Home > The Summer That Made Us(5)

The Summer That Made Us(5)
Author: Robyn Carr

It also meant no one was helping Bunny pack. Being the baby, Bunny tended to lack focus, expecting a big sister or her doting mother to step in and finish whatever she was doing. Bunny was spoiled. She was the only one Louise never yelled at. So, when someone gave her a chore, she didn’t take it seriously. She might pack a couple of things and then get sidetracked, dressing a doll or reading a book. Megan went down the hall to help her.

Bunny’s room was gone. Oh, the room was there, but the bed, dresser, toy chest, bookcase and Mary-had-a-little-lamb lamps were gone. Instead, Mother’s sewing machine was set up there. Also an ironing board, a trestle table covered with fabric and patterns, a sewing chest, a model-form and rocking chair. Megan felt disoriented. This was all wrong. She put a hand to her temple, feeling dizzy.

She walked around the upstairs hallway, stupidly looking for the missing room. All four bedrooms were accounted for—her parents’, hers, Charley’s and... But Bunny had no room.

“You’d better watch who you’re talking to, young lady,” Mother was shouting.

“Yeah? So what are you going to do about it? Send me away, maybe? Wouldn’t that be awful?” Charley shouted back.

“Maybe if you’d mind your manners, you’d find life here could be pleasant. Not to mention plentiful!”

Meg walked into the kitchen. Charley had changed. Megan stared at her, dazed. Who was this? Her hair was long, straight and stringy, a band tied around her head. She was so skinny, like a toothpick. Her clothes were terrible—torn and patched jeans, some kind of symbol sewn onto her little butt, and you could see her bra right through the gauzy shirt that only accentuated how flat her chest was. Her bare feet were filthy and her cheeks sunken. And the rage on her face was astonishing. Megan had seen Charley mad before, but nothing like this.

Louise had also changed. She was heavier, her hair very gray, and her face was deeply lined. Her skin was especially crepey around her eyes and under her chin. She looked like she’d been awake for a year. Her down-turned mouth was grim...but then it was usually grim when she wasn’t having her way.

“Where’s Bunny?” Meg asked.

They stopped fighting and turned to look at her.

“Where’s her room? Her stuff?”

They gaped at her. A look of absolute horror crossed Louise’s face.

“What’s going on?” Megan asked. “Where’s Bunny? You know, Mary Verna?”

“That’s not funny, Meg,” Louise said.

“Funny?”

“About Bunny,” Charley said.

“Where is she?” Megan demanded, tears gathering on her face, her voice shaky. She was confused and frightened.

“She’s dead and you know it!” Charley snapped.

Louise didn’t say anything. They stood in the kitchen in heavy silence, looking at each other. Then Megan noticed the kitchen was just a little different and everyone, including herself, was wearing clothes she hadn’t seen before. Meg grabbed her stomach like she was going to be sick and made a loud, moaning noise. “Dead? No! Where’s Bunny really? Where?”

“Oh, Jesus Christ,” Charley swore, whirling around and presenting her back in disgust. But Louise got a strange look in her eyes and walked very slowly toward Megan as though she might bolt like a frightened fawn if anyone made any quick moves.

Megan’s ears were ringing so that it sounded like her mother was talking into a tin can when she said, “Charlene, please call Dr. Sloan.” Then Megan started screaming and running through the house, calling out to Bunny. She began tearing things apart, breaking things, ripping things off the walls, out of closets, pulling whole bureau drawers out and letting them fall upside down on the floor, looking for evidence of Bunny somewhere, finding none.

The police and ambulance came, someone gave her a shot, the world became very slow and quiet. The only sound was whimpering. Her own whimpering.

Megan had begun packing to go to the lake on May 8, 1989, and woke up a year later on May 12, 1990, without remembering a single thing. It was as though a slice was taken out of her brain. She spent two weeks in the hospital being treated for what the family doctor and the hospital psychiatrist decided to call a nervous breakdown. Later, when Megan became an RN, she recognized it as a psychotic break due to the psychological trauma of the past year. Bunny drowned, Charley was sent away to have and give up her baby, the family had become completely estranged. The family that had spent every summer, holiday and most Sunday afternoons together was gone.

Charley and Louise stopped fighting that summer. At least out loud. Instead, the summer was spent keeping Megan calm and remembering things to her. They all took turns—Louise and Carl and Charley. Sometimes Grandma Berkey and the judge came to visit, but the judge mainly grumbled that there weren’t any screws loose on his side of the family, so he could only guess where all this psychiatry bullshit was coming from.

