3 - The Watcher and the Dancer

“Look at that beautiful girl,” said the note, the same as it had every day for the past month. Astor barely bothered to read it anymore, though she found herself following the instructions on the next line - “Let’s see a smile.”

“That’s better,” read the note inside the medicine cabinet, above a crudely drawn smiley face. Her older sister, Heather, wasn’t the best artist, but Astor knew that it was the thought that counted.

She grabbed her hairbrush from the cabinet, along with two scrunchies, yellow and baby blue, which she stretched over her wrist while brushing her honey colored hair into two equal halves. She gathered each section about halfway up her head, looping her scrunchies around them. It was a little childish for a thirteen year old, she knew, but, in all honesty, that was the whole point.

While a lot of people - she might say most, though she thought that might be a bit of an overstatement - her age couldn’t wait to get older, so that they could legally do all those things they probably already did anyway, Astor wouldn’t have minded being younger again, by about ten years. In fact, after she put the brush back on its shelf and closed the cabinet door, the first thing she noticed in the mirror, even before the Post-It note, and even before her white T-shirt with Baby Girl written over a swirl of pink, something she’d been given by her grandmother and would never wear in public even if her peers likely would, was the reflection of something she’d had about ten years ago.

She glanced down at the sippy cup, pink, with two handles, with a smile. Her parents rarely threw anything out, so she hadn’t been surprised to be able to find it, a little earlier that day. She had been surprised at how easy it was to do so, however. It hadn’t even been all that dusty, either, although she still made sure to clean it carefully before filling it with apple juice. Better safe than sorry, after all.

Unfortunately, the cup was already nearly empty already, and as she lifted it, watching her ponytails wag in the mirror as she brought it up to her mouth - using both handles, of course - she could tell there was only a mouthful or two left. Sure enough, she finished it in no time at all, staring down at the cup in disappointment, as if its lack of refreshment were a personal affront. The image in the mirror made her giggle, even though she knew she still had some work to do.

She could hardly be expected to do it while she was dying of thirst, however, so before going back to her room, she detoured to the kitchen, padding through the house in her bare feet. Despite knowing there was nobody there, she couldn’t help but sneak a stealthy glance into the living room, and go around the corner into the kitchen slowly. Heather had left for college a month ago, and her parents were off at some sort of folk music festival that Astor had no interest in, and had been rather lucky to convince them that meant she shouldn’t go, and thus, that they should leave her completely alone in the house for the first time.

At first, after the initial rush the realization that she could do anything she wanted to had faded, she had to admit that it was a little scary. She had never been particularly social, and, living out in the country, most of her friends were too far away to be able to visit easily. With Heather gone, she’d been spending more time with her mom, and, as lame as it sounded, it felt strange for her not to be there if anything were to happen. Then again, she wasn’t planning on doing anything that would bring out her famous clumsy streak.

At least nothing that was more difficult to rectify than cleaning a splash of apple juice off of the table after refilling her sippy cup. She paused as she grabbed a dishtowel out of the drawer they resided in, then decided to dig curiously through the stack of towels and washcloths. Sure enough, there at the bottom was a bright pink square with Heather’s handwriting. They hardly ever ran out of towels before doing the laundry, so Astor wasn’t surprised that her parents, who typically took down whatever notes they found, hadn’t taken it yet.

Despite herself, she was a little surprised to find that the Post-It was addressed directly to her. “Did Astor have another accident?” it asked, along with a little face sticking its tongue out at her. She did the same to it before sticking it on the counter, so that her parents, who she was sure would find it more amusing than she had, could read it.

Armed with a now full sippy cup, she headed to her room, again checking the living room, just in case. It was still empty, which almost made her go over to the DVD cabinet and find any one of the many R-rated movies her parents wouldn’t let her see yet to pop in. But that was pretty much the opposite of the aesthetic she was going for that day, so she resisted the urge.

She found herself closing her bedroom door from sheer force of habit, and, after a moment or two of debate, doing it anyway. Sure, there was very little chance that her parents would suddenly decide to come home hours early, but frolicking about half naked with her door open still felt too risky. Not to mention a little sleazy.

After another sip of her juice, she opened her closet door, flipping on the light. Heather had been so jealous when Astor had gotten this room when they’d first moved into the house; the room itself was smaller than Heather’s, but it had a walk-in closet. Of course, even Astor could only walk a step or two inside. Still, it was bigger than Heather’s, and sometime Astor felt like Heather had never forgiven her for that.

Off to one side of the closet, across from the side that she actually kept her clothes in, there was still a stack of boxes from the move, mostly filled with roughly every drawing or piece or writing she’d ever done. Her report cards and class pictures from elementary school were bound to be somewhere in there as well, though it would take a skilled spelunker to find them.

However, she wasn’t looking for those. What she wanted was in the top box, buried under just enough junk to keep it from being too obvious to someone who just happened to pop off the lid, as she did, letting it fall to the floor while she sifted through her ancient art and random stories about turtles from an assignment she’d had in the second grade.

She had nearly burrowed down to the necessary depth when her brain processed the fact that it had seen something strange very briefly, upon opening the box. She blinked, glancing around at the papers and folders spread about inside, none of which seemed particularly special, before checking those she had accidently knocked to the floor. They were likely equally uninteresting, though she wouldn’t find out, as her downward gaze led to her noticing the Post-It note stuck to the inside of the box’s lid.

She calmed down her frantically thumping heart, telling herself that it was probably just about the usual contents of the box, the ones that everyone knew about, that it was silly of her to even imagine that it was anything else. She was being paranoid, that was all; this was the first time she was getting into the box after Heather left.

But, apparently, her paranoia was justified in this case. “Keeping secrets,” the note reprimanded her, “is not very nice. Has Astor been a naughty little girl?” The Post-It frowned at her, and for a split second, Astor could see her sister’s eyes in the crooked face.

How could she have found out? Astor ripped the note off the box, flipped it over, but found no clarification there. Perhaps it didn’t mean what it seemed to… There were other secrets Astor had, after all, though none nearly as well hidden. She’d skipped class a couple times, when she hadn’t been feeling well, and she’d almost failed a test or two. Heather could have been referring to one of those.

And yet, when she had dug far enough into the box, she wasn’t surprised to find another note, stuck to the half-empty package of Pampers, which she was just small enough to fit into. “Naughty little girls need to be punished,” the note told her.

Astor’s palms began to sweat as she pulled the bag of diapers from the box. Had Heather told their mom? Or their dad, for that matter, though that seemed less likely. Or had her dastardly plan been to hold the information over Astor’s head, in case she ever needed something from her?

There was a rather large stack of folded paper alongside the diapers, but, seeing as she had been the one to put it there, Astor wasn’t surprised by it. She had written it over the past couple years, though not for a couple months. It had started out a normal enough little story, but somehow the heroine had found herself in diapers, and being forced to act like the villain’s baby. Even back when she’d first started to write that part, she knew it was weird, and so she had started to hide the story, first under her mattress and then, after what she felt was a rather stealthy job of buying her own diapers while she was Christmas shopping with Heather, in the Pampers package. The fit was rather tight at first and only got tighter as the story grew, but that only gave her more incentive to find opportunities to wear her diapers - not only to get more inspiration, by putting herself in her character’s shoes, but to help clear more space.

But from atop the pages, another Post-It screamed, “Diapers alone do not a baby sister make. Look down.”

Obediently, she did so, though all she saw was her babyish shirt, her cut-off shorts, and her legs. Nothing particularly strange there, at least until she glanced over into the box, and noticed what looked to be the handle of a plastic bag sticking out from beneath the paper. Carefully, she tugged it out, picking out the stray artwork that had found its way inside, one piece nearly taking off with a note saying, “We wouldn’t want you to get a diaper rash, now would we?”

She pulled open the bag, staring down at a veritable cornucopia of things from the baby aisle that she had always stared at enviously, but never dared to purchase. There were bottles of baby powder and baby lotion, both of which were free of Post-Its, so she figured the one she’d rescued must have come from one or the other. There was a bib, white and plastic coated, and dotted with daisies, half-mocking her with, “You’re bad enough now - You were much worse as a baby. This will protect your shirt, anyway.” The pacifier, pink and blue, stated, “Babies should be seen and not heard.”

