Blue Hour

Sydney Bollinger

When she came up to me, I thought it was like it always was and we’d drink our iced tea on the screened-in porch and watch the sunset over the tops of the maples and elms until the golden light turned everything blue, making it ready for night.

But then I saw her face streaked with tears and panic.

“I have to go,” she said. Her voice was steely with that fake confidence she always had when she tried not to cry. It’d been weeks since the nightmares started, since I’d wake up to her thrashing and screaming in her sleep. “God’s punishing me, don’t you see? Don’t you understand? Every night I see my brother in my head. That’s what I dream. It’s what I see when I should only see moonlight. I watch his death over and over and over again.” She set down a suitcase, still pristine like it had been wrapped in plastic.

“You have to know this is not your doing! The Lord Almighty isn’t the cause of this tragedy,” I said.

She looked down at her feet. “But it is. Look at us! Two women, living out in the country as recluses because our hometown doesn’t even want us, because we’re, well, I don’t even want to say it. I should’ve known when my parents wouldn’t come watch us sign the marriage license. Things were never going to be right. It was an omen.”

“An omen?”

She walked into the driveway, gravel crunching under her boots. “I made him choose. Them or me. My brother chose me and look what happened.”

I told her that just ain’t true, but she didn’t care. No matter what I said, she’d just remind me that her sins were me.

In the months after his death, I just listened — and I watched her, willowy, making her way around our house, skin-to-bone, sipping coffee, staring into nothing, staring into the darkness she felt in her own soul.

“Should we try walking?” I asked her once. She loved walking the property we inherited from my father to hear the hum of insects flitting this way and that, to hear the creek swish swiftly. She nodded, so I grabbed her hand and led her along the well-trodden trail. “And here’s where we carved our initials as teenagers. Don’t you remember sneaking out of my bedroom at night, hoping my mama wouldn’t hear, and running through the woods? Just you and me?”

“Yeah, I remember,” she said, eyes distant, words falling through her teeth.

I remember when, before her brother died, she looked at me all excited to remind me that sometime, eventually, our little creek would join the Great Miami River, and then the Ohio, the Mississippi, and finally end up in the Gulf of Mexico, a place we’d never seen and didn’t know if we ever would.

“Imagine us, you and me, in our little inner tubes just floating down the river, not a care in the world,” she would say. The light sparkled in her eyes on those days, and I envied her ability to not find exasperation in the humidity of an Ohio summer. She took her hand in mine and pulled me to the bank of the creek and we watched, together, the water pass us by.

What I would give to have one more of those moments with her. Just any moment with her. On the night she walked out, she took that annoying green truck with her, but now I missed it. I missed its roar and the sound of her boots hitting the gravel when she hopped out of it to run in the house to pet our cat Raggedy Ann.

The truck was her brother’s before he gave it to her. He was the only family that talked to her. He even came over every week and ate dinner with us to tell us all about his classes at the technical college and his new weightlifting routine. After he died, that truck was the only connection she had to him.

He’d been in an accident. His car — the one he bought after giving his sister the truck — broke down on the side of a highway in one of those storms that whips in out of nowhere. He got out to look under the hood when the thunder cracked and the lightning flashed, and then a car sped through the darkness, hit him, and disappeared back into the night. His car was unscathed. A hit-and-run by a ghost car. Its lone victim.

She was hysterical when she found out. She read it in the newspaper. Her folks didn’t call her, didn’t have the decency to break the news. She saw the obituary with his high school senior picture, taken a few years prior. He looked so young, this seemed a psychic punishment of its own. Now all she saw was the boy her brother had been. Youthful, with a round face. How he looked when her parents tore into her and I had to stand there and watch them yell about Hell and abomination and punishment. I told her I would defend her. She said it wasn’t worth it and didn’t let me speak. So I didn’t, and soon she didn’t either.

On the night she left, I waited for hours on the porch, for the lights of the truck to peek through the leaves and brush, for the sound of her slamming the door. But I just heard the cat meow to prompt me to bed and watched the night just get blacker, blacker, and blacker until it was impossible to see. Until the moon itself went to sleep.

Sydney Bollinger (she/her) is a writer, editor, and the Words Lead at Peregrine Coast Press. Her work has been published in Hash Journal, Dunes Review, Hear Us Scream, This Present Former Glory, and other places. She performed original poetry in “Collective Truths” at the 2022 Free Verse Poetry Festival and is a featured reader for the 2023 Park Circle Pride Poetry event. She lives in Charleston, SC, with her partner and their two cats. Follow her @sydboll and find her work at