Magdalena Ademescu was walking to her apartment after her orchestral rehearsal. It was snowing lightly, and she held the handle of her violin case with by her right fingertips in white knit gloves. As she passed by closed shops with displays of presents and Santa Claus with miniature reindeer, the streets lit by bright and dim Christmas lights hanging from every building and light post, she thought she might call her parents soon.
The holidays were the only time they ever talked anymore. Before she’d made a point to visit at some time during the year one time or another during the year, for holidays, birthdays, or even just a surprise drop in. Then birthdays became less important, and holidays in an empty home seemed to lose meaning. So instead of visiting, a journey that took all of thirty minutes to make, Magda began to call instead.
Her parents understood— she was a young woman, she was a busy musician, it was ok that she didn’t visit. She supposed things might’ve been different if life hadn’t gone the way it had. Demetra and Mihai might’ve reprimanded her more for not visiting or being short on calls if they felt they could. But since she was the only child still in their lives, they would take her in any capacity they could and not trouble her for more for fear they might lose her entirely. She felt a little guilty for taking advantage of that, but she found it hard to go home. In this one decision she chose to be selfish. Even if she was being selfish, she didn’t care much; Roxy had been worse.
Within the Adamescu home there would be Demetra, who now wore glasses always, reading a book on her white plastic- wrapped couch. Mihai in the summer would be gardening and, in the winter, would be building a model airplane at the kitchen table. The table was now so worn it had chairs that guests could not sit in because they were always falling apart. Magda’s room had been turned into an office, and the old towel cabinet was, once again, just for towels. Roxana’s room was a guest room that never got used, with fresh linen sheets and an ugly orange throw pillow that matched the color used to paint over her walls. Across the hall was a closed door that rarely ever opened. If Magda opened it, she’d find Dragos’s room, so untouched that the mere glance of it made it seem like at any moment he would walk in back through its door and grab a music CD to play obnoxiously loud while Roxy banged on the door and told telling him to shut up.
The room remained still and silent always, closed off from the rest of the world like a time capsule; a living shrine that if disturbed would mean Dragos had been forgotten. After his death, Magda’s parents had closed the door, refusing to touch or move anything no matter how much Roxy or Magda had urged them to.
Magda shivered a little in the cold as she opened walked to the door of her apartment complex, slowing opening and opening it slowly and closing it behind her, the lock clicking. As she entered her apartment, she took off her boots by the door and unwrapped her white scarf, placing it on a hook with her coat. She set her gloves on a table by the door and then picked up her violin. She walked to her living room and set it on the coffee table. Magda lived alone. Well not entirely alone. She had a cat: Cupcake. Cupcake was a rescue and hated pretty much everyone. She tolerated Magda because Magda gave her food.
She turned on the TV, an episode of Criminal Minds playing, and walked to her kitchen to make a cup of tea. She thought about her work, the orchestra’s holiday concert coming up. She also taught lessons to kids in the area. Rich parents liked to pay too much money for instruction, but Magda figured it was fair because their kids were brats. One time a kid had even picked their boogers with a bow, that was gross. The water began to heat in her electric kettle, and she leaned against the countertop taking out her phone. She would call her parents tomorrow; it was too late to do it now. She found Roxy’s contact and started a text, one of many sent but never answered.
Holidays are coming up soon, hope ur doing well. Love you miss you.
She sighed, sent it, and opened Instagram. She searched up Roxy’s account, which she didn’t follow but was public. Roxy was turning thirty soon. Magda zoomed in on her most recent post: a picture of Roxy and her two children smiling. Magda had never met her nephews, Dean, a three-year-old, and Peter, who now was about a year old. Dean had spiky hair and was blurry in almost every photo from squirming. Peter was a chubby toddler with perpetually confused look on his face.
Roxy had gotten married only two short years after her high school graduation. Her husband, Calvin, was a tall blonde man from Connecticut who Magda thought looked like he belonged in a Hallmark movie. Demetra and Mihai didn’t agree with the marriage. They thought it was too soon, too fast, and they didn’t know Calvin or his family. Roxy had said that was fine; they weren’t invited to the wedding anyways. Roxy never said Magda couldn’t go, but she never got an invitation either. After that Roxy had moved to Connecticut with her new American family. She’d never reached out since.
