor to arrange an individual study abroad program in Sweden, learned to speak Swedish fluently by watching her host family’s subtitled American TV programs, talked her way into a mechanical engineering program at the tuition-free University of Stockholm, then worked on improving safety on oil rigs in the North Sea. After her civil service in Sweden, Iggy wandered the world for six months, then texted Marta that she and a Tanzanian architect were raising funds for a new college in Tanzania. The college, designed by the architect and built with Iggy’s crews, trained local men and women to develop roads, sewer systems, and other infrastructure badly needed in poverty-stricken Tanzania. Marta read this online in the literature for Iggy’s NGO, called the Tamaini Tent. She’d looked it up since Iggy’s texts were rarely personal, mostly pictures of outlandishly colored flowers and screeds about the political situation in the new capital, Dodoma.
Some of the experts their mother had consulted when Iggy was young said that she was on a spectrum. One explained that extreme intelligence and being at the edge of the bell-shaped curve were often indistinguishable. Marta thought
Pamela Gullard of her sister as a moth in an overturned glass bell—like an empty cake cover—flying here and there, full of moth plans, almost oblivious to anyone looking in. Sometimes Marta tapped on the glass just to see if Iggy would look up.
Marta still had a week before Iggy would arrive. It was a Saturday in June, unusually hot. Marta sat on her front step in baggy shorts. She generally liked living alone with only the occasional grad student from UC or a visiting musician to share her pillow, but this Saturday the house felt too clean, empty. Almost soul-less. She looked through her three Monterey pines to downtown. She could just see the historic courthouse, a few streets. No songbirds. Sometimes this silence gathered in the late afternoon, and Marta wondered if it was because owls came out to hunt. Did they eat songbirds? Divorce lawyers?
She drank two tablespoons of lemon juice over ice with no sugar, Iggy’s sour creation of many years ago. Marta was restless—fearful? What was she afraid of? “The past,” she thought, clear as day. Afraid of something that was done and gone? Not her style. The low sun spread a sheen over the town, picking out a few windows as distant mirrors.
As a family practice attorney, Marta knew that every life had hidden nodes of anguish and that her own set of difficulties—a strange sister, a blind father, the dishonest man who read to him, a mother towering with bitterness—were different only in the details. Those details—like wispy ghosts—had begun to braid her thoughts.
She’d considered writing down a few of the incidents. In her job, she was good at gently squeezing out the anguish of divided families, setting their pain aside, and writing down precise descriptions of assets and terms of agreement. It was gratifying to help people organize their chaos. What is; what is not. What will be; what will not be.
The bulk of the sun hid behind the low trunk of the farthest pine. There was an eerie, forgetful gap in her past that she felt as a kind of longing. Or maybe she’d just missed her sister all these years. She had missed her. The childish ache of trying to talk to her sister came back. She went inside, sat at the desk in her bedroom, and wrote.
Before Marta turned eleven, her mother Ella, who thought it was a form of respect to apply her acid humor to children as well as adults, said with a little laugh, “Ah, a tween. Such an ugly word.” She ran a palm up over stray hairs at her temple. “May as well say ‘over the hill.’”
“Guess there’s no hope for you,” Marta said to her sister.
Iggy looked up from her book, waited five beats, then said, “Touché,” the delay making it seem like the start of something, not the end. Marta didn’t know what to say.
She and her sister had three hours before the afternoon’s reading session. They were required to spend a half hour listening to Franklin, a former graduate student, read to their father. Thursdays were late so that Franklin had time to get through the traffic after teaching his class Beyond Assimilation at UW.
Marta raced out the door. A breeze from Canada had brought heavy clouds that were a tight lid over the Seattle sky. She shivered but didn’t want to go back for a jacket. She planned to go downtown and steal something. What? She wasn’t sure. Tomorrow, she would get presents and maple bars from the shop near her mother’s dental office. She didn’t crave anything. Her thoughts careened. It had to be big. A diamond from Nordstrom’s. She could slip it off the counter when the clerk wasn’t looking. Or a ruby. Which was more important—a ruby or a diamond? She didn’t know why or ask why. Iggy was the original thinker, according to their father, not Marta, the one who examined other people’s ideas.
