Afterboom

Afterboom

by Carolyn Silverstein

Afterboom

In my head, there is a Knife. The Knife is silver and serrated and wood-handled. It is the Knife Grandma tells Eden to cut the Challah with on Rosh Hashanah, the Knife she’s used since Livi D.’s would-be Bat Mitzvah. It is well loved, like Eden would say, or worn out, like Grandma would, and knows how to handle itself. It is molded to fit my grip perfectly.

Knife flies through the air and around Mom’s head. Knife circles like a vulture evaluating its prey. Knife has the kind of crackling smile that you might see on an evil Cheshire Cat, and it looks at me, stares so hard I think I might’ve become one of Knife’s victims, too. Knife likes to pretend that I am in on the jokes. Knife beckons me: “Rory, it’s okay, you’re in control.” Or, “Rory, you know me, I’m no stranger.” The worst one is when Knife tells me: “Rory, you don’t really think anyone will believe you?” And then I’m stuck with Knife and Knife alone, with no one else.

Sometimes Knife goes to Mom. I see blood pouring down her face as she looks at me in shock.

Sometimes Knife lodges itself in me, and I fall to the ground with Knife, like Romeo and Juliet only not, because I don’t want in.

Sometimes Knife is my friend. When I am angry, Knife is the first to defend me. Knife will walk up to any bully, taunting them, making them realize why what they did was wrong, and then I have to remind Knife that that’s not how we deal with things, Rory, or you’ll be going to the principal’s office. Only sometimes I don’t want to. Remind Knife, I mean.

Most of the time I pretend Knife isn’t there. I never succeed.

So when Mom asks, “Rory, what’s going on in there?” and pokes my temple, I shrug and say, “Nothing.”

***

Uncle Andrew is visiting today. He got here last night. I wasn’t supposed to be awake – Mom had already come into my room and told me to actually go to sleep tonight because you still have two days till winter break, Rory, and you need your rest – but the walls in our apartment are thin and my room is right next to the front door and I was up anyway, writing in my diary with a flashlight Mom stole from Grandma’s.

Anyway, Uncle Andrew got here at 11:57 and 15 seconds. (Mom thinks I am too precise. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing.) He knocked on the door, and Mom answered, and after a moment of confusion I heard her say, “Andrew Dashiell Daines, what the hell are you doing here?”

Uncle Andrew replied, “Hannah Banana, my little sis!”

“I’m not your little sister. You don’t have a little sister,” Mom responded.

Uncle Andrew reacted, “You’re shorter, so you’re my little sister.” Only he didn’t say it like that. He said it the way Mom writes texts on her flip phone, slow and drawn out but still somehow wrong: “Yer shorter, so yer my li’l sista!” Then he laughed, but I didn’t get the joke.

Mom countered grumpily, “This is why Livi D. never liked you.”

Livi D. is Mom’s sister, also known as Olivia Charlotte Daines. She was a year older than Mom before she died in a car accident where Grandma was driving. Mom says that’s why Grandma doesn’t come over, but I’m not sure what that means. Mom also says I look a lot like Livi D. Blonde hair and green eyes that Mom says boys will like when I’m older.

Anyway, Uncle Andrew stomped inside – I could hear his steps through the floor – and Mom asked, “Seriously, why are you here? And don’t you dare say you were bored because I know Eden told you my book’s going to the publisher tomorrow and I need to edit.”

“Mom stopped paying my rent!”

“Why don’t you stay at the hotel? Mom pays you, what, a hundred grand a month? And I know you know if you name-drop me they’ll give you the employee discount.”

“I have a secret,” Uncle Andrew said, “it’s all gone.” He giggled. I couldn’t see him, but I think he smiled after, maybe rubbing his hands together. Probably he ran a hand through his dark hair that always sticks up and has a little too much gel in it. He does that a lot.

“What the fuck did you spend it on?!”

“You know.”

“Andrew – ”

“The economy crashed, it’s the Great Depression all over again. I gotta do something to deal with my depression!”

“It’s not your depression, and you didn’t even pass US history.”

I heard some clinking and creaking, maybe from a Knife on a plate. (Knife.) (Stop.) Then I heard Uncle Andrew say, “Where’s your little monster, anyway?” and Mom replied that my bedtime was 9:00 and no later, like my fourth-grade teacher said, but Uncle Andrew complained that going to bed early “wasn’t cool” and then Mom exclaimed, “You asshole – ”

Mom and Uncle Andrew stopped talking, and everything was quiet except for Knife. I put down my diary and asked God to make Knife go away for a little bit and I fell asleep at 12:09 and 14 seconds and when I wake up at 6:13 (later than I should have), Uncle Andrew is drooling on the sofa and Knife is flying around his head.

***

Every year on my birthday, one of my presents is to learn something new about my family. When I was little, it was stupid things, things Mom thought a three-year-old could handle. Like how Livi D. had blonde hair so people never believed she was Jewish; or how I was supposed to be born a week later than I was, but I was actually born on Mom’s 23rd birthday, which is December 23rd. But now that I’m older, I get to learn more. When I turned eight, Mom finally told me that she doesn’t know who my dad is. When she was pregnant, she’d told Grandma that she didn’t want to marry my dad because she was a feminist, and she is a feminist but really she just didn’t know who to marry! I was disappointed, but then Mom said that when I’m a little older, it’ll be a mystery we can solve together. When I grow up, I’m going to write mystery books (like Mom, only Mom writes “adult books” that just talk about characters and don’t make any sense), and every author I’ve ever met has told me that I need to write what I know, so now I have something I know to write about!

But this year, when I turned nine, Mom told me about how Livi D. died. Mom and Uncle Andrew and Livi D. and Grandma were in a car. Mom was nine, just like me. Livi D. was in the front seat. Grandma had picked up Mom and Uncle Andrew from school and had just rushed Livi D. out of Hebrew tutoring and into the car when she started crying. She told my Mom and Uncle Andrew and Livi D. that she and Grandpa were getting a divorce. Grandma said that where she was driving them now was where they were going to stay for a little while. When Grandma turned to check on Mom and Uncle Andrew, a truck came out of nowhere and began to skid and then the truck hit the car right where Livi D. was sitting. Livi D. was holding her Hebrew school notebook in her lap when the truck hit. Mom thought that was “ironic.”

Right before it happened, Livi D. had been saying that this divorce was for the best, and had been acting like she knew best because she was the oldest, and Mom told me that Livi D. probably did know best but don’t I know what it’s like to be nine and Mom didn’t feel like she could get a word in edgewise so the last thing Mom ever said to Livi D. was, “Shut up, I hate you!” Mom started crying when she told me this. But I didn’t. Cry, I mean.

The next day, I started seeing Knife.

***

Mom had promised me that when I got home from school, Uncle Andrew would be gone, but he’s still here. I’m happy about that. Mom doesn’t like me hanging around Uncle Andrew, but he gives me gifts for my birthday and Hanukkah and Christmas even though they all happen at the same time and we’re not even Christian. Not that I need presents, but it’s nice, especially because Mom has to pick up extra shifts at the hotel during the holidays. And he always invites me to sleep over in the guest room of his apartment. But whenever he offers, Mom says, “Maybe another time, Andrew,” or, “Rory’s not free today,” and then she comes up with something else I can do. But I want to stay over at Uncle Andrew’s. Mom says his house smells like weed (I don’t know why she says this because it smells like skunks) and is so messy you couldn’t make it three steps without falling, but I like it. There are three big elevators and two doormen who give me high-fives and no Knives in the apartment anywhere, at all, ever (Knife.) (Stop.), because Uncle Andrew doesn’t know how to cook.

