Sisters - By Patricia MacDonald


The car pulled up and parked at the curb in front of the red-brick Queen Anne-style house which Alex Woods had always called home. She gazed out of the passenger-side window at the bare branches of the trees surrounding the house, the shutters that framed the darkened windows. All the other houses on the block were festooned with strings of lights or had Christmas candles in the windows. Her house sat like a black hole in the middle of the twinkling, cheery block. It was late afternoon and the December sky was a pewter-gray. Mounds of gray-edged, crusty snow speckled the yard. Alex sighed.

‘You know, Alex, you don’t have to stay here,’ said the driver of the car, her Uncle Brian. ‘You can stay with us. Aunt Jean and I would love to have you. So would your cousins.’

‘I know,’ said Alex. She had stayed at her aunt and uncle’s house when her parents died in the car accident late in spring. Frightened by the very thought of losing both parents in one terrible moment, Alex’s two young cousins had treated her with cautious respect. Now, six months later, she imagined that her loss was ancient history to the two younger boys. They were busy thinking about what Santa might bring. Alex was just another relative, a grown-up whom they hardly knew. ‘That’s really nice of you. And I know you mean it sincerely. But I can’t put this off. I have to face it.’

‘At least let me come in with you,’ said Brian. ‘This is going to be tough.’

Alex shook her head. ‘No, I’m OK. I’ll be OK.’

Brian Reilly frowned. ‘Your mother would want me to look after you.’

Brian was younger than Alex’s late mother by six years, but he had the same ginger hair, pale eyelashes and shy smile. Alex had heard countless stories of what a wild young man Uncle Brian had been but now, his hair thinning, his wedding ring settled into a permanent groove on his finger, it was hard to imagine. She could still remember Brian, handsome and nervous in his tuxedo, when she was a flower girl at his wedding to Jean. These days he coached Little League and went to church on Sundays. ‘You have looked after me, Uncle Brian,’ she said. ‘I couldn’t have managed these last months without you and Aunt Jean. All that paperwork for the estate. I couldn’t have coped with it, long distance. I really appreciate everything you’ve done. I mean it. And it’s not as if you won’t see me. I’ll be at your house for Christmas.’

Brian frowned. ‘I can’t help but worry. I know you’re not a little kid anymore, but when I look at you I still remember the day you were born. Your mom and dad were so happy that day.’

Avoiding his tender gaze, Alex squeezed his hand briefly. ‘I had wonderful parents,’ she said, and her voice quavered.

Brian gazed at the house, tears welling in his gray eyes. ‘I think about them all the time, you know,’ he said quietly. ‘I miss them so much. Your mom and dad. Of course I loved my big sister, but I loved Doug too. He was a great guy. They were both . . .’

Alex nodded, but didn’t try to speak.

‘They’d be so proud of you. How strong you’ve been. It must have been almost impossible for you to concentrate after the accident,’ he said.

‘It was,’ said Alex. ‘I thought I might quit.’

‘I don’t know how you did it. Finishing your studies after something like that.’

Alex had been completing the coursework for her masters degree in arts administration, out in Seattle, when the accident occurred. After a lot of internal debate, she decided to stay at school that summer so she could finish up in December. She was afraid if she came back east before she was done with her studies, she might fall into a depression and never get back to them. ‘That’s what kept me going,’ she said. ‘I knew they would want me to finish.’

‘You did good,’ he said.

‘Thanks,’ said Alex. Then she sighed. ‘Well, I guess I better . . .’

‘Yeah, right,’ said Brian.

Alex took a deep breath and opened the car door. ‘Thanks for picking me up at the airport, Uncle Brian.’

‘When is your stuff arriving?’ he asked.

Alex frowned. ‘About a week,’ she said. ‘That’s what the shipping company told me. I didn’t have that much stuff anyway. I left a lot of it in the apartment for my roommates. Students.