For a long time, the only thing I liked about Gillian, the kind of girl who did the art projects suggested on the backs of crayon boxes, was her mother. Dr. Graham wore scrubs the color of the municipal pool when it was emptied at the end of the summer. She saved my sister’s life after a near-fatal car crash when I was ten. Consequently, I decided to become a doctor and Gillian was invited to all of our birthday parties. She always came. When her mother picked her up, I wondered how many lives she’d saved that day, how many bones and spines and faces.
The summer when Gillian and I were sixteen and Hannah was fourteen, it seemed like we were the only kids in Cortland, floating around our houses, the library, the Y for basketball when the A/C was working. Hannah’s wheelchair emphasized her already diminutive frame, and Gillian’s slouchy height seemed like a poorly veiled insult whenever she stood next to Hannah. Then again, I suppose my own height could have come across the same way, if anyone ever bothered to look at me. Still, I rolled my eyes every time Gillian plucked a caterpillar from an oak tree, or told Hannah about one of her new dives. Hannah was a strong swimmer, better than we were at her age, but she only went in the pool with her coach or one of our parents, always leaning into the water from the deck, arms outstretched like a Degas dancer.
One Saturday afternoon, I left Hannah and Gillian at the movies and walked to the library. While Mrs. Mason checked to see if any of the college kids had donated an old Gray’s Anatomy, I watched the fountain frogs spurting water from their copper lips. Their springing legs reminded me how Gillian’s muscled thighs could shoot her body straight, their splayed hands how she could palm a basketball and lift it ‘til it kissed the chain of the net.
I walked past the pool too late to see Gillian carry Hannah up to the diving board, cradling my sister in her long arms, too late to hear her ask Hannah three times if she was sure. I just saw Hannah laughing when Gillian jumped, and at the last second, twisted in mid-air. Gillian caught her nose on the board’s edge on the way down, but both of them were grinning until the paramedics came and assumed the blood in the water was Hannah’s.
Dr. Graham knew better. She arrived just as the girls pushed themselves out of the water. She thrust a towel at Gillian, whose white camisole was translucent. Gillian held the towel to her nose, oblivious until I pressed my book against her chest. Everyone was staring at us, and not in the usual way people stare at Hannah, the way that makes me furious. They stared at us and I was frightened. I wanted to slap Gillian. I started toward her, but then I saw Hannah graze the back of Gillian’s leg with her fingertips as our dad wheeled her out, thank you and see you later at the same time.
Three weeks later the Grahams lived in Oneida, which didn’t have a pool. Hannah and I didn’t visit. Or couldn’t, which was the same thing. For a couple years, though, we got unsigned drawings in the mail. An opened thigh. Two arms. A spine.