Anyway, as soon as Mom unlocks the front door, Uncle Andrew exclaims, “I got a roommate,” proud but bored, like he only cares because someone is making him. Care, I mean.

“That was fast,” Mom responds. “What’d you do, sleep with him?”

Uncle Andrew sticks out his tongue. “It’s Preston Weiner, from Wisco.”

“Ah, the king of all frat boys.”

“Come on, he had a major crush on you.”

“Haven’t heard that in a long time,” Mom says, but she blushes a little.

Then Uncle Andrew turns to me. “Sorry, kiddo, but when you come for a sleepover you’re gonna have to sleep on the couch.” I don’t mind. This is normal. My friends at school tell stories about sleeping on pull-out couches when they visit their grandparents. Mom and I aren’t rich, but Grandma is. When we visit Grandma uptown, I have my own room, and Uncle Andrew has one, and Mom has one, and there’s one for Livi D. (Mom calls it “the shrine”), and there’s an extra room, too! I want to be able to tell my friends stories like theirs, about falling off the couch when it springs into place in the middle of the night. I don’t have enough funny stories to tell. But I don’t say anything, because I know Mom would remind me how lucky we are that Grandma is so generous, even if she did roll her eyes while saying it. Instead, I sit up, look at Uncle Andrew, tap my knees up-down-up-down-up-down, and ask, “Why do you need a roommate?”

“Well, Rory,” Uncle Andrew replies, “there’s this guy name Bernie Madoff, and he is the most hated man in America.”

“Did he kill someone?” I inquire. (Kill. Knife.) (Stop.) (Maybe if I don’t say “kill,” Knife won’t remember it.)

“No,” Uncle Andrew laughs. I want to say that ___ing someone is the worst thing anyone could do, but as soon as I open my mouth Knife is back, so I try not to think about Bernie Madoff ___ing anyone. Uncle Andrew continues, “What he did is tell a lot of people that he would help them make money if they invested it in him.”

“How do you make money by saving money?”

“It grows on trees!” Uncle Andrew says, wiggling his fingers. I know this isn’t true, but I don’t say anything because if I do, I am worried that Knife might escape from my mouth, like a gremlin climbing out of the pit in my stomach. “Anyway, Bernie Madoff took all these people’s money, and instead of making more money for them, he kept it for himself.”

“What does that have to do with you?” I ask.

“Well, I invested in Madoff.”

“Why?”

“Well, since my career is still in the works – ” Mom snorts “ – your Grandma helps me out with rent and such. So I wanted to pay her back.”

“I thought you worked for Grandma?”

“I do – well – anyway, Preston is going to move in and pay half the rent, so Grandma doesn’t have to.”

When Uncle Andrew stops sputtering, Mom tells me to go do some homework, or write in my diary, and then scolds Uncle Andrew because can’t you see Rory’s nervous, now, and Rory, why don’t you just close the door so me and your Uncle Andrew can have a talk. I do, and even though I try not to, I let Knife into the room with me.

***

My brain doesn’t work the way other peoples’ do. I know this because whenever I say what I am thinking, Mom laughs and asks how I got there. She likes to call my brain a firework. For instance, my thinking could go like this:

My name is Lauren Sage Daines, but people call me Rory because Mom is a single mother just like Lorelai on Gilmore Girls and Rory has lots of success and Mom wanted that for me. Mom also says that she felt very alone when I was little, and Gilmore Girls started airing when I was two, and it reminded her that everything would be okay. Everything was not okay when I broke my arm two, almost three, years ago, the day after I turned seven. Mom says I broke my arm sledding. When I go sledding now, I have to wear a helmet and my hair always gets stuck in the buckle, so I don’t really ask Mom to go sledding on snow days anymore. My hair is honey blonde, and Mom says that when I’m older guys will like it, and once I asked her if girls would like it too, and Mom said they would but then changed the subject. She also said that my hair makes me look just like Livi D. Livi D. is dead, and when I write her name on paper it looks like the word “livid.” Mom told me that “livid” means “very angry.” You’d have to be livid to ___ someone. I don’t ever want to ___ anyone, but sometimes I think that Knife does, and since Knife is a part of me, I wonder if there is a part of me that wants to ___ someone, too. Knife reminds me that Grandma ___ Livi D., and then I remember that Grandma’s name is Padma Haas Daines and Mom’s name is Hannah Paige Daines and my name is Lauren Sage Daines and then everything starts over again.

My thinking always ends with Knife. But whenever I bring it up to Mom, she ruffles my hair and asks how I come up with this stuff, and then says that she’s too busy editing her book and preparing for her meeting with the publishers to deal with Knife right now, Rory, so I think about Knife alone.

***

Mom has always been a writer. When I was little enough, she would carry me on her shoulders to an internet café and write with me asleep on her lap. She says that I’m the best motivator there ever was. But until three years ago, when I was six, right before I turned seven, Mom was also an editor. She worked at a little publishing house all the way downtown and would work with first-time authors to prepare their books for publication. Mom would leave me with Eden during the day until I was old enough to go to school, and when I was old enough for school, she enrolled me in after-school soccer and gymnastics and art. Mom says the only reason she got this job was because she’d been their intern when she was in college, before she had me. But I know that she’s the hardest worker there ever was.

When Mom was an editor, she would pick me up from after-school at 5:34 every day. She would run down the block huffing, “I’m sorry, Ror, I’m here, I’m here!” and then we’d go get dinner at the little pizza place across the street. She would get veggie and I would get cheese and she’d teach me how to eat my slice “like a real New Yorker.” She would tell me about the sassy comments her boss would make and what famous authors she got to meet that day (I didn’t know any of them so I just nodded), and then she would ask me about my day. And I would tell her.

One day, Mom picked me up before after-school. Mom made some excuse about a mother-daughter afternoon and preparing for our birthdays in three weeks, but as soon as we were a block away from the school she stopped talking. It was 3:12 so we couldn’t get dinner. We went straight to the subway and Mom didn’t say a word the entire subway ride home. At home, Mom drudged up the stairs like a tortoise instead of racing me up them. When Mom unlocked the door and dropped my backpack on the kitchen floor at 4:02, she finally told me: “I’m not working at the publishing house anymore.”

“Why not?”

“I’m just not, Rory, okay?!” Then she sighed. “Do you want a snack?” Her voice was flat and her eyes were milky, like her coffee in the morning. I nodded. Mom began to chop a banana (Knife.) (Stop.) and said three times that I’d better have washed my hands, or I wouldn’t get dessert tonight. And then, when I was sitting at the table with my hands in my lap like Grandma taught me, Mom turned to me. Not looking me in the eye, still cutting the banana (Knife.) (Stop.), Mom told me she was sick.

“What?”

“I have something called Depression. And Anxiety,” Mom declared. She kept chopping and I wondered how small the pieces of this banana would be.

“But aren’t those not sicknesses?” I asked.

“You can be depressed and anxious and not be sick,” Mom explained, “but it gets so bad that you can’t control it. That’s why – shit!” Mom had nicked herself with the Knife. She put the bloody finger in her mouth (Blood. Knife.) (Stop!) and then looked at me expectantly.

My six-year-old brain processed the new information, starting slowly but then gaining speed, like whipping cream. Then something occurred to me. “Are you going to die?”

“No,” Mom promised. “I would never do that to you.”

