“Jas, there’s someone I want you to meet.” Amy, my friend since the fourth year of high school, stood next to a boy a few inches taller than I was. There were strands of his black hair dangling near his face like the thin legs of a spider. He was wearing a forest green long sleeve polo and light brown trousers, ironed to perfection. His face looked familiar.
“Frank, I’m in my third year.” He reached out his hand. “Amy and I met in philosophy.”
I looked over at Amy. A small smile was etched onto her usually banal expression.
“Jasper, second year. Have we met before?” I replied. He loosened his grip before placing both his hands in the pockets of his pants.
“No, I don’t think so.”
I nodded, pushing aside the familiarity of his figure.
“What’s your major?” he asked.
“Probably Film Studies or Sociology, either one of the two.”
“Jas changes his mind like every other week so I wouldn’t count on it.” I threw a side eye at Amy and laughed because I knew it was true. She nodded her head expectantly, unsurprised. Frank stood there with a vacant presence, trying his best to keep up.
“That’s cool, that’s cool. I have an older brother who graduated with a degree in film. He wanted me to do the same thing but I didn’t think I was cut out for that.”
Amy glanced at Frank. She studied his clothes. “You sure dress like it.” The two laughed in their own way. My mind remained curious about the person in his story.
“Where’s he now?”
Frank paused for a moment. “My brother?”
“He’s in rehab.” A layer of silence fell onto our conversation like an afternoon shower of rain, dampening the concrete. “After a few DUIs, he got his license suspended. My parents have been pushing him to rehab ever since.”
“How old is he now?”
I sighed. The age of twenty-nine was supposed to be the settling in of someone’s life. By then, everything—from the job to the family, marriage and love, hobbies and dreams, should have been set in stone. Some people didn’t even make it that far. The road for them ended a little earlier. But for Frank’s brother, there was still a chance. He was still breathing. Still alive.
“We all have something to carry.” I said, A tinge of hope in my voice. I saw Amy smile out of the corner of my eye. She laid a hand on Frank’s shoulder.
“Do you have any siblings?” he asked.
I looked down. “A sister.” A memory tugged at the threads in my heart. “I had a sister.”
Frank remained silent. Amy squeezed his shoulder gently, looking up at me, understanding. I met her eyes. Right then the rain stopped, the solemn smell of it replaced by the fresh scent of the morning after a storm.
Joan was buried on a Tuesday. The attendants ranged from her classmates in school to our family relatives who lived in the Philippines. They had originally planned to fly in for her graduation but traveled earlier to make the funeral. I looked around, unable to recognize anybody. They were all crying. Remembering Joan in their own quiet way.
When I looked inside the casket, I thought she was still alive. It was as if she were a child, taking a nap after a long day at school. When I noticed her closed eyelids, the tracings of a small smile playing on her lips, and the calm expression on her face, I knew that she was someplace else. The dress she wore revealed her shoulders, empty and white, free of all the burden she once carried and no longer would. I sensed relief.
Immediately a wave of guilt washed over me. Relief? How could I be relieved now that she was gone? How could I be relieved when she didn’t make it to her graduation? How could I be relieved when the driver survived but she didn’t?
I went to the bathroom and washed my face in cold water. When I raised my head to the mirror, I saw my sister dressed in white, standing directly behind me. There was a calm expression painted onto her face. Standing still, her arms hung at her side, eyes closed.
“Joan? What are you doing here?” I turned around but there was nothing. “Ate, why did you have to go? I still need you.” My voice broke into a whisper.
A boy close to my age found me alone and weeping in front of the mirror. He asked me if I was okay, and I said nothing. He told me that he would get help, and that everything was going to be fine. I listened to him, and said nothing.
The day Amy introduced me to Frank was the last time I saw the ghost of my sister. We were heading into the deeper sections of campus, looking for a place to have a late dinner. I left the car parked near the library, deciding that a few minutes of exercise wouldn’t hurt anyone.
“I haven’t walked this much since grade ten,” Amy complained.
“We should go for a hike one day.”
“You can go for a hike, Frank. I’ll meet you guys at the library after.” While Amy labored in her steps, Frank stayed behind a few paces to match her speed.
We reached a pizza place tucked in between two sets of doors that led to separate dormitories. The lights inside were blazing white. A small group of students camped themselves in the furthermost corner, a pile of pizza-stained paper plates stacked next to their textbooks and sheet-filled binders on the table.
Frank walked ahead to the counter. “What are you guys feeling? Pepperoni? Classic cheese? Maybe vegetarian?”
Amy and I looked at each other. “Surprise us.” Frank simply nodded, walking ahead.
“I’m gonna go use the washroom.”
I walked over to the bathroom door, past the group of students engaged in a game of Uno. I entered the single room, locking the door behind me. I looked at the mirror. There she was again dressed in white, just as calm and serene as the first day.
“Hey Jo,” I waved at her reflection. Drawing closer to get a clearer look of her face, my sister’s figure shimmered. We were almost the same age now.
“I made a new friend today. His name’s Frank. I think you’d really like him. Amy’s gonna marry him in the future and I can’t wait to see it happen.” She said nothing, like usual. “Well wherever you are, wherever the other side of the mirror is, I hope you’re happy. ” I waved goodbye and rejoined my friends.
“Jasper! Hurry up, your pizza’s getting cold.” Amy called out. Frank looked at her now with the same longing I had seen in Amy’s eyes earlier that day.
“Vegetarian? That was unexpected.” I picked up the slice and took a bite.
“Well we’ve been walking for the last hour or so. I thought a little green on pizza would be the perfect end to our exercise.”
Amy laughed. “I like the way you think. Maybe I will go on that hike with you.” Frank blushed without restraint, and ate his slice with his eyes set on the paper plate.
“On our way back, do you guys think we can walk down No. 4 Road?”
A heavy air entered in through his words and found its way to Amy’s face, who looked down in response. I listened to the rumblings of a coming wave within, ready to wash me away from the place where I now stood.
“There’s someone I need to visit.” Frank looked outside the window, no, just a little bit before the window, as if there were someone behind the glass staring outside. A familiar figure of small stature, young and grieving, looking at a ghost of his own creation.
Frank returned his gaze to me. “For my brother.”
On the way back to the library, we rarely spoke. Not out of discomfort, but of familiarity—a peaceful silence among friends. As we walked underneath the streetlights of No. 4 Road, I took a minute to stand beneath its white glow. I listened to the hum and zip of the passing cars. I heard the distant sound of ocean waves, lapping gently against the shore, pulling in and out to sea.
Author’s note: “Ate” – Sister in the Tagalog language
This short story by Rave Quidasol is posted in submission for the ESA’s 2022 Short Story Competition.