by Timothy Day
I got the email on a Thursday night, after buying a couple of murky grey fish at the pet store. The label on their tank had read undeveloped, the sales associate explaining that there was no telling what colors they may grow into.
The email was from a woman named Emily who claimed to be my sister, with news that she would be in town for the weekend and was planning to stay at my place. I would have thought it a simple case of mistaken address if it weren’t for the specific details included, such as my name, the futon in the living room that she could sleep on, and her hope that the removal of my wisdom teeth last week had gone smoothly. I wrote back, informing her that she had me confused with someone else, and she responded with a simple lol.
Emily arrived in the afternoon, suitcase beside her. She had short brown hair tucked beneath a mustard-yellow beanie, her eyes large and grey. When I opened the door she laughed and flung her arms around me.
“God, I missed you!”
I took a step back and smiled awkwardly.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “You have me mixed up. I don’t have a sister.”
She walked past me into the living room.
“Exactly how I remember it,” she said. “Homey as fuck.”
I lingered at the threshold as she rolled her suitcase to the corner and lay down across the futon.
“When were you here?”
“I know,” she said. “It’s been too long.” Then she turned and buried her face in the cushion. “I’m jet-lagged,” she murmured. “But let’s get dinner when I wake up.”
I decided it was silly to call the police. She was just on drugs or something and needed to sleep it off. We would share a good, strangerly laugh about it when she woke up. I went to check on the undeveloped fish, still grey. I fed them their little food flakes and they pursued them timidly, as if embarrassed over their need for sustenance. I called Nat and told her about my new sister. Nat said that last week she found a dildo hanging from the telephone line in front of her house. These things happen. Then she asked if I could cover her shift at the waffle hut tomorrow and I wished I hadn’t called.
A few hours later I peered into the living room to find Emily awake, sifting through one of my sketchbooks.
“These are great J,” she said. “So much better than that shitty little cartoon you used to draw at lunch. What was the name?” She looked up at me with a grin.
“Pinecones?” I said. “About the squirrel and raccoon in the tree-house?”
“That’s right,” she laughed.
I sat down next to her.
“How’d you know that?” I asked. “I mean seriously. This was funny and everything but–“
“I’m your sister,” she said. “I know everything about you.”
“What street did we live on growing up?”
She went back to my sketchbook.
“Jesus Jason,” she said. “Who cares?”
At dinner Emily ordered fish and chips before correctly predicting my order of fettuccine alfredo. I decided to go along with it for a bit and we talked about my parents’ divorce and my recent trip to Alaska and how I’d been right about her ex-boyfriend Steve. I’d never liked being an only child and found myself enjoying the illusion. At one point she called me Jared before quickly correcting herself, blaming it on fatigue.
We went to get drinks and she put my favorite song on the jukebox. After a few rounds I casually reiterated the fact that I had never seen her before in my life. Why did she think we were siblings? She smiled at me.
“Family is subjective,” she said, winking.
We played pool and an apology escaped my lips after I knocked in the first ball.
“Damn you,” she scowled at me playfully. “You know I like stripes.”
At home we hugged goodnight and she told me how good it was to see me again. I laughed and said that it was good to meet her too. She scoffed.
“You’re such an idiot.”
In the morning I left Emily a note saying I’d be at the waffle hut until one. After the shift I went over to Nat’s and she answered the door in her pajamas, clutching a box of tissues. I asked if she could come meet my new sister, curious if Emily would pretend to know her too.
“You know I’m sick right?” Nat coughed to demonstrate.
I told her that when I was sick it always made me feel better to meet my boyfriend’s fake relative.
We found Emily crouched before the fish tank, watching intently. I introduced Nat but Emily didn’t seem to hear. We approached the tank and kneeled down beside her and I peered through the glass; it seemed the undeveloped fish had developed; streaks of yellow and aqua blue slanting across their shimmery forms.
“Hey Nat,” Emily said, turning to her with a grin, “remember that time you almost won the track race in high school, but tripped on your shoelace at the last minute?”
Nat hesitated, then said with cautious humor,
“Story of my life.”
I put my face up close to the tank, watching the fish dart around their confined world. I decided I would drive to the ocean later and dump them in; they were ready for it. I felt for Nat and Em’s hands on either side of me and slowly folded mine around them. We were silent for a minute, joined together as if praying to the fish-gods.
“You talk to mom lately?” Em asked.
Nat and I looked at each other, wondering who should respond.
Timothy Day loves old jazz, bad puns, and blanket-forts, preferably at the same time. His fiction has appeared in magazines such as Menacing Hedge, Cease Cows, Jersey Devil Press, WhiskeyPaper, and others. You can visit him online at frogsmirkles.wordpress.com.