Magda still texted her every holiday, every birthday, even sometimes just because she felt like it. Roxy never responded. Magda was never sure how to feel about Roxy. She was her sister, she loved her, she understood why she left and why she would’ve never been happy staying with them. When Roxy left, Magda was fifteen, a high school student with no one to look out for her. Sometimes she still felt angry about it.
How hard was it to respond to your own sister’s text? Did Roxy hate her that much?
She zoomed out the picture and stared at the post until her phone dinged from a text.
Alice: Here’s the address for the party tomorrow, I hope you can make it!
Alice was another violinist in the Cleveland orchestra, who Magda had recently befriended. They would talk in between sections and laugh about the funny scrunched face their conductor made when he pointed to the trumpets. Alice had short black hair, freckles, and the prettiest smile. She was a gifted musician, when she played it seemed like she could do it with her eyes closed if she wanted, and she always seemed so content. Even though they hadn’t been friends for very long, Magda felt very close to Alice, though maybe that was because she was one of Magda’s only friends. Earlier, when rehearsal ended and Magda was closing her case, Alice had tapped her lightly
“Oh, yea. Sorry, what’s up?”
“Nothing, I just, I well, there’s this Christmas party tomorrow at my friend Jennie’s and I wanted to tell you to come.”
“I don’t know.” Magda looked to the side, shuffling her feet. “I think I’m busy and-”
“You are not busy, come on.”
“Hey, I could be busy.”
“But you’re not.”
“Fine, I’m not busy. I’m just not a party girl.”
“A party girl?” laughed Alice.
“What? I’m not.”
“Yea, I can tell that because you just said party girl.”
“Ok, so, I’m not going. Yes?”
“Come on, it will be super casual, and,” smiled Alice, “It would be so much more fun if you were there. Just think about it?”
The water began to boil, and the kettle clicked off. Magda set down her phone and grabbed a cup for her tea. She stared at the text as she poured the water into her mug. What should she say? She should wait five minutes before replying, she didn’t want to seem too eager. She didn’t want to say the wrong thing either. Magda wasn’t a particularly social person, she’d never been. She’d lived her entire life without many friends, and that didn’t bother her much. When Magda found a friend, however, she always felt this pit in her stomach. She always worried wouldn’t be enough for them or she’d act strangely and mess it up. It put her on edge.
She went and sat on the couch and sipped on her tea. Magda set her phone on the coffee table just so she could stare at it until the time had passed. She grabbed it and started typing.
Awesome, I’ll see u then!
Great, I’ll see you then.
Don’t say that.
She hit send and set her phone down. She wouldn’t say anything else tonight. What was she going to wear ? What did she have that was nice? Her phone dinged.
“What the fuck?” mumbled Magda, staring as the typing bubble stayed up. She stared as it fell away.
“No, no, no! Did you send that Dean? I told you not to play on Mommy’s phone!” said Roxy, staring at her screen in her hotel room as Dean ran around, giggling.
“What did he do?” asked Calvin, who was sitting on the toilet scrolling through his phone.
“He sent a text to my fucki-” said Roxy. She composed herself, “He sent this gibberish to my sister, who I never talk to.”
“Oh yea, what was her name again, Magday?”
“Magda.” Roxy put a head to her forehead. “This is just great.”
“I’m sure it will be fine sweetie.” Her phone buzzed.
Are you okay?
“Shit, now she’s texting me,” said Roxy.
“Hey, come on, no swearing in front of the kids,” said Calvin, his fingertip swiping up his Instagram feed filled with European cars, news outlets, and ads for crossword puzzle apps.
“Don’t swear mom!” laughed Dean, going and jumping on the couch.
“You don’t get it. We never talk, I haven’t responded to her in eight years! Eight years honey! Ok? She thinks something’s wrong!” said Roxy, going to the door of the bathroom.