She was past the neighbor’s big fir tree when Franklin’s Subaru showed up. He parked at the curb in front of the fire hydrant, as he did every dawn and afternoon. Franklin, the reader, the man whose deep, unwavering voice saved her father from giving up after his accident, the man her mother called “the lifeline of the family,” without any sharpness. He was tall and wore a thick peacoat. He didn’t see Marta. Franklin. A heaviness came over her, the dream heaviness that makes it impossible to run.
The bus arrived, its brakes wheezing, and Marta swung in. She used her mother’s pass even though her own school card would have worked just as well. She liked taking things from her mother’s purse, then slipping them back in. As the trees sped by, she thought of Franklin’s hand on the small of her back, and a sense of being crowded came over her. Why were all these people riding the bus in the middle of the day, talking, laughing . . . breathing. She put her backpack on the empty seat beside her. Generally, she didn’t think of Franklin outside the reading room. The well-kept, big-leafed trees near the zoo were perfect, like cartoon trees, but even they looked crowded, uncomfortable.
The new Nordstrom with its wide, clean escalators and shiny floors seemed foreign. The old one had smelled comfortingly of shoe polish and the wintriness of wet wool, even on a sunny day. One carousel held fake silver and diamond earrings. Three teenagers were picking up the jewels on their cardboard backings and holding them up to their ears. The clerk glanced up from a customer and smiled at the girls, practically telling them to steal something. Why didn’t the clerk call security? Because there was nothing valuable here. A sense of “who cares?” came over Marta, which she hated. It was a mood that came more and more often, telling her she was getting older. She was sliding into the land of who cares. Who cares if you steal glass? Adulthood loomed—her life going from diamonds to glass. Her heart started to pound. She thought of her mother, fourteen years younger than her father, sighing in front of the bathroom mirror before heading to the office. Her mother would reach back to hook the gold chain necklace looped through her wedding ring. She’d absently rub lotion on her clean hands. Who cares if your mother hates fixing teeth all day? Who cares if your mother pictured a completely different life, playing mahjong in the afternoon, her famous husband on her arm at night, the two of them dancing at faculty parties? Marta felt dizzy. The store elevator creaked upward behind her. The sickness would pass if that stupid clerk would quit smiling.
Marta tried to stand tall, to think of air between the segments of her spinal cord, like Iggy told her to do. Into her mind came a picture of their father slouching in his soft leather chair, becoming one with the chair while Franklin read to him. Franklin again. The pink carpet in the store made the air pink, unbreathable. Her father was David Holmen, the renowned sociologist. Each year since the bike accident that blinded him, he’d shrunk, his old sweaters folding around him. Every year, citations to his work dropped, requests to be on panels slowed to a trickle.
Entropy man, Marta thought and anger rose, somebody’s anger. A pink mist of anger that cleared her mind a little. The clerk turned and fiddled with things in a drawer. Franklin once read twenty pages of a monograph on entropy before Dr. D. waved his hand impatiently. “Enough. Move on. Move on.”
Marta walked up to the clerk, who turned finally. The clerk was too old for the purple lipstick that matched her nails. Marta said calmly, “That redhead has two pairs of earrings in her purse.”
Iggy was reading, sitting cross-legged on her bed, which was at right angles to Marta’s bed. “Wha’s up?” Iggy said, her way of being funny though she didn’t look happy. Bright spots made her cheeks feverish. She turned a page with a shaking hand. Iggy had passing nerves that no one understood.
Marta said, “I went to Nordstrom’s to steal something.”
Iggy looked up. Even her eyebrows and lashes were blond, making her dark eyes seem to flash under the mildest circumstances. “To see if you could?” A spark of interest, rare these days.
“Something like that.”
Iggy shrugged. Had she been crying? Since skipping fourth and fifth grade, Iggy had been preoccupied. Their mother said the bullying would stop as soon as the kids got used to her. Iggy said, “They have people in plainclothes that look like anyone.”
“I know.” Marta didn’t know. The clerk knew. The whole world knew. “You’ve never stolen anything.”
“Haven’t I?” Iggy went back to her book. End of subject. No one would ever know what was bothering her.
Marta climbed out the small window by the extra bookcase, bracing herself in the niche between the two gables away from the wind, her place. The cherry tree rose two stories to the gutters. She knew that Mount Rainier was hidden behind pillars of iron clouds toward the southwest. Minutes passed. She imagined rolling into a ball and flying off to the mountain that no one could see.
