The scent of chopped roses and snot stained tissues. The hand-cupped laughter of cousins scanning through bulletin boards of pictures and trying to keep quiet. A dark red carpet with ugly green swirls, the kind you only sink your feet into at the dentist or doctor or funeral home. In places where you might throw up, but no problem, because the colors would blend well together.
I could hear someone hovering behind me, a newcomer waiting to scribble their name and address in the book, to get credit for showing up. For raiding their closet for black and getting on their knees in between a casket and a roomful of friends they hadn’t seen since high school.
“I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t even imagine…”
I ignored the voice in my ear and the hand on my shoulder to flip through the stack of mass cards, my middle and pointer fingers moving back and forth like walking legs. A hummingbird printed on a pink background. A hummingbird printed on a pink background. A hummingbird printed on a pink background.
Each card displayed an identical photo with the same heartstring pull of a poem printed on the back, but I kept waiting for one that felt right. I wanted it to call to me like my sister used to when she was still too young to grasp the concept of hide and seek–Alia, right here, over here, come on already.
I kissed a laminated card before slipping it into my breast pocket, close to my heart. The Lexapro slowed its beat to the rhythm of a leaky faucet, making me wonder if I would die too. Not from some white, antisocial, grocery-store-shooter like Jada, but from swallowing a handful of pills. I could pool all my old leftovers together–the clonazepam and the alprazolam and the diazepam–and chase them with a glass of blue hawaiian, the same mix we drank during Jada’s bachelorette.
“She would want you to stay strong.”
“She’s with your parents now.”
“If there’s anything you need, just let me know.”
The clichés followed me through the rest of the evening, causing more annoyance than comfort. No matter where I placed myself, by the main doors to greet guests, near the water cooler in the hallway, in the oversized chairs with a front row view of her corpse, people kept coming over with those tired phrases. Like they thought I constantly needed someone circling me so I stayed sane.
Even when I went home, the phone kept ringing. The emails kept dinging. The stoop kept filling with fruit baskets and the mailbox grew cluttered with letters. By the time I earned a second to myself, the clock read eleven, time for bed.
I untucked the mass card from my pocket and rested it beneath my pillow. I even slipped a pinkie sized worry doll along with it, something I hadn’t done since the sixth grade when my teacher had handed them out to our class. Back then, I had wished I would grow big boobs like my sister. That I would turn out as the prettier twin.
Coincidentally, I had gone through a growth spirt shortly after, and all of my boyfriends swore they preferred my body to hers, but I still considered Jada prettier. Even in her casket, her cheeks had held a certain shine. Even in death, she had the glow of a goddess. Even when I had fallen asleep, when I had dreamt of a bullet ripping her guts to shreds and blood draining onto her lime green halter top, she still looked breathtaking.
I woke up to a fluttering of my lashes and a fluttering of wings. The latter came from the right of the room–no, now the left–now the right again. When I knuckled the crust from my eyes and let them adjust to the light, I saw it.
A hummingbird flitting from one side of my bedroom to the other.
I had never seen one in the flesh, only as plastic lawn decorations lining my sister’s front porch, in porcelain ornaments dangling from her Christmas tree, in watercolor paintings dripping from her living room wall.
Was this some sort of message from the afterlife, reminding me to keep my strength? Was this Jada trying to tell me something, an unheard secret about her death? Or was I stuck in a dream, a nighttime hallucination?
I propped myself onto a forearm and lifted my pillow to find the purple and orange worry doll where I had left it, right beside the mass card. Its pink background popped and it took me a second to spot the difference. The hummingbird. It was missing.
No. Not missing.
Flying around the room. Transplanted from the paper into the air.
I sat on the edge of my bed with watering eyes, watching it glide around the room the way my sister used to glide around a dance floor, arms swaying. The beauty of it made me forget the impossibility of the situation, made me squash my doubts and ignore my skepticism so I could enjoy the scene. I felt like I had a piece of my sister back–and I refused to let it die.
After a quick internet search from my phone, I hustled to the kitchen to mix sugar and water together for it to eat. Apparently it could starve after only a few hours without food because of its fast metabolism, so I set the drink down on my nightstand.
But it wanted nothing to do with my offering. It just flew back and forth, back and forth on the same invisible path, like it was stuck on a track. Its beak never separated. Its head never twisted my way. Only the wings flapped.
It refused to rotate on its own, but I tried to alter its route. Mounting my bed and standing on my tiptoes, I let the creature smack into my chest and flutter there, confused, like a robot who slammed into a wall over and over again because it only contained one function.
I cupped the bird with both palms and released it in a different direction. East and west instead of north and south.
When it resumed its flight, it traveled down the new path. Went wherever I directed it. A mindless little thing. Looking deep but acting hallow.
