“The Cracked Kitchen Window”
A Short Story
“I know I’m very ill, I know I feel putrid most of the time, I know that I have a hard time functioning in any sort of human way until noon most days, but godammit, don’t tell me that I have to do something.”
She took a drag of her cigarette, inhaled deeply and cursed herself that she ever started the nasty habit back 30 years ago when she was sixteen. She blew the smoke out the cracked window of her kitchen, looking upon a city with spots of yellow glow eminating from windows where others, just like her, lived in a series of boxed rooms, called apartments, in muted steel grey structures.
“Jacqueline, I just want the best for you. I want you to seek out all medical options available,” he said. “You’re my only sister.”
“And you’re my only brother,” she answered, blowing out another inhalation of smoke through the cracked kitchen window. “Has Mom gotten to you?”
Jonathan let out a sigh, rubbing his hands through his hair.
“You know Mom, she just wants what’s best for you.”
“Utter bollocks. She just wants me in the confessional before I die. Must confess the act of living before a flawed priest in order to enter the kingdom of heaven, you know.”
Jonathan watched as she extinguished the cigarette in a make-shift ash tray of sand in a bowl. He wanted to ask her if she’d thought of quitting smoking, he wanted to ask her if she might consider starting on the program her oncologist recommended to her. Mostly, he just wanted to know how deeply she wanted to continue to live. He asked none of those questions. He just wanted to know if she was going to do something.
“You know, when we were teenagers, we promised each other that we’d take care of one another, no matter what,” he asked.
“Yeah, and when we were teenagers, we hadn’t a clue of anything. And we still don’t.”
She had the somewhat annoying habit of picking at her fingernails when she didn’t know what to say. Her head was bent, directing its attention to her fingers. The ever-present fingernail file that was always within reach, filing away, rounding out jagged edges.
“Do you think we’ll be together in whatever afterlife we can’t imagine”? she asked.
“With all my heart I think we will.”
Jonathan took a deep breath, not sure what might come back at him if he asked the following question, but he asked anyway.
“Are you scared of dying?”
She got up, turning her bare feet toward the fridge, opened it, as if she was looking for the answer to her brothers’ question, she continued to stare into the open refrigerator,
“You better believe I’m scared,” she said. “I’m lost, I’m frightened, I’m devastated, and here I am, looking into a metal container of cooled foods for answers to the absurdity of life.”
He looked away, not wanting to have the last visual of his sister being bent over, looking for food that wouldn’t keep her from leaving him way before their time.
“And I’m scared too’ he started…”for me, mainly, for I don’t know what I will do when you are gone.”
She closed the refrigerator door, turned toward him and embraced his head. “And I don’t know what I will do in the hereafter, without you. All I know right now, maybe days, or, if I’m lucky, maybe weeks before I die, is catching the remembrance of the days when we were truly innocent, knowing no better but to love and believe in each other.”
Jonathan clasped his arms around her waist, finally understanding that the ‘something’ he wanted his sister to do, had long since been done.
Tonight’s musical offering: