When Darth Vader was my boyfriend I let a lot of things slide, but I knew we were broken up for good when I texted him that I couldn’t meet him at the show that night because my father was in the hospital.
☹, Darth Vader texted back.
Later he posted concert pictures. I saw them in the hospital while I was waiting for my sister.
Emma was the star of the family, a natural-born boss, cooking dinner for the rest of us when she was so young she had to stand on a stool to reach the spice rack. She’d direct me to hold the colander when she was rinsing pasta. I still have a scar on my wrist from when I got scalded by boiling water.
Growing up under her eye, I felt condemned to always be the fuckup, the weak branch on the family tree. Like a spinoff TV series that never quite gets the following of the original.
Or like Kylo Ren, but let’s not even go there.
Why didn’t you call me sooner, Emma asked me.
I called you right after I checked my voicemail, I said.
And we know how good you are about doing that, Emma said.
It was true. Emma lived two hours away but she probably would have gotten there before me if the hospital had called her. She wouldn’t have missed the call because she was texting her emotionally unavailable boyfriend. She would have picked up the phone right away, even if she didn’t recognize the number. She wasn’t the kind of person who automatically blocked strange numbers, assuming they were bill collectors. She wasn’t the kind of person who had bills.
I hope you enjoyed the show while MY FATHER WAS HAVING A HEART ATTACK, I texted Darth Vader.
I didn’t expect him to answer anytime soon. He had a habit of going dark for days at a time, then coming back with some lame excuse about having to quash a rebel uprising in a galaxy far, far away, yada yada. But my phone vibrated right away.
Are u sure was actually heart attack? Did they check protein levels/serum myoglobin? Concerned!! 😧
Not concerned enough to be here, though. I was sure if my father died, he’d go out and slaughter an entire village as evidence that underneath that mask of indifference he really cared, but he wouldn’t hold my hand and feed me tiny perfect chocolate-dipped blueberries because my throat was too sore from crying to get anything else down.
This was the kind of boyfriend I always ended up with. The kind I settled for, Emma would say. Nobody would dare blow Emma off with a frowny-face emoji.
Emma’s my rock, our father always said,
She’s a pretty crabby rock, I told him once, and he laughed. We were walking on the beach.
So maybe she’s a stone crab, he said. Better than being a jellyfish.
My phone vibrated. Darth Vader again. This time the frowny face had a little tear in its eyes.
😢 Sry, it said. Want 2 have dinner later?
I hit BLOCK. I turned the phone off.
Who was that, Emma asked.
Telemarketer, I said.
# # #
Kathryn Kulpa is a fiction writer with words in Monkeybicycle, Pithead Chapel, Smokelong Quarterly, and Superstition Review. She was a visiting writer at Wheaton College and a workshop teacher at Writefest 2019. She is also an editor, librarian, and pet-sitter, so she will fix your grammar, find you a scholarly citation, walk your dog, and still be back in time for coffee.
Cover Image Mendemonda
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