“Damnit Zephyr! Get in the kennel!!” I shouted, as I wrestled with the 6lb cat that my sister had decided to let loose. “Today of all days…” I muttered, as I grabbed the tortoiseshell by the scruff of her neck and gave her a little shake of disapproval. “Lucy, I hate your cat.”
“No you don’t, you love him.” She replied, giving me one of her patented “Lucy Knows-It-All-All-The-Time Grins.
I had gotten her the cat 2 years ago as a moving away present. We had lived together our entire lives. Our parents, along with our youngest sister Arin, died in a house fire when we were both teenagers. At 15 and 16, Lucy and I set out on our own. We held hands and jumped into life headfirst. Two years later, when Lucy decided to move out and strike out on her own, I gave her Zephyr. And today would be the last time I would ever see either of them again.
Lucy was moving just down the road. Literally. To a small house with a small yard with a – get this, small duck pond in the back. I told her that cat would kill the ducks. But she didn’t care. Lucy didn’t care about anything except maybe getting home in time for her shows. Otherwise she was a real let it loose, live in the moment, free spirit kind of girl. Before she died, our mom used to say “Lucy dances to the beat of a different drum.” I’d say “yeah? What about me?” She’d usually respond with something like, “Oh Jane, you’re special too. But it was true, Lucy was the special one. What happened to her probably would have killed mom and dad all over again. I’m glad they weren’t around to see it.
The house was so cute. Yellow with white trim. And those damn ducks were everywhere. Not just in the pond in the backyard, but in the side and the front. Painted ducks, wooden ducks, duck nests, duck blinds; whoever built this house had a real thing for ducks. I remember joking with Lucy about it and her just brushing me off, “I think they are nice. They remind me of Arin.” The comment hit me like a ton of bricks. We don’t talk about our younger sister very much. There was a lot of age between us and Lucy and Arin never seemed especially close. She was only 8 when she died in bed with my parents while the house burned down around them. But thinking it over, I realized it was true, Arin had loved ducks. She had loved all birds actually.
I had driven Lucy and Zephyr to their new home and was planning on staying for dinner and a movie when work called. At the time I was working as a part time barista at a local punk dive. Rent was late, the power was about to be shut off, and my own cat was looking at me like I would make a sizeable meal if I didn’t fill her bowl right about meow – so I told Lucy I was going to catch a couple hours at the ‘Garbo and then I’d be back. She replied something about unpacking, told me to watch the ducks on my way out, grabbed Zephyr from his kennel and headed towards the back of the house. I remember watching her shining gold hair as she wandered away and thinking it looked like a halo in the golden sun of the dimming afternoon light. My sister, the Golden Angel of the Duck House…
While I went home changing into what I distastefully referred to as my “Greta Garbo Greatest Get Up” and headed to work to make fancy lattes and mochas for “too cool for Starbucks” hipsters, I thought about that funny little house my sister had just moved into. I remember that night I kept messing up people’s orders. I’m surprised I didn’t get fired. It doesn’t matter. It wasn’t that great of a job and the place is shut down now anyway. Turns out the owners were embezzling money. No wonder they only paid us all in tips.
I finished my shift at 2 am, and decided to go home. I figured Lucy was probably already in bed. It was way too late for our planned “dinner and a movie”, and I would just go and see her tomorrow. She was LITERALLY right up the road. Besides, the whole point of her moving out was to gain independence. And my coming over at 2:30 in the morning fresh off of work, waking her up demanding to hang out seems, in my mind, a little invasive. But I missed her. The void of her presence was persistent, calling me to recognize and acknowledge its lack of existence. So I decided that I would go run my errands, and invite my sister to come along, first thing in the morning.
I woke up the next day with a feeling. A bad feeling. I woke up and it was hovering over me the way a rain cloud hovers before a storm. I picked up my phone and messaged Lucy, “Hey you. You up yet?”, while I waited for her to reply I made some eggs for me and the cat and took a shower. An hour later I still hadn’t heard back. Tired of waiting, I decided I would just walk the couple of blocks up to her duck mansion and go see how unpacking was going. Or, if she was still asleep at noon, go wake her up and take her to lunch. I locked up the house and headed out, standing on the porch I noticed something, there were ducks on my lawn. I had never seen ducks on my lawn before and I have never seen ducks on my lawn since.
Walking to Lucy’s house was beautiful. It was a beautiful summer day. There were kids riding their bikes down the streets, dogs out barking in the yards, everything was as it should. That is, until I got closer to Lucy’s. The closer I got to Lucy’s the quieter it got. At first I thought it might have something to do with all the ducks, but that didn’t make any sense. No, for some reason it was just too quiet. Too still. Something was wrong here. Something was wrong at Lucy’s house.
Sprinting up the walkway I noticed there were feathers everywhere. Feathers in the fence. Feathers up the walkway. Feathers all over the driveway. Dozens and dozens of feathers…but no ducks. “Lucy!!” I screamed, pounding on her door, “LUCY!!”! Panicked, I shouldered into the door with all my weight and almost went through the entire house when it easily gave way under me, unlocked and unlatched. Scrambling to regain my footing, I squinted in the overly bright and cheery kitchen.
The kitchen was red. I blinked. Blinked again. Red? Wasn’t it yellow yesterday? Wasn’t the whole house yellow and white yesterday? But now, today it was red. Red…and feathery. It took my brain almost a full minute to recognize my sister had filled the sunny 1950’s kitchenette with the carcasses’ of what had to be at least 15 dead ducks. She had what looked like a Pagan sacrifice of to the Duck Gods in this Betty Crocker kitchen.
I found Lucy in the backyard, she had apparently run out of ducks. She had cut off all her hair. I couldn’t find the cat. I called the paramedics and they came and took my sister to the hospital. She had had a complete mental break with reality. And apparently it wasn’t the first time.
My sister you see, was crazy, I didn’t know it. But she knew it. Our parents knew it, and our little sister knew it too. Our parents used to try to convince her that her voices were dreams and nightmares. Tamed with self-control and responsibility. Medication and therapy were unapproved and frowned upon in our household and keeping secrets was second nature only to breathing. I was the only one who didn’t see it. “Lucy had nightmares”,” Lucy was “eccentric”. No, Lucy heard voices. The things that Lucy did weren’t born out of a free spirit, they were born out of nightmares and whispered taunts only she could hear. Lucy lit the match that defined our lives. She killed the ducks because she thought they were Arin, taunting her from the grave. Lucy tried to overcome her demons, but they ended up overcoming her. And all the while I stood at the window thinking about lunch.
I don’t go to the hospital very much. Partly out of shame, partly out of fear, but mainly because she is not the Lucy I remember. I have gone and seen the person in the padded room with the scars from the ECT and glazed eyes from the Haldol they have her on. I have seen the person who, when she is off her meds, claims she sees god and everyone is out to get her. I have seen the quiet serene woman who claims that she just wants to “go home”, even though her last home was with me. But I haven’t seen my sister. Not in a long, long time. I still feel her absence. Like a splinter that catches on an unfinished banister. She lives in Eastern State now. She has for 22 years. It too, is literally a block away. Lucy is there, dancing to the beat of her drum, and I am out here trying to take care of the ducks.
I never did find that damn cat by the way.
God I hate that cat. Lucy was wrong about that.