A golden beam of summer sun is stretching from one end of the white ceiling to the other. I’ve been laying here long enough to watch it slowly extend across the room, and to stream down the other end of the wall like a huge glob of honey sliding down the side of a piece of classic white Wonder bread. I hold my breath for a moment and quietly listen for the sounds of cartoons dancing up the stairs. Natalie always watches. Sure enough, the tunes of Tom and Jerry make its way into my ears.
Natalie is sprawled on the ground on her stomach with her pale chin cradled between her two hands. Her mouth opens often for giggling fits of laughter to tumble out. Tom and Jerry are at it again. Jerry sends a bat speeding towards Tom who smugly dodges it. The bat bounces straight back into Jerry’s astonished face and leaves a perfect bat-imprint in his body. Natalie’s frame quivers with laughter and she turns around to see who is watching the pure cinematic genius with her. She’s still in her favorite nightgown; it’s a pure white flowy dress that sways and brushes past her calves as she walks. Sunlight shines in from bay window behind me and illuminates a face full of innocence. She smiles and asks, “What are we going to do today?”
The sun is still streaming down as Natalie and I walk into our backyard. The light glimmers off the pool and sends reflections of white flashing everywhere. The breeze winds through our apple trees, rustling the green leaves. Natalie is in her bright yellow bathing suit, and is ready to jump in the water. Her long, pale legs gracefully take two steps back, pause for dramatic effect, and then launch her body into the pool with a splash. I join her and we swim around for a while as the dazzling sun watches our antics. Before long, we’re both bored of swimming back and forth. “Come on, follow me!” I direct Natalie. “This, my dear sister, is how you have fun!” I say, rebelliously. I leap from the top of our nine foot slide towards the pool. For a moment, fear gets the better of me as I fall downwards; three feet on concrete separate the slide from the edge of the pool. But my fear is silly, I clear the distance and drop into the pool with an enormous splash. I surface to the sound of laughter and clapping. “You gonna try?” I add an edge of challenge into my voice. I walk over to our apple tree, pick one, and set my teeth into it. For a moment, I can see the hesitation on her freckled face. I lean against the deep brown wood of the tree and being to eat the apple in triumph—she’s not going to do it.
After a long pause, Natalie sets her small, pale face in determination. She marches towards me, grabs an apple, and defiantly takes a huge bite. “Watch this!” Natalie throws the red apple to the ground and returns to the pool. She ascends the ladder just as I had, though I can see her determination shrinking as her distance from the ground grows. She finally reaches the top and tenses her muscles in preparation. Her head moves in front of the sun and a dark shadow obscures her face as she begins to leap towards the pool. Her slender body springs out, but her mind panics and begs her body to stay. Gravity takes advantage of her moment of uncertainty and her body falls down, down, nine feet down, making a parallel line with the slab of concrete.
Natalie slams into the ground and almost instantly emits a scream so loud and so pain filled that I feel my muscles slacken from the sheer shock. I sprint over to her shaking body as my mind reels from the absolute chaos that seems to be unraveling before me. Her wrist is clearly broken; it bends unnaturally to one side. Dark maroon blood pools up on her forehead and begins to slide down her face, contrasting sharply against her white, colorless skin. WHAT DO I DO? I scream in my mind as Natalie writhes in pain, grating her body against the dingy concrete. I look around hopelessly, praying for someone to deliver me from this awful situation. But a cloud has shaded the sun and all I see as I frantically gaze around our yard are shadowed apple trees and the ashy concrete. I run in the house, rip the phone off the hook, and dial 9-1-1 as my fingers tremble and bump against each other.
She came home from the ER that same night with two broken bones and lots of scratches and bruises. She fell asleep before I got the chance to see her, but I peeked in her room. It was silent except for the sound of even breathing. I saw the shape of her body beneath the covers, but the darkness was too black to make out her face.
I lay in my bed that Saturday morning, stricken with guilt and absolutely praying to hear the notes of an old classic tune from the TV. The silence was louder than any noise. She was downstairs on the couch in jeans and a grey t-shirt staring at the shale colored cast on her arm. “Hey.” I offered. I saw a shadow flit across her face as she smiled. I flipped on the TV to the cartoons. Tom and Jerry skipped across the screen in another chase scene. Natalie watched; I watched Natalie. Jerry tried to grab Tom through a door and his fingers were slammed in the frame. The corners of Natalie’s mouth did not curve up; her body did not shake with laughter. Natalie flinched. I pressed the power button and the TV screen slipped back into dark obscurity.
Natalie fell off that slide six years ago. She became acquainted with mortality and life six years ago. I was the first to see it in her—I saw her fall from innocence down to the light charcoal pavement. Natalie understood the world better at the bottom of that slide than she did at the top of it. But there was a price. She doesn’t wear her lovely white nightgown any more. The golden sun no longer watches us when we play. Knowledge has replaced the innocence in her eyes.