A week later, Mom got a job as a receptionist at a hotel in Times Square. She only worked in the mornings, so she stopped signing me up for after-school to save money. She told me she hated this job, but money was money. And then she turned to me. “Rory – you can’t tell Grandma about any of this. The job, the sickness – none of it, okay?” I nodded, but Mom never explained why.

***

Today is the first day of winter break, and when I go to wake Mom up, she drawls, “Rabbit, rabbit,” even though it’s bad luck to say “rabbit, rabbit” in front of someone and even though it’s not even a new month. This is not a good day to have bad luck because today Mom finds out if her book is going to be published. But then again, Mom walked under a ladder yesterday, so maybe the bad luck will cancel out.

Mom says that today is a “dark day,” so I leave her in bed and go to my room to get my diary and the new gel pen Eden gave me as an early birthday present and wait for Mom in the kitchen. Around 10:33, Mom drags herself through the hall like a lifeless scarecrow. She stands at the refrigerator for a few minutes before shaking her head and going to the cupboard. She knocks her head against the wood – for good luck? – but then knocks it too hard and mumbles, “Shit.” (Hurt. Knife.) (Stop.) Mom turns on her heel and goes back to her bedroom.

At 11:57 and 18 seconds on the morning Mom is supposed to hear from the publisher, Mom is still trying to make pop tarts for breakfast.

The phone rings at 11:58 and 42 seconds.

I look up from my diary.

“Hello?” Mom answers. “Yes… Yes… Of course! What day? Great… Thank you so, so much!” Then Mom turns to me with a grin so bright that I know today cannot be a dark day. “Come on, Rory,” she announces, throwing all four pop tarts in the trash even though they haven’t been eaten. “We’re going to get ice cream!”

Mom grabs my hand and we walk to the tiny diner on our corner and sit in a booth at the back; my knees immediately start bouncing up-down-up-down-up-down and Knife is singing in my head but it’s a happy song and I don’t try to stop it! Mom orders a banana-split-to-split, and then pulls a stack of papers out from her purse. “My manuscript,” Mom explains. The cover page is smeared with dried coffee, but underneath I see that there is a title printed in big, block letters: “Knife.”

I ask why it is called “Knife.”

Mom smiles. “Because it’s about you.” She pushes the manuscript towards me and I flip open to the first page, which reads “To Rory” in smooth script. “Let me know if you need help with the words,” Mom adds. “It’s a little complicated, and I think you’ll enjoy it more when you’re older, but I thought you deserved to see it, considering you’re my main character.” I notice that Mom’s smile now looks more like a plastered Halloween mask than her own face, but I don’t say anything. I flip to the first page.

“Chapter One –

“Knife started with a story, grew with imagination, and ended up implanted in my brain, like, well, a little Knife carved through the muscle, a dirt-stained scar. Knife didn’t hurt anyone – how could Knife – but Knife was there...”

I look at Mom. I look at my hands. My knees bounce up-down-up-down-up-down and I think I need to throw up.

I try to remember where I left my diary this morning, and suddenly I can’t read anymore because I can’t remember if it’s on my bed or in my backpack and if I don’t go back home and check right now I think I might explode. I turn to stand up but next to me is Knife, trapping me in my seat, and Knife is shaking, and Knife’s wood handle is splintering, and –

Red. All I see is red. My face is red and my chest is red and Knife is red and angry and staring at Mom who is staring at her water. I grab the table so that my hands aren’t tempted to grab Knife for support (would I grab Knife for support?). My eyes burn. My brain spins faster than my knees going up-down-up-down-up-down and Knife leans over and whispers in my ear, this is why you’d ___ someone!

“This is my diary!” I exclaim. “You read my diary!”

“Rory,” Mom reaches out her hand, but I swat it away too fast and it leaves a light scratch and all I can think is how much worse that scratch would be if I had let my hands hold Knife in this moment.

(Where did I leave my diary?)

“Rory, you have such an incredible mind, such an incredible story… I wanted to honor you – ”

Knife is leaning in closer until I am squeezed against the window of the diner. I can’t remember where I left my diary. Knife is still red and I wonder if it is Mom’s blood on Knife’s face. (It’s not.) (It is.) Knife is seething, willing me to yell at Mom, if my story is so incredible then I should have told it!

(This is why you’d ___ someone.) (Stop!)

A waiter drops off the banana-split-to-split and puts a Knife on the side to cut up the pieces, but suddenly I realize that if I don’t leave right now Knife will do – Knife will become – (where did I leave my diary?) – Knife will –

(Knife.)

(Knife.)

(Stop!)

***

I don’t know where I am. I go into a bodega and ask a woman to give me a quarter to call my mom, but when I get to the payphone Knife is still by my side, so I enter Grandma’s number instead. And as soon as I hear, “Daines residence, this is Eden speaking, how may I help you?” I feel tears on my face and I’m so surprised that I begin to laugh and by the time Eden finds me, I’m melting into the sidewalk like the Wicked Witch of the West and I don’t know what to do.

“Missy Loo, what on Earth were you thinking? You gave your mother a fright!” I mumble that I’m sorry but even I don’t hear it. “Let me call Hannah and tell her you’re with me – I expect you’ll apologize when we get home?” Yes, of course, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. “And Rory,” Eden adds, putting a thumb to my cheek and pulling at the skin, “Thank God you’re okay.”

Eden has been working for Grandma since Livi D. was a baby. She cooks and cleans and practically raised Mom. She is a warm smile and a gray smock and whenever we visit Grandma’s, Mom rushes right through the foyer and runs straight to the kitchen. Eden drops whatever chopping Knife (Knife.) (Stop.) she’s been using to wrap Mom up in her arms. Mom loosens up around Eden, even more than she does around me, and tenses when she sees Eden and Grandma together. Mom worries that Grandma is mean to Eden when she’s stressed about the family business and gets angry at Grandma because Eden doesn’t deserve that. Eden is someone who would never, ever, ever, ever yield to Knife, which is maybe why Knife goes “on steroids” (like Mom would say) whenever we visit.

But today, Eden is visiting us.

She swings open the door and I don’t even see Mom before her hair is in my mouth and her arms are squeezing my shoulders and suddenly I’m gagging and then laughing and Mom is so relieved she begins laughing too. And then I see Knife above Mom’s head again – this is why you’d ___ someone – and I stop.

Mom doesn’t see Knife, Grandma doesn’t see Knife, Eden doesn’t see Knife, Uncle Andrew doesn’t see Knife, and Livi D. probably didn’t see Knife either. My friends think my stories are weird and my teachers always bend down to my level when I bring Knife up, a telltale sign that I’ve done something wrong.

I want to scream, there and then: Mommy, get Knife out of me! Eden, get Knife out of me! I don’t want to ___ anyone, I don’t, I promise, Knife is bad and maybe I am Knife, maybe I am a bad person and maybe I should just ___ myself before I can ___ anyone else but please, Mommy, please, Eden, just get Knife out of me!

Instead I say, “Mom, I think I’m sick.”

Mom kisses my forehead. “You don’t have a fever.”

“No,” I counter, hands shaking. (Stop talking.) “I think I have the sicknesses you have. Depression. Or Anxiety.” (Knife.) (Knife.) (Knife.) (Knife.)

Eden is standing next to the Knife drawer.

(Stop talking!)

Suddenly, Mom throws her head back, her hair unsticking from my wet face and cascading behind her. She grins, sharing a glance with Eden, the kind of glance that makes fun of kids without saying it, as if we’re too small to notice. “Oh, Rory, you don’t have to worry about that! You don’t have depression or anxiety, I promise.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I do,” Mom responds, patting my shoulder, tears gone, completely confident. “You’re too young to have it. And too happy.”

