In the funhouse mirror, I had a sister. The only one in the group not stretched all out of proportion. There was my father with his black sunglasses – he traveled for business a lot but he was home, visiting. My mom, smiling big through the red lipstick she wore whenever my dad came to town. My uncle, taking a picture of my aunt, who hated him. Me, seven, wearing the thrift store dress that made me look Amish. We were all long smears of ourselves. And then down at the bottom of the mirror: my sister. She was freckled and blond and just a little squished.
I’d been an only child a second ago.
I looked beside me and saw her outside of the mirror. She was still a little squished. It gave her face a dopey, cute quality, like a pug, or a flat-faced cat. Her eyes were large. Her smile stretched too broad.
“What’s your name?” I asked my sister. She giggled. I could tell she didn’t know how to talk.
We walked around the fair. Tossing darts at balloons, my father won my mother a big stuffed panda, and she posed for a picture holding it. My mom always acted mad at my dad when he came to town, but she caved in pretty quick. My dad was a salesman. He knew how to “turn on the charm” – or she thought so, anyway.
My uncle took us home in his station wagon. When my dad drove into town, he parked his car in the detached garage behind the house and kept it there until he left again. He didn’t need to attract a lot of attention, he said, whatever that meant. It wasn’t like the car was so special. It was a black Lincoln Town Car. The only special thing about it was that the license plates changed all the time. There were extras in the trunk.
I sat in the way-back of the station wagon with my sister, in the wrong-facing seats.
“It’s bad enough that my dad’s never here,” I told her. “Now I have to share him with you.”
She just giggled again. It was getting dark outside and the orange sunset reflected in her big, weird eyes. I watched the Ferris wheel get farther and farther away.
At home, we took baths and put on our pajamas, then went down to the basement, where my room was. My sister bounced on the bed, grinning, watching me. I sat on the floor, putting the glowstick and the candy bead bracelet from the fair in the box under my bed, where I kept my favorite things. Mom, still smiling, came in to turn off our light. I lay in the dark and listened to the bedsprings squeak. It wasn’t loud but it was inescapable. It seeped into the whole house.
“I don’t know how I’m supposed to sleep,” I told my sister, “if you keep bouncing.”
The squeaking stopped. I could hear her listening in the dark.
“If you’re my sister,” I said, “Mom and Dad must have done something really bad to make you.”
I couldn’t sleep, so after a long time I went back upstairs to get a glass of milk in the kitchen. My dad’s briefcase was sitting on the table, but without my dad. It was unlocked, for the first time ever. I opened it. It was empty except for a single knife. The kind we’d seen a man throwing into targets at the fair, except those had been clean and shining. This one wasn’t.
I heard the screen door close. My dad had told my mom he’d quit, so now he smoked outside. He saw me and we looked at each other across the dinette set.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“I’m a knife salesman,” he said.
We lived in the middle of nowhere. That was why my father felt safe here. But downstairs, my sister was awake. The night was long and she was at the bottom of it.
“I think you brought something back home with you,” I told him.
A graduate of Bennington College and the creative writing MFA program at Columbia University, Chandler Klang Smith has worked in book publishing, as a ghostwriter, and for the KGB Bar literary venue. She recently served as a juror for the Shirley Jackson Awards and currently teaches and tutors in New York City. Her novel The Sky Is Yours is forthcoming from Hogarth/Crown in January 2018.