Contest RecapMidlife Collage sponsors a weekly contest of midlife short stories. U.S. citizens and legal residents age 40 and older may enter. The Editor selects five stories for publication on our website each week. Readers leave comments and Facebook thumbs-up likes urging the panel of Judges to choose a contest winner. Readers also send the Judges their opinions of the best story on our Closing Arguments page. The contest period is Monday through Sunday noon PT. The first-place story enters the Winner’s Circle and receives a cash prize of $50. Winners of a $50 cash prize are eliglble for a $100 contest, which we run quarterly. See the Submissions Page for the Contest Rules for details. ANYONE, worldwide, age 18 or older can comment on the stories in a contest.
Four years ago I was up early putting the finishing touches on my signature pasta salad and making my family’s favorite carrot cake to take to my sister’s annual Labor Day barbeque. If you are a beach bum like me, you know how hard it is to leave the sand on this particular day, the symbolic end of summer, the sad good-byes to long sunny days, and the breezes that seemed to take away every care in the world, while zoning out, watching the sun sparking off the cool blue seas.
In the kitchen, I sighed, annoyed that I couldn’t spend this last official day of summer on the beach, which was down the street from where I lived. Instead, I had to travel inland to my sister’s house to eat hot dogs and sit under an umbrella that was nowhere near the sand. It was always a sacrifice to attend this event and I went reluctantly.
Now, I sigh for a different reason. I sigh because I would give up all the summers of my life to be with my sister again.
How could I have been so shortsighted? How could I have been so selfish? It was one of the worst lessons to learn the hard way—taking for granted someone you love.
My sister, Em, and I were born ten years apart, with two brothers in the middle. I’m told she was thrilled the day my mom brought me home from the hospital. I was a real live baby doll, and she sat by the side of my cradle running her finger along my cheek.
She was a great help to my mother, who was tired with three young kids already in her charge, two of them wild little boys. Em would fold my tiny clothes and arrange everything on the changing table.
My mom thought it was strange that she would often find me set free from the tight swaddling she had left me to sleep in, and my booties removed exposing my tiny pink feet. She asked my sister if she was doing it and Em admitted to it with indignation. My mom asked, “Why are you doing it?”
Em replied, “She doesn’t like her feet all crunched up.”
How did Em know I didn’t like my feet confined? Or was she projecting her own comfort onto me? Whatever the reason, to this day I can’t sleep unless my feet are free from the covers.
It was a great blessing to have a sister. We talked almost about every day, spent every holiday together, celebrated our birthdays together and did impromptu drop-ins. We complained about our husbands and other family members to each other. I can’t remember exactly when the dynamic between me and Em changed from little and big sister to just sisters and friends.
I was with my big sister the last four days of her life. Her husband was going away on a scheduled business trip to Chicago. When he left it didn’t appear that Em was any worse than she had been. Her illness gave her good days and bad days that we had come to expect would roll around again.
I took off work and stayed with her. The first day the nurse said Em seemed disoriented. The second day Em wouldn’t eat and hardly made any sense when she spoke. The third day I couldn’t get Em out of bed and her feet were starting to turn purple.
She looked at me at one point and said, “You know I’m dying.”
On Saturday a nurse from hospice came to Em’s house. As we waited for the ambulance, the nurse asked Em a few questions.
“What day is it?”
“Where’s your husband?”
“Where are you?”
“In the hospital.”
Up to this point, Em had given all the wrong responses.
Then the nurse asked her, “Who’s sitting next to you?”
Em turned her head slowly and looked over at me, her tired blue eyes lit up and she said, “That’s my little sister.”