by Cathy Yan, Age 15, Canada
Artwork by Lucy Zhang
The fiction prompt of the month for September was to use the word “orange” at least three times.
What’s Done is Done
The week before my fourteenth birthday party, my mother made my sister, Lizzie, go on a diet, irrationally claiming she was looking “too plump.” The entire week, our family ate nothing but limp veggies and chicken breast, doused with a foul sauce that was supposed to help burn fat.
However, every night after my mother had gone to sleep, my father would knock on my bedroom door quietly, and pick up my empty-stomached sister and I for a late-night trip to the nearby burger joint. I always made sure to sneak away at least two pieces of fried chicken, a gift I’d give to my sister on our walk to her preschool the next morning. Despite it’s greasy texture, her eyes would still light up at the sight of the cold chicken, like nothing could be better.
On the day of the party, my mother was baking what seemed to be a million chocolate cupcakes, frosting them with orange whipped cream, and decorating them with tiny silver balls. My sister was wide-eyed at the sight of them, but they were out of reach because my mother was still clinging to the insane notion that a four-year-old girl should be watching her weight. My mother wasn’t there to see my sister cry, but as my guests gorged themselves on decadent cupcakes and bright orange cheese chips, there was my little sister with her tear-stained cheeks. As luck would have it, my mother wasn’t there to see me grab double portions of everything on the table, either. She also certainly wasn’t there to see me and my sister later that night, with our sticky, stained hands, quietly laughing while trying our best not to wake our parents.
Eight years later, on the day before Christmas, I came home from university to an empty house. Dead silence filled the house; not a single soul was home. There were no notes taped up, nor were there any missed calls. It was as if my entire family had disappeared without a trace. Puzzled, I poured myself a cold bowl of cereal, and awaited their return. Five hours later, with still no sign of life from anyone, I began to worry.
In an attempt to stay calm, I called my father’s cell. Five rings later, I was on the verge of hanging up, when a familiar voice came through.
“Hello?”my father asked, sounding distant.
“Hey, Dad,” I said smiling, “remember me? I’m home. Where is everyone?”
“Listen, Sam…,” he sounded tired and burned out, like his nerves were running out, “I’m really sorry, but…”
“What?” I pressed on. “What’s going on?”
“Lizzie’s in the hospital,” he announced abruptly. I was suddenly frozen.
“What happened?” I almost screamed into the phone. “Did she fall? Break a bone? Have a heart attack?”
“Calm down,” my father consoled me. “Head over to the hospital. I’ll meet you in the lobby.” Without giving me the chance to reply, he hung up, leaving me at a loss for words, sitting in the kitchen.
Despite the million thoughts that were rushing through my mind, I somehow managed to get myself to the hospital. I wandered inside like a lost puppy, my coat, or perhaps my panic, suffocating me.
“Sam!” My father’s voice cut through the crowd, and I immediately ran over to him.
“What’s going on?” I asked for what seemed to be the thousandth time. “Is Lizzie okay?”
My father looked at me in the eye with all seriousness. “If I tell you what has happened, I need you to promise me that you won’t blame your mother.”
“Okay, okay,” I blurted out rapidly. “Now tell me what’s going on!”
“Your sister’s friend found her passed out in the bathroom at the mall,” my father began. “She’s seriously underweight and completely malnourished.”
It took a moment for the words to register, but I suddenly exclaimed, “I need to see her!”
“I’ll be quiet,” I insisted.
Hesitantly, my father complied and led me into her room.
She was ridiculously tiny, sprawled on the bed. Her skin a pale blue and her collar bones prominent, sticking out harshly from the ugly orange hospital gown. Seeing her this weak, this thin, suddenly brought back all the memories of my mother forcing spinach juice down her throat and prying the cookie out of her hands, her tears, falling to the ground. All those diets…what had they done to my perfect little sister?
My father noticed the look on my face. “Remember your promise.” And he left me alone with this shell of a person; only half a shadow of the giggling girl I had snuck sweets to a lifetime ago.