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  • Emily Harnden


Winner of the 2018 AWP Intro Award

Early​ ​spring.​ ​A​ ​man​ ​with​ ​a​ ​big​ ​belly​ ​tells​ ​my​ ​sister​ ​there​ ​is​ ​a​ ​good​ ​chance​ ​the​ ​lump​ ​inside​ ​her​ ​left breast​ ​is​ ​cancerous.​ ​He​ ​is​ ​a​ ​specialist,​ ​she​ ​is​ ​only​ ​a​ ​baby​ ​nurse.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​what​ ​she​ ​says​ ​on​ ​the​ ​phone:​ ​I only​ ​know​ ​about​ ​the​ ​babies​ ​and​ ​I​ ​am​ ​not​ ​a​ ​baby.

I​ ​wonder​ ​if​ ​she​ ​can’t​ ​help​ ​the​ ​belly​ ​detail—that​ ​most​ ​everyone​ ​around​ ​her​ ​is​ ​pregnant​ ​or​ ​just made​ ​recently​ ​less​ ​pregnant​ ​and​ ​more​ ​mother,​ ​and​ ​she​ ​can’t​ ​unsee​ ​it.​ ​Hospitals​ ​have​ ​this​ ​effect. Placing​ ​people​ ​in​ ​two​ ​categories:​ ​cancer-free​ ​or​ ​not.​ ​Pregnant​ ​or​ ​not.

Twin​ ​or​ ​not.


We​ ​are​ ​twenty-five,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​am​ ​nowhere​ ​near​ ​her.​ ​Five​ ​states​ ​away,​ ​a​ ​fourteen-hour​ ​drive.​ ​A​ ​plane ticket​ ​I​ ​can’t​ ​afford.​ ​In​ ​the​ ​middle​ ​of​ ​a​ ​semester,​ ​a​ ​broken​ ​heart—my​ ​second,​ ​though​ ​I​ ​am​ ​starting to​ ​think​ ​it​ ​is​ ​worse​ ​than​ ​the​ ​first.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​not​ ​going​ ​away​ ​and​ ​I​ ​hear​ ​her​ ​voice​ ​in​ ​this—what​ ​if​ ​it​ ​doesn’t go​ ​away?​ ​she​ ​asks,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​am​ ​forced​ ​to​ ​think​ ​of​ ​her​ ​chest​ ​instead​ ​of​ ​my​ ​own.​ ​There​ ​is​ ​relief​ ​in​ ​this and​ ​then​ ​not.​ ​And​ ​then​ ​not.

Out​ ​the​ ​window,​ ​the​ ​sun​ ​feels​ ​too​ ​bright.​ ​I​ ​have​ ​to​ ​go​ ​to​ ​work,​ ​my​ ​sister​ ​says.​ ​But​ ​I’ll​ ​let​ ​you know​ ​more​ ​when​ ​I​ ​know​ ​more.​ ​She​ ​hangs​ ​up,​ ​the​ ​phone​ ​feels​ ​like​ ​a​ ​paperweight​ ​in​ ​my​ ​hand.

I​ ​go​ ​back​ ​to​ ​my​ ​desk,​ ​try​ ​to​ ​write.​ ​But​ ​I​ ​can’t​ ​with​ ​the​ ​sun​ ​the​ ​way​ ​it​ ​is,​ ​the​ ​phone​ ​still​ ​in​ ​my hand,​ ​so​ ​I​ ​stare​ ​straight​ ​ahead​ ​at​ ​the​ ​post-it​ ​note​ ​I​ ​glued​ ​to​ ​my​ ​wall​ ​the​ ​night​ ​I​ ​knew​ ​it​ ​was​ ​over between​ ​us.​ ​​The​ ​part​ ​I​ ​do​ ​remember:​ ​that​ ​the​ ​blue​ ​of​ ​the​ ​sky​ ​depends​ ​on​ ​the​ ​darkness​ ​of​ ​empty​ ​space​ ​behind​ ​it.

