We drift in and out of the room like it’s ours, like it doesn’t belong to Haley. We caress the O-Town poster and dream that the guys would come to life so we could entertain them in our room. The one with bead bracelets on door knobs and a water bottle used to store a rainbow of scrunchies that no one ever wore. The door is always propped open by an oversize jack star. Haley can sleep with the door open, the lights on and fourth of July fireworks exploding in our backyard.
After bad nights—nights where Dad screams at Mom and Mom screams at us—we curl up in Haley’s queen size bed like puppies whimpering for love, affection and confirmation that everything will be okay. Lifting the salmon bedspread, we back our butts into her and she snuggles in until our loneliness evaporates like a bad joke. It only lingers if you think about it. In the morning we wake up in a pile of doll limbs.
Our little coven of three practices in the morning. We talk about what we want and what we’re afraid of, and Haley gives the best older sister advice as she brushes and braids our hair in intricate designs. She’s got the quick fingers and imagination for that. Somehow there’s never time for her hair or what she’s afraid of. But having overcome our fears, we imagine there isn’t much left for Haley to defeat.
One night Haley comes home with skinned knees, bloody heels seeping into the back of her new white Keds and pupils wide like lollipops. She showers, bandages her cuts and closes her bedroom door.
The next morning, in our chase down the hallway to begin the day, we ram into her bedroom door and pile onto the floor, pressing our fingers into the conspicuous red patches where bruises will form. Haley gasps like we shocked her back to life, like on those hospital shows we pretend we don’t watch. Rising, we whine about the aches and pains. We’ve suffered. We twist the knob. Our hands sliding in circles, slipping off like it’s slick with olive oil. We didn’t even know her lock worked. We slap our hands against the hollow door, certain that if we keep trying, we can break in. When our adult voices fail us, we use our baby voices and plead for her to let us in. But all we hear is a silence that crawls into our bones and never leaves.
Chelsea Stickle is the author of the debut chapbook Breaking Points (Black Lawrence Press, 2021). Her fiction appears in CRAFT, Gone Lawn, Tiny Molecules, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Best Microfiction 2021 and others. She has been nominated for Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. She lives in Annapolis, MD with her black rabbit George and a forest of houseplants. Read more at chelseastickle.com and find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle.