"Get in," my mother said with a cool voice. Her nervousness peeked through her hard exterior, in the form of the cigarette dangling from her mouth and the condition of her jagged fingernails. My mother had a bit of an oral fixation.
I climbed into the black car and shut the door wordlessly, pulling the seatbelt around me. There was no need to talk; we both knew where we were going and what our business was there. I pulled out a tattered copy of The Catcher In the Rye from the back pocket of my corduroy overalls. Opening it up to a yellowed page two-thirds of the way through the book, I read the same paragraph forty-six times until we pulled up to the white gates of our destination.

My father always said, "Your mother is a worrier, and you are a dreamer, Rosalie. You walk through life with your feet on clouds." Maybe he was right, maybe he was wrong; I'll never really know because by the time I was old enough to ask him what he meant by that, he wasn't there.
My father was a gentle man, an old soul who took life with a grain of salt. He was a man who read the Bible on Sundays, a man who wore black woolen socks, a man who liked whiskey and mystery novels and our dog, Blue. He would sit me down and tell me all sorts of fabulous stories; stories of Moses and Jesus, of me and Bella when we were little, and of fantastic adventures he had had in the Vietnam. As every story should be, each one was a delicate web of truth and fabrication.
The other thing my father truly loved was the snow. He would bring my older sister Bella and I up to our winter cabin for three days of "appreciation of God's cleansing" for the first snow of each season. My mother, of course, would always conveniently have a meeting or a report due or important clients to talk with, and never made the trip with us. So for three blissful days of blue fingers and white landscape, my sister and my father and I would trek up to the cabin and bond over hot chocolate and ice skates.

"Riverdale, Bella," my mother said to the white-clad receptionist sitting behind the counter. The receptionist nodded curtly and opened the security doors, never looking up from her romance novel.
The walls of the hallway we walked down were covered in macaroni art projects and tissue paper flowers. Nurses walked by with rainbow assortments of pills, and patients wore jeans and sneakers instead of johnnies. It was a hospital, but there was no maternity ward, no X-ray machines, and no gift shop.
My mother's hand crept slowly up to her mouth, the clicking of her hundred-dollar heels reverberating down the hallway. We turned left three times and right once, until we were in a small corridor with gray walls. I followed my mother down to room 312B, pausing just outside the door and waiting for my mother's deep breath. Finally, she reached for the doorknob.

It was during one of those trips up north that my sister decided to go driving. I was thirteen and she was fifteen, both of us just on the brink of adolescence. It was a chilly mid-November day, the trees holding onto the very last of their brown, crumbling leaves.
My father had a tiny red car, I remember that. Shiny and smooth, it glistened like sin against the new-fallen snow. He didn't love that car like some men loved their own cars, but he took care of it and polished it nearly every week.
It was the third and final day of our venture up north, and we had already exhausted all of the usual winter activities. My sister had been recently enrolled in Driver's Ed, and begged my father to let her take a drive. My father, not being a strict man, obliged. The three of us piled into that tiny little car, me in my usual seat, my father riding shotgun and my sister proudly sitting in the driver's seat. She backed precariously out of the driveway, and, gaining confidence, turned into the road.
The drive was lots of fun and lasted almost all evening because the gas tank was full. My sister turned out to be quite a good driver. Since there was no radio signal in the mountains, my father told us jokes and his beautifully fabricated stories the whole time. By the time we noticed hours had passed, it was nearly dark.

"Hello, Bella," I said, speaking for the first time since my mother had picked me up. Bella paid me little attention; instead she focused lazily on the sandwich in her lap. She picked at its contents and plucked them from between the slices, placing them onto her outstretched tongue.
"Bella, I'm glad to see you're eating. You looked a little thin last time I saw you," my mother said, the strain in her smile and voice obvious, even to Bella. Bella picked her head up and gazed at my mother, the corners of her lips curling into an empty smile.
"Saa-wish," Bella said triumphantly, pushing her tray aside and standing up. Though her skin looked sallow and her hair was ragged and messy, her eyes still shone with the same gleam they always had.
"Would you like to go for a walk?" My mother asked her, pronouncing each word slowly and deliberately. Bella did not pay attention however; she walked over to the birdcage on the far side of her room and took the sky- blue parakeet from inside. Stroking it, she talked to it sweetly. "Birdy, birdy, Lilly Birdy," her voice sang out.
"Bella?" my other asked, trying to catch my sister's eye.
"Lilly Birdy," Bella sang softly, and my mother sighed to herself.

I remember it being dusk out and the snow starting to fall. My sister was driving us back home, and my father was quiet in the front seat. Somewhere along the way it turned from a comfortable silence to a worried silence, the number of wrinkles in my fathers' forehead increasing as the sky turned dark and the snow turned to a gray sleet.
My sister turned the brights on and leaned forward in her seat, trying to see out in front of her. The tires made a squealing noise that alarmed my father's ears.
"Bella, let me drive the rest of the way home," my father spoke in his slow, deliberate voice.
"Ok, dad. I'll pull over in a minute, there's a rest stop right up there," my sister said. She sped up a little, eager to reach the truck stop more quickly. We never reached the truck stop at all.

My mother was always a woman who threw herself into her work. She was a defense attorney, the kind who wore color-coordinated suits and carried a leather briefcase. She was never very maternal; my father was the one who kissed our cuts and told us bedtime stories. My mother hate to cook, too, and ordered takeout or pizza almost every night.
I never quite understood my mother and fathers' relationship. He was quiet and wise; she, high-maintenance and worrisome. My father was the type to take us fishing, my mother the type to help us with our math homework. They almost never fought, but then again they weren't very close either. On the rare occasion my father would kiss my mother, she often stiffened or looked embarrassed.
Thank God for Bella. I was a painfully shy child, and Bella was the only one who could truly draw me out of my shell. Bella would turn on swing or old jazz music and we'd kick off our shoes, sliding around the kitchen floor and dancing to the music. When I danced, I looked like a swaying breeze; when Bella danced, she looked like an angel. Her long, red hair would spin and her graceful body moved with the rhythm of the music.
Bella and I shared a room, and she would often come crawling through the bedroom window at midnight or later, whispering to me the stories of where she had been and who she had been with. I waited for every time she snuck out, wide-eyed with worry and curiosity. My sister was a goddess to me; she had boyfriends and went to high school and loved to laugh and sing.
This was not to say that we got along all the time. There were fights over clothes and chores, squabbles over who too who's CDs, and even battles over who crossed the line in the car. But after every argument, I would hear the sweet chords of Ella Fitzgerald floating up through my freshly- slammed door. I knew what Ella meant; she was what my sister played as a peace offering. So I would tiptoe downstairs and grin as my sister took my hands, beginning the dance of the wind and her faithful angel.

It was a patch of ice, I think. Black ice, an invisible evil that haunts the road. She swerved into a the metal ramp and the car rolled once, twice, I can't remember. The only thing I can recall between the impact and the hospital hours later was the biting cold that crept into my lungs and, a while later, the sound of a passing car braking quickly and running over to us.
I woke up, blinking one eye open seven hours later. The other one was covered in white gauze. Also wrapped up was my shin and elbow, and there was a shiny pink cast on my right wrist.
The room smelled of Clorox and was gleaming white. I sat, unnerved, for several minutes until a doctor came in to check on me. Three days went by before I spoke a single word, my mother came and visited me every day, once staying the night. When I spoke to ask her where my father and Bella were, her face went slack and expressionless.
I left the hospital two days later, a day before my father's funeral. I remember sitting there with my mother, in the front pew, holding her hand as she cried. As they were burying my father it began to snow, and I knew it was a message from him to me.

My sister survived, obviously. She lives in a mental hospital, which is a polite term for the loony bin. I've been saving up all of my babysitting money since the accident, and when I graduate from college I'm going to get her out of there and live with and take care of her.
Permanent brain damage, the doctors say. She has no lapses in judgement or processing, I think she just pretends in front of my mother because she secretly hates her for putting her in such a dreary place. It's her communication and language skills that are gone. Bella is locked inside herself, able to think like a sixteen-year-old and talk like a three-year- old. Though she had made some progress, she will never be "normal" again, the doctors said.
What they don't understand is that Bella was never going to be "normal". She was extraordinary, a singer, a sister, a laugher. Even after the accident she still was, you could see it in the gleam in her eye.

"La," Bella said, which I think was short for Ella. In any event, when I turned on the CD player in her room, she clapped her hands with glee. The sound was not as pure and magical as it was at home on our phonograph, but it pleased her nonetheless. She did not dance or sing anymore, but she laughed as I spun around the room in my swaying way.
"Bella, it's time for us to go. Visiting hours are over," my mother said, her lips pursed in disapproval. My mother hates it when I dance for Bella because it reminds her of the old days.
"Home?" Bella asked hopefully. She again stroked Lilly, who perched resolutely on her index finger.
"Yes, Bella. We'll see you next month," my mother said, standing up and brushing invisible lint off her navy blue suit. She knew not to hug Bella, as Bella would only be touched by me and her favorite nurse, Karen. I stood up and kissed Bella lightly on the cheek, whispering in her ear that I'd take the bus and come see her next week. Though there was no recognition on her face, I knew she understood.

The car hummed along, punctuated only by the sound of my mother deeply inhaling a puff on her cigarette. I opened up The Catcher in the Rye, but again I couldn't concentrate. The leaves were a crisp November red and the shy threatened a snowstorm. This would be the first year I would spend it at home with my mother, but I knew that my father's soul would make the journey, just like each winter. I would tell Bella that next week when I visited her, I decided. And as I thought of my angel, the first snowflake of the season floated into my outstretched palm.