Where the Sun Shines
Emilie’s Audi crosses the mountain border between Western Washington and Eastern Washington. Lush greenery turns into dry desert as the sun rises above the horizon. After driving a few hours on one long two-lane highway, she turns off onto the exit Siri tells her to take.
She glances into the rearview mirror and briefly sees where the pavement meets gravel and the gravel road turns to dirt. Speckles of dirt road cling to the exterior of her white car. She drives past rows of houses and businesses that dissolve into rows of corn. Miles of rolling fields pass her by as she drives 80 in a 60 mile an hour zone. Hundreds of tiny bugs splatter against her windshield; her wipers smudge them in long streaks, making it harder to see.
“This is home now,” Emilie mumbles as if it’s a profanity.
Emilie looks down to her iPhone to see where her next turn is. Siri responds on cue, “In one mile, take a left turn onto Berringer Road.”
“Thanks, Siri,” Emilie replies.
A giant sigh escapes from her as she thinks about the life that she is leaving to help her sister, Jessica. Two weeks ago, Emilie got a frantic phone call from her older sister.
* * *
“Emilie!” Jessica cried.
“What? What is it?” Emilie whispers at her desk.
“I don’t know what to do,” she kept sobbing into the phone.
“What do you mean? What happened?” Emilie had only seen her sister cry twice in their entire lives: once when their mom died when Emilie was five and Jessica was ten, and once when Jessica had a miscarriage just a few years back.
“I-I have cancer,” Jessica’s voice cracked as the word “cancer” left her mouth.
Emilie went silent. Phones ringing and typing keyboards carried on in the background.
“Hello?” Jessica said.
Jessica had two kids, Jackson who was four and Delilah just turned two. Her husband, John, and their two children were her whole world. They lived on a 15-acre farm, growing corn and taking care of their chickens, pigs, goats, two horses, three dogs, and five cats. While John tended to the farm, Jessica cooked, cleaned, and took care of their two toddlers.
“What kind of cancer?” Emilie snapped out of it.
“What stage?” Emilie tried to be the stable one, swallowing the intense urge to break down and cry in the middle of her office. She hurried to the broom closet just in case she starts to cry. Co-workers begin glancing in her direction as she walks by and suddenly the room is full of concerned faces and a low murmur of chatter.
Emilie had just scored a job as a social media editor for the popular Pacific Northwest Review only six months prior. She read all day long and helped promote their magazine on Facebook and Twitter. It was her dream job, really.
“Four,” was all Jessica could say before she started sobbing again.
The rest of the conversation was a blur to Emilie as she came to the realization that she had to move to the middle of nowhere to help her sister with the kids. They were going to need all the help they could get.
Their mother had died when they were young and their father was never really apart of their lives after that. Emilie only ever had Jessica and Jessica only ever had Emilie until Jessica decided to move to the country with John, where they started their family five years earlier. It is up to Emilie to be there for her sister and their family, which meant leaving her new job and life in Seattle behind.
* * *
The smell of manure wafts through the open windows, as Emilie drives, blowing through her newly balayaged blonde hair. A big green sign for “Berringer Road” appears on her right, so she makes the turn as Siri told her to. This road turns into an even dirtier road. Dust flies around her, making it hard for her to see as her car edges its way over rocks and lose soil.
A large grey house with a white wrap around porch, white shutters, a navy blue front door, and surrounding white picket fence stands only 50 feet away now. She can see the pasture with two horses grazing and some chickens roaming around the front porch and yard. A 1987 mud covered Chevy pickup sits in front of the house and Emilie pulls up next to it.
Jackson comes running out of the house in his underwear and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles t-shirt Emilie got for him last Christmas, holding a toy gun. He pretend shoots Emilie as she walks up to him and she holds her chest as if she’s been fatally shot by a four year old with a Nerf gun.
“You got me, Jack!” She bellows.
“No Auntie, don’t die!” Jackson runs up to Emilie and she sweeps him up into the air and blows raspberries into his belly. He cries with laughter.
“You coming to live with us, Auntie?” Jackson asks, out of breath.
“Yes, honey. To take care of you and your sister.”
Right on queue, Delilah totters out and carefully steps down the front steps towards Emilie, followed by Jessica.
“Hello!” Emilie says as she puts Jackson down.
Delilah holds on to her mom’s index finger as they get closer.
“Aren’t you going to say hello to Auntie?” Jessica asks Delilah.
“Heh-woe,” she replies, with her slobber-covered finger in her mouth.
“Hey, Delilah,” Emilie smiles gently at her niece and then at her sister.
Jessica looks pale and her eyes sunken. She wears an oversized thick grey sweatshirt and long black yoga pants in spite of the 90-degree heat. Her once long and curly brown hair has been cut short and patches of white skin show through.
“How are you feeling, Jess?” Emilie asks, genuinely concerned that she might melt in the hot sun.
“I’m good today.” Her mouth turns up into a smile but her eyes remain sad and unmoving. She turns slowly to go inside.
John sits on their overstuffed couch watching the Packers and Cowboys pre-season game, Coors Light can in hand, remote in the other. Used tissues, empty beer cans, and Nerf gun pellets litter the coffee table. All of the curtains are shut, despite the bright afternoon sun shining outside. Dishes are stacked on the counter tops. Two garbage bags sit next to the front door waiting to go out. Emilie can hardly contain her disgust. This was extremely unusual for her cleanly and tidy sister. Jessica heads straight for the dent in the couch that beckons to her.
