My sister Abeline showed me how best to skin an apple, how to save the fruit, how to pull it off in one piece. Carve out the calyx like a cone. Let it fall into the bowl, onto the table, but not onto the floor. Do not skin an apple like you’d peel a potato, instead hold the blade between the thumb and index finger’s second knuckle, then slide beneath the skin, around and around.
A crisp globe of white fruit remains.
Abeline lived with her blindness. She could run a mile faster than anyone we knew, knit the perfect sweater, and sing just a little off key, better than the rest of us anyway. Born last of the three Charlotte Sisters — first me, then Maureen, then Little Blind Abby. She lived inside herself, and once woke with the world in vivid technicolour and told us nothing about it. Told me nothing at all.
“How long?” I asked her, when I’d figured it out.
“Long enough,” she said, but what did long enough mean?
I straightened the boxes in our mother’s cupboards. The sugar-free breakfast cereal, the cheese crackers, those goldfish snacks Abeline ate like candy, even at twenty. Maureen hadn’t arrived yet, her flight delayed on the west coast. I’d returned a week before with the heavy fog of St. John’s, Newfoundland settled over the lawn and Abeline at home with her sight. Mom didn’t suspect a thing, but I guess Abeline could have looked her straight in the eye and she wouldn’t have flinched. She’d have called it coincidence, or good aim. She might not have noticed at all.
Abeline pulled a bag of Golden Delicious apples from the fridge, let her hand wander the shelf just for show. Her eyes cast lazily over the wall tiles. One square on the bottom row had fractured years ago when she threw a stainless steel pot in a fit, never to be replaced. It looked well enough, Mom would say. It was just a tile.
I wondered if Abeline was looking at it now.
Mom picked up a call in the other room and I straightened the boxes again over the sound of her voice. “Did you just — ” I began.
“Wake up like this?” Abeline finished. “All fixed.”
My hand froze over a box of Cheez-its. “You were never — ”
“Yes, I was.” The apples lined themselves under her fingertips and awaited the bite of her paring knife, the silver bowl for their skin.
But Mom hung up the phone and marched in, and I resumed my work with the boxes.
Outside the fog hung so thick it might have been snow, and the low rumble of the fog horn off the docks, all the way across town, echoed through the house. St. John’s was about as far east as you could reach on Canadian soil, and no one in town could miss the growl that warned sailors away from the shoals.
We’d need new saltines, but we had three boxes of snack bars. All coconut, which none of us liked. Mom set her phone on the counter and came to me, put her fingers in my braids. “Our angel,” she cooed, and I tried not to flinch. “So glad you’re home.” Abeline slit the skin off an apple.
“We need saltines,” I said. “If you want them for soup.”
Mom released my hair after she’d twirled it around her fingertip once more. “Take the car, then. I’ve got company.”
“Who’s here?” asked Abeline. She looked so harmless, skinning apples blindly in the kitchen. Her eyes wandered near but never on us, like she’d practised her caution, how to look somewhere else.
Mom clicked her tongue. The piercing she’d had in its centre had been pulled out, but the hole remained, a dark pit where a fake pearl once bloomed from her jaws. It no longer got in the way of her words. “No one, yet. Don’t hurt yourself, Abby.”
Mom’s favourite phrase.
As children we’d played on the shores, the ebony and amber stone beaches, in our thrift store sneakers and neon hair clips. We spun out our kites into the royal sky, raced each other to the tops of maple trees. “Don’t hurt yourself, Abby,” Mom would say, but it was me who got a kite in the eye when the wind crashed our flight.
When Maureen took Abby to her junior formal, she pulled her from the house and into the world. She got her a dress, got her lipstick, braided her hair. “Don’t hurt yourself, Abby,” Mom said when they boarded the bus, but Maureen came home with the stomach ache, and the next morning, the hangover. Abeline floated home after her first kiss.
But I remember most the day I left for university, my suitcase already in the car. Maureen and I hauled my boxes into the truck while Abeline taped the last of the cardboard shut, kept Mom from stumbling after me as I climbed in. It was a sibling affair. Mom couldn’t drive. I could just see from the driver’s seat our mother’s lips lean into Abeline’s ear to form the words, “Don’t hurt yourself, Abby.” But it was me who crashed the car, and Maureen who flew through the windshield. Abby never hurt herself at all, tucked safely in the back seat with her belt on, protected like a child.
Mom reached into the cabinets and pulled two coconut snack bars from a box. Her 30-day chip hung from her charm bracelet like a toy. I realigned the box as she turned for the door.
“Help your sister,” she said to me, then left.
