FICTION: The Sisters

If you saw them there, curled up on the front porch swing under the glow of a dying light, saw their knees and bare feet and crooked-toothed grins—if you saw them there, you would find yourself startled by the jealousy that overtook you. Wherever you might catch them from—through the passenger-side window of a passing car, from the dark sidewalk where your dog has stopped to shit, through your kitchen window where you hunch over the sink and inhale fistfuls of potato chips—something would grab you and pull you into their moment, that same magnetism that pulls them toward each other. You would watch the oldest sister (you’d assume) bend forward, gripping the other’s foot with one hand and wielding a nail polish brush with the other. You’d watch the youngest (you’d guess) throw her head back and shake with laughter, and you’d find yourself desperate to know what could be that funny. (You can’t hear it from where you watch, but, if you could, you would hear the youngest sister giggle, “He deserves to rot,” the smile falling from her face.)

If you lingered to watch another moment, you would wonder at their age. They couldn’t be younger than seventeen, you are sure, and no older than twenty-five, with a couple years between them. They exist in the uncertainty of the end of their welcome stay in their parents’ house, hanging on by their fingernails to their childhood. You see this in the way their legs bump and tangle clumsily, like children. There is no polite distance between them, and to see them now you can’t imagine there ever will be. But it is coming. It is inevitable.

The one you are certain is older has hair short and blue-black, and wears a cotton dress and a baggy cardigan. Her mouth is a thin line as she leans forward, covering more distance than you can see between them. The one you know is younger has long and tangled hair, wears a tank top and jean shorts, and holds her ground as her sister grows closer. She nods, tossing her hair over her shoulder, and speaks. (If you could hear from where you stand, you’d know she says, “I hate him. I hate both of them.” They speak over each other, her older sister chanting, “You do not, you do not.” But she bites her lip because she does, too.)

Like mirror images they glance over their shoulders at the front window, shielded by curtains and blinds. Past this barrier, their parents do not question where they have gone. Inside the house, their parents might sit silently on the living room sofa, their eyes never leaving the flickering television screen to look at each other. Their parents might be in separate rooms—their mother in bed with a migraine, again, and their father in the basement with a drink. Their parents might be in the kitchen, screaming, smashing plates. There is bliss in not knowing—for you, and for the sisters.

Something about the hand of an oldest sister placed flat against the bare forearm of a little sister makes your throat burn. Something about the way she squeezes flesh makes you wish for something you’re sure you’ve never had. You feel like you should look away, but you can’t.

Every light is lit in every window of the neighborhood in which these women have made you a voyeur. Each streetlight becomes a spotlight.

A can of diet Coke rests between the two of them on the cracked and mossy porch. As the youngest sister speaks, her hands now waving, the oldest sister leans over so far you are sure she will fall off the swing. She grabs the diet Coke with her free hand, the nail polish brush still dangling from her fingers, red polish staining the swing. She gulps the pop, sighs, belches, and passes it to her sister, who takes it in both hands and sips. The Coke belongs to both of them. You understand that they have had to share everything.

The oldest caps the nail polish bottle. The youngest trails her fingertips along the paint peeling desperately from the siding of the house. She doesn’t meet her sister’s eyes. The oldest shakes her head and takes a foot into her hands, blowing the drying polish, and a squeal interrupts the seriousness of whatever is said.

Ticklish!” This can be heard from wherever it is you watch. This is the only thing you get to hear from them tonight, and it echoes in your brain like sirens that have long passed. The rest is drowned out by distance and secrecy and the screaming of crickets on a summer night.

The smile on the face of the youngest drops away and there is no trace left of the last moment’s laughter. Her lips begin to move and do not stop moving. Now she looks her sister in the eyes, and you almost expect her to reach out and grab her by the face. The oldest sister runs her fingers through her short hair so frequently that you expect clumps to come away in her fist.

(You don’t know it, but, as the youngest sister continues to plot, the oldest says, “But they’re our parents.” She repeats the words until they lose meaning. You don’t know what the youngest sister says, either.)

As the youngest plants her foot down on the porch, you almost feel the splinter that lodges itself into her big toe. The empty Coke can topples over and rolls away. Now the oldest sister leans back, eyes wide. (“Of course I would, but—”) The Coke can rolls closer to you, down the steps, crunching through gravel and into dead grass. (“They can’t keep doing this to us.”) The can pauses halfway down the yard. (“But we can’t do that.”) If you were close enough to see the way that the start of every wrinkle that will ever line her face deepens, you would know that the oldest sister is seeing her younger sister as if for the first time.

Now the youngest sister tilts her head forward. Something magnetic pulls the oldest sister forward, too, and they lean into each other until their foreheads touch.

Now your dog has shit. Now a car pulls away, its engine ripping through the night. Now your fingers crinkle an empty bag once full of potato chips. The sisters are still, hidden in the shroud of the youngest sister’s hair. You can almost feel their breath in each other’s faces, hot and sweet. You almost feel fingertips brush a tear from a cheek. You’ve stopped watching when the youngest whispers, “No one will ever know it was us.” You wouldn’t understand the way the oldest relishes that heavy word: us. You will never know what they are plotting. You have already forgotten them as they peel themselves up off the swing, leave the can in the grass and the bottle of polish bleeding onto the porch, throw arms over each other’s shoulders, and shuffle into their home, shutting the front door behind them.

Amberly Baker’s writing has appeared in Heavy Feather Review, Bridge Eight Magazine, Jeopardy Magazine, and Crag. She is from the Pacific Northwest.

Image: Psyche and Her Two Sisters, Jean-Honoré Fragonard

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