I am not like Mom. I don’t have trouble waking up on “dark days” and I don’t jump when our pop tarts leap out of the toaster in the morning. My knees do bounce up-down-up-down-up-down, but they do that when I’m happy, too. And Knife…well, Mom doesn’t see Knife. And she’s the one who’s sick.

Mom rubs my back and leads me towards the kitchen table, where she tells me that she’d taken our banana-split-to-split home. I beam as Mom takes it out of the freezer and Eden reminds me that, “Missy Loo, those are some beautiful pearly whites, don’t you dirty them with too much sugar.” Mom gets three spoons and together we dig in, and when Eden begins to ask why I left, Mom shushes her, as if she’s afraid to know the answer. And I am happy but sad, like there are two pieces of my brain fighting with each other, maybe more. Knife just spins and spins and spins and spins until all I can concentrate on is each spoonful of ice cream.

(Where is Knife going?) (Stop.)

(___ her!) (Stop!)

I climb onto Mom’s lap for the first time since I was six and Mom tenses under me.

The sky darkens early today, but it’s not until 6:06 and 16 seconds that Eden jumps out of her seat and explains that she needs to get back uptown to cook dinner for Grandma, and she’s sorry to leave us but she already is running late. As Mom goes to throw out the remnants of our banana-split-to-split, Eden says to Mom, “You’re covered for this week’s doctor, Hannah?”

“Yes,” Mom nods. “I’m good for a few weeks, I think. I’ll get it all back to you, I promise, especially now that my book’s being published. I’m so sorry it hasn’t been sooner, it’s just that – well – the hotel’s insurance includes way less than my old job’s, and with the economy – I mean, I know it’s been hitting you hard too, probably harder than me – ”

(The book leads to my diary leads to Mom reading it leads to Knife – ) (Stop.)

“I’m in no rush,” Eden replies, “not if it’s what you need. But you know that you could always ask your mother for a loan.”

“She wouldn’t understand. She’d just call me lazy and ask why I haven’t left reception yet.”

“You might be surprised, Hannah,” Eden tells her. Mom rolls her eyes. Eden gives her a stern look and then continues, “And remember what we were talking about – about you?”

“I know, Eden.”

“And we’ll have a date sometime – Rory can stay over with Andrew, perhaps.”

“I don’t trust Andrew.”

“I do!” I exclaim. Mom and Eden flash me small smiles before turning back to each other.

“We’ll talk later,” Mom says. “Eden – I – ”

“I know Hannah,” Eden murmurs, wrapping her arms around Mom and stroking her hair. “I know.”

***

Uncle Andrew’s apartment is full of boxes when Mom drops me off. He trips over a lacrosse stick on his way to the door, barreling into a box of butter Knives marked “P.W.” (Knife.) (Stop.) and nearly knocks Mom over as he exclaims, “Hannah Banana, my little sis!”

I go through the conversation in my head, the one Mom doesn’t know I heard. I’m not your little sister. You’re shorter than me, so you’re my little sister. This is why Livi D. –

“Rory?”

I snap my eyes up. (Is this another sign that I am Knife? Because Knife does not care what other people say, even me, and – ) (Stop.)

“Rory, I’ll be back in a few hours, okay? And if you need anything, me and Eden will have our phones with us the whole time.” Mom holds up her Blackberry as if to prove it.

“Calm down, Han, she’ll be fine!” Uncle Andrew laughs, patting my head. “Won’t we, kiddo?” I nod vigorously. Mom gives Uncle Andrew a sharp look which I pretend not to notice. Then she walks out the door, step, step, step.

“So Hannah’s out with – what’s her name – Edith?” a voice wafts out of Uncle Andrew’s guest bedroom. It’s cocky, confident. Even when he walks towards the front door, Uncle Andrew doesn’t correct him. About Eden, I mean. The man with honey blonde hair trips over the lacrosse stick, barrels into the butter Knives (Knife.) (Stop.), this time pushing them over so hard that one rolls up to my feet. I quickly step back, but the man continues towards me, bending down to my height, pushing the Knives away (thank you, God) before he finally looks up at me. “Hey, Rory,” he says, smiling wide. “I’m Preston. I know your mother.”

“I’m Rory,” I reply, even though a second later I realize he already knew my name.

“Kiddo,” Uncle Andrew calls – he’d gone to the refrigerator and pulled out some chocolate milk – “Wanna come sit down?” I nod and hop over to the big yellow couch, fall onto it, and start to bounce my knees up-down-up-down-up-down. “Preston,” Uncle Andrew adds, “Wanna hang with us?”

“Sure,” Preston responds, sitting down next to me. I’m halfway through my first glass of chocolate milk before I notice the couch is shaking, giving me a chocolate mustache. I think it’s me (or Knife.) (Stop.), but when I look down I see Preston’s knees going up-down-up-down-up-down, too.

“Aww,” Uncle Andrew coos, cocking his head to the side as he looks at us. “You two look like you could be family.” Preston raises an eyebrow. “Rory, how would you feel about having two dads from now on? Daddy Drew and Daddy Preston.” Uncle Andrew reaches an arm around Preston’s midsection, which Preston immediately slaps away.

“Sorry to break it to you, Drew, but I’m not having sex with you.”

“Please, you’ll have sex with anything!”

“Andrew, there is an impressionable mind present – ”

“Oh, please, Hannah swears like a sailor. We both know that, don’t we?” Uncle Andrew raises his brows three times.

“Fuck off, Daines,” Preston retorts, and they each throw a light punch (Punch. Hurt. Knife.) (Stop.) before turning to me, almost surprised that I’m here, and immediately sitting still.

“So, Ror,” Uncle Andrew starts, forgetting his first question. “Your mom told me you ran away.” I look at Preston, as if he’d have the answer, but then Uncle Andrew puts out a hand for a high-five, and Preston follows suit. “You. Are. The. Coolest.”

“I didn’t mean to run away,” I say quickly, even though I’m a little proud. Uncle Andrew smiles and pats my head and then turns on the TV to football. He doesn’t explain the rules, and always looks at me to comment, but I don’t say anything because I know this is Uncle Andrew’s first time alone with me and I don’t want him to feel bad.

At 4:56 (4:56!), the phone rings, interrupting Uncle Andrew and Preston’s game. They let it go for a few rings, but it’s too loud and I almost can’t stand all the noise in my head when Uncle Andrew finally pulls himself out of his seat to answer.

“Mom? …I’m at home, with Rory and Preston… No, why would I come in today? It’s my day off… Yeah, Monday and Thursday, my assistant does the paperwork on Thursdays… What do you mean you had to fire her?! No one told me that… It is not my fault… I’ll come in next Thursday, would that make you happy? Rory’s here and Hannah’s never left me alone with her… You wouldn’t do that… Okay, fine, you win. I’ll be there in an hour – fine! Half an hour!” Uncle Andrew smacks down the phone so hard there’s an actual bang.

Preston’s knee stops tapping. “I thought you were division head?”

“I am,” Uncle Andrew deadpans. “But since apparently I’m too irresponsible to handle my own money, I’m the reason that my assistant can no longer do my paperwork. I mean, come on, I was just trying to earn a little extra, how can my mother call that irresponsible?!” Preston doesn’t answer. Uncle Andrew turns back to the phone, grumbling.

“Who are you calling?” I ask.

“Your mother,” Uncle Andrew sighs.

“Why can’t I stay here?”

“Because Hannah would kill me, that’s why,” Uncle Andrew snaps. Then, “Sorry, kiddo.”