I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​read​ ​Maggie​ ​Nelson​ ​differently​ ​now,​ ​with​ ​my​ ​sister​ ​in​ ​view.​ ​With​ ​the​ ​man​ ​out​ ​the window,​ ​off​ ​the​ ​coast,​ ​a​ ​different​ ​planet,​ ​but​ ​part​ ​of​ ​me​ ​keeps​ ​confusing​ ​the​ ​two.


My​ ​sister​ ​is​ ​younger​ ​by​ ​four​ ​minutes,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​think​ ​often​ ​how​ ​those​ ​four​ ​minutes​ ​have​ ​defined​ ​us.​ ​I have​ ​always​ ​felt​ ​older.​ ​She​ ​has​ ​always​ ​been​ ​taller,​ ​flatter.​ ​I​ ​could​ ​go​ ​on,​ ​all​ ​the​ ​ways​ ​we​ ​have​ ​come​ ​to be​ ​separated​ ​by​ ​words​ ​ending​ ​in​ ​-er,​ ​signifying​ ​some​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​distance​ ​no​ ​matter​ ​how​ ​small,​ ​but​ ​the lump​ ​wins​ ​out.​ ​I​ ​can’t​ ​grow​ ​one.​ ​I​ ​can’t​ ​take​ ​it​ ​away​ ​or​ ​be​ ​the​ ​brave​ ​one.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​used​ ​to​ ​being​ ​the brave​ ​one.

In​ ​April,​ ​she​ ​gets​ ​more​ ​details.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​benign​ ​and​ ​the​ ​specialist​ ​isn’t​ ​that​ ​special.​ ​Dummy,​ ​our father​ ​says.​ ​Still,​ ​surgery​ ​is​ ​required.​ ​But​ ​not​ ​to​ ​worry,​ ​it​ ​will​ ​be​ ​quick​ ​like​ ​a​ ​cat-nap,​ ​a​ ​kiss​ ​out​ ​of habit.​ ​I​ ​imagine​ ​the​ ​incision​ ​will​ ​be​ ​in​ ​the​ ​shape​ ​of​ ​a​ ​C:​ ​a​ ​spoon​ ​sliced​ ​into​ ​a​ ​cup​ ​of​ ​smooth​ ​custard, but​ ​for​ ​her​ ​it​ ​is​ ​skin.​ ​Smooth​ ​skin.​ ​Paler,​ ​more​ ​prone​ ​to​ ​sunburn​ ​and​ ​freckles​ ​than​ ​my​ ​own.​ ​She​ ​will hardly​ ​notice​ ​it,​ ​they​ ​say.

All​ ​I​ ​can​ ​think​ ​is​ ​C​ ​like​ ​canine​ ​or​ ​cantaloupe.​ ​I​ ​picture​ ​her​ ​putting​ ​a​ ​whole​ ​piece​ ​of​ ​fruit​ ​in her​ ​mouth​ ​with​ ​the​ ​exposed​ ​tough​ ​rind,​ ​her​ ​sharp​ ​white​ ​teeth​ ​buried​ ​in​ ​the​ ​juice.​ ​I​ ​drink​ ​a​ ​cup​ ​of coffee​ ​at​ ​work​ ​and​ ​wonder​ ​how​ ​this​ ​will​ ​stain,​ ​touch​ ​my​ ​lips.​ ​Later,​ ​I​ ​make​ ​lopsided​ ​jokes​ ​that​ ​aren’t funny.​ ​I​ ​consider​ ​starting​ ​the​ ​show​ ​with​ ​Laura​ ​Linney​ ​about​ ​real​ ​cancer​ ​but​ ​am​ ​without​ ​a​ ​Showtime subscription.​ ​I​ ​watch​ ​a​ ​lot​ ​of​ ​​New​ ​Girl​​ ​on​ ​Netflix​ ​instead,​ ​wonder​ ​if​ ​I​ ​am​ ​trying​ ​to​ ​mend​ ​my​ ​own heart​ ​or​ ​hers.