And then it was time for the reading. Marta turned on the steep, uneven shingles to grasp the sash. Where was Iggy? Poof. Gone. A genie back in the bottle.
Not in the reading room either. Franklin was at his usual corner in front of the sloping backside of the staircase, marking his place with two long fingers. Marta wasn’t afraid of him; she didn’t know why, but as she nodded to him, there was something, a solidifying in her heart. He wore a plaid shirt and a loosened cloth tie. He told Marta once that his wife, Tina, picked out all his ties. Marta knew that Tina existed but it was hard to remember. Tina sometimes got bit parts in the Green Lake Community Theatre. She wore dresses that were too long and liked to quote old movie stars. Marta’s mother called her “Madame” behind her back.
In the reading room, Franklin nodded back to Marta. He had a long face, a sharp jaw. The afternoon’s stack of magazines and reading materials was in the alcove behind his left shoulder, the C-shaped stand that he used as a mini-desk angled over his lap. His long legs in cheap wool stretched into the little room. Marta went around them and gave her father a kiss. “Where’s Iggy?” she asked.
“Basketball.” Crevasses edged her father’s cheeks and curved past the corners of his mouth. “Extra practice.” He smiled in her direction. “So you’re the entire daughter contingent today.” His smile weakened. For years, he’d commanded his daughters to listen to Franklin read The Times, the Proceedings of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the newly discovered letters of Abigail Adams. He said it was good for them to hear the world’s business in intelligent form. Even if they didn’t understand it completely, they would absorb good analysis and eloquence. Marta thought it filled her up with other people’s words, a grab bag of opinions that made her unsure of what she thought about anything. Except she knew that her father was lonely. Without an order, his daughters would leave him high and dry, and he’d be alone with hardly any friends and a disappointed wife who was halfway out the door. This was his fear. Marta thought that she was the only one who could see it.
Franklin patted the place beside him for her on the bench. Even before she sat down, he picked up reading where he’d left off. His deep, heavy voice brought a steady cadence to the 1997 report from Harvard’s Special Y2K Committee.
Marta sat on the bench. The pink air from Nordstrom was in her lungs. She had to breathe shallowly to stay alive. Outside of the reading room, Franklin barely existed. The man with the old leather briefcase rushing up the front stairs twice a day and the Franklin inside the reading room were completely different. As he read, he was an immovable presence, like a pillar in the center of the room. Marta wasn’t sure when he had taken possession of her. Maybe she’d always belonged to him. There had always been his touch in the reading room whenever Iggy had something else to do. Franklin’s voice, never stumbling, nothing else happening, only the news of the world, his free hand on the small stand in front of him, expertly turning the pages. His other hand on her jeans thigh gently sliding to her belly. Not a thing happening. His voice continuing, continuing. Marta was a ghost sitting next to Franklin, her father across the room, sunk in his own thoughts, innocent. Marta existed / did not exist. Franklin’s voice existed. His hand. His fingers silently, expertly working the button of her jeans.
Franklin slid his fingers under her panties and gave the slightest sigh, like a pause to emphasize a point. He glanced quickly at Dr. D., whose head was bent, his hooded eyes almost closed. Oh.
Oh. Marta saw the glance as if she had looked down from the low ceiling. There was a girl. A girl still as death. Franklin. Her father listening, not seeing. And then she knew without words, for the first time in her life. Franklin needed her father as much as her father needed him. Franklin, who was now a rising star in the sociology department, the protected protégé of Dr. D., needed Dr. D. in some terrible way that had nothing to do with the department. Everything that happened in the reading room—the awful sense of blooming under Franklin’s palm, the dooming charge of her body leaning toward him, hating something, hating, wishing—all that was Franklin’s show for Dr. D. A sly, hidden display. Franklin getting away with it. She was beside the point, one of her father’s favorite phrases. Beside the point. Without weight. Without mass. No force to hold things together.
Franklin’s voice. His hand moving lower. It was the looming Y2K. If you didn’t think about it, it didn’t, wouldn’t be about to happen. Happening. Now, deep inside the world somewhere. Planes would fall out of the sky. No, they wouldn’t. That was just in the imagination of people who didn’t really know. Who knew?
Marta, older now, stopped writing. Her legs brought her to the porch. She slid down to the floorboards, her back against the siding. She’d never forgotten. She had forgotten. She wasn’t there. She was.
