We Were Liars(9)

By: E. Lockhart

Gran used to bustle in the kitchen and plan outings. She made quilts in her craft room, and the hum of the sewing machine could be heard throughout the downstairs. She bossed the groundskeepers in her gardening gloves and blue jeans.

Now the house was quiet. No cookbooks left open on the counter, no classical music on the kitchen sound system. But it was still Gran’s favorite soap in all the soap dishes. Those were her plants growing in the garden. Her wooden spoons, her cloth napkins.

One day, when no one else was around, I went into the craft room at the back of the ground floor. I touched Gran’s collection of fabrics, the shiny bright buttons, the colored threads.

My head and shoulders melted first, followed by my hips and knees. Before long I was a puddle, soaking into the pretty cotton prints. I drenched the quilt she never finished, rusted the metal parts of her sewing machine. I was pure liquid loss, then, for an hour or two. My grandmother, my grandmother. Gone forever, though I could smell her Chanel perfume on the fabrics.

Mummy found me.

She made me act normal. Because I was. Because I could. She told me to breathe and sit up.

And I did what she asked. Again.

Mummy was worried about Granddad. He was shaky on his feet with Gran gone, holding on to chairs and tables to keep his balance. He was the head of the family. She didn’t want him destabilized. She wanted him to know his children and grandchildren were still around him, strong and merry as ever. It was important, she said; it was kind; it was best. Don’t cause distress, she said. Don’t remind people of a loss. “Do you understand, Cady? Silence is a protective coating over pain.”

I understood, and I managed to erase Granny Tipper from conversation, the same way I had erased my father. Not happily, but thoroughly. At meals with the aunts, on the boat with Granddad, even alone with Mummy—I behaved as if those two critical people had never existed. The rest of the Sinclairs did the same. When we were all together, people kept their smiles wide. We had done the same when Bess left Uncle Brody, the same when Uncle William left Carrie, the same when Gran’s dog Peppermill died of cancer.

Gat never got it, though. He’d mention my father quite a lot, actually. Dad had found Gat both a decent chess opponent and a willing audience for his boring stories about military history, so they’d spent some time together. “Remember when your father caught that big crab in a bucket?” Gat would say. Or to Mummy: “Last year Sam told me there’s a fly-fishing kit in the boathouse; do you know where it is?”

Dinner conversation stopped sharply when he’d mention Gran. Once Gat said, “I miss the way she’d stand at the foot of the table and serve out dessert, don’t you? It was so Tipper.” Johnny had to start talking loudly about Wimbledon until the dismay faded from our faces.

Every time Gat said these things, so casual and truthful, so oblivious—my veins opened. My wrists split. I bled down my palms. I went light-headed. I’d stagger from the table or collapse in quiet shameful agony, hoping no one in the family would notice. Especially not Mummy.

Gat almost always saw, though. When blood dripped on my bare feet or poured over the book I was reading, he was kind. He wrapped my wrists in soft white gauze and asked me questions about what had happened. He asked about Dad and about Gran—as if talking about something could make it better. As if wounds needed attention.

He was a stranger in our family, even after all those years.

WHEN I WASN’T bleeding, and when Mirren and Johnny were snorkeling or wrangling the littles, or when everyone lay on couches watching movies on the Clairmont flat-screen, Gat and I hid away. We sat on the tire swing at midnight, our arms and legs wrapped around each other, lips warm against cool night skin. In the mornings we’d sneak laughing down to the Clairmont basement, which was lined with wine bottles and encyclopedias. There we kissed and marveled at one another’s existence, feeling secret and lucky. Some days he wrote me notes and left them with small presents under my pillow.

Someone once wrote that a novel should deliver a series of small astonishments. I get the same thing spending an hour with you.

Also, here is a green toothbrush tied in a ribbon.