Evenings​ ​are​ ​the​ ​same.​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​sleep—my​ ​mind​ ​hovers,​ ​dips,​ ​nose-dives.​ ​It’s​ ​not​ ​a​ ​thing​ ​I​ ​do much​ ​of​ ​anymore,​ ​even​ ​before​ ​the​ ​maybe-cancer.​ ​Time​ ​feels​ ​wider,​ ​looser​ ​at​ ​night,​ ​like​ ​a​ ​deep pocket​ ​in​ ​a​ ​man’s​ ​jeans​ ​I​ ​used​ ​to​ ​know​ ​well,​ ​but​ ​something​ ​has​ ​changed,​ ​my​ ​hand​ ​is​ ​so​ ​small​ ​and the​ ​pocket​ ​so​ ​big,​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​fit​ ​the​ ​way​ ​I​ ​used​ ​to​ ​and​ ​am​ ​digging,​ ​reaching,​ ​treading​ ​for​ ​car​ ​keys because​ ​all​ ​I​ ​want​ ​is​ ​to​ ​go​ ​home,​ ​I​ ​just​ ​want​ ​to​ ​go​ ​home,​ ​yet​ ​all​ ​I​ ​can​ ​find​ ​in​ ​there​ ​is​ ​a​ ​tiny​ ​piece​ ​of gum​ ​and​ ​there​ ​is​ ​nothing​ ​left​ ​for​ ​me​ ​to​ ​do​ ​but​ ​chew​ ​and​ ​chew​ ​and​ ​chew.​ ​The​ ​man​ ​doesn’t​ ​try​ ​to help​ ​me.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​what​ ​sleep​ ​feels​ ​like.

As​ ​I​ ​chew,​ ​I​ ​think​ ​about​ ​the​ ​letter​ ​C​ ​more​ ​than​ ​the​ ​average​ ​woman-girl​ ​in​ ​grad​ ​school​ ​might. The​ ​Big​ ​C​,​ ​that’s​ ​the​ ​show​ ​with​ ​Laura​ ​Linney.​ ​But​ ​I​ ​am​ ​more​ ​preoccupied​ ​with​ ​C​ ​like​ ​complications could​ ​occur.​ ​That​ ​they​ ​could​ ​lose​ ​the​ ​nipple.​ ​Like​ ​her​ ​children​ ​might​ ​not​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​be​ ​breastfed​ ​if something​ ​to​ ​do​ ​with​ ​milk​ ​production​ ​gets​ ​lobbed​ ​off,​ ​snipped​ ​by​ ​mistake.​ ​I​ ​think​ ​about​ ​the​ ​words flap​ ​and​ ​sag​ ​and​ ​scar.​ ​I​ ​imagine​ ​what​ ​these​ ​words​ ​will​ ​look​ ​like​ ​on​ ​her.​ ​If​ ​I​ ​will​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​notice through​ ​her​ ​bra.​ ​If​ ​she​ ​will​ ​even​ ​need​ ​a​ ​bra.​ ​Then​ ​I​ ​feel​ ​guilty,​ ​god​ ​how​ ​great​ ​would​ ​it​ ​be​ ​to​ ​not need​ ​a​ ​bra.​ ​No,​ ​that​ ​is​ ​not​ ​right.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​not​ ​me.

