Botswana was the last place I expected to talk to my sister after five years. But as anyone who as spent any amount of time on this Earth can tell you, life works in mysterious ways.
Technically, I was in Botswana, while she was what seemed like a million miles away, in my hometown on the Canada-United States border. The phone felt heavy in my hand, and when I lifted it to my ear, I heard the crackling and distortion of the ocean separating us.
I tried to imagine what she was doing. She used to cradle the phone between her ear and her shoulder when we were growing up. I wondered if she still did that, if she was doing it now.
I hadn't actively thought of my sister, or my parents, or really, the whole town of Milmont since I'd made my escape five years ago, the day after my eighteenth birthday (which was also, as I recalled now, the day I broke up with my high school boyfriend, Michael Ryan). I'd very courageously and completely suppressed all memories of my life in Milmont, and all the people who used to be the only people I knew.
It was really a scholarship that saved me. I apparently possessed quite the promising ability for a career in historical something-or-other, according to my mailed off essays to several well-to-do schools. I received several thick manila envelopes in the mail, one of which being from UCLA, which I chose without hesitation. Warm weather and the theoretical and romantic idea of living on the San Andreas fault line appealed to me. I went, eighteen years old, and never looked back.
Until now. Now I squinted my eyes and peered through the mists of time to try and remember what my sister even looked like. She had been somewhat of a chameleon in high school, and once she graduated (she was three years older than me) I never saw much of her. She attended a community college in a nearby city and lived in the dorms and spoke excitedly about parties and formals and boys whenever she came home for dinner. Which was (I was beginning to remember more clearly now) fairly often. She was always the better child. She was popular and always listened to my mother's fashion advice, and while her grades were average, she was still (and I say this passively, nonchalantly) more loved as a child. There is always a favorite. It was not me.
Perhaps it was because once I was born, my sister was three and they were just realizing they had reached perfection, or near to it, with her. Their quest for the perfect child needn't have gone on. But it was too late. A week after my birth my father had a vasectomy. Wise, indeed. I can't imagine how another Hesselberg would fit into the equation.
My thoughts waver timorously back to reality. What does she want? Why has she contacted me? What has happened?
"It was," she says, and I sigh mentally as I remember her grating, shrieking voice, yelling at me for being in her room, being on the phone, being alive and messing up her day, "a fucking nightmare trying to get a hold of you. Do you know that? Botswana? Jesus Christ, Wilhelmina. Have you ever heard of a god damn cell phone?" She says something else but it is cut out with the swooshing and whooshing of the ocean.
"Sorry?" I say, and hear my own voice repeated back to me, warped and echoing.
"So you need to come back to Milmont. There are papers to sign, possessions to be divvied up..."
"Sorry, what did you say before that?" Her image was becoming more clear in my mind's eye. I imagined her rolling her eyes now, annoyed at having to repeat herself, to me of all people. There was a long pause. "Hello?" I asked.
"Our mother and father have passed away. In a car crash." I put my hands on the table in front of me. The black phone stared up at me, numbers and letters mingling. A spider crawled across the table, lazily, stopping every few saunters to survey its surroundings. I heard a cough and looked behind me to see a tall, dark man waiting very patiently for his turn on the phone.
"I see," I said, and the words tumbled out in a hiss of air. "When is...the funeral?"
"Oh you've missed the funeral," she said, and I heard her now, loud and clear. "It was last week. But it'd be really great if you could drop whatever you're doing in Botswana" (she said it like a curse word) "and get home so we can read the will and finally get all this over with. I'm a busy woman, I don't have time to be dicking around with final testaments and their house full of old shit. Seeing as how you've been MIA for the last what, six years, you can come and deal with this."
"Five," I whispered. "It's only been five."
"Great. See you soon."