We spent the day together on the island. I had never been there before, but it has been my sister’s home forever. We sat on the sand, running rivulets of it through our fingers, and gazed across the water at the city while we talked.
“Tell me about your life,” my sister urged me, and so I did. I told her about my two children, her niece and her nephew; about my son-in-law, who cooks and bakes wonderful meals; and about my young grandson.
“He loves trucks,” I told her. “When he sees a truck, he comes to a complete standstill and says, ‘Truck! Vroom!’ He has a toddler truck bed and a rug in his room with trucks on it.”
I showed her photographs of everyone on my phone.
“So how are you?” I asked her.
“I’m fine,” she replied. “All days are the same here. I sit here on the sand most days, unless it is raining, and I look across the water. When it rains, I sit over there.” She pointed to a small pavilion with benches surrounded by trees and flowers. “I love flowers,” she said. “Do you?”
“Yes. We both inherited that from Mom. She was a great gardener. She planted peonies and viburnum at my first house, and when we downsized to a smaller house and yard, she planted flowers. Last year I planted purple and pink flowers and felt vaguely guilty because she never liked purple rhododendrons, but the flowers looked wonderful, and I think she would have liked them, too.”
“The flowers are always lovely here,” my sister said. “I like marigolds, and I especially like dahlias.”
“I’m remembering that Mom loved music as much she loved flowers. I’ve kept up with the piano, but I’ve forgotten how to play the cello and the guitar.”
“I like music, too,” my sister said. “I can hear it when the wind is right and wafts the notes over from a concert in the city. It’s wonderful. ”
When evening began to nibble at the edges of late afternoon, I got up and brushed off bits of sand from my pants.
“I think I should go now,” I said.
“It was wonderful to see you,” my sister replied, looking up at me.
“There’s one more thing I want to know,” I said. “Either I never knew, or I forgot. When is your birthday?”
My sister spoke, but there was a sudden gust of wind.
“I can’t hear you!” I called as the wind pushed me away and the distance between us widened. “Never mind!” I called, half-stumbling. “I’m glad we had this day together!”
“I am too,” she called back, waving to me.
The boat was waiting for me at the edge of the island, and I climbed over its sloped edge into my assigned seat.
“Buckle in,” the boatman reminded me, and so I did. “We’re headed to your next stop. I’m sure you know that people are waiting for you. Did you enjoy your day with your sister?”
“Very much,” I replied.
It was at that moment I realized I also didn’t know her name. Perhaps my parents hadn’t named her, since she was stillborn.
She was immediately taken, in the custom of that time, to the city island and buried in an unmarked grave, and my parents were told to go home and try again. I was born several years later.
“I was so happy on the morning you were born that I cut myself shaving,” my father always told me. “I sang to myself in the mirror: I have a little girl! I have a daughter! I have a baby girl!”
“Tell me the story again,” I would say, and he would.
They are all gone, and now I am gone, too. I will never know my sister’s birthday or her name. But I finally saw her, and now I know that my sister also loves flowers and music.