Her​ ​phone​ ​calls​ ​the​ ​week​ ​leading​ ​up​ ​to​ ​the​ ​surgery​ ​are​ ​full​ ​of​ ​jokes​ ​and​ ​weird​ ​silences.​ ​Lucky me,​ ​I’ve​ ​already​ ​got​ ​myself​ ​a​ ​boyfriend,​ ​she​ ​quips.​ ​Hey,​ ​good​ ​news:​ ​I’ve​ ​always​ ​been​ ​flat​ ​as​ ​a​ ​slice​ ​of pizza.​ ​Her​ ​smile​ ​sounds​ ​scared​ ​over​ ​the​ ​phone,​ ​in​ ​the​ ​places​ ​I​ ​am​ ​supposed​ ​to​ ​laugh​ ​louder.​ ​I​ ​tell her​ ​about​ ​the​ ​songs​ ​I’ve​ ​been​ ​listening​ ​to,​ ​the​ ​playlist​ ​I​ ​make​ ​her​ ​on​ ​Spotify.​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​tell​ ​her​ ​how​ ​I wanted​ ​to​ ​title​ ​it​ ​Elegant​ ​Badass​ ​Is​ ​My​ ​Favorite​ ​Kind​ ​of​ ​Bedside​ ​Manner—something​ ​like​ ​that,​ ​but was​ ​afraid​ ​of​ ​what​ ​is​ ​never​ ​supposed​ ​to​ ​be​ ​funny.​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​make​ ​her​ ​think​ ​herself​ ​strong​ ​even when​ ​she​ ​will​ ​wake​ ​up​ ​feeling​ ​weaker​ ​than​ ​maybe​ ​she​ ​ever​ ​has,​ ​with​ ​me​ ​not​ ​there,​ ​but​ ​her​ ​boyfriend instead​ ​holding​ ​her​ ​hand,​ ​the​ ​man​ ​she​ ​will​ ​marry.​ ​But​ ​her​ ​boyfriend​ ​instead.​ ​How​ ​that​ ​sentence sticks​ ​in​ ​my​ ​throat​ ​even​ ​now,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​know​ ​why.

Our​ ​parents’​ ​refrigerator​ ​is​ ​covered​ ​in​ ​photographs​ ​of​ ​our​ ​naked​ ​chests.​ ​We​ ​are​ ​four​ ​and​ ​smiling​ ​on the​ ​beach​ ​with​ ​our​ ​shirts​ ​out​ ​of​ ​frame,​ ​off​ ​somewhere​ ​in​ ​the​ ​dirty​ ​sand.​ ​

Cheese,​ ​cheese.​ ​Say​ ​cheese,​ ​girls!​ ​Again,​ ​that​ ​C.​ ​But​ ​for​ ​now​ ​it​ ​is​ ​soft​ ​and​ ​we​ ​don’t​ ​know about​ ​any​ ​of​ ​what​ ​is​ ​to​ ​come,​ ​so​ ​we​ ​hop​ ​on​ ​Dad’s​ ​back,​ ​shoulders,​ ​chest.​ ​We​ ​laugh​ ​and​ ​dig​ ​in​ ​the sand​ ​and​ ​are​ ​scared​ ​of​ ​the​ ​ocean.​ ​Both​ ​of​ ​us​ ​have​ ​this​ ​fear.​ ​The​ ​cold.​ ​It’s​ ​so​ ​cold.​ ​Just​ ​a​ ​little​ ​chilly, our​ ​mother​ ​says.​ ​You​ ​can​ ​do​ ​it,​ ​she​ ​smiles,​ ​and​ ​we​ ​believe​ ​her,​ ​so​ ​we​ ​do​ ​and​ ​it’s​ ​amazing.​ ​Our​ ​faces both​ ​say​ ​this:​ ​It​ ​is​ ​really​ ​really​ ​amazing.

The​ ​next​ ​picture​ ​is​ ​us​ ​on​ ​the​ ​stairs​ ​of​ ​our​ ​old​ ​home​ ​in​ ​Baltimore​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​remember​ ​except through​ ​pictures.​ ​The​ ​kitchen​ ​looks​ ​like​ ​our​ ​mother:​ ​rustic,​ ​lots​ ​of​ ​yellows​ ​and​ ​reds,​ ​warm.​ ​The basement​ ​is​ ​blue​ ​and​ ​dark,​ ​for​ ​movies​ ​and​ ​our​ ​father’s​ ​cassette​ ​tapes—the​ ​ones​ ​he​ ​listens​ ​to​ ​alone and​ ​at​ ​night,​ ​his​ ​brother’s​ ​clear​ ​voice​ ​filling​ ​up​ ​all​ ​that​ ​blue.

