Now That You Mention It

By: Kristan Higgins

She loved me, sure. As for my sister...well, Lily was magical.

My sister was twelve months and one day younger than I was, and different in every way. My hair was brown and coarse, not quite curly, not quite straight; Lily’s was black and fine. My eyes were a murky mix of brown and green; Lily’s were a clear, pure blue. I was solid and tall, like our mother; Lily was a fairy child, knobby elbows and bluish-white skin. Lily often got carried, snuggled up on Mom’s sturdy hip. When I asked if I could be carried, too, Mom told me I was her big girl.

I loved my sister. She was my baby, too, despite the scant year between us. I loved her chick-like hair, her eyes, her skinny little body snuggled against mine when she crept into my bed after a bad dream. I loved being older, bigger, stronger.

Those early years...they were so sweet. When I thought of them now, my heart pulled at the simplicity of it. Back when Lily loved me. Back when my parents loved each other. Back before Mom’s heart was encased in concrete.

Back when Dad was here.

My father had a mysterious job, something Lily and I called “businessing.” Dad wasn’t an islander; he’d been born in the magical city of New York but grew up in Maine. He had an office and a secretary in town. I later learned he sold insurance.

But when I was about six, just starting all-day school, he started working from home. He took over our little den and tapped away on a computer, the first one we ever had. He was writing a book, he said, and he’d be around for us a lot more. Lily and I were thrilled. Both parents home? It’d be like the weekend all the time.

Except it wasn’t. There were a lot of terse conversations between our parents; we couldn’t hear the words from the bedroom Lily and I shared, but we could feel the mood, the energy between our parents brittle and tight, humming with unspoken words.

Mom took a job as manager at the Excelsior Pines, the big hotel at one end of Scupper. She’d always kept books for half a dozen local businesses, her calculator tapping into the night, but now she left the house before we got on the bus and didn’t get back till suppertime.

Life changed on a dime. Before this, we’d only see Dad for an hour or two each day. Now he seemed completely dedicated to making fun for his girls. After school, he’d be waiting for the school bus, would toss us in the back of the truck, and we’d go adventuring. No wash your hands, start your homework, here’s your apple. No, sir.

Instead, we’d hike up Eagle Mountain, pretending to be on the run from the law. We explored the tidal caves on the wild side of the island, wondering if we could live there, surviving on mussels like the Passamaquoddy Indians Lily and I wished we were.

In late spring, Daddy would hold our hands at the top of the ominously named Deerkill Rock, a granite precipice that jutted out over the ocean. “You ready, my brave little warriors?” he’d ask, and we’d race to the edge and jump out as far as we could, gravity separating us almost immediately, a drop so far I thought I might fly, the air rushing past my face, through my tangled hair, the thrilling, icy embrace of the ocean. We’d pop up like corks, Lily and I, coughing, shrieking, our legs already numb as we swam back to shore, our father laughing and proud, swimming beside us.

He’d take us to the top of Eastman Hill Road, that patched-up testament to frost heaves and potholes, and unload our bikes from the back of the truck. Down we’d go, the streamers from my handlebars whipping, the wind whisking tears from my eyes, my arms shuddering with the effort of staying in control. No bike helmets for us, not back then. Lily was too small and skinny to manage it, so Dad would perch her on his handlebars, the two of them soaring in front of me, the sound of their laughter lashing back, wrapping around me.

Dad would cook us the best meals, too. Travelers’ food, he called it—stew cooked over the campfire, the way his Hungarian grandmother had taught him. He’d tell us stories of magical people who could hypnotize you into flying, people who could turn invisible, who could talk to animals and ride wild horses. There in the firelight, the ocean lapping at the granite rocks of the island shore, a saw-whet owl calling its lonely cry, it seemed more than just possible. It seemed true.

Then Mom would call us in and get that pinched-mouth look, shaking her head over our filthy feet, and send us to take our baths.

In the summer, we’d make forts and sleep outside, then come in covered in bug bites; grimy, happy and itchy. During the day, when Mom went to her job or did the grocery shopping on her afternoon off, Dad would let Lily and me out into the wild while he worked on his book. We’d wander, spying on the rich folks’ houses, scouring the rocky shore for treasures, unsupervised and happy, returning home with Lily sunburned and me brown.

And meanwhile, my mother grew angry. Not that she showed it through anything other than terse orders about homework and chores. But the allure of all that freedom, especially with Dad’s beaming approval and frequent participation...we learned not to care what our mother thought.

Sometimes, I tried to make my mother feel better—I’d bring her lupines picked from the side of the road or find a piece of sea glass for her bowl, but the truth was, I loved having Daddy in charge. As our mother became more and more brittle, our love for Daddy mushroomed. While once I’d had friends—Cara Macklemore and Billy Ides—they didn’t come over anymore, and I turned down invitations to go to their houses to play. Home was more fun. We didn’t need friends, Lily and I. We had each other and Daddy. And Mom. Sure. Her, too.