There’s a pause. “I could watch her,” Preston declares, quiet but loud. And so, as Uncle Andrew puts his wallet and a Nintendo into his briefcase, he tells me that there is ice cream in the freezer and that if Preston tries to haze me (I laugh with him but I don’t know what it means) to just call (but whatever I do, don’t tell Hannah I’m only here with Preston, okay?) and then Uncle Andrew leaves and Preston and I grab the cookie dough ice cream and two spoons and return to the sofa. Both our knees bounce up-down-up-down-up-down and I can barely hold my spoon because the couch is shaking twice as fast. After we’re set up, Preston stammers, “So, Rory… when’s your birthday?”

“December 23rd, 1998, at 11:12 pm!” I reply promptly. “And 23 seconds, I think, but Mom says that’s not exact.”

“Coming up, huh?” Preston notes. I nod. Then he asks, “Isn’t your mom’s birthday pretty soon, too? I remember when she visited Wisco she had just turned twenty-two.”

“December 23rd, 1975!” I say. “But she doesn’t know what time because Grandma wasn’t paying attention.”

Preston scrunches his eyebrows and looks at the ceiling, so I know he is unimpressed. “I was born on Mom’s 23rd birthday,” I add, “On the 23rd.” Preston nods. Pause.

“Any birthday presents you’re looking forward to?”

I purse my lips and look at the ceiling. “Well, every year, Mom tells me something new about our family.”

“Do you know what it’ll be?”

“It’s a surprise!”

“What was it last year?”

“Mom told me how Livi D. died.” I wonder if Preston knows who Livi D. is. “Mom’s sister. Livi was holding her Hebrew school book and the last words Mom ever said to were, ‘I hate you!’ It’s why I think about God a lot.” (Also why I have asked God to take Knife away. He listened to Mom. But Knife is still here.) Preston looks down. He puts his head in his hands and taps his fingers methodically against his forehead; I am worried he might be crying (even though he didn’t meet Uncle Andrew until college and never knew Livi D.), but when he looks up his green eyes are dry (or as dry as eyes can be) and he slowly says, “Has… Has Hannah told you who your dad is?”

I frown. “She doesn’t know,” I say. Preston stares at me, and stares and stares and stares so hard that I think he might be seeing Knife, too. I take another bite of ice cream.

(It doesn’t help.) (Knife.) (Stop.)

Mom never brings it up, but I remember how I broke my arm.

I was seven. Mom was thirty. She said we should have a “dirty thirty” birthday party for her after my “seven-is-heaven” birthday party, so the morning after our birthday we walked all the way up to Central Park and when we were good and sweaty Mom took a pile of muddy snow and threw it at my face! So, I threw snow at her face and she threw snow at my face and she fell in a mud puddle and laughed!

When we got tired of that, we walked to midtown and pretended to be tourists. Mom imitated all the weirdest guests she’d met at her new job and I talked in a Swedish accent and we got fake-angry when the Plaza said we were too dirty to eat in their fancy dining hall. Then Mom hailed a cab (a splurge, she said) and gave the driver a big tip when we arrived downtown forty minutes later.

As soon as we opened the door, Mom went to hop in the shower, so I took off my coat and grabbed my diary (carefully, so it wouldn’t get dirty) and began to write. I had written three pages when Mom came out in her towel and said, “Rory, you need to wash up.”

“I’m going to shower later,” I said.

“You’re all muddy.”

“But I always shower at 6:00.” It was only 4:37.

Mom strode over to me and grabbed my hand and without saying a word dragged me to the bathtub and ran the water.

“What are you doing?” I asked slowly.

“This way it’s not a shower.” I shook my head and crossed my arms. “Please, Rory, I don’t want to fight today.” I shook my head and crossed my arms tighter. Mom stared at me for a minute, but then the tub was nearly full and Mom looked from the tap to me and back and stated, “You have three seconds to get out of these clothes and into the tub.” I shook my head and crossed my arms so tight I could almost reach my hands around my back.

When we got to the hospital, Mom told the doctor’s I’d slipped. She said I was running to get in the tub and fell over the edge and hit my right arm on the faucet and then hit my head on the faucet trying to stand up.

I don’t remember that. I only remember feeling the color white. So bright and loud that nothing else was clear, only the pain. I didn’t even notice my right arm at first, not until I woke up with Mom on my left side saying, “I asked for a pink cast, is that okay, Rory?”

The weirdest part was that the faucet was on my left side when I was talking to Mom that day.

***

On December 23rd, 2008, I wake up at 6:02 and 2 seconds (6 + 2 + 2 = 10, which is my age today), and sneak into the kitchen on tiptoe. I made Mom put my hair in braids last night and I wore my fuzzy shorts so that I wouldn’t trip over anything in the dark. I take the cupcake Eden made for us and put it on a plate, and I try to light a candle, but the matches don’t work so I throw them all into a glass of water and pray to God that the kitchen doesn’t light on fire (please don’t let the kitchen light on fire). I walk into Mom’s room, set the cupcake down, and then jump on top of her, and she gives me a hug but it’s wet and salty, so I stay there in her grip for twenty-eight excruciating minutes (is the kitchen on fire?) before she lets me run back into the kitchen. Knife is staring at me from the counter.

I try to focus on anything but Knife – the refrigerator, the sink, the table, the manuscript on it. I realize that Mom must have left it out last night. I take a step forward, then a step back, debating if I should read it again (don’t read it again). Then I hear Knife whisper: It’s about me!

I wait for Mom to go to the bathroom and as soon as I hear the shower running, I pull the pages down from the table and bring them into my room. I need to know that Knife is not me. I need to know what Mom knows to make her so sure that I am not a bad person (I am a bad person).

Chapter One –

Knife started with a story, grew with imagination, and ended up implanted in my brain, like, well, a little Knife carved through the muscle, a dirt-stained scar. Knife didn’t hurt anyone – how could Knife – but Knife was there…”

Similes and metaphors. Stories. I turn to Knife and smile as Knife shrinks. I don’t use similes or metaphors in my diary! This cannot be about me.

When I was eighteen, Knife disappeared. Like a whiff of smoke. No memory, no reason. And yet, I wasn’t relieved. Knife’s presence, the sole constant in my life, had become something of a comfort.

(Knife will never leave me.)

(Knife, please leave me!)

I read on. The chapter is too long and the type font is too small, but Mom does write “adult books” so I guess I can’t complain. I know I should stop but the pages are bound to my hands like they are both covered in superglue. I can’t decide whether or not I should be scared. If Mom knew this and didn’t do anything, I must not be bad. Or maybe Mom is scared, and she wrote this so that the police would know who ___ her (I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever ___ Mom).

(Knife.)

(Stop!)

There’s only one sentence on the last page of the chapter, and it takes me a moment to understand it, but when I do I can’t stop: “Maybe that’s why I killed that man.

Knife reaches for my arm. (Stop.) Knife has me in an embrace. (Stop!)

(You knew this was coming, Rory.)

(Stop, stop, stop!)

Knife is all over me, growing out of me, like a poisonous rash. I dash out of my room and put the manuscript back on the kitchen table and run to the sink. I take a dishcloth and begin to scrub. (Get Knife off of me!) Knife smiles and tells me I knew this was coming, and I begin to cry and I hope that I have enough tears to wash any remnants of Knife from my skin (I hope I have enough tears to prove that I will never ___ someone). I am prickly all over.

(Prickly and sharp like Knife and I can’t – )

(Please, God, don’t let me ___ someone!)

