I guess you don’t know what happened?
Sunny said no in a way that meant she would prefer not to discuss it, and we strolled down to examine a large rose bush erupting in a geyser of ivory-white blossoms against the somber green of the golf net. Jane told us how you helped her, Sunny said.
I took one of the fragrant white roses between my thumb and forefinger, bent it gently forward but resisted the temptation to snap it off and give it to her. In the fairway a man in plaid shorts addressed his ball with a hybrid, waggling his butt to settle himself.
She said you were there for her when she was… “falling apart” is the term we’re using, Sunny said, staring up into my face and displaying the first instance of a solicitousness that I would come to cherish in her: Can I trust you? Will you promise not to use my candor against me? But then I guess you’d be the one to decide what to call it, Sunny said. Apparently, I had passed the test. The inept golfer sliced his shot badly.
Jane looks better now, I said. The tips of the thorns near the tops of the canes were still soft but those farther down were hard and wounding. And she’s put on weight.
Sunny continued to gaze up at me, the lowering sun causing her to squint. You actually went up in the mountains and found her?
Did she tell you that?
More or less. Over time.
She was stuck. Like some kind of machine malfunctioning, just looping through the same cycle again and again.
It seems worse than that, Sunny said.
I told her I hadn’t meant to minimize her sister’s suffering. Jane’s wounds had become infected. And her nutrition was poor. She was almost starving. And there was a lot of stress. Or actually more like an absence of stress, I guess… an excessive absence of it.…
And possible kidney failure?
Just no nourishment, nothing coming in, the sick body eating itself.
Yes. Infections, Sunny said, clinging to the word for a moment then thrusting it away. I need you to tell me the truth, Jack.
We stood together in the dry dirt of the rose garden, not looking at each other. Gardeners had weeded before raking the soil smooth around each rose bush, but here or there could be seen the exposed rims of subterranean chicken-wire baskets that protected the roots against burrowing mammals. I thought I just did.
No. Tell me. Sunny seized my arm, forced me to meet her gaze. She was cutting herself?
And she was promiscuous?
That wouldn’t be my word, I said.
What word would you use?
I don’t know. Just that it was more like another form of cutting herself.
Sunny nodded, still staring up at me as if waiting for a clarification then no longer doing that, turning away instead and heading back toward the poolside festivities with me lumbering along behind her like a disturbed bear in a baggy suit. She’s better now, Sunny declared. We think she’s going to be fine.