Published on October 3rd, 2018 | by Emily James


This Is Where You Need It: What We Wish for Sisters

They snuggle into the couch corner, burritoed in a blanket, the big girl’s arm hooked around her baby sister’s shoulder, twenty minuscule toes peeking out from below.

Look, the big one says. Look!

The small one is already looking, the Looney Tunes animation light  speckled across her face. Tom bangs Minuet in C on the piano with his oversized paws, an attempt to draw Jerry from his hole. Aren’t you cozy, Allie? The big one asks.

That’s Jerry! The little one cries. Look! He comes! Jerry dances, and the girls throw off the blanket, begin to twirl and bump and swing in independent circles—a gorgeous, tippy-toed mess.

Here are two sisters in love. They hold hands out on Independence Avenue. They hold waists in giddy balance atop a scale, tell me Mommy, together we are seventy-one-dot-two! They crawl into each other’s beds after lights out, hold each other’s curls, whisper, stop touching my hair like that, do it like this. No, no, like this.

Now, the weighted world stays outside our windows. Inhaling and exhaling wind and warmth and cold. Enormous, compared to their tiny bodies, and for that reason only—it’s excused and kept away.

But time will do what it does best—tiptoe on. Pencil marks will creep up the closet door. Play kitchens will be carried out replaced by desks, tall tapestries tacked to pink walls.

As they grow, and pick this world open, unearthing all its pressures and pains, there are certain things I wish for them.

That they’ll keep each other’s secrets. When the small one takes a healthy pinch of weed,  lays it out on her windowsill inside a Raw Paper wrap, and the big one says, Mom will smell that, even if you use the fan, the small one says, I’m taking it out back, and the big one says, well it still comes through the kitchen window, because mom leaves it cracked behind those half-dead plants. And when the small one takes her perfectly coned-up joint and the lighter from the silverware drawer and leaves, the big one will pull up the blinds slightly, to keep reluctant watch for me through the sidewalk hedges, and run out in warning if I come.

That they’ll leave each other’s boyfriends, untouched, untempted. Even when the big one’s crush waits in her purple twin bed while she goes to Rite Aid for some hair dye and birth control pills and Cheetos, and the little one stays home, across the room,  rubbing cocoa butter on her thighs in circles, the scent of summer and sand and slight sex, even as she notices his goatee is sort of hot, in an emo-Dominican-intellectual-type way. And she can feel her hormones sputtering across the plush carpet  but she stands up and walks out to the kitchen, opening the refrigerator and then closing it and then opening it again. She’ll choose cheddar cheese and crackers and loyalty,  waiting on the white bar stool for her big sister to come plowing through the back door, a mess of plastic bags and wind blown curls, and they’ll stand together over the counter chewing and staring and chewing and staring, until the little one asks between mouthfuls: when is he leaving? Says: If he’s still here when mom comes, you know she’ll be pissed. 

That their jealousy—instead of crushing, crumbling—will hold them tangled and together like a Chinese finger trap. Even if the small one has grown taller than the big one, sisterhood sort of turned inside out, and her elongation has tightened her waist, leaving jeans to let hips breathe, while the big one starts to struggle to pull pants over a slight bulge each morning, working to contain everything: papers stacked into folders and binders, lips outlined carefully in red.  Even if  the small one flows tall and loose and free, unafraid of oil budding on her scalp, of chipped nails, of broken promises, unafraid of me.

Your eyebrows look crazy, the big one will tell her when she sits among dried up nail polishes, lips puckered before the mirror, tweezer in hand. And why do you make that  face when you tweeze? 

Why do you make that face all the time? The small one will respond, and  the big one will leave it alone, moving closer, until she’s holding her little sister’s skin taut and gentle with her fingertips, and telling her: Look, try to get right here, this is where you need it, and they will stay still and together and touching—barefoot under the dull bulbs of a vanity—as the darkness wraps itself around the streetlights outside.

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About the Author

Emily James is a teacher and writer in NYC. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in The Rumpus, Hippocampus, The Atticus Review, Pigeon Pages, and Firewords, among others. You can tweet her at @missg3rd.

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