Mom gets out of the shower (don’t get out of the shower, it’s not safe!) and gives me a wet hug (don’t cut yourself!) and I am tempted to run away again but then I remember that it’s Mom’s birthday and anyway my feet are pinned to the ground (how did Knife pin my feet to the ground?) and Mom asks what’s going on and I stutter something about feeling funny but I’m afraid that I just said out loud the words Knife is repeating, over and over and over and over.

“You knew this was coming, Rory.”

***

The fourth-grade break assignment is to write letters to someone we miss this holiday season.

Dear Livi D.,

I know we’ve never met, but I’m Lauren Sage Daines, also known as Rory, and I’m your sister Hannah’s daughter. But I’m sure you know that, being dead and all. I think about you a lot. I think about how if you were here, maybe you’d have a daughter and we could play together and Mom and I would go visit you and her on weekends and we’d have normal Thanksgivings and maybe we could even go on vacation with Grandma and Uncle Andrew and Mom and me and you.

I think Mom feels guilty that her last words to you were “I hate you.” (It’s funny that she was “livid” and you’re “Livi D.”) But she doesn’t. Hate you, I mean. I know because every year on the day you died she locks herself in her room and cries and cries and cries. Sometimes I cry too.

I wonder if I should feel guilty. I mean, I know it wasn’t my fault that you died because I wasn’t even alive, but I feel like just accepting you’re dead isn’t enough.

Say hi to God for me and tell him I’m sorry about everything.

Love, Rory

P.S. Since you’re dead, can you hear what people think? And if you can, can you tell me if anyone else sees Knife?

But then I realize that I can’t send a letter to Livi D., so I decide to write another one.

Dear Dad,

I’ve never met you either. You probably don’t even know who I am, but I’m Lauren Sage Daines, your daughter, also known as Rory. I wonder who you are a lot. I know Mom doesn’t know but I’m still curious. Are you a hero? Or a writer? Or Jewish? Are you famous? I’d want to meet you even if you’re not. Famous, I mean.

I hope you’re not dead, because my teacher will probably make me send this letter when we get back to school in January.

Anyway, tell me who you are. I really want to meet you.

From, Rory

***

Tonight, Grandma has invited us over for a birthday and third night of Hanukkah dinner. Mom suggested I give her a fashion show to find the perfect outfit, but when we’ve gone through my entire closet Mom digs into her purse like her life depends on it and pulls out a twenty-dollar bill and says with a sigh that we’re going shopping. And so when nighttime comes I am in a brand-new ten-year-old dress and Mom is in her High Holiday outfit and we’ve packed some Manesomething so that Mom doesn’t have to “deal with Grandma for an entire night.” And then we leave.

Uncle Andrew is already at the table when we arrive, chewing on bread rolls and gulping a drink so fast I can see his throat bopping up-down-up-down-up-down. Grandma is at the head of the table and looks at Mom disapprovingly for a moment before getting up to give her a hug. Then Grandma smiles at me and embraces me so tightly that I can feel her perfume seep into my skin. We exchange pleasantries, as Grandma called them when she tried to teach me how to be a proper little lady, and Uncle Andrew tells us that Preston’s joining us because he’s new to New York (new to New York!) and he’ll be a bit late because he’s on his way from work. And then the table is silent except for Mom pouring her wine and Uncle Andrew scraping butter onto his bread roll with a Knife. (Knife.) (Stop.)

Grandma is the first to speak. “So, Hannah, what will your New Year’s resolution be?” Grandma asks. I perk up – I have a resolution, to write more (and talk to Knife less) (and ask God to get rid of Knife) – but Mom just sinks deep into her chair like a crumbling sandcastle. “Maybe meeting someone?”

“Mom, I just got the first payment on my book,” Mom exclaims. I can see her face turning red. I can see the gears in her brain moving as fast as my legs did the day I ran away, and I have to remind myself that Knife cannot come to the table tonight, that Knife is not real (Knife is real). And I feel a tingling in my legs like Knife is tickling me (Knife.) (Stop.) and I take a gulp of water which I choke on (Stop!) and realize that everything is so much louder than before.

“Well, Hannah, that’s very nice, but you have a daughter who needs more attention than a fictional character can provide.”

I cut in, “But the characters aren’t – ”

“Rory needs a father figure in her life, Hannah,” Grandma continues. Uncle Andrew leans back in his seat, looking at his watch.

“I love Rory more than enough for two parents,” Mom replies.

“Well, then, someone for you,” Grandma counters. “You’re not getting any younger, Hannah.”

Steam pours out of Mom’s nose. “What, you want me to go back in time and track down Rory’s dad? Do the big white wedding neither of your kids has been able to manage?”

Grandma looks affronted. “Well, since you brought it up, you never did try to make it work with Rory’s father.”

Mom stands up. “Rory, we’re leaving.”

“But we just got here – ”

“Oh, Hannah Daines, so independent, so perfect,” Grandma exclaims, her voice loud and red and blindingly bright, the kind of bright that only comes from department store lights, the kind of bright that gives me headaches. “Tell me – ”

Mom suddenly slams her hand on the table, fingers landing on top of the butter Knife (Knife.) (Stop!) and begins to yell as her hands wrap around the Knife and I almost don’t hear her words because I am willing her to stop, Mom, please stop! “Did you know I’ve been in therapy for years? Because of you!” Mom bursts out, striding towards Grandma, still holding her butter Knife. (Mom would never ___ Grandma.) (I would never ____ Grandma. Or anyone.)

(Never, ever, ever!)

“You fucked up, Mom – ”

“Language – ”

“And you’re too proud to admit it. I don’t give a rat’s ass about the language!” Mom is screaming now. “That’s why it exists, right? You never gave a shit about me, or Andrew, or Livi!”

“Don’t you dare bring Olivia into this – ”

“Eden’s been helping me pay off therapy. Eden! I don’t know how she affords it, considering I don’t even get adequate health insurance, but she does, because she’s a good person, the best fucking person I know – ”

“And who pays Eden?” Grandma pushes back her chair so that it screeches against the floor, loud and sharp like a Knife sounds against a plate (Stop.), and stands to face Mom.

“That’s not the – ”

“Hannah, you know Eden can’t afford to pay for your therapy.”

“I’m going to – ”

It was me! It’s always been me!” I’ve never heard Grandma yell. Her voice is high and mousy and wavers a bit, but she doesn’t move. I look at my legs and see them bouncing up-down-up-down-up-down only I can’t feel them doing it, and I can’t stop, and suddenly the room is too loud and Grandma’s wavering voice is the same amount of nervous as me, and all I can think is that Knife cannot be my only friend in this room!

(Why can’t I get Knife out of me?)

(GET KNIFE OUT OF ME!)

“Are you so self-centered – don’t interrupt me, Hannah Paige – ” Mom had opened her mouth. Grandma continues, “Are you so selfish as to ask Eden, who can barely pay for her own kids’ medical bills, to cover your bullshit therapist?! I don’t care how much you hate me, you cannot take it out on her. What could I have possibly done to make you do this?”

“What have you done? You haven’t done a fucking thing! Eden’s the one who raised me, who held me when Livi died, who watched Rory. What have you done?!”

“Paid for everything you asked Eden for!”

There is a pause. Then, suddenly, Mom is a blur, and the kitchen door swings open, and I hear Mom sob, “Edeeen!” Grandma collapses into her chair. I look at Uncle Andrew but he’s still checking his watch so I mumble something about needing the bathroom and as I leave the room, I hear Uncle Andrew say to Grandma, “I should call to make sure Preston’s still on his way. I have a holiday surprise for him…”

I trip over the carpet on the stairs, but I don’t pay attention and the next thing I know, I am upstairs in my room at Grandma’s and I am screaming into a pillow, only I don’t know if the sound is real or not.

