Stephen didn’t leave me, of course. What a thought. Say what you will about him, he took his responsibilities seriously. I think he knew he had it pretty good with me. Really, not so much changed after that; I got a new fur coat out of it, and a trump card to play in every argument we ever had. And when Yvonne came around, sniffling and saying her sorries, I welcomed her back with open arms. Friends close, enemies closer. But I made sure that she and Stephen never had a single minute alone together, not a single moment in thirty years. When Stephen was lying in his hospital bed, two hours away from dying, he asked me if he could have a few minutes to say good-bye to her alone, and you know what I said? No. I said no. Simple as that.
IT WAS THE PICTURES that got me thinking. I don’t know if you’ve ever been on a cruise—if you haven’t, don’t waste your money—but one of the many irksome things they do is take endless pictures of you and then try to sell you prints. There’s a whole hallway dedicated to displaying these souvenir masterpieces, and you have to go through and pick your face out of the crowd. It’s quite depressing, actually, the sameness of all the photos. Here’s the whole herd of cattle, walking up the gangplank; here they are stuffed into their ill-fitting evening wear, posing next to the poor captain, who has to hear the same jokes over and over again—“If you’re here, who’s driving the ship?” And it turns out you’re just like the rest of them, smiling for the camera and trying to look like you’re having fun. No, I wasn’t going to spend a penny on their pictures.
But with Yvonne spending every waking moment with Arthur (only her waking moments, mind you—the one wild week of her life, and she’s too much of a prude to have any fun), I found myself with some spare time. And so I took a walk down the hall of farm animals to try to pinpoint the moment when my sister’s betrayal began. Look—here are Yvonne and Arlette arriving together, looking as happy as two sisters can be. Here’s Arthur, arriving all by his lonesome. Here are Yvonne and Arlette against a splashy Caribbean backdrop; here they are against a sprinkle of fake stars. And then—here it is, right before your eyes!—Arlette standing by herself on Formal Night, dressed in her prettiest clothes, and there are Yvonne and Arthur posed together like some old married couple at their golden anniversary party. Look at them together. You can see right away they don’t match. At least, I thought, with no small amount of glee, at least the picture didn’t come out well; Arthur had turned his head at the moment the shutter snapped, so you can hardly even tell it’s him. And that’s when I noticed something odd. I looked back through all the earlier photos, and I noticed there wasn’t a single one of Arthur’s face. It would seem that for some reason he didn’t want his picture taken. And that’s when I thought, This is a man with something to hide.
I was concerned for Yvonne’s welfare, of course. You wouldn’t know it from the way she dresses or the way she decorates her home, but Yvonne has quite a bit of money. None of us ever expected it, of course—librarians barely make enough to keep themselves in books and donations to public TV stations. But there was a man who used to come into the library where she worked, a little old man who liked to come in each morning to read the paper. And I guess he was sweet on Yvonne. Not that anything ever came of it—story of Yvonne’s life, or so everyone thought before Arthur—but I guess they used to talk to each other, and she’d bend the rules for him and let him drink his coffee while he read, as long as he wasn’t too obvious and didn’t spill. She used to tell me about this man, about how he’d point out articles she might be interested in, and how after a while he started bringing a cup of coffee for her too, and I’d say, “You’re living a movie-star life, Yvonne. The thrills never stop.” But then one day, the man died in his sleep, and he left Yvonne almost five million dollars. You’d think a man with that much money could’ve afforded his own newspaper subscription, but anyway. Of course, it was a big surprise to everyone, and there were stories about Yvonne in all the papers. She told the reporters, “Oh, it won’t change my life,” just like those lottery winners who go out and buy helicopters the next day, but for her it was really true. She kept her job at the library, and she still gets her hair cut at the six-dollar place like some no-class nonmillionaire. Pathetic.
So when I saw the way Arthur kept hiding his face in all those pictures, at first I thought he just didn’t want to be seen with Yvonne and her six-dollar hair. But when I noticed that he was doing the same thing in all the earlier pictures, the pre-let’s-trample-on-Arlette-and-her-big-soft-heart pictures, I realized what was going on. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to be seen with Yvonne; he just didn’t want to be seen, period.
WHEN WE GOT HOME—never have I been so happy to put my feet on dry land—I decided I was going to find out what Arthur’s story was. It was easier than you’d think. I sat down and watched that America’s Most Wanted show, and I found out they had one of those Web sites. So I turned on the computer Yvonne gave me for my birthday last year, and I had a look around. And wouldn’t you know it, I found Arthur in an hour. His real name isn’t Arthur, it turns out. It’s Martin Edward Jaffe, and he’s wanted in connection with the disappearance of a woman he married in Denver. A wealthy woman, a whirlwind courtship. It’s such an old story it’s almost boring. Honestly, could Yvonne be any more naive? I sent away to Denver for a copy of a newspaper article that had his picture in it, and I waited for the right moment to bring it to Yvonne’s attention.
AFTER HANGING UP THE phone with Yvonne, I settle myself against the pillows, and I wait to see whether or not today is going to be the day. It takes her more than an hour to arrive, which is not a point in her favor—honestly, she only lives five minutes away—and at first, I think maybe I won’t tell her at all. Serves her right, I think, she’s digging her own grave. But when you get right down to it, I’m a big softie, and she is my only sister. Still, it’s not an easy thing to bring up; it would kill her to have to cancel the wedding at this late date, poor thing. She’s happier than I’ve seen her in years, and who am I to take that away from her? So while she’s downstairs heating up some broth for me, I take the box of Christmas ornaments out of the closet. Inside, wrapped in old newspaper, are all the foolish pieces of glass and glitter she seems to care so much about. God knows why I’ve held on to them this long. I take one out and unwrap it; it’s the little white angel with the chip in its wing. I place the angel on the newspaper clipping from Denver and wrap it up tight, then bury it deep in the box. I hear Yvonne coming up the stairs, and I quickly close the box and get back into bed.