Underneath it all was something she didn’t recognize for a moment, until she unfolded it. It was a changing pad, covered in pastel polka dots. “One of your sippy cups is still at the back of the cup cabinet.” She knew that already, of course, but it would have been a nice tip if she hadn’t.

She laid everything out on her bed, ripping the pacifier free of its packaging and popping it into her mouth. It felt strange at first, but once she had gotten it right-side up, she found herself sucking on it almost instinctively. Her attention turned back to her diapers, as she wondered what other wonders they might hold. Her fear was starting to reside, helped at least partially by the feeling of her pacifier doing its job, so when she reached into the bag of diapers, she wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but she had high hopes for it.

She certainly didn’t think that the diaper she pulled out would have a long cut down the middle of the outer coating, rendering it useless. She stared at it in disbelief and anger. What was all of the new baby stuff for, if Heather had just ruined her diapers like that? But there was another note as she turned it over. “Such a big baby,” it explained, “needs more than one diaper. We can’t have you leaking all over!” The next diaper from the package was un-mutilated, bearing the words, “A nice, thick double diaper would be much better, don’t you think?”

Every now and then, the villain from the story would double diaper the main character, though Astor had never realized that doing so effectively took more than just taping one diaper over top of the other. She thought that would probably still work, but she could see the wisdom in what Heather had done, too, so she decided not to be too mad about it.

She spread the changing pad out on top of her bed, then laid out the first diaper on it. There was another note inside the diaper, stuck to the padding. “Don’t forget the powder and lotion!” it warned. To be sure she didn’t, she set the bottles down on the changing pad before reaching down and unbuttoning her shorts, letting them fall to the floor. Somehow, standing there in her panties, even with her door closed and her house empty, she felt strange, exposed. It wasn’t a bad feeling, exactly, just odd. Up until then, it had always been a very private thing for her, but it was almost as if she could feel Heather’s presence with her, watching over her as she got ready to put herself into a diaper.

For that reason, she found herself blushing as she wriggled out of her pink, cotton panties, leaving them on a pile on the floor with her shorts. She turned a brighter red as she maneuvered herself onto the changing pad, hearing it crinkle beneath her, and then over the diaper, lowering herself down onto its soft surface. She massaged a bit of lotion into her diaper area, wiping the excess off on her bare leg so that she could more easily get the baby powder open. She used it more liberally, the smell taking her back almost instantly to the time when she’d smell like that all the time. She had only vague memories, of course, but she could always remember Heather smiling down at her, so calm and loving and protective.

Her cheeks returned to their regular color by the time she had gotten her first diaper taped up, though even those long ago memories of her sweet big sister weren’t enough to stop her from blushing again at the note inside the second diaper. “Once you’re all nice and padded up,” it read, “go to the second drawer of my desk to find out about your punishment.”

The smile of the imaginary Heather that was watching her turned a little more evil, making Astor squirm, but not enough to keep her from sliding the diaper beneath herself. She laid back, managing to tape herself in before wondering what Heather had planned for her. Had she been setting her up for blackmail somehow after all? Had she somehow poisoned the pacifier while it was still sealed in its packaging, so that Astor’s dirty little secret wouldn’t embarrass the whole family?

There was only one way to find out. Astor wasn’t quite ready for it, however, so she grabbed her sippy cup from her desk first, downing it in a few gulps before putting her pacifier back into her mouth, assuming that, if it was poisoned, it was already too late for her anyway. The twin diapers were thick between her legs, pushing them apart slightly, though not quite as much as she had imagined while writing those scenes in her story.

She almost went back down to the kitchen for a third cup of apple juice, but, even with two diapers, she thought that might be a touch overkill. Her tummy was starting to growl, informing her it was nearly lunchtime. However greedy it might have seemed, though, she couldn’t help but wonder if Heather had any more surprises - of the good kind - waiting for her. She’d been wanting to try babyfood, too. Perhaps Heather had hidden some of that for her.

It felt strange being in Heather’s room, alone. It felt so empty without her there, laying on her bed reading a magazine, or sitting at her desk, messing around on her laptop. If she hadn’t been given instructions to come in, she might have felt like she was breaking in, like a thief in the night. She still felt that way, a little.

