on the day she came back home

by Elizabeth Walztoni

      My big sister Lenny was sitting with her legs crossed and an elbow on each knee and her chin in both hands at once. She wasn’t talking to me. I stood there at the end of the bed and looking at her face felt too much like knowing her, too close, so I looked at her hands. She was always cruel to herself in the way she pulled her hangnails.

      I don’t have anything to say to you, she said, turning her head to the window. The sun was shining bright for the wintertime, right in her face, but she didn’t squinch her eyes.

      If I felt braver I would say, Still? but if I made her angry today I wouldn’t be able to bear it.

      That’s okay, I said.

      Get out of here.

      I swung around the doorframe and into the hallway and I didn’t know what to do. My grandmother was hosting a party downstairs, so I couldn’t go there, and Lenny and I shared the bedroom. If I were her and I got sent away to live somewhere nice on my own for a while, I wouldn’t be so upset. In the end I locked myself in the bathroom and sat on top of the radiator casing and looked out the window. It was kind of snowing and kind of raining. I wanted to have something to say to Lenny but I didn’t, not even something I felt I had to but didn’t have the words for, like it usually was.

      I examined my own hangnails. Pulling one: I heard you leaving. Pulling another: I told. A third: I’m not sorry. It hurt to do this and so I stopped and pulled at the raw place with my tongue behind my teeth, looking out the glass which was not foggy, just clouded by sediment from rainwater and wind. Downstairs my grandmother laughed loudly about something and outside a cat ran across the street. Everybody seemed to be drinking wine.

      While Lenny was gone I liked the quiet and I liked how nobody was ever mean to me. I wanted to be sorry for this but I couldn’t, I didn’t have it in me, and I was not sure what to do then. It seemed I could only make things better if I regretted them and I couldn’t regret.

      Lenny banged on the bathroom door then and told me to get out of there. I slid off the radiator and clenched my fists and let them go. She looked at me sideways when I pushed past her without speaking. I knew my grandmother would want me to circle the crowd downstairs and smile and be nice. For a minute I stood outside the door instead, to see if Lenny would say something, but she didn’t. I didn’t hear anything.

      No! my grandmother shrieked downstairs, You’re joking, and I heard her hand hit the table.

      Lenny opened the door. Come in here, she said.

      She grabbed one of my hands, circling around my fingers, and used her other to open the cabinet behind the bathroom mirror. I had forgotten how clammy her hands were. Everything knocked around on the shallow glass shelves as she dug. I never looked in there while she was gone.

      If you put this on your hangnails they won’t bother you, she said, letting go of my hand to open a bottle of clear nail polish.

      I still didn’t say anything. Our grandmother was standing in the doorway, I hadn’t noticed, and said quietly, It’s so nice to see you two together.

      Lenny whipped her head around and slammed the bathroom mirror shut so hard that it cracked up the middle. Our grandmother was screaming then and Lenny was too but I looked at my doubled face in the two halves and I thought that you can’t break a mirror, you only just make more of them, and more and more and more. My finger still hurt and I put it to my teeth again.



Elizabeth Walztoni is an organic vegetable farmer living in Michigan. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Red Fez, Voices, Hell is Real: A Midwest Gothic Anthology, and elsewhere. She received a Nature in Words Fellowship from Pierce Cedar Creek Institute in 2020 to complete her first short story collection. Her writing has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize.