A week later you roll out of bed rubbing your eyes. You’re feeling your way down the dark hallway towards the bathroom when you see a bright red string tied around the door knob of your sister’s bedroom. You pause and rub your eyes again, but it’s still there, so you feel your way past the bathroom and down to the red string instead. When you reach the door you slide it off, slowly push the door open, and poke your head in. Your sister is lying in her bed facing he wall, her phone illuminating the room with a dim white light. You push the door open all the way and tip toe over. When you get to the bed you peek over her. She’s already asleep. You get into the bed with her anyways and lie on top of her. She smiles in her sleep and rolls over so you’re lying on her stomach instead of her side. After a while the phone screen dims, then the light goes out. You’re already asleep.
The next morning you wake up squished between your sister and the wall. Your left arm is freezing but the rest of you is warm tucked underneath your sister’s huge blanket and wrapped in her arms. You try to twist around so you can see her. “Amy?” She hugs you tighter and buries her face deeper in your messy hair. She makes a noncommittal noise to let you know she’s awake, but doesn’t open her eyes. After a little squirming you turn so your facing her. Her eyebrows furrow and she shakes her head a little to get your hair out of her nose. Then she relaxes. You still think she looks a little what your mom likes to call distressed, though. But right now you’re a little more ‘distressed’. “Amy?”
She makes an irritated groan.
“Amy can I go to the bathroom now?”
A red string for hugs. As you get older the hugs also come with questions and suggestions for distractions. When two months after you turn six she give you a red string, too, and says that she’ll always take care of you, okay? You grin and run to your room where you put the string right next to the blue train your mom bought you for your birthday, and when you put the string on your door your sister comes with too long hugs and a comforting lack for words.
One day when you’re eight and she’s thirteen you leave for the school bus together and she has the string tied around her wrist. So right before the bus stops you hesitantly wrap your arms around her waist and hug. She doesn’t hug back, though. Instead she rubs your head then pushes you away. “Gross,” she laughs. “You’re so sticky.”
The string stays on her wrist for a longs time. It stays there for almost a year. You make sure to talk to her every day, but the hugs lessen. Then, one day when you’re nine you roll out of bed rubbing your eyes and feel your way down the hall to the bathroom. When you go to wash your hands you see the string cut near the knot she’d tied to turn it into a bracelet. It’s just sitting there next to the sink, getting splashed with water and soap. When you brush your teeth in the morning it’s still there. It’s still there that night and the next day and the day after that. You try to go into your sister’s room to ask her about it one night but she just tells you to get out because she’s busy. A month later on another nighttime trip to the toilet it’s still there, so you pick it up. Something doesn’t feel right. On the way back to your room you can’t think quite right. You bump into a table and the corner digs into your hip and you almost knock over your mom’s favorite vase. Your stomach feels like it’s folding in on itself. There must be more shadows tonight, you think. Too many shadows and so many shapes. You stub you finger on your door frame. Your eyes get hot and it feel like you want to cry, so you drape your sister’s string over your door knob and run into your room and curl up in the corner when you’ve long since abandoned your blue train and you wait. The bright blue train looks like it’s glowing in the dark and glaring at you and your stomach folds more. When you wake up the next morning you fix the red string so it’s tied onto the door knob. As soon as you get home you head straight to your room. You leave for meals and to get ready for bed and the next morning to go to school. Your sister never comes.
You forget to remove the string the next day. The day after that you figure you may as well leave it on. The next year you almost forget why it’s there. The year after that you really do.