The second drawer of the desk was full of various kinds of junk, notebooks and articles cut from newspapers or magazines, pens and erasers and bottles of glue. Astor almost wondered if Heather had been joking in that last Post-It, but it seemed strange for her to have been so specific, in that case. So instead, she wondered if she had forgotten the leave the instructions, or hadn’t quite decided on what the “punishment” should be before going off to college.

Finally, nearly at the bottom, she found a piece of paper, folded in half and taped closed, addressed to “My Baby Sister, Astor.” She grabbed a pair of scissors from the drawer, cutting the tape open, then scanned over the contents. She found herself smiling as her eyes moved further down the page, and by the time she had reached her sister’s signature, right beneath, “And remember that I’ll always love my baby sister, no matter how naughty she is,” she had to set the letter down to wipe her misty eyes.

She shook her head, feeling silly, as she got one more thing out, looping it over her pinky, then put everything else back into the drawer. Except for the letter, which she took to her room, setting it with all of her new stuff.

She glanced down at Heather’s last surprise, wondering how well it could possibly work. It was a tiny digital camera, attached to a key-ring, silver and black, and looking more like a toy than anything. There wasn’t even a preview screen, so when she held it back to take a picture of herself with her pacifier, she made sure to take a few different copies, just to be sure.

Surprisingly, it did have a self-timer, however, so she set it down on her desk and aimed it at the changing pad on her bed, which she quickly climbed up onto, sitting cross legged and waving. She tried to set it up to take a second picture of the same thing, but wound up somehow getting her feet wound up in her shorts and falling flat onto her face on her way back to the bed. After picking herself up and extracting herself from her more grown-up clothing that had decided to attack her, she decided one of those was probably enough.

So instead, she grabbed her new bib, tied it around her neck, picked up the camera, and headed to the kitchen. Unfortunately, the letter hadn’t revealed any hidden stashes of babyfood, but there was some vanilla pudding left over from the night before that would work all right. She got a picture of herself getting ready to eat a spoonful, most of which wound up on her bib when she leaned forward afterwards to adjust the camera. So she got a picture of that as well, to show that Heather had apparently been right to buy her the bib. Then she finished up the pudding, because she was hungry, and managed only to get a tiny bit more on her bib, inadvertently.

By then, her bladder was really feeling the effects of her two sippy cups of apple juice, not to mention the orange juice she’d had at breakfast, before her parents had left. She squirmed in her seat quite a bit before finally getting herself to let go - she’d used her diapers before, but not very often, and not with anybody, even just through a camera, watching. She took what she hoped was a nice snapshot of herself blushing before getting to her feet and posing there, hands in front of her wet pants, only slightly pretending to be embarrassed.

All in all, she had to admit that this was fun. Pretending to be a baby by yourself was all well and good, but, beyond the initial uneasiness of adding somebody else to the equation, there was just something different about doing it that way, even if her big sister wasn’t actually there. Plus, she had always been a bit of a ham when it came to having her picture taken, even under normal circumstances.

She made herself a sandwich after that, peanut butter and jelly, and sat cross-legged in her now slightly squishy diaper as she ate it. She didn’t even notice that she had added a bit too much jelly until she had finished and was toddling over to the sink to wash her hands, and she happened to notice the bits of grape now dotting her bib. She blushed, untying the bib and rinsing it off without making any pictorial evidence of just how much she did need it. That reminded her of the note from the towel drawer, and she glanced over at it with a smile. For some reason she couldn’t quite explain, she picked it up to get a closer look, and then, curiously, turned it over.

She wasn’t sure if she was blushing or giggling, or both, as she took the next picture. She did know she was shrugging, however, as she held up the Post-It, revealing the side that said, “Hopefully it wasn’t in her pants.” She stuck the note to one of the dry parts of the bib, so that she didn’t leave it in the kitchen. Her parents would probably just think it strange, if they noticed the second message at all, but she’d rather not risk them wondering if there was some deeper significance.

She refilled her sippy cup, this time with just water, so she could get a few shots of her drinking from it, and then went back to her room to get her stuffed monkey, Francine, bringing it down to the living room, where she sat, splaying her legs out in front of her, to play. For the first few minutes, she would take a picture whenever she thought of a cute pose, but she soon found herself becoming more and more engrossed with just playing, until she forgot about the camera altogether. Before long, she found herself yawning, and, not long after that, she was curled up on the carpet, sucking her pacifier and cuddling Francine, fast asleep.

