From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul

A Heart-to-Heart with Rosel

There can be no situation in life in which the conversation of my dear sister will not administer some comfort to me.

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

Still under the mirage of sleep, I watched the long procession snake lazily down the winding lane through endless rows of graves. The clouds hung low and threatened to weep as the mourners scrambled from their cars and huddled around my sister Rosel’s casket, and the waiting deep, dark hole. Neighbors cared for Karen, Rosel’s baby, while we buried her mom. . . . It started to snow. Rosel’s last words to me, “I’m not worried. You’ll take good care of my baby . . . ,” rose from the grave and competed with the song of the wind, that came and went again and again . . .

The cries of the crows awoke me with a start. “Karen,” I shouted at the top of my lungs, while slipping into a new pair of slacks. I raced into her room and tickled her toes. “Get up,” I urged. “We’re late.”

I felt my sister’s presence. It had happened before. Whenever Karen created disorder in our otherwise docile life, she seemed to appear. And so I remonstrated, in a thought that is, Why did you have to die?

Karen pulled the blanket over her head and turned to the other side.

“Did you forget,” I gasped pulling the covers all the way off her bed. “Today is the test for the scholarship.”

“I don’t want to go,” she moaned. “I’m tired.”

You see Rosel, that’s what she puts me through every day, late to bed and late to rise.

“Come on now,” I urged, my voice softening. “If you hurry we can still make it in time.”

She has a good chance of getting that scholarship to the School of Visual Arts. That girl of mine, I mean yours, I mean our girl is very artistic. Maybe even gifted. And her high-school counselor says that it’s a fine school and perfect for Karen.

Exhausted and weary, Karen slouched in her seat as I weaved in and out of the morning rush traffic. Approaching the George Washington Bridge, the traffic slowed to a crawl.

“We’ll never make it in time,” I sighed shaking my head from side to side.

We were waiting in one of at least ten lanes to pay the bridge toll. I jerked the car out of our lane, passed at least a hundred cars, and then boldly squeezed back into the lane just before the toll collector. The driver in back of us disapproved by keeping his hand on the horn.

“Oh, be quiet!”

Karen turned around, then grinned my way in admiration.

I sensed a strong displeasure from our phantom companion and quickly remarked, “I never do this . . . I hate when anyone does this . . . it’s so rude.”

I’m just trying to get her there on time, you know.

Rain began to pelt the bridge as we crossed the churning Hudson below and slowed the traffic even more.

Nervously, Karen ran her hands through her hair. “Do you think I can take the test another time?”

“No-o-o . . . I don’t think so. I don’t think they make allowances for lateness.” And after a long pause I added, “When we get there, you run inside. I’ll go and park, okay? We’ll find you later.”


“I mean I’ll find you later. Look, we’re here.” We had arrived at the entrance of the School of Visual Arts, and I watched as Karen darted from the car. The wind, generated by her haste, disarrayed her long blonde hair. Isn’t she beautiful? I smiled watching her vanish through the door together with a few other latecomers. Maybe you could put in a good word for her. With four already in college, we could use some help you know.

I parked the car in a nearby garage and hurried toward the school. It stopped raining but the morning remained as gray as the old weathered building that housed the classrooms of the famous school. Does it rain where you are? No, I didn’t think so. The entrance hall was crowded with people milling about, chatting amicably. Karen was nowhere in sight.

“I have six children,” a woman to my left was telling a middle-aged couple to her left, “but this one is impossible.” This one, I gathered, was the creative one in her flock. The one she had brought here and was now somewhere in this building, behind closed doors, competing with Karen and others for a scholarship. “I gave up on him a long time ago,” she continued, a warm edge to her voice. “He marches to his own tune.”

I felt a nudge. Stop it . . . I’m not going to give up on our girl.

I was never good at idle conversation, so I listened mostly. To my delight, I realized quickly that we all had something in common. We all had an impossible child, just like Karen.

“I know what you mean,” a baritone voice from across the room overpowered my neighbor’s conversation. “Up all night, but don’t wake me in the morning.”

I nodded in agreement, inching along a few paces, just like Karen.

“Tell them to do something,” a woman in a black leather skirt, exclaimed to no one in particular, “and you’d think you started World War Three.”

And so it went on and on. Everyone here had a complaint against his or her child. But there was a smile behind the mask of complaints. I could see it. I could feel it. And I felt a close bond to these strangers for I realized that, although we all learned to embrace the creative mind, we also learned to walk at the edge of the world and not fall off. So, what do you think? Karen will fit right in . . . don’t you agree?

The day rolled along. We saw a movie, listened to several speakers, had lunch and studied with fascination the students’ awesome works. At the end of the day, once more reunited with our kids, we stepped outside and said good-bye. It must have rained some more. Vapor steaming off the wet pavement in the late day’s sun scented the air refreshingly. Any last-minute best wishes were silenced by the New York City sounds.

“Did you see the guy with the orange hair?” Karen asked as we crossed the George Washington Bridge on our way home.

“Which one?” I chuckled.

Karen threw her head back in exasperation. “There was only one with orange hair,” she huffed. “Some had green hair . . . two guys had purple hair . . . but only one had orange hair.”

See what this world is coming to? Green, orange, purple hair . . . You didn’t see that when you were still here.

“Did you say something?” Karen gave me a sideways puzzled glance. “Anyway, I think he’ll get the scholarship . . . the guy with the orange hair. . . . You should have seen his portfolio.”

“I hope his father isn’t a rich doctor,” I remarked not without irony.

“Tell me about it . . .” Karen grimaced in a half smile.

“Don’t worry,” I added on a more somber note. “You’ll go to that school. Somehow we’ll work it out.” And then I made a silent vow: She’ll go to that school. I promise.

Although my sister was no longer with us, we were never without her either. And so we drove home, the three of us that is, into the brilliant skylight of dusk.

Christa Holder Ocker

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