She sat down across the table from me. It was a nice day and Dunkin Donuts had a bunch of empty tables outside. Her face was stony, like she was about to be interrogated by a cop after getting caught speeding. Ashley took her privilege seriously and I was not among those allowed to to violate it.
“Ashley,” I said.
“Lou,” she grunted.
“So how have you been?” I asked. “Haven’t hear from you in ages.”
She sneered. “You’re just saying that because I blocked you on Facebook.”
“Yeah, you did, ” I said. “Right sisterly of you. Remember that the next time you and Dina are telling your friends how important family is to you.” She looked uncomfortable. She deserved to.
“What do you want, Lou?”
“Must I necessarily have an ulterior motive? Maybe I was in the area and thought it would be nice to talk to my own sister.” She snorted. “That’s right, Ash. I forgot. That’s your M.O. Yours and Dina’s. Only time I ever heard from either one of you, there was something you wanted.” She looked uncomfortable again. “Funny how Mom and Dad thought we were all so tight. Or should have been.”
“Fuck you,” she said. She sipped her coffee. I continued. “Well, I do have an ulterior motive this time. I want my pictures.”
“My pictures from Mom and Dad’s. The ones of me. They were in the hall. That’s what I want. My memories.”
I don’t care much for pictures of myself, but they were ones I liked: my baby picture, graduations, a publicity still from my work, Dudley the cat in my arms. I was out of touch with my mother when she passed, partly due to Ashley. The Facebook block took place a long time ago.
She shrugged. “I don’t know where they are.” She didn’t look me in the eye. That was a lie. When you’ve known someone her entire life, you know her body language. Ashley never looked anyone in the eye when she was lying. If she was trying hard to sell it, she’d touch the person she was talking to. It always amazed me how quickly her demeanor would change from talking to our parents or people she liked to talking to those she didn’t. The smile, the flirtatious air would melt away and be replaced by a scowl and curt tone. I let the lie go for the moment.
“Well, that’s unfortunate.,” I said. “I really wanted those pictures. I like so few.”
“Try not eating so much. That might help.” She smirked.
I resisted the urge to punch her in the face. There it was. The old game. Bored fiyr year old goes out of her way to provoke the ten year old until the ten year old reacts. Then four year runs to Mom complaining that the ten year was being mean. Then five years old, six, seven, until I left home for college.
I smiled a tight smile.
“You can’t run to Mom anymore, Ash Hole,” I said. “So you can stop.”
She glared at me. I wasn’t playing her game. “Okay, so if there’s nothing else,” she started to rise.
“Oh, there’s plenty,” I said. “Sit your ass down.” She did.
“I’m not the asshole,” she said. “You were never nice to me. You’re lucky I’m so forgiving.”
I laughed. “Keep telling yourself that. You know, when someone says ‘I am forgiving or kind or able to laugh at myself,’ that’s the biggest clue that they aren’t. You’re so ‘forgiving’,” I emphasized the word, “that there were people at your wedding who didn’t know you had a sister besides Dina.”
She looked startled. “Yeah,’ I said. “I know. You want the names?”
Ashley’s face flushed. She opened her mouth and closed it again. “I know,” I said. ‘There’s not a damned thing you can say about that.”
“While we’re on the subject of invitations and events, I noticed when I wasn’t invited to your thirtieth birthday party…”
“You were studying,” she said. “I didn’t want to interrupt you.” She wasn’t making eye contact. A lie, but I’d known for years it was a lie.
“That’s bullshit and we both know it,” I answered. I looked her straight in the eye. “Were you really good at hiding your hatred from Mom and Dad or they just didn’t care? Seems like they were always willing to go on vacation with you and Dina. Me, not so much.”
She shrugged. “I can’t help it if they liked me better.”
“Right,” I said, “despite Mom saying over and over again how she loved her children all the same, somehow you’ve come to the conclusion that she liked you better than any of us for no reason. Had nothing to do with you bullying us and then running to tell.” She glared at me. “Nah. Making us look bad and you the perpetual victim. No wonder you vote Republican. ”
I leaned towards her. “You know why I eat?” She shook her head. “Because I don’t do drugs and there are enough alcoholics in the family. Dina may not have as much weight, but boy, does she like her wine. Think the fact that two of you have been competing for ‘Best Daughter’ for over forty years has something to do with it? How’s that going now that Mom and Dad are dead?”
“Fuck you,” she said again. “You’re just jealous and bitter.”
“Jealous of what?’ I asked.
“Me. Everything. You’re fat. I’m not. You’re single and alone. I’m marred with kids. You’re a failure. I’m not. You’re just jealous.” She was looking me straight in the face.
I leaned back. “Actually, I’ve done a bunch of stuff with my life that would count as ‘bucket list’ if I had one. I’m not married because I’ve been surrounded by a bunch of examples of people who fought each other for control, who turned their self-loathing into ways to torment others, who found new and different ways to use the people around them in the name of family and make a big show of it and were MIA when called upon, unless Dad was watching. Or could be told. As for no kids, you are the reason I don’t like children.”
“You were petted and praised for bratty behavior. You had a potty mouth almost as soon as you could speak and Mom encouraged it by laughing and repeating it as ‘isn’t she cute?’ Dina and Joe would laugh when you said rude things, especially when you said them to me. If I fought back, I ‘didn’t have a sense of humor’ or ‘don’t react. You’re older than she is. Act like it’ or ‘don’t ignore your sister. You two should be friends.’ I was forced into babysitting you, bathing with you, giving up my room because you wanted it, doing the household chores you didn’t want to to do, and you wonder why I don’t care for you very much.”
“Well you weren’t very nice to me, either.” Ashley was defiant. “You told me to go fuck myself.”
“You never gave me a moment’s peace,” I said. “I get a flood of bad memories when I smell baby powder. Or vanilla, because you’d throw a tantrum if you didn’t get vanilla ice cream.”
“Poor you,” she said, “You suffered because you had to help care for your baby sister. So you weren’t the baby anymore. Boo fucking hoo.”
I took a breath. “You weren’t my child. I missed Drama Club rehearsals and parties because I had to watch you. You weren’t my child, but I had to give up my personal space, my time because of you. And as for being the baby, given the level of self-absorption you have, maybe I dodged a bullet.”
to be continued…