But​ ​on​ ​the​ ​stairs​ ​we​ ​are​ ​linked​ ​elbows​ ​and​ ​bare-chests​ ​and​ ​blunt​ ​bangs.​ ​She​ ​is​ ​blonder​ ​and so​ ​this​ ​is​ ​how​ ​it​ ​starts.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​smiling​ ​bigger.​ ​Her​ ​mouth​ ​is​ ​open​ ​as​ ​if​ ​waiting​ ​for​ ​my​ ​permission​ ​to speak.​ ​I​ ​sometimes​ ​wonder​ ​if​ ​she​ ​has​ ​always​ ​been​ ​waiting.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​older,​ ​but​ ​her​ ​mouth​ ​already​ ​has​ ​the whisper​ ​of​ ​the​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​patience​ ​I’ll​ ​never​ ​have.​ ​I​ ​see​ ​it​ ​starting​ ​right​ ​there​ ​in​ ​her​ ​small​ ​pink​ ​lips,​ ​the curl​ ​keeping​ ​her​ ​words​ ​inside.​ ​

I​ ​see​ ​it​ ​making​ ​its​ ​way​ ​from​ ​womb​ ​to​ ​not​ ​womb​ ​all​ ​over​ ​the​ ​fridge:​ ​in​ ​haircuts,​ ​freckles, sunburns,​ ​piercings,​ ​wisdom​ ​teeth,​ ​prom​ ​dates.

We​ ​are​ ​the​ ​same​ ​and​ ​then​ ​we​ ​are​ ​not.​ ​And​ ​then​ ​we​ ​are​ ​not.​ ​And​ ​then​ ​we​ ​are​ ​not.


We​ ​are​ ​twenty-five​ ​and​ ​talking​ ​about​ ​adoption​ ​again.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​before​ ​the​ ​good-chance​ ​cancer​ ​has been​ ​deemed​ ​not​ ​cancer​ ​at​ ​all,​ ​just​ ​a​ ​lump.​ ​I​ ​think​ ​of​ ​it​ ​as​ ​a​ ​little​ ​sugar​ ​lump,​ ​maybe​ ​it​ ​will​ ​be sweeter​ ​for​ ​her​ ​boyfriend​ ​always,​ ​and​ ​she​ ​says​ ​Jesus​ ​Christ,​ ​why​ ​do​ ​you​ ​say​ ​things​ ​like​ ​that?

Back​ ​to​ ​adoption.​ ​She​ ​has​ ​wanted​ ​to​ ​do​ ​it​ ​ever​ ​since​ ​we​ ​saw​ ​​Slumdog​ ​Millionaire​​ ​when​ ​we were​ ​seventeen​ ​and​ ​taking​ ​health​ ​ed.​ ​We​ ​watched​ ​the​ ​birth​ ​video,​ ​and​ ​said​ ​no​ ​thank​ ​you.​ ​We watched​ ​the​ ​movie​ ​with​ ​Dev​ ​Patel,​ ​and​ ​she​ ​said​ ​that’s​ ​it.​ ​I​ ​want​ ​a​ ​little​ ​Indian​ ​baby.​ ​We​ ​didn’t​ ​think about​ ​cultural​ ​appropriation​ ​or​ ​how​ ​might​ ​that​ ​seem​ ​a​ ​little​ ​racist?​ ​White​ ​girl​ ​wants​ ​cute​ ​Indian​ ​baby to​ ​avoid​ ​vaginal​ ​destruction?