The day arrived with a light breeze and bits of high, white clouds scudding past the sun. Iggy, who had gone through Customs in San Francisco, had insisted on taking a Lyft from the Santa Barbara airport, no reason, vintage Iggy.
She stepped out of the Honda in a blue dress. A dress! She picked up one suitcase that looked new—not her usual shabby, strapped trunk—and walked smiling up the small grassy hill.
“You’re tan!” Marta exclaimed. Completely wrong. Instantly, the chattering little sister, but Iggy didn’t take advantage. She kept smiling!
“Ya, once the color of a jellyfish, now a tanned jellyfish.” She looked at her forearm as she took the last steps to the edge of the porch, then threw both arms around Marta in a tight hug.
Marta squeezed her eyes shut. Ah, Iggy, at last. The one thing Marta had always known was that she was Iggy’s sister, crazy Iggy, a North Star shining down on all the trivial mysteries of ordinary people.
Iggy didn’t let go. Generally, she would wait through your clasp, then awkwardly pat your back. The relief flooding Marta suddenly turned like a tide that’s hit a dike. What was wrong? Was Iggy sick? Oh. The sudden visit.
Marta hung on. She didn’t want to know. She did. In their brief phone conversations, she was always the last one to say goodbye. She stood back. “Everything okay?” she asked. The sisters stood looking at each other, suddenly shy.
“Fine. Good. The guy in Customs just wanted to know why I didn’t have any more luggage. I guess he didn’t have enough to paw through.” Iggy glanced out to the pines. “This is beautiful. I should have come sooner.”
“The last time we saw each other . . .” Marta could hardly remember how to bring words out of her mind.
“That awful day.”
Their father had died suddenly of pneumonia soon after Marta got into the Santa Barbara law school. A high school friend arranged for one of the rooms at the Burke Museum on campus for the memorial, but it was after the semester and hardly any of his colleagues or former students showed up. The Seattle day was sodden; inside, there was a sound of dripping. Marta and Iggy huddled together in front of intricate paintings on the walls. Afterward, their mother said she needed a martini. Iggy had a flight the next day to Mombasa.
But here was Iggy, in Santa Barbara, more substantial than ever—taller?
They sat at the kitchen table drinking local beer recommended by Marta’s brew-snob friends for anyone who loved hoppy beer, which Iggy did. She held out the bottle, read the label, and said it was just spicy enough. Marta’s spirits soared. Her sister talked about her apartment in Dar es Salaam, the art shows and fashion shoots just a few blocks away, gang graffiti in the other direction, Iggy’s attempts to collar politicians and get them to support the college, the dancing and singing at the inauguration of a road in a northern province built by one of her crews.
Marta listened with the feeling of watching people and things flying past. Franklin turning a page. No. She’d think about him later. When she and Iggy were young, they never talked about Franklin. It wasn’t a decision to talk about him or not—it just didn’t happen—but now Marta felt their silence as an astonishing vacuum. Her mother had said once that Franklin gave up teaching. Did he leave for some farm in Finland? Siberia? Marta got up for another beer, leaned on the sink, her mind racing. Tomorrow would be soon enough to talk—after all this time, she shouldn’t spring it on her sister too fast. Iggy was so different! It was wonderful to see her. She looked happy!
Iggy turned in her chair. “Are you listening?” she asked gently.
“Wait. That’s my line.” So strange to have Iggy in front of her, the past hovering.
The sisters smiled quickly at each other. There was a long pause.
“What’s that?” Iggy pointed at the guitar.
“My Fender. They make them for beginners.”
“What do you know?”
“That it takes a lifetime.”
“Oldies. ‘Taj Mahal.’ Like that.”
Iggy nodded. “Play something.”
“Not yet.” A pause. “I like having it in the house. Even the case.”
Iggy thought about that. “Ya. Potential.”
Their quick language with each other. “That one has held onto most of its potential so far.”
Iggy laughed, shrugged. “You may be good.”
Marta came back to the table with two bottles and popped off the caps. “I was just thinking about the time we took that stuff from Madame.”
“And got caught,” Iggy said, catching foam with her tongue. “What idiots.” She laughed again.
“It was the day after my birthday. You were humoring me. I wanted to commit some kind of crime for some reason, and you said okay.”
“I wasn’t humoring you!” She touched her face and took a calmer sip from the bottle. “You said we had to take something from Madame. Who else had anything exciting?” Her smile faded with a thought.
