The Baby Sister She Lost
Kitty sat at the kitchen table surrounded by papers tracing her family’s movements over the past seventeen years.
Her mother’s death certificate. Her brother Morgan’s record of incarceration. His Army discharge. His school history. Her brother James, who was last heard from when he was fired from the coal mine for trying to organize a work stoppage related to conditions in mine number fifty-two.
Kitty tried to remember when her father worked the mines. What was his number at the end? She couldn’t recall. She remembered the grit on his boots and his blackened fingernails and the creases in his cheeks and forehead. They said it was all automated now. But accidents still happened and miners still died deep in the earth with not enough air to keep them alive until rescuers reached them. Where was James now? Where would he have gone?
Her sisters. Their papers told only half the story. The older one, Evie, graduated from high school, got a driver’s license, worked at the local Wal-Mart, filed tax returns through two years ago, and then she too disappeared. She would be twenty-one now. And the baby, Suzyanna, seventeen years old now, still a kid, had been put in foster care.
“That’s where I’m going to begin,” she told Alva. “I can get her out of foster care. She’s not eighteen yet. I can make a claim for her. She can come live with me.” She looked up at Alva. “Oh I’ll get my own place. I can’t impose on you any longer. You’ve been so generous.”
“Lord, girl, don’tchyou even think about leaving here. What I’m going to do withoutchyou? I come to depend on you,” Alva waved her hand at Kitty.
“But, Alva, you have your own family now. Your son and grandchildren. You want to have your time and your house for them,” Kitty argued.
“They got they own house. They ain’t comin’ here to live wit me,” she said. “Naw, this is where you belong, leastways until you settle yourself for sure. When it’s time for you to make your move, I won’t stand in your way. But until then, this is home for you and any of them children you want to bring here,” Alva stated.
“Well,” said Kitty. “That’s where I’m going to start. I’ll contact the department of children’s services listed here … ” she pointed at the paper in front of her, “and find out what I have to do.”
“You could go pay a visit to your brother in that jail,” Alva suggested quietly.
“Have you ever been to a jail?” Kitty asked.
“No,” said Alva. “But it ain’t another planet. People visits people in jail all the time. And your brother may be needin’ the attention from someone who he’s connected with right about now. Seeing as he’s getting out pretty soon. It may help him on the way to a better situation.”
Kitty stared at the papers for a long time. Alva left the kitchen quietly. Through the window the lights of a Christmas tree on the ground floor of a house across the street flicked on off on off on off.
“I’ve been in jail once.”
Marv’s voice coming from out of nowhere made Kitty jump almost out of her chair.
“I’m sorry,” Marv said and walked over to the sink carrying a stack of dirty dishes. He turned on the water, picked up a sponge and bottle of detergent and started to scrub at the dishes. “Didn’t mean to startle you,” he added. “It was the worst place I’ve ever been in my life. And I’ve been pretty low down at different times. Thing is, Alva doesn’t know how hard it is to see someone you once loved come to visit you at that place.”