(Knife is real.)

(Knife is real?)

The doorbell rings. I hear Preston’s voice creeping into the townhouse. Grandma calls my name but I don’t answer so I just listen through the floor as Preston sits down and Uncle Andrew walks to get something from another room. The noise downstairs changes like a lava lamp, hot and dangerous and unpredictable. There is quiet, and then I hear Uncle Andrew say something that sounds to me like nonsense, but as soon as he’s said it, Preston yells, “What?!” and I hear Mom shriek and there’s a clattering of dishes and someone slams a door and Grandma is yelling and I will myself to melt into the floor, to disappear, and –

There is a knock on the door. Not my door. But the one across the hall. I peep my head out the door to see Preston Weiner’s honey blonde head saying, “Rory? Can I come in?” He pushes the door open without waiting for an answer.

I have never been in Livi D.’s room. Not because I didn’t want to look but because it never really occurred to me. But now I’m older than Mom was when Livi D. died. When Grandma ___ Livi D.

(You’d have to be livid to want to ___ someone.)

(Knife wants to ___ someone.)

I try to say hello, but nothing comes out and I’m too short to reach his shoulder, so I just tap Preston’s back (stab Preston’s back) and he jumps but then he smiles at me and neither of us says a word. Livi D.’s room is lavender and covered in old pictures and medals and certificates. Her bed has on it three letter-shaped pillows, one for Olivia and one for Charlotte and one for Daines. And above it, there is a framed copy of the funeral bill.

(Funeral. Death. Bad.)

(Knife.)

(Stop.)

“What did you say?” I rack my brain to remember if I said Knife out loud, but I can’t think so I just keep staring at Livi D.’s shrine.

“Rory,” Preston starts, looking deep into my eyes as if he could somehow read my mind through them. “Did you hear what happened downstairs?” (Fighting and screaming and hurting.) (Knife.) (Stop!) I shake my head. “Well, your Uncle Andrew found something out… Your mom’s a bit upset, and we weren’t sure how much you heard, so I thought I should come talk to you.” (He knows. He knows about Knife and that Knife wants to ___ him and – ) (I need him to know that I would never, ever, ever, ever – ) “Rory… I’m your dad.”

“No, you’re not,” I say immediately, almost surprising myself. My brain is spinning and Knife is dancing on my shoulders and as Preston sits down in Livi D.’s chair (don’t sit down in Livi D.’s chair) his knees start to bounce up-down-up-down-up-down and I feel like my world is bouncing up-down-up-down-up-down too. “My mom doesn’t know who my dad is. She wouldn’t lie to me. Not on our birthday.” (Was that mean? Am I mean? Only mean people give in to Knife.) “Sorry.”

Preston is unfazed. “See, Rory – ” my eyes dart as fast as Knife flying around Preston’s head – “Your mom, she didn’t lie… She doesn’t remember that we – that I’m your dad.”

“Then how did you remember?” I ask. (Does Mom want to ___ Preston?)

(Does Mom see Knife too?)

(STOP!)

“I… that’s not important,” Preston replies, shaking his head. “Your Uncle Andrew, when you visited – he noticed we looked a little similar, so he took the spoons we ate ice cream with and – well – I’m your dad.” He laughs a little and puts his head in his hands. “I can understand why Hannah wants to kill him.”

(___ him?)

I turn around and Preston is gone and I am alone in Livi D.’s room.

(Grandma ___ Livi D.) (Mom might ___ Uncle Andrew.)

(Knife will ___ them all.)

(Why can’t I not say that word?!)

I look at the lavender room and the OCD pillows and the funeral bill and my new dress and Knife and Knife and Knife and Knife and my legs are shaking and bouncing up-down-up-down-up-down and my head is spinning and the world is red and white like Knife after I ___ someone and all I can think is that I need to get Knife out of me

***

Mom left me at Grandma’s last night. I wake up the day after my birthday in Livi D.’s bed, but there is no clock, so I run downstairs and see that it is 10:22 and 15 seconds. I shiver any little bit of Livi D. that might have stuck to me off and join Eden in the kitchen. She smiles and smooths her gray frock and grabs a piece of chocolate birthday cake from the refrigerator and winks as she tells me, “I saved the bit with your name for you.” The cake used to say “Happy Birthday Hannah and Rory,” but now the –y is cut off.

(Cut off like Knife would cut off – )

(Stop.)

“Where’s Mom?” I ask.

“Oh, Missy Loo, don’t you worry. Your mom has to deal with some grown-up stuff, which means you and I get to spend today together!” Eden always says words that should be condescending but never are. Whereas Mom says that Grandma says words that shouldn’t be condescending and always are.

Eden sends me upstairs to get ready for the day, then follows to help make my bed and open the blinds. I am putting on some of Mom’s old clothes that Grandma had saved in storage when I hear Uncle Andrew’s voice from the front door. Grandma calls for Eden, so Eden tells me not interrupt them while she’s gone, Missy Loo, but as soon as she’s out of sight I go to the edge of the staircase and listen.

“Andrew Dashiell Daines!” Grandma yells, louder than I’ve ever heard her, louder than last night. Eden offers a shush but Grandma doesn’t listen. “First the job, now this,” Grandma spits at him. The words sound like little Knives (Stop.) speeding at his face and Uncle Andrew can’t deflect. “When the fuck will you learn about the consequences of your actions?!”

“Everything I have done has been to try and be a better person,” Uncle Andrew states.

“To be a better person? Please, Andrew, I’m your mother, don’t lie to me. Like you did about the investments,” Grandma adds as an afterthought.

“Oh, come on, don’t bring the Madoff thing into this. I was just trying to earn some extra money, and besides, I only used my bank account, not yours.”

“You know, Andrew, you think you hit a home run, but you started on third base,” Grandma seethes. “At least Hannah had the decency to play fair.”

I hear a stomp. “Hannah this, Hannah that, it’s always about her with you, Mom!” Uncle Andrew shouts. “You know, maybe that’s why I did the DNA test – so that Rory could have something big happen to her, not just live in the shadow of her mother, like I do!”

“Do not say this is about Rory,” Grandma replies. “We both know it’s not. You need to take responsibility.”

“What do you mean I don’t take responsibility?!” Uncle Andrew bursts out. I imagine his face going red, like a tomato shriveling in the sun. “I told Hannah about Rory’s father!”

“And you – ” Grandma stops. “Eden, thank you for coming in,” she says, her voice so level and calm I almost don’t realize it’s her. But it is. Grandma, I mean. “Would you mind getting Rory out of the house today?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Eden says. “Does Hannah need us to meet her somewhere?”

“No, just take her to the park, or a museum – you can find our old membership somewhere in my office, I know I used to have a card – just so long as she’s not around this mess of a situation…”

“Yes, ma’am,” Eden says again, and then I hear her calling my name, saying something about shoes and a coat but I don’t listen because as soon as Eden’s footsteps have faded into Grandma’s office, Grandma picks up her conversation with Uncle Andrew.

“And you let your roommate rape your sister!” Grandma shouts.

“That’s unfair. You know Hannah was drunk – ”

“I. Don’t. Care.”

“I told her to stop drinking, I did! She wouldn’t listen to me – and besides, I was a freshman, she was twenty-two, she was supposed to be the mature one – ”

Grandma cuts him off. “Why now?” she demands. Uncle Andrew pauses. “Andrew. Why now?”