“I said that?” Marta felt a near-memory flash by, the flash of a shooting star, then the darkness of wondering if it was real. “Why would I want something from Madame?”
“You said . . . You wanted to create balance in your life. Some yin for the yang, you said. You know you were a weirder kid than I was.” They sat in silence for a minute.
Iggy wore a metal necklace made of hooked rectangles. It shifted on her collarbone as she took a breath. “You broke the window in the laundry room door.”
Another flash. “Is that how we got in?” Marta’s mind was a vacuum pulling on something.
Iggy rolled her eyes. “Ya. You were possessed.”
She was back from whatever had distracted her, happy again to be in Marta’s kitchen. Marta pushed open the old casement window a crack for the late-day breeze. Everything else could wait.
They told the story to each other. Creeping through the house looking for something to take. Madame’s de-barked cockapoodle leaping up the steps with them. The bedroom with the massive bed and rows of perfectly placed pillows. Then there was Madame’s little, blue study at the back—powder-blue carpet, blue walls, and a navy-blue desk next to her white vanity, the mirror surrounded by a row of lights, a little sink in the corner. A mirrored closet ran along the length of the room. They slid it open and there were Madame’s silk tunics, wide pants, and then spangly dresses with a row of spiked heels on the floor. The girls had never seen Tina in the sequined dresses. Almost a physical hunger came over Marta. She reached for the red one.
“Wait,” Iggy said. “Take a picture with your mind so we can put everything back.”
“You take it. I’m busy.” Marta pulled the dress on over her head as the silent dog leaped frantically beside her. Cool cloth encased her and puddled slightly at her feet. She lifted the skirt, lengthened her spine. She looked in the mirror, expecting her little flat face, but there were angles under her cheeks and big eyes. When had that happened? The sparkles of the dress shifted as she turned.
She was somebody else, not herself, a red rocket. She could blow something up.
She turned in the other direction. She could tell people what to do. Cut off their heads. Gouge out their eyes. She bent and threw a shoe at the dog, who went clattering down the stairs. The right strap fell off and she pulled it back.
“Wow,” Iggy said. “Transformation.”
In the kitchen, at that moment of the telling, Marta’s mind shot off in another direction. She saw Iggy’s pale child’s face one evening after Marta had gone ice-skating with a friend. Iggy had been left to do the afternoon reading session by herself. Another time, Marta had a swim meet in Tacoma, and the bus left early on a Thursday. Marta came home to find her sister obsessively stuffing most of her clothes in bags for Goodwill, saying that people in the first world had too many possessions.
Iggy. Of course, Iggy, too. The kitchen in Santa Barbara stood still. There was a far-off tinkling of the neighbor’s wind chimes. Iggy first in everything. How could Marta have thought she was the only one? Where had she been? Where had she been?
Slanted afternoon sun barely touched the Formica of the table. It would soon be gone. Iggy went on with the story, caught up in the memory. “My dress was blue. Satin, I think. Probably polyester!” She shook her head with a smile and talked about how they’d gone marauding over Madame’s little crystal bottles, vials, and packets on the vanity, doing each other’s makeup in ways that they’d read about in old copies of Elle and InStyle in their mother’s waiting room. “The modern woman likes a bold brow,” Iggy had said as she dipped a wand into a domed bottle called Thrive Instant Fix and turned Marta’s face toward hers.
“Then Madame showed up!” Iggy continued, laughing. She told the story well. “‘How could you!’ Madame said, shouting. ‘You little thugs. What have I ever done to you?’ and you . . . cool as a cucumber . . . You nodded toward her closet and said, ‘That is a crime against humanity!’”
“Franklin’s wife,” Marta said heavily.
Iggy stopped. She looked at her sister. “Yes.”
“We were in Franklin’s house.”
“What’s this?” Iggy’s face took on the stiff neutral she did so well.
Marta said, “Franklin.”
“I see.” Iggy nodded, the neutral deepening. Her eyes left Marta’s face. A long moment passed.
With a start, Marta realized how dark her kitchen was. She couldn’t think in the bleary room. The house was facing the wrong way. Her mind held a small scream telling her she should have listened to the designer who’d thought she should tear out walls, take down the pines. She said, “I’ve been thinking about Franklin.”
Promptly and quietly, “I don’t want to hear it.”
