How to Check on Your Sister Without Entering Her Apartment
You could stop there — drop the grocery bag on your sister's welcome mat and walk away, but yesterday she texted that she hasn't left her apartment in a week. FYI, she wrote, I'm running out of food. She didn't ask for anything. She just needed you to know. Most likely she'll dress and drive to Hannaford, maybe the Mobil Mart, before she starves. Most likely she'll snap out of this. She always does. Eventually.
The bag is filled with essentials: a dozen eggs, a loaf of whole grain bread, a half-gallon of milk, a twin-pack of Jif, angel hair pasta, a jar of Prego, ground turkey, baby carrots. Two rolls of two-ply toilet paper. Consider the items you didn't buy: hummus, some kind of jelly or jam. Is she low on soap or shampoo?
Knock again. This time harder. You sense movement from somewhere inside and it's a relief to know she's in there, stirring. But you came here expecting something more than a muffled thump. Like an acknowledgement or a thank you. (You've been waiting for a thank you for years.)
"Trish, open up. It's me."
Watch the neighbors' doors. Your sister has trained you not to trust anyone in this complex, except maybe Jackie from downstairs. You believe very little of what your sister tells you, but while you wait outside her apartment, you're a little on edge. Give the door a kick. Let her know you're serious.
"If you dent my door, you're paying for it," she says.
"Hi," you say.
She reminds you that she didn't ask you to come.
"I brought food."
She tells you she didn't ask for that, either.
Her voice is close, like she's watching through the peephole. Hold up your reusable shopping bag, emphasizing its bulk. You bought the owl bag on Etsy and you're embarrassed by how much it cost. Now you regret packing it for your sister.
"Please open the door."
You could leave, but you won't abandon the bag, and you refuse to lug home two jars of Jif. You'd rather not watch your husband eat it by the spoonful, or reprimand your kids for slathering it on their breakfast bananas.
Bananas. You should have bought bananas.
Rethink your strategy. Set the groceries down and unload each item one by one: the bread and the eggs, the toilet paper, the ground turkey. The carrots and pasta, the sauce. The milk, the peanut butter. You place everything in tidy rows on the mat. She would never let a pile of food sit on her welcome mat. It could attract neighbors or rodents, a cat. Your sister hates cats. You've considered buying one for that very reason. But you hate them too.
"You can't leave that here," she says.
"Then grab it; it's yours."
"I said I don't want it."
"You need to eat."
"Jackie already brought me food."
It's hard to compete with Jackie. She's retired and lives alone. Maybe you'll be more like Jackie when your kids leave for college. Maybe you'll bake casseroles for this entire complex when you no longer have to work.
You should get to work.
You slide the empty owl bag over your shoulder. "Call me later. If you want."
"You're not leaving that there!"
"I bought it for you."
"That's not even the ground turkey I like. That toilet paper falls apart when you wipe."
This is your exit. Your sister has food and supplies, one of Jackie's Mexican lasagnas or pot roast dinners. Stop worrying whether or not she's lost her latest part-time job, or if she called her counselor today. Don't ask if she's taken her meds. If you wait for your sister to open the door, you will lose your whole day. You've already lost enough.
Abbie Barker is a college writing instructor living with her husband and two kids in New Hampshire. Her flash fiction appears in Hobart, Monkeybicycle, X-R-A-Y, Ellipsis Zine, Atticus Review
and Cease, Cows
. She reads for Fractured Lit
and you can find her lurking on Twitter @AbbieMBarker