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“What did he say—the man under your window?” I asked.

“He called my name. Twice. But I’m sure he was in the dream, not really there.”

“What was the dream about?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Not even a scrap of it?”

“Not even.”

Her eggs, ham, and toast were on the same plate. For me, she served those three items on three small plates, as I preferred. I had trimmed the crusts off my toast, so that I could eat them separately. Even in those days, I had little rituals with which I meant to impose a degree of order on what seemed to me to be a most disordered world.

We had hardly begun to eat when the washing machine in the adjacent laundry alcove buzzed, at the end of its spin cycle.

As I rose, intending to transfer the laundry to the dryer, Amalia said, “It can wait, Malcolm.”

Although I remained at the table, I said, “Before you go away to the university, you’ll have to teach me to iron.”

Her green eyes sparkled, I swear they did, when something moved or amused her. “Sweetie, I’d no sooner put an iron in your hands than I would a chain saw.”

“Well, he’s never going to iron. And she’d do it only if she could sit down and watch game shows at the same time.”

“She ironed when I was too little to do it. She hasn’t forgotten how.”

“But she won’t. You know she won’t. I’ll be a wrinkled mess.” Although I was only twelve, how my clothes looked was important to me, because I myself looked like such a nerd.

“Malcolm, don’t you dare try to iron when I’m away at school.”

“I don’t know. We’ll see.”

She ate in silence for a while, and then she said, “It’s not right what I’m doing, going to school so far away.”

“Huh? Don’t be nuts. That’s where you got the scholarship.”

“I could get one somewhere close. Stay at home instead of in a dormitory.”

“The university has that special writing program. That’s the whole point of going there. You’re going to be a great writer.”

“I’m not going to be a great anything if I leave you here alone with them and spend the rest of my life regretting it.”

She was the best sister ever, funny and smart and pretty, and she was going to be famous one day. I’d whined at her about teaching me how to iron; I felt selfish, because the truth was that I wanted her to go to the university, which was going to be so good for her, but at the same time I wanted her to stay.

“I’m not all thumbs, you know. If I can play the saxophone as well as I do, I can iron clothes without burning down the house.”

“Anyway,” she said, “nobody learns to be a novelist from a writing program. It’s a very personal struggle.”

“If you don’t take that scholarship, I’ll blow my brains out.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, sweetie.”

“I will. Why wouldn’t I? How am I supposed to live with having ruined your life?”

“You could never ruin my life, Malcolm. Why, you’re the most important and wonderful thing in it.”

She never lied. She didn’t manipulate people. If she’d been anyone but who she was, I could have looked her in the eye and insisted that I’d commit hara-kiri, even though I knew that I never would. Instead, I stared at the trimmed-off crusts of my toast and tore them into little pieces as I said, “You’ve got to take the scholarship. You’ve just got to. It’s the best thing ever happened to us.”

I heard her put down her fork. After a silence, she said, “I love you, too, Malcolm,” and then for another reason entirely, I couldn’t meet her eyes. Or speak.

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