I spent an hour staring at it, maybe two, never looking at the clock, only budging when enough notifications filled my phone screen to remind me there was a funeral I had to attend. A eulogy I had to deliver.
The service felt more unnatural than the magic beneath my pillow. With black ties and skirts and veils surrounding me, I watched Jada’s body get lowered into the ground and showered with red and white roses. It would be the last time I would ever see her, the last time I would be that close to her without six feet of mud and moss and maggots between us.
That evening, after serving cold cuts at my house and faking yawns to push the guests out the door, I went on a scavenger hunt. I found my favorite photograph of Jada, the one I had placed dead center on the bulletin board for the wake. It showed her in a zebra print prom dress, one foot kicked out to display the leg slit.
I rubbed the creases out and placed it beneath my pillow with the worry doll.
“One more time,” I said with steepled hands, praying for the first time since her murder. “Just one more miracle. I’ll never ask for another.”
In the slanted morning light, after rubbing my eyes with my wrists to bring them into focus, I saw her. She stood in the corner of my bedroom in her zebra dress. She looked fifteen years younger, like a teenager, the same age as when the photograph had gotten snapped.
“Jada,” I said, getting into a crawling position and scrambling across my bed, closer to her. “I missed you. Fuck, I missed you. I’m so glad you’re here with me.”
She replied in moans, her lips pressed together in a firm line, like her mouth had been wired shut. Her eyes darted around, but I never spotted any movement on the rest of her face. No eyebrows twitching. No nostrils flaring. No chest rise-falling or lumps being swallowed down her throat.
Only the pupils moved, like the hummingbird moved only its wings.
In fact, that hummingbird still fluttered around, right above me, almost skimming the crown of my head. Moving left to right, left to right, because I had switched its path.
Maybe the same would happen with Jada. If I nudged her, maybe she would learn, like a baby bird being from thrown from its nest.
I approached her without feeling the need to creep, without feeling afraid that she would jolt toward me and wrap her fingers around the pulse inside my neck.
I walked up to her as if seeing her felt normal. It did feel normal, even when I lifted her arm forward and it stayed in place. Even when I extended her leg and she wobbled at first, but remained standing.
I could position her any way I wanted. Like a mannequin made of flesh.
But she never spoke. Even when I jammed my fingertips into her mouth and pried her lips apart. The most she could make was that sound. That zombie movie moan.
“Why are you like that? What did I do wrong? Fucking say something, come on,” I said, slamming the walls behind her, shouting nonsense into her ears, and still receiving no movement from her.
I kicked her hard in the shin. Nothing. I slapped her face into a blob of red. Nothing.
Maybe I fucked up with the photo I’d used. Some nameless photographer had snapped it decades ago. Maybe I needed a more recent one. One from right before Jada had died.
I scrambled to my china cabinet and pulled out a photograph from a family reunion, two months earlier. She looked exhausted, half-drunk with her roots showing, but it would have to do.
“One more time,” I said to the ceiling. “Just one more miracle. I’ll never ask for another.”
One year. Twelve months. Three hundred and sixty-five nightmares.
No matter how much time had passed, I kept picturing our last day together. It played on a loop inside my mind.
My sister, plucking cereal and cheese snacks from store aisles. Flirting with the young man handing out juice samples. Yelping at the sound of the first gunshot. Yanking my wrist and pulling me behind the deli counter to keep covered.
But she always lost at hide-and-seek.
Somehow I’d still won, receiving the grand prize of hovering over her body, screaming my throat raw. Using slick fingers in a fruitless attempt to pry the bullet out of her chest, ignoring the cops plunging inside, the customers scrambling for saftey, the shooter being shot down himself.
And now, on the anniversary of her death, I held onto her wrist. Dragged her to the wooden door that led to the basement.
I relaxed my grip on her to shimmy with the basement lock. She wouldn’t go anywhere anyway. They never did, my mannequins with shifting eyes.
The lock popped open, then the door, revealing the girls standing shoulder-to-shoulder.
Jada with silver lidded eyes and a mermaid styled wedding dress. Jada in a sparkling purple mini-skirt from her bachelorette over in New Orleans. A heavier Jada from her puberty days stuffed into a teal sweatshirt. A toddler Jada in a bubblegum pink princess dress from Halloween. An infant Jada swathed in yellow blankets and propped atop the washing machine.
A sea of the same empty faces with different height, different hair, different makeup. Jadas from different snaps of time.
I shoved the one beside me–with a mask of green on her T-zone and curlers in her hair–until she reached the bottom steps to join the rest of the twins.
Then I tromped back to the ground floor, toward the kitchen table littered with half-empty scrapbooks, to search for another miracle. There were hardly any shots left without Jada’s face snipped out and erased to white, but I would find more. Ask her friends. Call my mother. Scour social media. There was always a way.
Eventually, I would find the right photograph. I would bring the right Jada back.