Abeline held up a second knife for me, the blade poised between two fingers like a cigarette, and clicked her tongue. “She’s been bringing him around for weeks.”
“Him who?” I asked.
“Don’t know. I haven’t — ”
Abeline struck the table with her knife, and the blade splintered a small line of wood where it stuck. “Quiet.”
I skinned the apples all wrong, pulled off fat flakes of the fruit and littered the table. Without a glance, Abeline could tell, could hear the short, clumsy cuts of my blade, and smacked the back of my hand with her fingers when I peeled too thin or thick.
“We need the apple, Detra. Don’t cut it all away.”
“How many do we even need?”
“Stop it.” She pulled the apple from my hands, already a shredded mess, and saved the last of it with one fluid motion. The skin fell into her bowl in a graceful coil as she nudged a new apple in my direction. “Start again.”
With Mom gone Abeline’s eyes roamed to mine, though not often, and never for long.
How one might test a hot bath: with just a toe, or the back of a hand. I’d like to say I felt some new sensation in the contact, an electric shock in my chest. But her eyes looked like her eyes, and they were the same looking at me as they’d been her whole life, looking just off to the left, or to the right. I peeled the beginnings of a coil from an apple, cocky over my own progress, and the knife bit into my thumb. I hissed, dropped the apple, and it rolled over a strand of hair on the floor.
But I’d already got to the sink to rinse it out, trying not to see the blood. Did I get
squeamish? Had it been so many years since I’d seen gore? Not since Maureen, how she’d looked shucked on the road in the accident after the world steadied. How pretty she was, I’d thought, and couldn’t help it. She’d put her hair up in a halo of curls that day, and even on the ground they stayed pinned until the paramedics arrived.
I tried to wash out the wound, unsure of how deep the knife had slid. Abeline rushed to my side with the Band-Aids in hand, wherever they’d come from. “Abby,” I started, but she sat up on the counter and pulled my hand into her lap.
“Don’t look at it,” she said. “It’ll stop if you look away.”
So I looked away and she bandaged my hand, ran her finger over my knuckle like braille.
“What’s this?” she asked, and I didn’t have to look to remember the scar, one of the few I’d suffered from the accident. It measured less than an inch, though once I’d seen the pearl of my bone through the skin. How lucky I’d been. Luckier still had been Abeline, tucked away in the back seat as Maureen lay on the pavement, unconscious. Not even a scratch, just a wine coloured bruise across her chest where the seatbelt kept her safe.
“What do you think?” I turned to her. The afternoon’s heatless reach and the white grasp of the fog outside lit the side of her face like a coin. Still, her thumb traced my scar as her eyes closed to better to read my skin.
“I didn’t know you had this.”
I pulled back to flatten the Band-Aid. “How could you?”
We baked until sunset and by the time a taxi pulled into the driveway, apple pie sat to cool on the stove. I pulled open the door and Maureen rolled through the fog, her suitcase carried behind her by the taxi driver as her wheelchair wrestled with the gravel path. Her bottom teeth flashed at me when she smiled, the front four incisors too straight. The dentists had replaced her teeth, and the surgeons patched up her chin and cheek with skin from her back. Mom had a ramp installed over the front steps. But no one could fix her legs, so she got a chair and did just fine.
“Mau’s here,” I called to Mom.
Maureen wheeled into the front room and tilted up a cheek, her bad cheek, for me to kiss. Her one glass eye drifted off its mark. “Detra.”
“Flight go alright?” I asked, and brushed my lips against the puckered skin.
“Glad to be on solid ground.”
I cleared the coffee table out of the way so she could pass into the hall, knowing Mom would move it back as soon as she’d left. Mom’s footsteps clattered closer and closer, but still no sign of Abby, though we had to account for her finding her way blind from room to room. Mom clapped. A silver charm had been added to her bracelet. A seahorse, or a key. “My girls, together again.” She doted over Maureen’s curls, all pinned in a crown.
I had to look away.
Mom said, “Detra, don’t sulk. Your sister came so far to visit.”
What I hated about looking at Maureen was not how it hurt to look, but how she always looked to be about to speak or blame me and never did. No matter how much or how often I saw her, my broken sister, it felt like seeing her post-accident for the first time.
As they moved for the hall, Abeline entered from the kitchen out of their view and halted in the doorway, the bowl of apple skins in her hands. My shoulders rose. My spine lifted. All at once, the world felt half as heavy. Tucked in Maureen’s blind spot, Abeline could see her chair, her one glass eye, her wheel caught over a corner of carpet. She, for once, could not look away.
I shut my eyes, and Abeline’s bowl clattered to the floor.