Every Time I Hear Square Dance Music…

When my sister was little, our parents took her to the doctor because they were afraid that something was wrong.  This was before I was born, so I don’t remember it, but the doctor gave my sister a full physical.

“She looks fine,” the doctor said.

“Please,” said our mom.  “She looks fine, but when she walks, there’s a problem.”

The doctor took my sister into the long hallway at the back of his office.  There were doors leading in all different directions to all different offices.  The adults stood back and watched my sister walk towards the end of the hall.

“Parents have a tendency to worry,” said the doctor.  “She’s perfectly healthy.”

“Ok,” said my dad.  “Then go get her.”

The doctor started walking to the end of the hall and nearly stepped on my sister.  It looked like she had walked far away, but instead she had shrunk.

“My lord,” said the doctor.

“We told you,” said my dad.  “The only way to get her back to normal size is if she walks backwards.”

“And if she walks sideways?”

My dad sighed and plugged his ears.  My mom nodded at my sister to walk to the side.

This time my sister actually did move, and she stayed normal size while she did it.  The only problem now was that as soon as my sister took a step, country music started playing like at a square dance.  Some invisible caller shouted out, “Step to the side, step to the side, dosey-doe.”

“Ok,” shouted my dad.  He grew up on a farm and there was nothing he hated more than square dancing.

There was nothing the doctor or any specialist could do.

It was ok for my sister when we were growing up though.  Sometimes she would walk backwards until she was a giant and let me ride around town on her shoulders, and she’d always get into the movies for free.  She’d shrink down really small and sneak in in my pocket.  The ushers always knew, but they let us get away with it.

Our dad would wear earplugs whenever my sister was around, and when we left town, she would shrink down and ride in a pouch around his neck.  Our mom had sewn the pouch especially for her.

“The town is fine,” our dad would always say, “but we don’t need the whole earth knowing our business.”

It all worked out pretty well until my sister was fifteen.  By then, she had a deaf boyfriend who didn’t care about the music blasting every time she walked, and she was starting to wonder which other fifteen-year-olds had to ride around in a little pouch every time they left town.  Besides, the pouch
was getting worn out, and our mom wasn’t around to make a new one.  She had been killed in a shark attack when I was ten and my sister was thirteen.  Only her pinky toe had washed up onto shore.

My sister and dad would fight every night.
“You shouldn’t be out gallivanting with your deaf boyfriend all the time,” he’d yell.  “You should be studying and thinking about your future.”
“Stop trying to control me,” she’d yell back, and then she’d slam out of the house.
My sister would wake us all up when she got home at three or 4am, the dosey-doe music as loud as ever, and our dad would yell at her the next night for staying out so late and waking me up when I had school in the morning.
When my sister was home though, our dad would spend his time in the shed so he didn’t have to hear that square dance music or remember he had two teenage daughters he was supposed to raise all on his own.
And then one night, we didn’t hear, “Swing your partner round and round and round, step to the side, step to the side.”
In the morning, my dad was sitting at the kitchen table with a spoon in his hand.  He was running the spoon back and forth across the table.  He’d done it so many times there was a mark in the wood.
When my sister did come home two days later with a black eye, my dad didn’t yell.  He sat at the kitchen table and my sister sat at the kitchen table and I made them both grilled cheese, and neither of them ate.
Things like that happened a few more times over the next year, and when my sister was sixteen, she moved out completely.
She had a job as a cook at the nursing home in town, and the owners let her and her deaf boyfriend rent one of the empty rooms at a discounted rate.
She’d quit school by then and pretty soon after her and her deaf boyfriend moved in, her deaf boyfriend moved back out again.  Then it was just my sister and all these old people.  I’d go visit her and she’d be playing bridge in the games room or else watching The Price is Right.
Our dad would never come see her.
Five years later, I was getting ready for university.  My sister barely left the nursing home by then.  Most of the residents were too old to hear the square dancing music and the ones that could hear it had such bad Alzheimer’s they didn’t realize it was the same song over and over.  They’d grab her arm as she side stepped past.
“What is that lovely music?” they’d ask.
“I don’t know,” she’d say back.  “But it is nice, isn’t it?”
Every few months my sister would talk about moving on.  She didn’t know anyone outside of town though and she hadn’t even finished high school.
“It’s almost my time,” she’d say.  She’d started talking slowly and loudly by then so that the old people could understand what she was saying.
“Time for what?” I’d ask.
And then one day, a week before I moved away for school, it was her time.  My sister hadn’t been at our house since two Christmases before, but she stepped sideways through the front door like she still lived there.
I think my dad and I both knew something was going on.  I made dinner and we sat around talking about the good things we’d done together.  We looked at the pictures from our trip to The Grand Canyon and even laughed about how after we’d buried our mother’s pinky toe we’d gone to Sea World and poisoned all the sharks as revenge.
After dinner, my dad offered to drive my sister back to the nursing home, but neither of us was surprised when she said she wasn’t going back.
My sister hugged my dad and hugged me, and we stood at the edge of the lawn and watched her walk away.
It took me a few seconds to realize there was no music.  My sister wasn’t walking sideways, she was walking forward.  My dad had to grab my by the arm to stop me from reaching out to her.
We watched as she got smaller and smaller until there was nothing left to see.  The wind picked up and maybe my sister was blown away with it, or maybe she’s still walking, getting smaller and smaller and

smaller.

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