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Prelude and Fugue in C Minor

20-833-6391. Nora hesitantly brought the cold phone to her ear, as it began to ring. Once. Twice. On the third ring it picked up.
“Hello?” the receiver asked in a cheery voice.
“Hi Margot, it’s me, Nora” she said in a cautious tone.
“Nora.” Margot’s voice became strained. “It’s been a while. How have you been?” The question was simply a formality, and it lacked any sincerity or concern. A while was a gross understatement. It had been over three years since the sisters had last spoken. Three years of arduous moves, exciting promotions, celebrations and losses. The years of silence made it feel as though they were separated by a glass wall.
“That’s actually why I’m calling, Margot.” Every time she said her sister’s name it felt like a memory exhumed from the past, as though she were a five-year-old girl again, playing dress-up with her older sister. Like her tongue was forming the sounds for the very first time. With a deep breath, she continued. “Margot, I am so sorry…” With each sentence uttered, her voice became a little softer, a little more empathetic. “Margot, Mom is dead.” She heard Margot’s breath catch in a hiccup, and for the first time Nora felt as though she was the one supposed to be protecting her big sister, and not the other way around. “She went last night. ” Nora continued, sniffling through tears as they crept from her eyes and slid down her cheeks. “The doctor said that because she was fragile from her hip replacement, she wasn’t strong enough to fight the pneumonia, ” Nora had already had time to digest the news on her own, but she could hear her sister’s chest rattle as she drew in a shaky breath. The two women sat in pregnant stillness, the only sounds being those made by their diaphragms lowering in inhalation and raising in exhalation; as they remembered the days when the other’s presence had been enough to sooth discomfort and pain.
An ambulance drove by Nora’s house, sirens wailing, and Margot cleared her throat, clearly eager to get off the phone. Eager to go back to her life distanced from her sister. “Thank you for telling me. I guess I should go tell the kids.”
“Wait Margot, please. The funeral is this Friday. Will you be there?”
“I don’t think so…um, I have some pretty big deadlines coming up at…at work”.
Nora could imagine her sister smoothing over the hair in her bun as she said this, her elegant fingers dipping between strands of hair behind her ear. It was something she did when faced with a difficult decision or uncomfortable dilemma.
Static silence occupied the space between replies, each woman contemplating what to say next. Each woman knowing it would not come easily.
“How are they? The kids?” Nora knew that Margot could talk about her kids for hours on end, that this would keep her on the phone.
“Katie and Joe are fine, they’ve been really busy with swimming. Katie also just started piano lessons, and she’s loving it. She’s a natural.” Margot’s full lips curved into a smile as she said this, despite the tears that continued to stream from her eyes and labor her breathing. It brought her joy to witness her daughter finding a sense of belonging between the notes on the pages.
“She sounds just like you at that age.” Nora’s thin lips curled into a smile as she remembered the way Margot’s hands could float across the keys, pulling colorful harmonies and charismatic rhythms from thin air, manipulating them to do as she pleased. “Remember the Bach Prelude and Fugue you played when you won the competition in Seattle? I was so jealous that you got to wear a fancy dress and be the center of attention. You were absolutely stunning in that ruby dress.” Nora expected a quick reply like “it should have, considering how much it cost”, but was instead met with a pause fueled by reluctance.
“I starved myself to fit it.” Margot sat on the loveseat in her living room, anticipating a response. Nora sat on a dining room chair waiting for an explanation. This new pronouncement made Nora’s head spin; she had difficulty organizing her thoughts.
“You did what?” Disbelief caused the words to linger in the air, halfway between a question and a statement.
“I was so stressed leading up to that competition that I gained weight after we bought it. Mom was furious that she’d spent so much money, only for me to be too chubby to fit it. So I stopped eating. And it worked, I looked “stunning” in the ruby dress.”
“Oh Margot, I had no idea.” She felt laden with fresh grief for her sister. Hot tears sprung from her eyes as she thought of how that must have felt. Maybe if she’d known, she could have been there for her. But part of her knew that it wouldn’t have changed anything, that she would have just sat there and watched.
“Of course not, why would you? We weren’t close.” Despite the truth in the statement, those words felt like a ruthless stab in the back, because they drew attention to their failed relationship. “No one did; they didn’t want to. I was the Senator’s ‘Perfect Little Piano Player’.” She spat out the word ‘perfect’, releasing with it the feelings of animosity it invoked. “Mom and Dad didn’t want to let that ‘perfect’ image be soiled, regardless of whether it killed my love for music.”
“Wow. And to think, I longed to be in your shoes. Do you regret it all?”
“Of course there were good parts. I got to play the music I loved, and travel for music festivals. But the competition aspect ruined it for me. It was too much pressure to be under at such a young age. At least now I know what I don’t want for Katie. I’ll let her decide how far she wants to go.”
“Is that why you won’t come to the funeral?”
“I didn’t say that.” She clenched her teeth, trying to contain the resentment that was bubbling up inside her. “Nora, I don’t need another psychologist. You always dig too deep, push too hard and I’m tired of it.”
“You’re right. I’m sorry. I’m asking out of pure curiosity. I’d like to know why you don’t want to be there.”
“They were selfish, Nora. They didn’t care about what I wanted. And I don’t feel like I owe them anything, certainly not my respect. It’s my turn to be selfish and protect the things I love.”
Though it felt as though there was nothing left to say, Margot was waiting for permission from her sister to hang up.
“Okay, well I should call the Funeral Home to sort everything out. Will I see you Friday?”
“I don’t know; I’ll have to see. Stay in touch, Nora?”
“Okay”.

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