The author, Jessica Tudor, has creative writing degree from a small university outside Philadelphia, where she lives with her "mad scientist" husband and "two ugly turtles." (Both husband and turtles sound awesome, by the way.) Enjoy Mercy!
By Jessica Tudor
My youngest cousin is almost ten years older than me. The house is full of screaming toddlers, my second cousins. Mom forgets to put the slipcovers over the furniture. The stain of red fruit punch on the couch reminds me of blood. It doesn’t bother me. Madelyn drowned. There was no blood. Rita scoops up the two-year-old trying to help me scrub away the stain.
“Go find your mommy and tell her what you did,” she says. The boy runs off and Rita plunks down next to me. “How you holding up?”
“This is stupid.”
“Eh. They need it.” She shrugs. My parents are talking to my mom’s youngest sister. Each of them is one of a zillion, but they only had Madelyn and me. We were an accident, too, when they thought Mom was already in menopause or something.
I secretly think that’s why we have the gift. Mom was so desperate to go back in time and re-do that bit, that somehow we could. Not that they didn’t want us. They just didn’t know they wanted us until they had us.
I toss the pink paper towel and squint. I can tell where the juice spilled but probably because I’m looking for it. “Do they have to force me through it?” I sit next to her and wrap my arms around my spindly legs.
“You need it, too.” Rita is thirty-six and I see her maybe once a month. She cleans the bathrooms at the senior center and has a degree in philosophy. “Hey, why don’t I take you to the club on Tuesday?”
The club is her pet project. I’m not entirely sure what it is. Some sort of smoke-filled pseudo-intellectual brownnosing, I think. But it gets me out of the house. “Sure.”
She starts to say something else, but Mom announces it’s time for presents. I run to the bathroom and throw up. My breath smells of stale peaches when I come back.
Madelyn and I made a game out of opening presents because I hate being the center of attention. Mom knows it, too, but she seems determined to make today exactly what it would have been with Madelyn here. So much for moving on. Hypocrite. Rita takes sympathy on me.
“Here, I’ll hold the bag.” She grabs a black garbage bag from my mother and stands across the room with it open. Madelyn and I would play HORSE with the wrapping paper. I usually win.
Today it’s no contest.
I know my father ordered the cake the moment I cut into it. It is chocolate, a dense, moist darkness. For the past seventeen years, we’ve had marble: chocolate for me, vanilla for Madelyn. I can’t take the back and forth bipolar up down can’t decide static no change between Mom and Dad, so I eat two bites of cake and pitch the rest.
They don’t notice.
Too many people crowd my house. Without Madelyn it has been silent, none of us home to fill it. Now, family member maggots swarm its corpse. I escape to the only room not bulging with noise and bodies. Madelyn’s.
The computer is gone, sold, the only thing missing besides her. Dad says we’ll convert the room into another guest room. Mom adds eventually. Everyone at school expects me to show up in her clothes. Right after it happened, someone joked that my wardrobe doubled. I slapped her because it was expected, too.
She had some pretty nice things.
The room is starting to get dusty. Mom cleans in here sometimes, touches things. I come in sometimes, too. I don’t touch anything. I stare. Mom only does basic things like vacuuming. She doesn’t put anything away. Madelyn was messy. She has mementos all over the desk, the walls. Her clothes used to overrun the dresser but Mom at least fixed that. Everything is bright. Madelyn drew attention the way I breathe.
Today I sit on the bed and smooth the quilt Nana made for our tenth birthday. It is bubblegum pink and eggshell white. No one comes to find me.
The door to Madelyn’s room is soundproof. It became like that when she died. Nothing escapes from the dead girl’s room. Sometimes when I come in here, I stand in the middle and cry.
Today I empty the closet and try on all her dresses. One. By. One. The sundresses look silly in November but I don’t care. The door to Madelyn’s room is also silly-proof. No one can see me.
If I could rewind all the way till I was a toddler, I could play the game where if they can’t see me I don’t exist. But I can’t. I only get one day.
Why would I want to relive one day at a time when I can’t wait for it to be over the first time?
I am wearing the lavender mini-polka dot halter-top dress with the giant flower pinned to the shirred waist when Mom finds me. She tears up. “That looks nice on you. You should wear it.”
“Now? It’s 50 degrees out.”
“I guess not.” She shrugs. “Whenever.”
We stare at each other, a showdown, a tug of war of wills of weapons I forgot I had. I am in her territory. She has forgotten that Madelyn was not just The Good Daughter.
This must mean I am The Bad One.
No, I am The Only One Left.
The party is over when my Aunt Birdie is so drunk she pukes in my new car. I am so relieved I offer to clean it myself.