After my parents’ bureaus are empty, I try to start on the closet, but it feels different. The clothes in the drawers were just clothes.The clothes on hangers remind me of their bodies, as if my parents are still inside their clothes and I just can’t see their faces or hands. It’s very unsettling. So I soothe myself. It’s okay, it’s okay. Think of red velvet cake, as Ma made it. White flour sifting down like unmeltable snow, the basis for everything that follows. Blending, tinting, leavening. The soft, liquid batter firms as it bakes in the oven. Growing ever more solid. Rising, thickening, settling. Staying improbably red. Finish the cake with a thick sweet cream cheese frosting, so it all looks pure white again until you press the knife into it, exposing its red heart.
“Ginny,” says Amanda. “Are you listening?”
I say, “Yes,” because I am now.
She says, “Can you handle this?”
I stare at a lace collar that once lay against my mother’s neck and say, “Not right now.”
“Okay,” she says. “It’s all right. Tell you what, why don’t you go look through the boxes in my old room?”
I turn away from the closet and go to Amanda’s old room. I pull the boxes out from under the bed into plain sight. A few old pairs of shoes, a box of T-shirts from camp, a small collection of stuffed animals. They are already sorted and just need to be labeled.
In her closet there is another unlabeled box, and I tug it out to start going through it. There are layers of construction paper and notebooks and homemade book covers with no books inside. Children’s drawings. Amanda’s drawings. Rainbows, unicorns, flowers. I lose interest halfway through. I write AMANDA KIDHOOD on the side and put it with the stack of boxes against the far wall. These are all things Amanda can take away with her. Whether we sell the house or not, these things don’t need to be here.
I should tell her again that I don’t want to sell the house. She didn’twant to talk about it yesterday, but at some point, we’ll have to. I have to confront her, and I have to figure out Nonna’s warning, and I have to make myself realize that Ma and Dad are not coming home. Any one of these things alone is enough to give me a stomachache. All together it’s more like a stomachache after a birthday party. Yellow cake and chocolate frosting and too many cups of sickly sweet punch. I never had my own birthday parties but I went to Amanda’s.
The Normal Book is hidden, the letter I found in the fireplace is hidden, is there anything else I need to hide? I go up to my room and count the envelopes of cash that Ma left for me. I realize I forgot to pay David for the groceries he brought. But he’ll come back in a few days and I can leave him extra money then. I tuck the envelopes in between the mattress and the box spring in the meantime. If Amanda finds them I can say I just wanted to keep them safe. And lecture her about respecting people’s privacy.
I walk down the stairs, slowly. As I near our parents’ room I don’t see or hear any sign of my sister. I look at their closet. It’s empty. She’s packed everything away. I take two steps back. Near the door she has a box of shoes. On top are Dad’s dress shoes and Ma’s slippers. I listen for Amanda to figure out where she is. A glass clinks, far off, and then I hear a soft thud like the refrigerator door closing. She must be in the kitchen. I take both pairs of shoes and put them back on the closet floor where they belong. Then I close the door.
Amanda is sitting at the dining room table, eating a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and drinking a glass of milk.
“Hey,” she says, looking up.
“I guess I should have asked if you wanted to eat too.”
“No, I’m not hungry,” I say.
“You’re not dressed yet.”
“Pajamas are not dressed. Angelica’s coming later. No one’s going to buy the place with you lurking