If you're going to read this, don't bother.
After a couple of pages, you won't want to be here. So forget it. Go away. Get out while you're still in one piece.
There has to be something better on television. Or since you have so much time on your hands, maybe you could take a night course. Become a doctor. You could make something out of yourself. Treat yourself to a dinner out. Color your hair.
You're not getting any younger.
What happens here is first going to piss you off. After that it just gets worse and worse.
óChuck Palahniuk Choke
"Let's toast," Hanna said.
"Fuck toasts," James said.
"You never want to toast, you bastard."
"What do you want to toast to?" he asked.
"Whatever. I just think we should toast today," she said.
They were on the balcony of my sister's apartment. My brother sat on the ledge next to his bottle of tequila. My sister, sitting cross-legged on the painted wooden floor, held her coffee cup of rum and Coke between both hands.
"Give me a cigarette," my brother said.
I watched Hanna pull out two cigarettes and pass one to him. He pulled the Bic from his pocket and proceeded to light up with a quick and intense drag. After exhaling a stream of smoke, he handed the lighter to her just as she reached up for it. It was their routine. She never had a lighter. He never had cigarettes.
I settled for the corner between them. Unseen.
"So ya wanna pretend it's just another day or do you want to talk about it?" my sister asked as she exhaled her the first drag from her cigarette.
"Do you wanna play the game?" James said.
"We haven't played the game in years," she said as she took a sip out of her cup.
"I don't even remember how we played the game," my brother said.
"All I know is we would make all of these plans of what we would with a google dollars," she said as she half-way smiled.
"A google dollars." James let out a loud half-laugh. "That's a shitload of dollars."
The Game had started a few years after I died. Through the years, it had become a favorite of theirs because it was an escape, even if it was only for a few minutes. They were escaping to a world where there was something bigger than my death.
"I don't want to play the game," Hanna said.
James picked up his empty glass and poured a perfectly measured shot.
They sat in silence for a few minutes. I watched as neither of them looked at the other. This was the part I hated. And this was the part I loved. They were both thinking of me, concentrating so intensely on what neither was talking about.
"Nine years is a fucking long time," Hanna said. I watched her as she took a large drink from her cup.
"Yeah, and sometimes it seems like it's been nine days," James said.
"You know the shitty thing about today? I can't ever make it through this day, these fucking anniversaries, without thinking of everything that happened on that day. Today, I'm thinking 'at this time nine years ago, I was watching The Breakfast Club. At this time nine years ago, I got the phone call. At this time nine years ago, I was sitting outside the hospital emergency room watching everyone in our family arrive from god knows where.' I think that's what I hate most about this day."
James tossed back the liquid in his shot glass.
"So don't think about it."
"Can't help it." Hanna took out two more cigarettes and passed one to James. "Everything's so different now. But it's still the same."
"I know," James mumbled. "It's all different, but she's still not here."
"And she's never going to be here," Hanna said as she took the lighter from James. She lit her cigarette, went through the motion of flicking ashes into the ashtray beside her, and finished off her drink.
"You didn't even have any ashes to flick," James said.
"You know what's shitty about these anniversaries?" James asked as he poured another shot. "They always fuck with my mind. Like I just get crazy, ya know? I don't even know why. That's why I always take off somewhere--just to get away from everyone, to get away from everything."
"Mmm," Hanna replied. "I know. I think this is the first time we've actually been together for one of these little anniversaries. You always run. I always hide."
"Every year that passes..." James looked over the balcony and flicked ash from the burning cigarette in his hand.
"What about every year that passes?" Hanna asked when James didn't say anything more.
"Every year that passes, it's almost like she becomes less real. It's like I have to remind myself of what it was like when she was alive." James inhaled the rest of the tobacco in his hand. I watched him look over his shoulder as he tossed the butt over the balcony and onto the damp grass below. I watched as he kept his head turned away.
Hanna refilled the cup with her Coke and rum concoction.
"It was different when she was alive." She took a large gulp. "Sometimes I wonder if she really did exist. Because sometimes, I come dangerously close to thinking I just made her up."
"Yeah, I know exactly what you mean." James continued to look out over the grass.
"You make her real to me," Hanna said. I saw her look to James for his reaction. I could tell the alcohol was starting to serve its purpose. It was becoming easier for her to talk.
James looked her in the eye.
"She did exist," he said.
"Does exist," she said.
I listened to the silence between the two of them. My brother and my sister. They had never had a particularly strong connection when I was alive.
I watched them as they sat on the balcony, nine years to the day after my death changed their worlds forever. They had found in each other what they had lost with my death. I had been the common bond between them when I was alive. Since my death, they had discovered in their own pain they weren't alone.
"Let's toast," James said.
I grinned along with Hanna as she raised her cup toward James' bottle.
"To her?" Hanna asked.
"Fuck it," James said. "To us."