Stories

Photographs

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A middle-aged woman, lying on the floor beside a sitting chair. She is wearing a pink nightgown and a powder blue robe. Her graying hair is short and held back with pins. Her frail body is marked by the scars of old wounds and the distinctive pallor of the chemotherapy patient. She has bruises on her neck, two large thumb prints over her windpipe and more diffuse marks of handprints on the sides. Her eyes bulge slightly and her tongue lolls as if she were short of breath.

She is my mother, and she is dead.

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An emaciated girl, barely a teenager, sitting on a worn sofa in a living room. She is wrapped in a grey police-issue blanket. Her shoulder-length black hair is unkempt and tangled; her fingernails are uneven and torn. A woman in an EMT uniform is holding a stethoscope to her chest under the blanket. The girl’s right hand holds the blanket closed; her wrist is encircled by a single handcuff shackle with two links of chain dangling. Her eyes are wide and looking past the EMT. The tracks of tears stain her cheeks.

She is my sister.

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A basement room with concrete walls unevenly covered in garish red paint. The window is blocked by corrugated cardboard held in place by ancient duct tape. A yellowing incandescent bulb in the ceiling provides illumination. The only pieces of furniture are a portable toilet and a metal-framed bed with a thin worn-down mattress. The bedding is torn and stained and the pillow is nearly flat from long use. A length of chain extends from one bedpost, ending abruptly next to where a pair of bolt cutters lie discarded.

This is my sister’s bedroom.

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A man, perhaps thirty years old, walking with head bowed down the front steps of a suburban house. He wears a checked flannel shirt, blue jeans and work boots. He is being escorted by two male police officers in uniform and has his hands are behind his back. His face wears a look of resignation. In the foreground is a police cruiser, the back door open to receive him.

The man is me, an hour after mother told me for the first time that I had a little sister.