July. The doctor finds a tumor. Sylvia finds the first ripe fig of the season. October. Her father is dead. Sylvia is holding a wicker basket of sweet figs between her thighs, sweating and sitting cross-legged on her tiled kitchen floor. She is smoking with her right hand, plucking figs from the basket with her left. She presses her cigarette to her lips with two straight fingers, raises her chin and takes a long drag; to smoke with elegance after your father dies of cancer is the only way to smoke. She’ll tell Franny that, and they’ll laugh hard and forget their genes. She gets up and throws her perfect figs in the trash.
The morning light has hardened, and Sylvia is wondering if she just got her period. Her phone seizes, a xylophone blares its crescendo, retreats down the scale, blares again. She definitely just got her period. Sylvia recently made her ringtone unbearable so she would be persuaded to pick up calls quickly — her therapist’s suggestion. She feels her blood start to pool. It’s her mom.
“Sylvia, are you, ready honey, there’s a little traffic off Wilshire but — OH, YOU CAN GO FUCK YOURSELF, STOP SIGNS MEAN NO GO, HALT, ABSOLUTELY DO NOT FUCKING PROCEED — ugh, sorry, Sylvie baby, I was just saying that I’ll be there in 10 minutes and — OH MY GOD, DOES NO ONE IN THIS ENTIRE FUCKING CITY KNOW HOW TO DRIVE — so sorry, I hope you’ll be ready to go. Wear black of course, nothing too revealing. Aunt Marty is bringing her new husband, I think his name is David? If you ask me, it seems crazy that she is remarrying so soon after Richard. I picked up macaroons and some of those sour pickles for the reception. Your cousin Lauren just had a baby, and I heard it is very skinny, honey, skinny in a not-cute way. I don’t think it will be open casket, but we’ll see, with that wife of his —”
The line cuts out. Sylvia picks up her phone and sends a single text to her mom —
Decided not to go. Tell me if David is as ugly as Richard!
— then shuts off her phone.
She shuffles into the kitchen, pulls a can of sardines from the cabinet. She peels back the top with reverence, so as to respect the dead, stacked things below. She grabs one by the tail and lets it slip down her throat, swallows, gags violently.
When Sylvia was 4, her dad used to pile Franny and her into his vomit-green Volkswagen every weekend and drive them up the coast to their grandmother’s farm. Rows of fig trees extended for miles in every direction, reaching into the horizon — past it, even. Figs in the sky, daddy! They would squeal in delight. He would scoop them up and throw them high, Franny in the sky, Sylvie in the sky, Sylvie so high in the sky, Sylvie so, so high in the sky.
After his fourth DUI, when his license was taken by the state, he sold the Volkswagen for $700 to their 16-year-old neighbor. On the weekends, he drank in their living room and yelled at their TV. Vodka and sardines. Vodka and the figs their grandmother sent in soup cans. Broken bottle on the hand-carved coffee table, blood on the couch. Blood on the couch.
Sylvia is bleeding onto her couch.
Contact Lillian Wollman at [email protected].