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Something shatters in the next room, then I hear wailing. I drop to my stomach and army-crawl to the door. Through the crack underneath I can see Mom and Dad's wedding plate reduced to shards of china on the linoleum. I see the eviction notice lying next to the broken plate, looking like a paper airplane that nosedived into the wall.
I shouldn't have given Mom the notice, but it's not like I could have kept it to myself. A few minutes ago, as I was getting dressed, the guy next door poked the eviction notice through the hole in my bedroom wall that the landlord won't fix. I read the notice and gasped. It was definitely for us, and it definitely meant we had to leave our apartment. At that moment, my parents weren't fighting, so I went out and put the piece of paper next to Mom's plate of toast. “The people next door gave this to us,” I'd said. “I guess it got put in their apartment by accident.” Mom didn't look at me, or the note. So I went back to my bedroom.
Five minutes after I left the kitchen, my mother swore loudly, threw her wedding plate on the ground, and started to cry.
Now they're screaming at each other. I back away from the door and sit on my bed. I scratch a mosquito bite on my ankle and inspect the fine golden hairs on my legs. Mom won’t let me shave them yet. I lie down and I put headphones in my ears but it doesn't do any good. It's like there's no wall there at all. I can hear both my parents perfectly. Their voices are both so loud, it's like they're battling it out to see which one can be louder.
I try to remember when Mom and Dad didn't fight. It seems like they’ve always been like that, like two big planets whose orbits get too close to one another, colliding and blowing up. The last peaceful time I can remember is before all the trouble happened with Celia, back when she was going out with Greg. I was only eight then, and Celia was thirteen. I liked Greg; him and I would sit in the den and play Mario Kart and eat chips all night.
Then she dumped Greg and started going out with Alex, who was five years older than her. At the same time, Mom and Dad started fighting more. Celia would come home with bruises dotting her face and arms. Mom and Dad would shout at her and she'd shout back. Then she'd run into our bedroom and slam the door, leaning against it and sobbing, and Mom and Dad would shout at each other. It was never about me – always about Celia, or Alex, or money, or booze – but I still hated hearing it. It was a bad time then; it was only for about half a year, but it seemed like a decade.
That's when I started spending more and more time on the balcony; it was somewhere I couldn't hear my parents. I'd wake up early and take waffles and jam outside because I wanted to avoid getting in the middle of an argument. I'd go down the fire escape to get to school every morning, and I'd come back that way in the afternoon.
Then Celia disappeared. One day she left for school and just never came back. We called the school, but she hadn't gone there; in fact, no one knew where she was at all. Various rumours reached us, ranging from her staying with Alex's family (who we couldn't get a hold of), to her staying in an apartment with Alex, to her being pregnant, to her getting kidnapped, to her being dead. For about a month after, our apartment fell into a sort of subdued, mournful calm. No one fought, but it wasn't like we were happy; there was just nothing to fight about anymore if we didn't know what had happened. I didn't go on my balcony anymore. In the mornings I'd eat my waffles in the kitchen, watching my mother holding her cup of cooling coffee, sitting in her thin pink housecoat and never looking me in the eye.
Gradually the fighting began again, because we were running out of money. For the last month Mom and Dad have done nothing but argue about how they are going to pay the rent. Judging from the eviction notice, solutions were never reached.
Two weeks ago, I heard from Celia. She sent me a short letter with no return address. It was obviously meant for me, but it was simple, dumb luck that sent it into my hands; I was the only one home when it got pushed through the mail slot. It was unmistakably Celia: her loopy cursive scrawl, her favourite purple pen, the flowered stationery paper she wrote everything on. She talked of someone named Keith and how they were very happy together and that I shouldn't worry. I wondered what happened to Alex; she never mentioned him. She wrote a bit about her job; she was a cashier at Tim Horton's. She didn't say where she lived now.
Celia sent a picture along with the letter. It was a shot of just her, standing on the impressive front steps of some sort of museum. She wore a blue sundress and a backpack, her fair hair hanging loose around her shoulders; she looked a little thinner, a little paler, but a lot happier than she had been here. Maybe because she escaped Alex. Maybe because she escaped Brooklyn. Maybe because she escaped Mom and Dad.
Here, now, in my bedroom, I can hear them. They are still fighting. They never stop.
My shirt is sticking to my skin; my fan isn't turning. I open the door of my balcony and close it behind me. It's no cooler out here; even though it's morning, the air already drips with heat, pressing in on me like walls. How is she going to find me? I start to breath fast, choking on air. I don't know where she lives. We have to leave. How am I going to find my sister? I sit and put my hands over my ears until all I can hear is the rumble of the air conditioner and the sound of my gasping breath.