We​ ​talk​ ​on​ ​the​ ​phone​ ​about​ ​Indian​ ​babies​ ​and​ ​how​ ​they​ ​are​ ​still​ ​her​ ​favorite​ ​at​ ​the​ ​hospital she​ ​works​ ​at​ ​in​ ​Chicago.​ ​Is​ ​that​ ​bad?​ ​she​ ​asks.​ ​I​ ​still​ ​can’t​ ​tell,​ ​she​ ​says.​ ​

If​ ​she​ ​has​ ​cancer,​ ​can’t​ ​she​ ​afford​ ​to​ ​be​ ​pro-Indian​ ​baby?​ ​is​ ​what​ ​I​ ​think,​ ​but​ ​instead​ ​say yeah,​ ​I​ ​think​ ​it’s​ ​okay.

I​ ​ask​ ​her​ ​if​ ​her​ ​boyfriend​ ​knows​ ​about​ ​her​ ​big​ ​grand​ ​adoption​ ​dreams.​ ​She​ ​tells​ ​me​ ​they have​ ​yet​ ​to​ ​discuss​ ​it​ ​seriously,​ ​and​ ​if​ ​I​ ​were​ ​keeping​ ​score,​ ​I’d​ ​mark​ ​a​ ​point​ ​for​ ​myself.​ ​But​ ​that’s not​ ​exactly​ ​true—I​ ​am​ ​keeping​ ​score.​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​know​ ​when​ ​it​ ​became​ ​a​ ​competition,​ ​I​ ​only​ ​know​ ​this is​ ​what​ ​is​ ​it​ ​and​ ​I​ ​am​ ​hell-bent​ ​on​ ​winning.​ ​If​ ​he​ ​gets​ ​her​ ​body,​ ​I​ ​want​ ​her​ ​heart.​ ​Later,​ ​I​ ​ask​ ​my mother​ ​if​ ​I’m​ ​being​ ​a​ ​little​ ​bit​ ​crazy.


We​ ​are​ ​fifteen,​ ​boyfriend-less.​ ​Sixteen,​ ​same​ ​deal.​ ​Through​ ​high​ ​school​ ​we​ ​do​ ​not​ ​speak​ ​of​ ​this directly.​ ​We​ ​circle.​ ​We​ ​have​ ​crushes,​ ​the​ ​kind​ ​that​ ​help​ ​us​ ​get​ ​to​ ​school​ ​on​ ​slow​ ​gray​ ​mornings.​ ​But we​ ​are​ ​always​ ​each​ ​other’s​ ​ride​ ​home—our​ ​Toyota​ ​Corolla​ ​loaded​ ​with​ ​soccer​ ​cleats​ ​and​ ​so​ ​many mixed​ ​CDs​ ​memorized​ ​by​ ​heart.​ ​I​ ​tell​ ​her​ ​to​ ​put​ ​the​ ​magenta​ ​CD​ ​in,​ ​turn​ ​to​ ​track​ ​four,​ ​and​ ​we​ ​both know​ ​our​ ​favorite​ ​Bright​ ​Eyes’​ ​song​ ​will​ ​start​ ​to​ ​play.​ ​​If​ ​you​ ​walk​ ​away​ ​I​ ​walk​ ​away.​ ​First​ ​tell​ ​me​ ​which road​ ​you​ ​will​ ​take​.​​ ​At​ ​our​ ​lockers,​ ​side-by-side,​ ​we​ ​report​ ​to​ ​each​ ​other​ ​what​ ​our​ ​crush​ ​is​ ​wearing,​ ​if​ ​he laughs​ ​at​ ​our​ ​bad​ ​jokes,​ ​etc.​ ​We​ ​analyze​ ​the​ ​way​ ​he​ ​lets​ ​the​ ​teacher​ ​know​ ​he​ ​is​ ​present:​ ​here​ ​or​ ​yes or​ ​sup.​ ​These​ ​details​ ​feel​ ​important.​ ​A​ ​key​ ​into​ ​his​ ​soul​ ​sort​ ​of​ ​important.