Soon, they would be sitting in the shadow of the pines and the useless, shabby cedar by the driveway. Why didn’t Marta take care of things? She said, “You have to hear it.”
“Actually not.” Iggy sat up straighter.
“Everyone says you should—”
“What do they know?”
“How can you be like that! No one’s like that!”
“I’m like that.”
The scream rose. Marta should have re-roofed, painted, sanded the floors! She got up and said calmly, “I wasn’t going to do this on day one. I knew this would happen. What’s the matter with me?”
“Yes, what’s the matter with you?” Iggy said softly. She didn’t move. Maybe she didn’t know where to turn any more than Marta did.
Okay. Just breathe. Marta rinsed the bottles. “We should go to bed. We’ll try again tomorrow.”
“No, we won’t.”
Marta turned. “I can’t stand that.”
Iggy shrugged, her lips gray.
“I could talk whether you like it or not. I could just tell you whatever I want.”
A softening. “I know that.”
“So . . .”
“Then tell me why.” Silence. More silence. “I don’t see why.” She was pleading.
Iggy lifted the bag at her feet absently, replaced it on the floor. “Because I win as long as I decide.” She looked around the room, unseeing. “And I’ve decided. I’ve thought about this. No one else sets the terms. No one. Not somebody with a theory.” She touched the necklace. “Not you.” A long pause.
Marta felt the pause as a weight pulling her down. She couldn’t look at her sister or out the window. She didn’t know where to look. She’d missed a heel mark on the baseboard by the door. She would spend the rest of her life waiting for her sister, caught in the breathless, unbearable waiting of her childhood.
The silence deepened. Marta sat down at the little table again. She knew that the evening was painting the town below the hill in silver. The change in light would go on without her to see it, of course.
Finally, her sister gently patted the table in Marta’s direction. “Franklin’s voice,” Iggy said. “Poof.” She flicked her fingers.
Marta looked up.
“He doesn’t get a say.”
Marta pressed her knuckle across her mouth. She squeezed her eyes shut. Iggy had said his name. There was that. She moved the cocktail napkin from the brewery. Was it enough? Who knew, but here was her sister, older, smelling faintly of lavender, smoother, as if someone had patted her all over with a fine powder.
The evening breeze crept under the sill. Marta had made blueberry sweet bread for breakfast, her sister’s favorite. She thought of the slight waft of pleasure she’d feel as she unwrapped it. Her mind slowed.
She pictured the bread sitting behind the milk in the refrigerator, a tiny, hidden gift. She lost track of the long, long pause.
Finally, Iggy said, “Can I tell you something?”
“Is that fair?” Marta smiled.
“No.” She placed one long hand over her other one on the table. “I’m in love.”
“Just like that!”
“I know.” Iggy lifted a brow. “I don’t seem like the kind.”
“I mean . . .”
“I’d told myself I wasn’t going to spring it on you the first day. Like . . .”
“Who is it?”
“He flew in with me. He’s staying downtown tonight. I told him I wanted you to myself for a while.”
“He’s . . . Who?” Was this supposed to happen?
“Belgian.” Iggy rubbed one hand over the other. “But we forgive him that.”
Marta was speechless. Iggy had crossed the desert before her.
In the silence, Iggy said, “He teaches math. He’s impossible. Like me.”
“An impossible Belgian.” Her sister was not alone. She was a new element on the earth.
“He’s coming tomorrow. At two.” A little smile. “I was going to tell you at breakfast.”
“Here?” She couldn’t quite awaken.
Iggy nodded. “To meet you.” She pulled her phone out of her bag. She had his picture on the first page. There was a man in a T-shirt and rumpled shorts looking straight at the camera with a little smile. A sense of possibility ran through Marta. He would be in her kitchen. This impossible man. Possible. Arrived.
Iggy also looked at the picture. She said, “You won’t like him.”
“Who’s to say?”
Iggy went on. “But you’ll love him.” She absently folded the little napkin. “Because you love me.”
“I do love you.”
Gently, “Isn’t that what I just said?”
Pamela Gullard’s stories have appeared in Arts & Letters, TriQuarterly, the Free State Review, Sou’wester, the Louisville Review, and elsewhere. Her collection, Breathe at Every Other Stroke, includes a story that won a PEN Syndicated Fiction Project Award. She is an adjunct professor of literature and humanities at Menlo College.