She woke back up a few hours later with a stretch and a yawn that sent her pacifier tumbling to the floor. The sight of it confused her at first, but only as long as it took for her to realize the strange feeling around her waist was her diaper, which was about to become even wetter as she stumbled sleepily to the kitchen to rinse her pacifier off. The clock on the microwave was telling her that she had only a couple hours until her parents were supposed to be home, which she knew meant that she had even less time to finish carrying out Heather’s instructions and become a normal teenager again.

She took a final shot of herself with Francine before dragging the poor monkey to the computer room. Her diapers were feeling pretty wet at that point, making her afraid to sit down in her dad’s nice, leather computer chair, so she stayed standing up while the computer booted up, and then dragged in one of the metal and plastic chairs from the kitchen when she saw how long it was going to take to transfer all of the pictures from the tiny camera to the computer.

There really weren’t all that many great pictures, but she decided to only delete the very worst from the camera, since she didn’t think that storing any of them on the computer itself was a good idea. She chose a few of the best to print out, waiting for the printer to write them into its memory before deleting them all and emptying the Recycle Bin. She hopped down out of the chair, glad to see that, even if it would have been easy to clean up, that she hadn’t leaked on the chair at all, and waddled to her room, putting the camera into the bag with the powder and lotion. The pictures still weren’t done printing when she got back, so she carried her chair back to the kitchen and grabbed her bib, and, after a moment or two of thought, her sippy cup, and put them away as well.

She didn’t really want to fold up the pictures, so she crept into her parents’ room and searched through her mom’s mail supplied until she found a manilla envelope big enough to hold them. She started to take one of her mom’s pens to address it as well, then smiled to herself and toddled to Heather’s room to get a box of crayons she’d seen at the bottom of the drawer, using them instead.

The pictures were long done by the time she returned to the computer room, so she slipped them into the envelope carefully before doing a final check to make sure no trace of the pictures remained on the computer. She was almost done now, but before she finished, she decided to check her instructions one last time.

“Dear Astor,” they said, “I hope this teaches you a lesson about keeping things from your one and only big sister. We always find out, you know. For your punishment, I want you to take the keychain camera in this drawer, and I want you to show me you having the most fun you can imagine as a little baby. You can e-mail the pictures to me if you want, but it might be safer to mail them. And then, when I come home, we’ll recreate it, together. Or, if you’re too boring, I’ll show you how it’s really done. Please don’t worry about me telling mom and dad - this is between us sisters. And remember that I’ll always love my baby sister, no matter how naughty she is. Heather.”

Astor found her eyes growing bleary again as she read it, but this time she didn’t bother to clear them. She wandered back to the kitchen, bumping into the doorway but barely caring, and, on tip-toe, grabbed the box of matches from the top of the refrigerator. Nobody lived close enough to see her, so she barely even thought about wandering out the back door, still dressed in her now-drooping diapers, going straight over to the grill on the corner of the patio.

She opened the lid of the grill, setting the envelope, marked only “Heather,” in crooked, crayoned letters, inside, and struck a match. It took her a couple tries, but soon, she had managed to get the corner of the envelope to catch on fire, and she watched the flames slowly crawl their way across the manilla, eating it away and revealing, for a moment at least, her own face smiling underneath, before that, too, began to blacken and crumble.

Astor stared up into the sky, from which she was now sure, with all her heart, that her sister was looking down at her. Ever since the car accident that fateful day, on Heather’s way to college, Astor had felt so alone. Her sister was gone, and she had been so sure that was all there was to the story, that, no matter what all the preachers and sympathy cards in the world could say, that there was nothing left of her. But she had felt Heather that day, watching over her, smiling as she diapered herself, as she played and posed, felt her watching over her during her nap, protecting her from all the nightmares that had been plaguing her for the past month.

“I love you, too,” she said in a tiny voice, all the louder she could get around the lump in her throat, as she let the tears flow freely down her cheeks. And there, dancing in the flames, clad in brilliant white and orange, she was sure she saw her sister waving to her, smiling.

  • Of two sisters, one is always the watcher, one the dancer. -
    ~Louise Glück~