“Then just text her back and tell her everything is fine,” shrugged Calvin, without looking up from his phone.
Roxy’s phone started to ring, “Christ, she’s calling me.”
“If I answer it, she’s gonna want to talk, and then what do I say? Hey sis, sorry for not talking to you for almost a decade. Yea I have been getting all your texts and not answering them, where am I right now you ask? Oh, just in a hotel in Cleveland to go to a stupid Christmas party for my husband’s dipshit brother. No I wasn’t going to tell you I was in town, are you hearing how much of a dickhead I sound like right now?”
Calvin shook his head a little, shrugging again.
“Could you listen to me when I’m talking to you instead of just scrolling through your phone?” said Roxy, throwing her hands in the air and walking away.
“Sorry babe,” said Calvin, still not looking away. He reached for the toilet paper, which was empty, then finally looked over, “Oh shit, hey babe can you get me some more toilet paper?”
Roxy stared at the call as it went out, then looked over to Dean who was still jumping, “Stop it, it’s time for bed, no more jumping!” Dean laughed and jumped off onto the ground. Peter started crying from all the noise. Roxy sighed.
At the young age of twenty Roxy had married Calvin Williams, who had then just graduated from Ohio State with a Communications degree. Shortly after she had moved to his home state of Connecticut, where they lived one town over from his parents, Mark and Shelly, who visited every weekend with a casserole in hand. Before Roxy had Dean, Mark would go off with Calvin and they’d smoke on the back porch and talk business. Shelly stayed inside with Roxy and did the dishes, giving her tips on how to make pot roasts and the best cleaner to get for her windows so they sparkled.
She didn’t dislike Shelly, but everything felt somehow insincere. It seemed like Shelly saw Roxy more like a mannequin than a person— a mannequin she was posing, dressing, and putting on display for Calvin.
After Roxy had Dean, she did the dishes herself and Shelly sat with the little Dean, and later the little Peter too, and squeezed their cheeks and read them books. It didn’t upset Roxy all that much, she supposed she didn’t talk to her own mother anymore, so what was the point of being close with Shelly?
That night after everyone went to sleep, Roxy washed her face and took out her pearl earrings, placing them by the sink. She stared at herself a little, before her eyes drifted to her phone. She’d never felt very guilty about leaving her parents.
After Dragos died, she swore there was never a moment when she and Demetra weren’t yelling at each other. Her father was inconsolable. She recalled returning from her brother’s funeral and going to his room. She sat on the bed, stared at his Nascar posters and his stack of burnt CD’s, and felt smaller than she’d ever felt before. Her brother, her little brother, was dead. After years of being told she was supposed to take care of him, she couldn’t help feel like it was somehow her fault even though she knew it wasn’t. She had wanted to cry, to sob, to scream, but she just remembered sitting there in silence until the door was opened by Mihai who screamed at her to get out of the room. So, she’d never felt bad when she left them. She knew when they looked at her all they saw was a disappointment.
She did feel guilty about leaving Magda. She couldn’t stay there; Magda didn’t tell her to either. When she started her new life away from her old family, she just wanted a blank slate. So, she didn’t talk to her family, any of them, including Magda, ever. Whenever she came back to Cleveland, she always felt guilty, and worried she might run into Magda. She often wondered if she would even recognize her little sister if she did.
Because of this, the next afternoon as she walked around shopping, she felt paranoid. Every woman that passed by her she stared at, afraid that one would be Magda. She sighed; she knew she was acting ridiculous. She walked into a shop and started to look at their dresses, finding a red one she liked and trying it on, turning in the mirror a little.
“Well I’ll be, Roxy Adaymescu,” said a voice. Roxy looked back and saw none other than a now thirty-year-old Mary Grace. She was still blonde, still beautiful, but had earlobes sagging from her heavy diamonds and a white structured dress that made her look like some kind of politician.
“Mary Grace!” Roxy hugged her.
“Oh honey, it’s been too long. I didn’t know you’d be in town for the holidays,” said Mary Grace pulling away and holding Roxy’s shoulders.
“Just a short trip to see Calvin’s brother.”
