JULIA AND MY SISTER
Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Volume 15, Number 1
Copyright © 2020
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to
in the Apple Valley
Review are retained by
the individual authors
Fiction by Timothy Kenny
My sister lives in Chicago, where strange things have happened to
On a humid summer day a long time ago she was window shopping
along Michigan Avenue when she turned to see a body falling through
the air, a man in fact, whose arms made small circles as if he was trying
to catch his balance while he fell and fell from a frightening height. The
falling took a long time and then in no time it stopped all at once on the
concrete plaza in front of the Hancock Building, his body a ruin of bone
and muscle and blood.
For a while my sister struggled to understand what she had seen.
Cars and trucks streaming down Michigan muffled the screams of
onlookers; tourists strolled along in the easy way of people without
schedules. Businessmen and women quick-walked around them.
My sister had glanced up at just the right time, or really just the
wrong time, to see a man who had jumped or fallen from Chicago’s
tallest building, swimming through the sky until he no longer could.
She told me, It was like watching a movie. Maybe he wasn’t
falling for a long time but that’s how I remember what happened.
I saw him fall and then I couldn’t see him at all because of the cars
and then there he was, lying in a pile. It looked like a pile of rags
in blood. The police came and then people started running around.
A van came and took him away. It wasn’t an ambulance. Then I
took the bus home.
I asked her, Did you think about it? Afterwards?
Some. I had dreams for a while. They weren’t good dreams,
but they stopped. This was years ago.
Another time, when she was on a date, my sister saw a body
floating in Lake Michigan off Navy Pier. Her boyfriend was talking
and didn’t see the body and my sister was going to say something but
didn’t, not even when the police and firefighters showed up. She and
her boyfriend had walked down the block by then and he wondered,
What do you suppose is going on? We were just over there.
What happened with Julia didn’t have anything to do with dead
people. It was stranger though, in its own way.
My sister and Julia were work friends. They talked about the
children they counseled and gossiped about office stuff and had drinks
once in a while on Fridays. They were both friends with Ian but then
my sister and Ian started seeing each other outside of work and things
My sister said, For some reason I thought of the time I had to
set a mousetrap in my old apartment. You know how when a
mousetrap snaps in the middle of the night it wakes you up? It was
like that, the way things changed with Julia: startling.
Ian and I had gone to that new bookstore over on Montrose.
I think it’s near Keeler? Anyway, Julia’s there. I was surprised to
see her because she lived in a bungalow on Kimball, which is maybe
five miles away. This was a Saturday. We all talked a bit and I
didn’t think anything of it.
I thought that was it, you know? A coincidence. Except, that
Julia and my sister worked as psychologists at a place for children
with emotional problems, over on Boise. Sometimes the kids acted out
and got in fights so the place had what they called a QR, which stood for
Quiet Room. It had padded walls so the kids couldn’t hurt themselves.
It used to be a closet. They put the kids in there if they had to calm
The Monday after she saw Julia in the bookstore my sister was
updating other staffers about a QR incident that had happened the week
before. She was halfway into her report when Julia started rolling her
eyes and blowing air out of her mouth, like she was exasperated or
maybe pissed off. Then she snatched her bag off the table and left. She
Later, my sister heard that Julia was gossiping about her and Ian.
A month or so after that Julia showed up my sister’s apartment. It was
a Saturday. She apologized and asked if she could use the bathroom,
that it was sort of an emergency, that she’d been having stomach
trouble for a while and was driving by and did my sister mind. She
was really sorry and it would just take a minute.
My sister didn’t mind, although she found the visit strange. Julia
came out of the bathroom about fifteen minutes later and started
walking around the apartment. My sister said she was talking fast
about things that weren’t related, opening closet doors, commenting
on stuff in kitchen drawers, asking where my sister had bought things.
Finally she told Julia she had a lot of stuff to do, house cleaning
and then I’ve got to go food shopping so I’ll have to let you go,
Julia. I hope you feel better.
Julia came up to my sister first thing Monday and told her a story
about a friend of hers who just by accident found a small hole in her
diaphragm, a pinprick you might call it. Julia said her friend wasn’t
sure how it could have happened. Maybe the diaphragm got stuck
with a sewing needle, you know? Things like that can happen.
Then she walked off.
This was the winter after my sister saw the man fall from the
Hancock Building, which was decades ago and I guess women were
still using diaphragms. My sister said she worried all day about what
Julia’s story meant.
When I got home I checked my diaphragm before I even took
my coat off, she told me. I kept it in a drawer, in the bathroom
vanity. You know what I’m going to say next, don’t you?
I might, I said. But it sounds too weird to say out loud.
Yeah, it’s bizarre. I found a hole in the diaphragm, a little,
tiny hole, about the size of a pinprick, a hole so small it could be
overlooked if someone wasn’t looking for a hole.
What did you do when you found it?
I got another diaphragm.
That was it?
My sister nodded. Yes, that was it.
Jeez, I said. You never asked Julia about it? You ever tell
No. I didn’t talk to Julia and I didn’t think I could tell anyone.
She would deny it and I had no proof.
Did anything happen at work?
No. We ignored each other. People were getting tired of her.
They realized they were always dealing with her drama. It got to be
a pain. She got transferred somewhere, I think. I heard she got
And everything was fine after that? You never saw her again?
She didn’t follow you around or anything?
No, nothing. I never saw her again.
So that was a relief, I said.
It was. It took me a while to feel normal, though. I kept
expecting to see her.
My sister waited, then she said, The nightmares started up again,
about the guy falling from the Hancock Building. They lasted a long
time, longer than the first time, even.
Were they the same? You saw the guy falling?
Same place, my sister said, the Hancock Building on Michigan.
But this time the falling part was different and I had trouble waking
up. Also, it wasn’t the guy who was falling.
This time it was me. I was always the one falling.
Timothy Kenny, a former newspaperman, has traveled widely
throughout Eastern Europe and Central Asia and has lived and worked
in Romania and Kosovo. He is the author of Far Country: Stories
from Abroad and Other Places, a collection of nonfiction essays
published by Bottom Dog Press in 2015. Kenny’s nonfiction and short
stories have appeared in more than twenty U.S. and European literary
journals, including The Gettysburg Review, Irish Pages, The Kenyon
Review Online, The Amsterdam Quarterly, Mud Season Review, and
the Honest Ulsterman.
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