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Flynn had pictured her sister’s death many times. A car crash, smashing into someone else or the metal body of a street light. A blood disease, running rampant through her platelets until it stopped her heart. An encounter with the wrong person, leaving her bruised, beaten, and buried in some random plot of wood. A bad cut, slowing her respiratory system as she’s sprawled out on her bed, not realizing the sleep she’s drifting towards is eternal.

Over and over, Flynn had run through the scenarios, her mind going on terrifying adventures that ended with no happy ending, only nausea. She didn’t do it for fun, or for sport. It was a sickening, heart wrenching technique to prepare herself for when her sister’s death wasn’t just an idea but a reality. When what Mona had been outrunning for years caught up to her and stole all her remaining chances. “It’s only a matter of time,” Flynn’s mom had told her, tears sliding from her eyes propelled by the slow blinks of resignation.

And Flynn knew, like her heart knew how to beat and her lungs to breathe, that her mom was right. Mona’s life was running on fumes, and one day, those would dissipate, and Flynn and her family would be left with the emptiness.

Flynn knew this would happen; and yet, knowing hasn’t softened the blow.

Blue and red lights streak across Flynn’s vision, the strobe of one blending into the arc of another until all she sees are swaths of purple behind her eyelids. It’s everywhere. Cast on the neighboring houses, and their windows, and the blinds that are drawn but fingers push down and eyes peer through. Tree trunks look as though they are ablaze with color, shining in their own combinations of cobalt and crimson, like they were plants out of Alice in Wonderland instead of the trees she climbed as a child in search of safety and solace, and sometimes slugs.

That was a different time, one that now seems warped.

It’s as if she’s looking back at it through a spiderweb of shattered glass and not the clear vision she once had. Well, she thought she had. That’s what happens when your life is cleaved—you can no longer make sense of what is real and what has become distorted in the separation.

Ten feet away, people with guns hanging from belts and badges pinned to their chest hustle up and down the front walk. Bags marked “evidence” are clenched in fists, and any side chatter is kept to swift whispers. Flynn finds herself tipping her ear closer, hoping to pick up any news that they haven’t or won’t tell her. She tries to focus but gleans nothing.

The screams in her head are too loud. Her screams.


In front of her, a woman squats down, the shine of her black loafers lost in the tall blades of grass. This isn’t Flynn’s first encounter with the woman—or with most of the people passing in and out of her house. They’ve all been called here, or somewhere else. They know her, and her parents. Her sister. Mona.


“How we doing?” Officer Dennison asks, as if they’re in this together. They’re not. Not really. Maybe at the beginning, when it all seemed more tenable, but after a handful of calls and encounters—the officers, the paramedics—they all got tired, like everyone else. And they shut Flynn and her parents down, like everyone else. “Can we get anything to help you? Maybe get you in a car?”


Flynn shakes her head.

She can’t seem to stop shaking her head since Officer Dennison and the others arrived at the house. The most she’s moved is from the floor of her living room to this patch of grass 30 feet away, and that was only under force, albeit light. You shouldn’t be in here. They need to try to help her, like they have before. Let’s go outside.

Flynn realizes she’s in full view of the neighbors and anyone else who is rubbernecking on their way past, but she doesn’t care. She’s part of this story whether or not she moves, just as it’s part of her, and she wants to be here when it happens. When Mona crosses the threshold like she has so many times, but like no other time before either. It’s all Flynn can do at this point: watch and wait. She could have all the human power at her disposal, but nothing would change this.

You wanted this, the voice in her head whispers. You wished for this. 

But Flynn hadn’t. She wished for it to stop. For Mona to go back to who she was four years before, and their lives with it. For her feelings for her sister to not oscillate between love and pity and hate and resentment with the same unpredictability as a bag of heroin. Never this.

“Okay,” Officer Dennison breathes and lifts her wrist to look at her watch. “Your parents should be here in a half hour. Maybe we can move at that point.”

Flynn nods. Her parents had waffled on whether or not they should go to their friend’s daughter’s wedding, but Flynn told them they should, get out of the house, not worry for a while. She would watch Mona, and for all her promises meant, Mona promised she would be on her best behavior. Desperate for a trace of normalcy in a life devoid of it, their parents believed them. Now, a police escort is bringing them home and the world has become what they’ve always dreaded because neither of them kept their promise.

The ironies of all ironies.

Officer Dennison bends further, her legs switching from a squat to a pretzel as her body meets the ground. “Honey, I don’t know if anyone else has talked to you about this, but I think you’re in shock.”