“Right. That was your husband's name, making you Mrs.?”
“Williams,” smiled Roxy.
“Yes, and you have those two beautiful boys now, don’t you? I saw online.”
“Yes, Dean and Peter, what about you, husband, kids?”
“Well of course, don’t be silly, you know my age.” Mary Grace laughed, tossing back her hair, “My husband, Lenny, he’s a dentist, and we just welcomed our beautiful baby girl Cecilia into this world six months ago.”
“Oh congratulations, that’s wonderful Mary Grace.”
“It’s been so long. I can’t believe we fell out of touch. How’s that little sister of yours and- oh my, I’m sorry,” said Mary Grace, covering her mouth as she spoke.
“Yes, sorry. I was just about to ask about your brother but then I remembered.” Roxy fell quiet and nodded a little. “But how is Maria?”
“Um…she’s good, busy but good,” said Roxy, who had no idea how to answer how her sister was.
“What is she doing these days?”
“Oh…you know… a little bit of everything. Those twenty somethings am I right?”
Mary Grace laughed, “ Don’t you remind me now. I can’t believe I just turned thirty. My, my, Roxy, you’re still as funny as I remember!”
“Good to know,” chuckled Roxy.
“Well, if you’re free tomorrow, I’d love to grab lunch and catch up?”
“My number’s the same as it was in high school, you still have it?”
“You know it.”
“Lovely, just text me. I’ll see you!”
The bell to the shop dinged as Mary Grace left. Roxy rolled her eyes and looked back at the mirror, deciding she didn’t like the dress anymore because it fit her strangely.
That night Magda tore through her closet, trying on almost every article of clothing she owned, and ultimately deciding on a mid-length green dress. She fixed her hair frantically in her bathroom mirror and adjusted her makeup until she heard a buzz. She ran to her door.
“Hey, it’s Alice, ready to go?”
“Yes, coming down right now!” she put on her coat and grabbed her purse.
After saying she might get lost on the way to the party, Alice had kindly offered to go together. Magda opened the door, still putting her coat on.
“Hey Magda, wow, you look great!”
“Thanks, you too,” said Magda with a smile. They began to walk down the street, passing by brick building after brick building. Magda lived just outside the arts district of Cleveland, so a lot of the brick was covered by murals, and they walked past a variety of street art.
She thought it was funny sometimes, she lived where she did because of work, and she liked her apartment but it seemed ironic to her, being who she was, that she lived in a more social area of the city. Some cars passed by, catching the light of the Christmas lights hanging from apartment windows and street poles.
“So, it’s not far from here at all actually. It’s just a ten-minute walk,” said Alice.
“That’s not bad at all.”
“Yes, thank you for coming by the way.”
“Well, after all your begging it would’ve just been cruel to say no,” laughed Magda. Alice scoffed and laughed, whacking Magda in the arm lightly.
“You wanna know something weird?” asked Magda.
“I got a text from my sister last night.”
“The one who never talks to you?”
“Yea, and it was total gibberish. I mean just a bunch of random letters.”
“You think it was an accident?”
“I guess so, I tried texting and calling her back but nothing.”
“God, sorry, but if she was my sister, I’d be so pissed off at her.”
“I mean seriously, she leaves you when you’re in high school and just never talks to you again and just what? The text equivalent of butt dials you after eight years and doesn’t even explain why? She just seems like the worst.”
“That’s what it feels like.”
“Hey,” smiled Alice, “It’ll be ok, tonight will be fun and take your mind off it, I promise.”
When they got to the party, they dropped their coats at the door and Magda looked around. The apartment was small, overly decorated with Christmas paraphernalia, and full of people. Alice spotted some friends and said she’d be back in a minute, so Magda went to grab some eggnog and drink her nerves away. She hated parties, people overwhelmed her. Why had she let Alice convince her to come to this? She sighed as she went to take a sip of it and then heard a scream and some laughs. She looked over and saw a little kid running through the living room, terrorizing the host’s cat.
“Dean, stop that!” said a voice. Magda’s eyes drifted over to the voice. “I’m sorry about him, I swear he gets it from his father.” People laughed.