At the end of that summer, Charley took her leave. “Once I get a little settled in the dorm, I’ll call you. I promise,” she told Meg.

“Oh, Charley, can’t you go to college around here?” Meg wept. “I can’t live here without you! Can’t you go to the university and live at home?”

“It’ll be better here without me—no more fighting, yelling, swearing, threatening...”

“But what if you get hurt or something? Or what if I need you? And you’re all the way in California?”

“If you need me, I’ll come if I can. I think my being here... I think it’s made you sick and made you forget.”

“No! That can’t be the reason! Oh, Charley, I just lost Bunny! I can’t lose you, too. Please don’t go!”

“I have to, Meg. I hate her and she hates me.” She took a deep breath and squeezed Meg’s hands. “I’ll never forgive her. Them,” she said, for it was the judge who came to Louise’s aid when she said she wanted to send Charley away to have her baby. Carl was not convinced Charley should have to go but he didn’t argue with Louise and the judge. “And as soon as I can, I’m going to start looking for my baby. Here,” she said, handing Megan a cigar box filled with letters.

“What’s this?”

“It’s every letter you wrote me while I was in Florida. It will help you remember. You wrote me almost every day, Meggie. I think you kept me alive.”

“But I can’t keep you home!”

Her lips formed the word, but Megan didn’t hear the sound. “No.”

Charley didn’t cry. Not when they talked about their dead sister, her lost baby or leaving home. Megan never asked but had always wondered if she knew it was a trait she seemed to share with Louise.

When Charley was away that first year, Meg spent a lot of time rereading her letters to her sister. The chronology of a year she couldn’t remember. Some of the letters were smeary with tearstains that Meg assumed must have been her own. It was hard to imagine Charley crying, even in private, she was so strong. Meg had written about the quiet of the house, about how their father seemed to grieve in deep silence and withdraw further and further inside himself, no match for Louise’s insistent and relentless anger. Louise had always been the more talkative of the two, but Carl no longer even responded with his usual grunts and humphs. She had written about missing Bunny but also missing her cousins—the only one she ever saw was Hope and it was as though Hope didn’t know her anymore.

“I’m pretty sure no one has ever been this lonely,” she wrote in one of her letters to Charley. And in the margin Charley had scribbled, “Except me!”

* * *

Charley called from Lake Waseka every day with good news and then better news. She went into the biggest real estate office in the nearest big town, Brainerd, and asked if they could help her find a competent decorator and a crew to empty the lake house of old furniture and trash. The decorator, Melissa Stewart, recognized Charley from television and they shared instant rapport.

While the junk was removed, Charley and Melissa discussed the interior design. She wasn’t going to completely redecorate the place; she wanted it spruced up, painted, furnished and restored. They talked colors, appliances, mattresses and rugs. Melissa said she could text Charley pictures and make purchases on her approval.

Charley went again to Brainerd and bought new appliances, even though the electrician hadn’t checked the wiring yet. They had to be purchased, anyway, didn’t they? And luck was on her side. The very next day the electrician spent six hours checking the house. He wanted to make a few repairs, put in a new fuse box, replace some switches and outlets, and they’d be good to go.

Megan was so excited at the reported progress she started pulling out dishes and glasses she could spare to be taken to the lake. The kitchen counter was full of the stuff. She’d barely begun when she got tired. Bone tired. Excruciatingly tired. She wanted to lie down and thought for a second about just lying on the kitchen floor. No one had adequately prepared her for the power of the fatigue. Cancer is a pain in the ass, she thought.

She’d only rested for a few minutes when the sound of her doorbell brought her back to reality. All the way back—it was her mother. That, with the fatigue, turned her cranky.

When Louise made an unannounced visit in the middle of the day, it could only mean one thing. Drama. But, in a way, Meg had been expecting this. She thought Louise might get wind of the reunion she was planning even though it was destined to fail.

“Mother. Funny enough, I was just thinking about you.”

Louise flapped the small envelope addressed to Grandma Berkey. The invitation Megan had sent, inviting her to come to the lake. “Have you lost your mind? Or does it give you such great pleasure to hurt me like this?”

“Come in, Mother. Please. Let me get you something to drink. Another of what you’ve recently had?”

Louise made a wincing gesture. “It’s my bridge day. We had wine with lunch. Otherwise, as you know, I rarely drink.”

“Oh, really? Is that so?” Meg said sarcastically. “So? What’s the problem?” she asked, leaving her mother to stand in the doorway as she made her way slowly back to the den. She needed to sit down. She was weak. And bald. And thin as a noodle. You’d think the sight of her wasting body would intimidate Louise, make her think about someone besides herself.

   
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