When​ ​we​ ​are​ ​seventeen​ ​we​ ​try​ ​on​ ​dresses​ ​to​ ​go​ ​to​ ​a​ ​dance​ ​that​ ​neither​ ​of​ ​us​ ​truly​ ​wants​ ​to attend.​ ​But we have to go and we have to be normal and we can’t go with each other so we go with boys we feel too much for or not enough—yet we still need to wear something.​ ​We​ ​still​ ​want​ ​to​ ​look​ ​good, maybe​ ​even​ ​better​ ​than​ ​the​ ​other.​ ​I​ ​choose​ ​blue,​ ​she​ ​chooses​ ​green.​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​try​ ​her​ ​dress​ ​on​ ​when we​ ​get​ ​home,​ ​just​ ​to​ ​see​ ​what​ ​it​ ​looks​ ​like.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​strapless​ ​and​ ​tight​ ​and​ ​I​ ​nearly​ ​break​ ​the​ ​bust​ ​trying to​ ​zip​ ​my​ ​breasts​ ​into​ ​it.​ ​Jesus,​ ​how​ ​thin​ ​are​ ​you,​ ​I​ ​ask.​ ​Thinner​ ​than​ ​you,​ ​she​ ​says.​ ​But​ ​at​ ​this​ ​price, she​ ​says,​ ​shimmying​ ​her​ ​torso,​ ​her​ ​clavicle​ ​raw​ ​and​ ​bright​ ​like​ ​a​ ​bone​ ​I​ ​could​ ​throw.

Lucky​ ​duck,​ ​I​ ​think​ ​I​ ​say.​ ​Something​ ​about​ ​how​ ​she​ ​is​ ​the​ ​lucky​ ​one.​ ​As​ ​if​ ​there​ ​can​ ​only​ ​be one​ ​and​ ​it​ ​is​ ​her.​ ​She​ ​is​ ​younger.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​fuller.​ ​We​ ​are​ ​smiling​ ​in​ ​our​ ​prom​ ​pictures,​ ​but​ ​we​ ​both​ ​wish we​ ​could​ ​just​ ​go​ ​home​ ​and​ ​watch​ ​movies​ ​together,​ ​alone,​ ​without​ ​anyone​ ​else.​ ​A​ ​big​ ​bowl​ ​of popcorn​ ​sandwiched​ ​between​ ​us​ ​like​ ​a​ ​puppy.


After​ ​surgery,​ ​I​ ​am​ ​obsessed​ ​with​ ​her​ ​scar​ ​because​ ​she​ ​won’t​ ​let​ ​me​ ​see​ ​it.​ ​I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​examine​ ​it​ ​in the​ ​flesh​ ​with​ ​my​ ​naked​ ​eye​ ​on​ ​her​ ​very​ ​naked​ ​chest.​ ​The​ ​boyfriend​ ​gets​ ​to​ ​see​ ​it,​ ​which​ ​I​ ​hate.

I​ ​end​ ​up​ ​writing​ ​about​ ​breast​ ​cancer,​ ​but​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​email​ ​her​ ​the​ ​short​ ​story.​ ​I​ ​change​ ​all​ ​the details:​ ​it​ ​is​ ​about​ ​dying​ ​and​ ​a​ ​mother​ ​and​ ​the​ ​only​ ​thing​ ​she​ ​would​ ​be​ ​able​ ​to​ ​find​ ​of​ ​herself​ ​in​ ​it​ ​is the​ ​Chicago​ ​Cubs​ ​fan​ ​boyfriend​ ​who​ ​doesn’t​ ​understand​ ​a​ ​thing​ ​about​ ​it​ ​but​ ​loves​ ​the​ ​protagonist, hopelessly,​ ​to​ ​such​ ​a​ ​degree​ ​that​ ​he​ ​won’t​ ​ever​ ​leave,​ ​not​ ​even​ ​when​ ​she​ ​is​ ​being​ ​awful,​ ​not​ ​even when​ ​she​ ​laughs​ ​at​ ​him​ ​when​ ​he​ ​mistakenly​ ​believes​ ​her​ ​pregnant​ ​and​ ​his​ ​face​ ​cracks​ ​open​ ​with​ ​joy and​ ​she​ ​closes​ ​the​ ​bathroom​ ​door​ ​in​ ​his​ ​face​ ​and​ ​flushes​ ​the​ ​toilet​ ​repeatedly​ ​so​ ​he​ ​can’t​ ​hear​ ​her cry.