“He’s our little troublemaker,” laughed Calvin.
“Again, so sorry,” said Roxy.
“...Roxana?” said Magda from behind her. Roxy looked back, surprised, and stared for a moment.
“Who’s this?” asked Calvin.
“My sister, Magda,” said Roxy, even after all these years recognizing her little sister's face.
The cat meowed loudly, running away from Dean. What the fuck?
Magda sat on the fire escape window, smoking. Jennie, the host of the party, happened to be the girlfriend of Calvin’s dipshit brother. Roxy’s holiday party was also Magda’s.
“Hey, can I sit?” asked Roxy standing behind. Magda stared, blowing out smoke into the cold air, and shrugged, scooting over a little for her sister to sit. It was quiet. “So, you smoke now?”
Magda shrugged again, “Not really. Just felt like it tonight.”
“You know that stuff will kill you.”
“Probably.” It went quiet again. Magda exhaled.
“I’m sorry,” said Roxy.
“Yea, what for?”
“About the text last night, Dean took my phone and-”
“And…not telling you I’d be in town, I’m sorry.”
“I just mean it’s been eight years, and all this time you’ve been getting my texts, you’ve been getting my calls, and like how many times have you visited here and not said anything? Why are you sitting here and apologizing for this one fucking time Roxana? What the hell does that even matter?”
Roxy sighed and stared at her sister. Cold air whistled. She held out her hand and gestured. Magda looked over and Roxy just gestured again. Magda handed her the cigarette and Roxy smoked, exhaling into the cold air.
“You’re right, I did all that stuff. I fucked up, I get it.”
“...Why’d you do it?”
“Because I didn’t want to deal with you. Because I was thinking about myself okay? I wish I could come up with some complicated reason to make it not about me, but it is, and I’m sorry, Magda. I know I…I know I left you and I’m sorry.”
Magda stared for a moment. She wanted to yell at Roxy, she wanted to cry and scream and be angry for all these years. But she simply didn’t have the heart, not here, not now. She took the cigarette back, “So, that little monster in there, he’s yours?”
“Heh yea, that’s Dean.”
“Fucking fast for a four-year-old.”
Roxy laughed, “Yea, yea he is.”
“Remind you of anyone?”
“All the time, unfortunately,” chuckled Roxy.
It went quiet again, Magda inhaled and exhaled into the cold. It began to snow a little, large snowflakes coming down slowly.
“So…are we gonna talk from now on? Or is this a one-time thing?” asked Magda.
“Probably a one-time thing. Better for both of us, don’t you think?” said Roxy, staring off.
Magda stared at her sister's face from the side. Roxy’s cheeks were a little pink from the cold, her breath visible in the cold air. Roxy wouldn’t meet her sister’s eyes, and maybe it was just the cold, but Magda swore she could see tears. It hurt but Roxy was right, it was too late.
They could be perfectly okay on their own, they would be perfectly miserable together.
She looked forward, tears forming a little in her own eyes, “Yea, if I was around you all the time I’d smoke all the time, and that stuff will kill you.”
“Heh,” said Roxy, laughing a little. They sat in silence for a moment, snow falling. Roxy reached out and squeezed her little sister's hand one last time. She stood up slowly and walked away, leaving Magda alone in the cold.
That night when Magda walked home from the party, she knew it was the last time she’d ever see her sister. She knew she wouldn’t text Roxy anymore or check her social media. She wouldn’t tell her parents that she’d seen her at the party. Alice had noticed she was upset about something, but Magda wouldn’t talk about it.
As she returned to her empty apartment and made herself a cup of tea, she wondered if Roxy and her would’ve done better if they were close? She wondered if there had ever been hope for a family like there’s in a place like this? It made her sad to think about the what ifs of life, what if they had stayed in Romania? What if she had stopped Dragos that night? What if they all hadn’t tried so hard to be American? But she supposed that what ifs didn’t matter now, it was too late.
Everything had changed in only one generation, and there was no way back to what they once were. She finished her tea and clicked off the light in her apartment.