81. The Sister

ON THE NEXT OCCASION, it was a crisp, early April evening. I was having dinner with my parents when the doorbell rang. I went to open it and standing there was a middle aged man who looked like he hadn't eaten in days. His clothes were threadbare and he smelled terrible. I thought he was a beggar, and over the years I've learned to never turn beggars away empty-handed. I told him to wait there at the door and I closed it (it was a cold night) and went to find my purse in the kitchen. Who is it?, asked my father. Just a beggar, I replied. Might be Daniel, snorted my father. I went back to the front door and found the stranger crying. There you are, I said, giving him enough to keep him fed and housed for a few days. Dolly?, he said. Who's asking?, I asked. I'm your brother, Daniel, he replied. In a novel, my character would have broken into tears, I guess, or something like that. There would be hugs and kisses and embraces, and tears, many tears. But it wasn't like that. I suppose life isn't often like a novel. Least of all when it's supposed to be. My brother Daniel disappeared when I was a five-year-old girl. Just like that. There was no warning, no explanation, no clues. Finding him became my parents' reason to live for many years. Posters were glued on walls across town. A small fortune was spent on private investigators after the police lost what little interest they'd had to begin with. My mother appeared in newspapers and went on television shows with a photo. Then finally, after many years, they began to accept that Daniel was gone, and that he wasn't coming back. He's probably dead, the private investigators all concluded, that is usually the case in such instances. And slowly, very slowly, my father much more slowly than my mother, they - we - came to accept it. He was gone. And this was my childhood. Now a man stood before me calling himself my brother. I said to him, I guess you think you're pretty clever, don't you? I guess you're already congratulating yourself at what a splendid idea you have had. Or maybe it wasn't your idea at all. Maybe someone else told you their idea and you paid them for it, or killed them. Well, dear man, listen up, I have some news for you. You're no genius. You're no original. You are the simply the last in a line of desperados with the same idea. Why, I think the last time someone tried it was as recently as New Year, during the cold snap, remember? I suppose he thought we'd be easier targets around Christmas time. So buck up old man. It's springtime and I've given you enough money to last you several days. It's still snowy outside, I know, it's been an especially long winter. But soon enough summer will be here, and the days will be long, and the living will be a little easier. At least for you. But I will remember your face, and I won't be so generous next time. So, please, leave us alone. Without a word, the man, looking down at his feet, nodded and mumbled something inaudible. He turned and, as the elevator was not working, began stomping slowly down the staircase.