“Rory’s always wanted to know who her father was. Hell, you’ve always wanted to know who her father was, you can’t deny that, Mom.”

The room falls deadly silent (dead.) (Knife.) (___.) (Stop!). I hear Eden’s footsteps coming towards me. I know she’ll try to take me away, but I need to know if what Preston told me is true, so I tie my shoelaces into impossible knots before Eden walks up to me and tell her I need help untying them. Eden sighs – “What have you done, Missy Loo?” – but stays quiet and I can just hear Uncle Andrew telling Grandma, “You give her money. She doesn’t even have a real job.”

“I loan her money for medical necessities and child support. And at least Hannah works hard for her salary, even if it is minimal.” Grandma’s voice lowers and trails off at the end.

“Exactly!” Uncle Andrew exclaims. “She fucked up her editing job and got off scot-free. Meanwhile I do nothing but work to better your company and get punished for trying to make a little extra money!”

“Work to better my company? Please, Andrew,” Grandma retorts. “I see the evaluations. You delegate, at best. Any other worker would have been fired years ago.”

“See?! This is exactly what I’m saying. You clearly like Hannah more. I thought if I could show you who she really was – ”

“And what’s that, Andrew?”

“A manipulative slut!”

I hear a slap. Eden tries to cover my ears but then decides that getting me out of the house as soon as possible is more important and tells me to stand up and hop down the stairs, if I can.

Grandma’s voice only becomes clearer. “Well, you certainly have shown me who you really are, Andrew. You are the manipulative one.”

“You’re supposed to be my mother!” Uncle Andrew declares, indignant.

“I’m also Hannah’s. And right now, I need to be with her to file a restraining order against your roommate. So why don’t you go home to Preston and tell him to get the fuck out, and you can come back when you’re ready to apologize to Hannah.”

“Fine,” Uncle Andrew says. Eden and I are at the bottom of the staircase and we can see Grandma and Uncle Andrew through the door. “But you have to cover my rent.”

“What did you say to me?”

Uncle Andrew puffs out his chest like a cartoon parrot. “You’re the one who refused to help me with the rent. If you had just given me my allowance, I never would have had to bring Preston back into our lives. And if you’re going to force me to kick Preston out, I can’t make rent anymore.”

Grandma’s footsteps are burning holes in the floor as she walks towards the foyer. Eden starts to hurry me towards the door even faster. “You are the most entitled, self-involved, unsympathetic, inadequate human I have ever known – and I knew your father, Andrew!” Grandma yells. “I give you a management job with a huge salary and benefits – which, by the way, you delegate to assistants you don’t even need, who you probably spend your time hitting on with Preston fucking Weiner – and you complain it’s not enough money. And – and instead of working harder, you decide to extort me by undermining your sister’s credibility?!” Suddenly, Grandma stops in her tracks, looking straight at me and Eden. “Why haven’t you left yet?” she demands.

“Rory needed some help with her sneakers,” Eden replies. “Sorry about that, Mrs. Daines.” Then she turns to me and says, “Come on, Rory, we’ll fix this outside.” And then Eden ushers me onto the townhouse steps and Grandma closes the door and her voice fades out, and I can’t her anything more.

After Eden’s managed to untie my shoes, and while she watches my bunny method intently so that I don’t screw up again, I decide to ask, “Eden? What’s rape?” Eden shushes me and offers me a second secret slice of birthday cake when we get home and I don’t say no. We stand up and walk towards the park. A few blocks in, I ask about Uncle Andrew. “What did he do?” Eden responds that he did a bad thing and that he and Preston are not allowed near me or Mom for a long time. I don’t understand what they did (is rape like ___?) (Stop!), but I know if I say this, Eden will treat me like a child again (and I’m not a child, I’m double-digits now!), so I stay quiet.

Eden and I go to the park. I run to the swings, and when the other families leave, Eden sits down on the swing next to me. The sky is blue. The rocks are gray and hard and a little shiny from the frost.

(Like Knife.)

(Stop.)

Eden still doesn’t talk.

“Is Mom coming back?” I ask a few blocks later.

Eden sighs. I wouldn’t be mad if Mom didn’t. Come back, I mean. I ran away from her. It’s only fair. (And then Knife couldn’t – ) (Stop.)

“Your mother will be back later tonight,” Eden says.

“Why?”

“What do you mean, why? She’s your mother and she loves you!” Eden gives me a smile, and when I don’t smile back she reaches around the chain of the swing (chain. Hurt. Knife.) (Stop.) and tickles me. But after I finish giggling, I look back at Eden and see that she’s closed her eyes, so I turn away and mumble, “If she loves me, why did she read my diary?” and Eden doesn’t answer. I hop off the swing and ask if we can get a snack from the street vendors, and Eden says okay but only because it’s the day after my birthday, Missy Loo, and this stays our little secret. We each get a pretzel and sit down on a bench and I finally ask Eden what’s going on.

Eden sighs. “You know your Uncle Andrew’s friend, Preston?” I nod. “Well – ”

“Last night he said he was my dad,” I blurt. Eden doesn’t reply, so I keep talking. “But I know it’s not true because Mom doesn’t know who my dad is and Preston said she just didn’t remember but I know that would hurt her because she likes to know things and no one should ever hurt anybody – and if I have a dad who can hurt someone does that mean I can – and – ”

“Slow down, Missy Loo,” Eden chuckles, putting her hands up to signal it. “I – ” Suddenly there is a beeeeeeep. Eden reaches into her coat pocket and flips her phone open and says, “Mrs. Daines?” And then Eden stands up and takes my hand (Knife can’t hold my hand now) and walks us back to Grandma’s.

When we get inside, Mom is at the dining room table. She has a piece of cake in front of her but she lets it sit untouched, and I almost ask if I can take it before I remember that Uncle Andrew did a bad thing and if I take Mom’s treat then I will have done a bad thing, too. Mom’s eyes are like shadowy caves, sharp and strong and unknown. Grandma is next to her, but she’s reading a book and when Eden and I arrive she leaves without a word. Eden gives me a nudge and says I should sit down. So, I do. Sit down, I mean.

Mom squeezes my hand, but not so hard that it hurts.

(Hurt. Knife.) (Stop.)

“Rory, you are the best thing that’s ever happened to me,” Mom starts, even though I don’t think that is true. Mom pulls the cake towards her and cuts it in half (cut. Knife.) (Stop.) and adds that I can take a piece, if I want. “I know you heard what Uncle Andrew said last night, about Preston, and I know it’s really confusing to you. I mean, it’s even really confusing to me!” Mom sniffles. “But there’s one thing I know. Grandma and I think you should talk to someone.” I look up at her. “The more I wrote my book, the more I realized how much was going on in your head. And after last night… well, I think it would do you good to have someone to talk to.”

“Like Eden?” I ask.

“No, like a doctor.” Mom rubs my shoulders. I pretend to frown and hope it’s convincing. “Is that okay, Rory?”

“That’s okay.”

“We’re going to figure this out,” Mom promises. “Together. And in the meantime, you can always tell me what’s going on in your head.”

In my head, there is a Knife.

About the Author

Carolyn Silverstein

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A native New Yorker with an affinity for the outdoors, Carolyn Silverstein is currently earning her BA in English Literature and Creative Writing at Dartmouth College. Her fiction has been shortlisted for the Virginia Woolf Award in Short Fiction, and her personal essays have appeared in a number of online publications. Follow her Twitter @carolynsilv3 for future publications.