From Autumn to June

In this powerful story by YARN alum Elizabeth Maria Naranjo, a young girl tries to make sense of a family secret. 

By Elizabeth Maria Naranjo

“new gournal” © oceanaria https://www.flicker.com

In fourth grade we made time capsules from cardboard tubes. Our teacher gave each of us a worksheet with pictures of rockets and we had to fill out all sorts of questions, like “My favorite food is __________” and “In ten years I’ll be ________.” My answers were “shredded chicken tacos” and “college somewhere in England.” The idea was there would be a record of who we were, and maybe someday someone would read it.

That same year I started writing in a diary, probably because I had a big crush on Ryan Garner and was too embarrassed to tell anyone about it. I got over my crush later that year but I kept writing about all the things I couldn’t say. Maybe if you were here it would have been different. We’d talk about things.

Anyway, I thought I’d write to you and then put the pages in a time capsule and bury it. So there’s a record.

I’ve lived all my life without knowing you. Fourteen years. I’ll still never know you, but at least now I know of you. You existed once, and nobody gave you a name, and I’m sorry about that. I did the math and you would have been born all those years ago in June. So that’s your name; I hope you like it. You’re June, and I’m Autumn. Your sister.

I should tell you about our mother. She’s a wonderful person, and I know she must have had a good reason … I’m sorry. That’s not what I want to say, it’s just that I’m trying to get used to this. It’s like taking two opposite things and trying to make them fit and make sense together, but there’s no way to do that. Let me just describe her to you because I’m sure you want to know.

Her name is Penny and she has auburn hair, the kind that’s like fire in the sun. She has brown eyes and I bet you would have too. She sings in the shower and she’s kind to everyone and her favorite book is Anne of Green Gables, which she reads to me every year in December.

Mom had been having bad headaches so she went to the doctor—this was about two months ago. It was actually two months, one week, and three days ago. She’s okay, they gave her some medicine and told her to take some time off work. But her appointment that day was first thing in the morning so she printed out her paperwork the night before and I happened to look at one of the sheets when I went to print my biology report.

I wouldn’t have read it if I hadn’t been so worried there was something she wasn’t telling me. About her headaches. Lucy Peterson’s mom died of cancer last year and Lucy said she had no idea it was cancer until almost the end. Her parents had said it was something to do with her mom’s liver but that she was getting better.

Anyway, I looked at the sheet—a medical history—and that’s how I found out.

Number of pregnancies: 2

Number of live births: 1

Have you ever had an abortion: Y

Date: Nov/2004.

I was born in November 2003. We would have been less than two years apart.

 


 

When I asked her why, I thought she’d tell me that she had no choice. That there was a medical condition or something, that it would have been dangerous. But that’s not what she said. She said, “It’s complicated.”

Everything’s complicated.

Like how I look at her sometimes when she’s making dinner and humming along to the radio or sitting on the couch with Dad and a bowl of popcorn, laughing and waving me over to watch some silly commercial, and I wonder How can someone with so much love in her heart not choose life?

Like how I believe in my own heart that it was her right to make that choice but I still feel so hurt because she chose to give away something that was mine, too, this one possible future that I would have wanted more than anything. Someone to share childhood with in all the ways you can’t share with parents. Because no matter how great they are, at the end of the day they’re still adults who have each other and you’re the kid.

In the past, when I asked Mom why she and Dad never had another baby, she always said because I was enough. She’d point out the things we would never have been able to do, like go to Mexico every summer. I love the beach there. The water is brilliant blue and the air is salty and you can spend the whole day just walking up and down the shore drinking bottles of orange soda and playing in the surf. Then you stretch out on a beach towel under an umbrella and doze in the shade with sand between your toes. Mexico’s my favorite place in the whole world, but I would have traded every single trip to the beach if it meant having you instead.

 


 

There’s a website that shows each stage of gestation, so I know what you looked like curled up inside our mother’s womb. Maybe you were only nine weeks, maybe ten, but you already had fingers and toes. Your eyes were fully formed, although you never got to open them. You had a little nose and earlobes and a mouth. You were amazing.

 


 

Our dad’s name is William. He’s a math teacher at the high school, and he tells really bad jokes. He gets freckles in the sun. I tried to talk to him about you since Mom doesn’t want to talk about it (I don’t blame her, I don’t), but he just said, “I’m sorry you found out about that, but it was something your mother and I decided together and there’s nothing to discuss.”

I know a little. I know that the year after I was born Dad lost his job and things got scary for a while. We had a different house then, a bigger one. I don’t know. I probably shouldn’t even be telling you this, I just wanted you to know that I could tell he felt bad and that’s why he sounded angry when I brought it up. Maybe he blames himself. I know he would have loved you every bit as much as he loves me. That’s really what I was trying to say.

 


 

A few things about me: I was born late in November, almost winter. Everything about me is winter. I stay up too late, and I like sleeping till noon on the weekends. I know all the constellations and sometimes after midnight I sneak out of my window and onto the roof to look at them. No one knows that but you. My horoscope sign is Scorpio which fits because Scorpios are ruled by the moon. I love the snow, but I bet you would have hated it. You would have been a summer baby, through and through. You would have dragged me out of bed every summer morning to run through sprinklers in our bathing suits and sell lemonade on the sidewalk. You would have been bright and full of energy and sunshine and everything I’m not and you probably would have really gotten on my nerves some days but I still wish you were here, June.

 


 

I’m going to wrap up this letter soon, but maybe I’ll write to you again some other time. I just want to get these pages in the capsule and find the right place to bury them, so we’ll exist somewhere together in the real world, and not just in my mind. I’m putting in a bunch of clippings from magazines of random things that remind me of you, or the you that I imagine you’d be—dark eyes with long lashes, freckles like Dad’s, a princess backpack with pony pins stuck all over it, glitter pink nail polish, sun on the water. A drawing I made of the two of us in the treehouse out back, where I sit alone sometimes in the afternoon reading, or at night, watching the stars. Now that I think about it, that would be the perfect place for this plastic box filled with memories that might have been—in the ground beneath the treehouse where we would have made so many of them.

 


 

Sometimes I wish I’d never found out about you. How you almost were. I hate to say that in case it sounds mean, but I want to be honest because sisters shouldn’t keep secrets from each other. Really, sometimes I wish I’d never known. Then I could pass the little middle schoolers waiting for the bus and not think, Maybe June would have had hair like that girl’s, like the color of sand. I could think of all the ways I’ve had a good life without wondering if I’ve deserved it. I wouldn’t lie awake at night wondering, Why am I here, and not you?

Why not both of us?

“red umbrella” © enki22 https://www.flicker.com

 


Elizabeth Maria Naranjo is the award-winning author of “The Fourth Wall” (WiDo Publishing, 2014). Her short fiction and creative nonfiction have been published in “Brevity Magazine,” “Superstition Review,” “Hunger Mountain,” “Hospital Drive,” “The Portland Review,” “YARN,” “Literary Mama,” and several other places. She lives in Tempe, Arizona, with her husband and two children. Find more of Elizabeth’s short stories on her website: www.elizabethmarianaranjo.com.

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  1. Oma Naranjo says:

    Another great read Elizabeth.

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