She and I stand in a driveway made of seashells, where our grandfather works on a pulley he’s devised to remove the large nests the parrots have built on the garage. Conical forms of sticks and mud. They hang under the eaves like drums.

Our grandfather is 53. A Gemini. Like me. Castor and Pollux. Hat and thumb. He’s re-married, against both families’ wishes. A woman named Della, who makes us breakfast for dinner. She lets the bacon grease bronze the whites on purpose. She puts pepper on the grits. She burns our toast and scrapes the black off with a never-you-mind smile.

“Never you mind,” she says.

Death is retroactive. It's there in every memory. It’s only the three of us after my father dies. It'll be two with my sister’s passing.

She and I load our grandfather’s belongings into the trailer we’ve rented—his tools, his barbell weights, a folded wheelchair, the white plastic stool he sits on in the shower, a mechanical seat for the toilet. Paperback books in a cardboard box. All expressions of idleness.

The marriage has failed. Our grandfather watches us from the porch steps and drinks. Here, in this essay, is the only time my dead sister and I will meet him, our biological grandfather on our mother’s side, whom my mother never let us meet. She doesn't want us to know that her father is a drunk and that she and her two sisters came from a broken home, so she sends us inside. I turn on a television in a wooden console with engraved panels and fabric screens on the speakers. The tv blinks and a white dot grows wider out of the darkness like an epiphany. When the picture emerges, sound floods the room like a hatch has been opened.  

My fault.

“Dell-a!” my sister yells over the noise.

My sister would want you to know this about her: after I came along, her debt clock began clicking, and the debt remained dynamic all her life. She was owed. Here at 11, she wears her velvet choker, her peasant top, her shorts. Too mature. Here, she’s smoked and thinks only she and her best friend know it. Here, she calls an adult by that adult’s first name.

Della arrives, looks at my sister, who’s pointing at the television, and then me. Della puts her arm around my shoulder. Looks at me sweetly. Gives me the nickel-plated remote control she’s kept in her apron and presses her thumb onto mine as together we conjure the noise back into the television. It’s 1970 and a first, thrilling experience with a remote control.  

“This child here?” Della tells my grandfather and mother and my brooding sister. “He called me ‘Grandma Della.’"

Because I surely would have, Sis. I'm sorry.

We were our only siblings, my sister and I, but even so we were losing faith in each other all our lives, she more quickly than I. And then we didn't care that we'd lost one another altogether.

At 11, my sister had 53 more years to live. She’ll be killed only two months ago now, close to Christmas, eight days before the anniversary of our father’s death. She'll be thrown from the vehicle her third husband is driving and she'll lie motionless in the median of a highway, a stranger on his knees applying CPR in vain.

The accident caused a four-hour back-up, the news reported.

Once the second runner-up Miss Illinois, my sister finally stopped traffic.

The next morning, we say our farewells. Before we leave, my grandfather walks my sister and me to the car. Better days. A blue Toronado with fleur-de-lis scrolls in a landau top and spoked hubcaps that look like the woven lids of treasure chests. He opens the trunk and gives us a .22 in a tan canvas carrying case.

“For beer cans and meddlesome wives,” he tells my sister and me. He feels obliged to leave us something to remember him by. It was the object that came to mind first.      

My mother won’t hear it. He takes the gun back. My mother honks the horn. We leave.

Jesus, what do I expect already?  

Jesus says, God asks for the questions. He doesn’t answer them.    

He knows I imagine driving away from that house and watching those grandparents I never knew resuming their lives. Della walking to the porch door, wiping her hands on her apron. My grandfather going the other direction to puzzle over the garage and the strange nests.

It was like watching someone else's dream.

I put my dead father and sister in the dream now. My father in the sunny front yard. He's idled down the lawnmower again to watch my sister, his only daughter, walking on her hands, showing off for him again, and joyous.

Bird Report

Feb. 27. Monday morning and rain. More rain. Heavier rain. The ugliest week of every year in Malaiseville.

No birds. Only tornado warnings.