“Hey, John! Just getting off work?” Emilie tries to remain calm and positive.
“Emilie! Yeah, yeah. Have a seat,” John chews something and spits into one of the empty beer cans on the table and waves Emilie over to an open spot on the couch.
She squeezes in between Jessica and John as Jackson comes crawling onto Emilie’s lap. A strong smell takes over Emilie’s senses and reminds her of the manure that she thought she was already getting used to.
“Did you poop?” John asks Jackson, who shakes his head vigorously and points a finger towards Delilah.
“Could you get that?” John looks at Emilie.
“Uh, sure,” she says hesitantly. She looks towards Jessica who has already started dozing off.
“I’ve got to tend to the pigs,” John gets up, beer glued to his hand, and leaves through the front door.
The rest of the day, Emilie changes diapers and feeds the kids as Jessica sleeps on the couch. She washes the dishes by hand because there was no dishwasher detergent, folds the pile of laundry collecting on the love seat, and picks up toys that are scattered across the house. By eight o’clock Emilie is exhausted, mentally and physically.
She has never seen her sister like this before and certainly has never seen John act this way in the seven years that she’s known him. He has always been the prime example of what Emilie has been looking for in a man because of his undying effort to please his wife and kids. Emilie remembers the first time she met John on Christmas at Emilie and Jessica’s tiny Seattle apartment. He showed up wearing a suit and tie, with a big red poinsettia in one hand and bottle of Prosecco in the other. He was kind, polite, smart, and strong. Today, he was gone. All day. Until ten o’clock.
Emilie is woken up as John comes stumbling in the front door. He looks straight past her with glossy blue eyes and heads toward his bedroom. He stumbles and she hears a grunt followed by loud snoring. Jessica has since moved her slumber to the bedroom as well; so Emilie follows to ensure that he hasn’t disrupted her. Jessica lies facing the wall with a pillow over her head. Four orange bottles of medication sit on her nightstand. Emilie fills a glass of water and brings it to Jessica’s side. She moves the pillow to kiss her on the forehead.
“Love you,” Emilie whispers.
John, passed out across most of the king sized bed, remaining fully clothed, including his work boots. Emilie carefully slides his boots off and places them next to the bed as to not wake the drunken beast.
“Thank you,” Emilie hears a whisper from Jessica’s side of the bed.
* * *
The next day, Emilie wakes on the couch to the smell of bacon and a sizzling sound. She looks towards the kitchen and sees Jessica flipping an over-cooked fried egg.
“Morning,” Emilie says, still half asleep.
Jessica smiles just as she had the day before, “Morning.”
Jackson and Delilah come running towards Emilie and jump on her. A jumble of “good morning!” and screaming wake Emilie right up. “Who needs coffee when you have these two?” she says as she tickles her niece and nephew.
The rest of the morning, Jessica seems more upbeat and talks to Emilie about her cancer.
“The doctors say I only have maybe a year, tops.”
“You’re stronger than that, Jess. You are going to survive this.” Emilie holds her sister’s fragile hands and looks into her glassy eyes trying to believe the words she is saying.
“How’s John holding up? He seems—different,” Emilie says hesitantly.
“I haven’t seen him much to be honest. In between my naps he’s either gone or asleep. I think it’s taking a toll on him.”
“Who’s watching the kids when you’re resting?” Emily asks.
“We hired a nanny for a time being but it has gotten too expensive with all of the medical bills coming in.”
“Well, I’m here for you and you know that. My boss said I could work from my laptop. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.” Emilie lies.
Jessica looks at her in a knowing sisterly way, “uh huh, sure,” she replies. “You go get your nails done or something. I’m good to watch the house for a few.”
Emilie gives a half smile, “If you say so.”
Emilie is secretly relieved to leave the house and already misses the sound of 747’s flying over every ten minutes, police sirens, cars honking, and people yelling in the city. It’s eerily quiet here, even with two toddlers running around and John’s loud snoring from the bedroom.
On her way to the nail salon, the great open skies make the light shine right into Emilie’s eyes. There are no big buildings to block the stinging rays that the sun emits. She already misses her desk and coworkers. She misses her drama-free, cancer-free, carefree, kid-free life back home. Home. Where is home? She thinks as she drives. She fumbles for her oversized sunglasses in her purse while covering her eyes with the other hand and steering the car with her knee.
Her Audi’s low-profile tires must have caught on a large rock because the steering wheel jars to the right. She was heading north, straight towards a pasture of grazing cattle. Time almost seems like it is slowing down as her car plunges through an old wooden fence held together by four-by-fours. Emilie grips the wheel as it jerks side to side with both hands using all of her strength. She stomps her heel into the brake pedal as it touches the floor and her car skids a few feet before coming to an abrupt halt. Her dangling front bumper is inches from a cow. Ole’ Bessie moo’s as she trots away, unscathed.
Emilie sits there, staring forward, her heart racing; hands knotted around the leather steering wheel. “I want to go home,” she whimpers, unable to move, not knowing which direction to go.
Author’s Statement on Beauty
Beauty is a silver tipped ballpoint rolling across paper in an elegant swipe. Beauty is drawing the sun on the corner of almost every piece of paper I touch. Beauty is a tear mixed with ink turning the sunshine into rain clouds. It is well thought out words of a rhetorical essay, a spontaneous poem, the address of a friend whom I will probably never write. Beauty is art and how we interpret it, create it, and share it.
Camille Grove is a senior in the Central Washington University Professional and Creative Writing Program. This is her first national publication.