Kate Doyle

Grace says, Not me, I just like hitting things with my squash racquet.

Cinnamon baseball coyote

In the middle of a fight when she is 10 and Grace is 6, Helen writes I hate my sister and puts the piece of paper in her desk. Three months later Grace finds it, while Helen is taking a shower. Helen with her wet hair wrapped up in a towel says, Well I wrote it a long time ago, Grace, and why were you looking in my desk! Their father, intervening, has been frowning. He says, Are you saying you forgot you had this, Helen? Grace is crying excessively, wiping her tears and nose on the pink sleeve of one bent arm. Helen says, I knew I had it, but I don’t mean it anymore. I only kept it because I meant it once.

In their home there is a no-hitting rule, observed without exception, but their mother’s sister could not possibly know it. This is why Helen, in the back seat of Aunt Eileen’s car, on the Pennsylvania interstate, reacts with startling, thrilling physical violence to Evan’s singing. One flat palm slapped across his upper arm, she says, Stop it that is not a real song, you are making that up, be quiet.

Age one: impossible to remember. Their parents have Helen, and on her first birthday put her in a blue dress with smocking around the ribs and chest. There is a picture of it, framed, and they keep it hanging in the stairwell. One Christmas Eve, in college, Grace is dressed for dinner and, descending, pauses on the stairs. She says, unprompted, I do like this picture, Helen, but I feel like there are better baby photos of you.

Evan is born. I am a sister now, joyful Helen tells the neighbors, famously.

Grace is born. Evan, age 2, tells their father, Now I have two of these.

On the one day of winter break when it snows, Grace says with a small nose-wrinkle of distaste, These two are the artsy ones in this family, not me. Helen feels annoyed but Evan is fine. He just laughs and opens the fridge and looks around for milk, saying, We actually think Grace could be an actress, if she tried. Helen says, I disagree, she’s too purposely not caring. Grace says, How dare you, I was great that time you made me be your Peter Pan, remember how convincingly I cried? Grace’s squash team friend is there—I’ll have you know I wept, Grace tells her. The squash friend sips her glass of water. She says, I’ve never been artistic myself, but of course I have to admire it. Grace says, Not me, I just like hitting things with my squash racquet. And she thumps one palm down hard on the countertop, which makes the nearby toaster give off a tinny, wild shudder.

Their parents meet just after college, in a bar, and it’s raining. Later, their mother gives up her career to be at home with them. In middle school, Grace becomes incredible at squash. Of the three of us, says Evan over sushi one New Year’s, Helen is most doomed.

Evan’s plan is not to make the kind of mistakes Helen makes.

Pick yourself up, says her father, gently.

Helen cannot sleep all night and calls out sick from the coffee shop. This is not what people do, says her mother. What people do is, they go to work.

The three of them try to remember an alphabet book they loved as children. S is for Serious. T is maybe for Timid, but they are not certain. Evan is trying to find the Yankees game on television. T is for Tearful, he says. Grace, flung out on the sofa, wearing one of their mother’s old college sweatshirts, elaborates: T is for Tearful, like Helen is.

In high school, their dog gets old and dies. Her gums turn very pale and her small heart races, visibly beating under the skin. They and their parents take her to the vet, where they sit around her on the floor and stroke her until she falls asleep. The part of her Evan can reach is the small, warm armpit. They leave before she has the injection that will euthanize her. This is what the vet recommends they do.

The ground is too cold to dig into, and so, for now, their parents keep their dog’s ashes on a shelf, next to their mother’s lightweight spring sweaters.

Evan, in elementary school, often tries to get a look at the top of his head. He thinks if he looks up quickly enough, he’ll catch a glimpse. He stands in the family room and tips back his head, repeatedly.

When they first get their dog they are children, and argue incessantly about what to name her. Evan says, I am going to pull your hair. Grace says, I hate you both. In the end, the name is a kind of mash-up of their disparate suggestions.

College icebreaker: My name is Helen, and a fun fact about me is, my dog was named Cinnamon Baseball Coyote.

They are children, and their father is taking them with their Christmas present racquets to learn the game of squash. From the front seat, turning off the engine, he says, You all are going to really like this. Helen presses her face to the clouded glass of one window. Snow circles from the white sky, accumulates like pale moss on the asphalt. Under his breath, Evan is singing a made-up song. Grace says, Fine but if I don’t love this, Dad? I am not ever forgiving you, ever.

Kate Doyle’s writing has been featured in No Tokens, Meridian (Flash Fiction Award winner), Pigeon Pages, Bodega, the Franklin Electric Reading Series, Lamprophonic, and Sundays at Erv’s. She lives in New York and received an MFA from NYU.