“No, I’m not,” Flynn murmurs. How can you be in shock over something you knew was coming?

The answer comes as fast as the question.

Because she didn’t expect it at this moment, in this way. She may have been living with the fear ever since Mona’s two Percocet every six hours became four every three hours.

But fear is not grief.

Fear is the anticipation, not the actuality of Flynn walking into their house after grabbing them dinner and seeing Mona collapsed on the floor beside the coffee table, blood covering her face. Flynn believed Mona had passed out, high on whatever she had injected in the crook of her arm or between her toes, and fallen, catching her forehead on the table’s corner. Cursing Mona for what she had done, asking when it would finally be enough, begging that today would be the day it would all stop, Flynn held her own sleeve to the jagged cut, trying to staunch the flow.

Except there was no flow. No responsiveness when Flynn began shaking Mona, or when Flynn began screaming, rolling Mona over to see the foam bubbled on her lips. No pulse as Flynn held her fingers to Mona’s carotid, hearing nothing but the cannon fire of her own heartbeat.




“Flynn, medically, I’m saying you are. You’re clammy. Your pupils are blown. I can see your pulse from here,” Officer Dennison says. Out her periphery, Flynn watches Officer Dennison move and crouch, trying to get into Flynn’s eyeline, but Flynn doesn’t meet it, not out of refusal, but near-inability to do anything more than play with her hands that are indeed covered in a thin sheen of sweat—and blood of her sister’s she hasn’t tried to wash off.

“I’m fine. I’m not the one who’s dead,” Flynn glowers, her voice the clearest it has been. It’s the same tone she berated Mona with just a few days before, and so many other times, pushing her to get help, wanting her to see not only what it was doing to her but their entire family. The pangs of regret for all the things Flynn has said to Mona over the past years in anger and complete and utter confusion have reverberated within her mind long before this.

Flynn knew Mona didn’t want this disease.

She had said it to Flynn over and over while sober, and also while in the grips of whatever drug she’d been dealt that day. If Mona knew how to be someone else, she would’ve been. Flynn had wanted her sister to be free of this addiction. She felt so frustrated, so hurt, so betrayed that Mona couldn’t just stop. So she yelled, cried, and threw barbs at Mona. And now, she couldn’t take it back. It was too late.

Why did she have to say those things when she knew this could be the outcome? When she knew that any day she came home, she could find Mona this way and no amount of Narcan would work?

Why did she assume that Mona would be there when she came back?

If the regret for her words is a gong, then the regret for leaving is a foghorn. Yes, Mona was the one to take the drugs, but if Flynn hadn’t left, maybe she could’ve saved her. Maybe Mona wouldn’t have even done it. Maybe they would’ve been sitting on the couch right now, eating the pizza that has now gone cold, talking about the times Mona had climbed the trees out front with her and watched the slugs slink along the ridges of the bark, before sisterhood was reduced to terse conversations pleading.

It is another thing out of Flynn’s control. She’ll live her entire life wondering if she could’ve changed the end of Mona’s. That she knows.

“I know,” Officer Dennison nods. “And I promise you, we’re going to find who gave her those drugs and make sure they are held accountable for it.”

The words feel like a forceful palm to a cheek. Flynn lifts her narrowed eyes to the officer in front of her. “Now you are? What about the other times when we actually could’ve helped her? What’s the point when it’s too late?”

In all the times the police, medics, and doctors had worked with her sister, never did they ask about who her dealer was. Twice, they gave her Narcan and let her go on her way once she was awake and responsive. Multiple times, when Mona went to the ER seeking help, it was only to hear the words Flynn dreaded: not enough room.

Opportunities for intervention slipped through their fingers, and each time, Flynn watched, losing more and more hope, more and more faith that her sister’s life meant anything more than a nuisance to anyone outside her and her parents. It was like the world had written her off, and in the strike against her, axed their family, too, leaving them with nothing to do but let the person they love slowly die.

Based on Officer Dennison’s silence, Flynn knows her words cut deep, but she drops her gaze to her hands before she can see their impact. The blood has dried in some places, cracking and flaking off around her wrists, wet and sticky on her palms. Flynn will never deny that her sister caused her own death, that her actions paired with genetics changed her brain to the point it craved what would kill her more than what would let her live. But as she looks at the red on her skin, Flynn knows she will always believe she and her sister are not the only ones with blood on their hands.

Sarah Razner

Sarah Razner is a reporter of real-life Wisconsin by day, and a writer of fictional lives throughout the world by night.

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