My​ ​sister​ ​would​ ​think​ ​it​ ​was​ ​about​ ​her,​ ​and​ ​how​ ​would​ ​I​ ​explain​ ​that​ ​it’s​ ​not​ ​her​ ​or​ ​me​ ​but maybe​ ​it’s​ ​part-us.

And​ ​how​ ​could​ ​it​ ​be​ ​part-us.


We​ ​are​ ​eleven​ ​months​ ​old​ ​when​ ​my​ ​father’s​ ​twin​ ​brother​ ​dies​ ​of​ ​AIDS.​ ​They​ ​are​ ​thirty-two.​ ​We don’t​ ​go​ ​to​ ​the​ ​funeral.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​the​ ​part​ ​of​ ​us​ ​that​ ​feels​ ​close​ ​to​ ​the​ ​center.​ ​It’s​ ​a​ ​sad​ ​story​ ​that​ ​seems to​ ​sneak​ ​into​ ​every​ ​story​ ​I​ ​tell​ ​about​ ​my​ ​sister.​ ​I​ ​cannot​ ​get​ ​away​ ​from​ ​it.​ ​How​ ​our​ ​father’s​ ​bone marrow​ ​failed​ ​to​ ​save​ ​him.​ ​How​ ​that​ ​word​ ​“save”​ ​never​ ​feels​ ​right​ ​but​ ​there​ ​it​ ​is.​ ​I​ ​use​ ​it​ ​all​ ​the time,​ ​am​ ​envious​ ​my​ ​sister​ ​saves​ ​week-old​ ​lives​ ​routinely,​ ​as​ ​I​ ​am​ ​taking​ ​food-orders,​ ​writing​ ​words.

Our​ ​mother’s​ ​mother​ ​stays​ ​behind,​ ​plays​ ​with​ ​us​ ​the​ ​day​ ​our​ ​father​ ​buries​ ​his​ ​brother.​ ​She tucks​ ​us​ ​in,​ ​then​ ​waits​ ​in​ ​the​ ​kitchen​ ​for​ ​the​ ​adults​ ​to​ ​come​ ​home.​ ​We​ ​don’t​ ​remember​ ​any​ ​of​ ​it,​ ​but our​ ​grandmother​ ​tells​ ​us​ ​when​ ​we​ ​are​ ​older​ ​that​ ​the​ ​first​ ​thing​ ​her​ ​husband,​ ​our​ ​grandfather,​ ​says when​ ​he​ ​walks​ ​in​ ​the​ ​door​ ​and​ ​sees​ ​her​ ​sitting​ ​at​ ​the​ ​kitchen​ ​table​ ​not​ ​eating,​ ​is​ ​that​ ​it​ ​was​ ​the saddest​ ​thing​ ​he​ ​ever​ ​heard​ ​in​ ​his​ ​life.​ ​Our​ ​dad’s​ ​voice​ ​splitting​ ​like​ ​that.

We​ ​know​ ​this​ ​is​ ​the​ ​truest​ ​thing​ ​and​ ​the​ ​scariest.​ ​To​ ​be​ ​left​ ​behind​ ​by​ ​the​ ​other.​ ​The​ ​split.

I​ ​think​ ​this​ ​is​ ​why​ ​I​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​hate​ ​the​ ​boyfriend.​ ​He​ ​is​ ​making​ ​her​ ​leave​ ​me​ ​behind.​ ​And​ ​I know​ ​it​ ​isn’t​ ​hate​ ​at​ ​all,​ ​not​ ​really.​ ​It​ ​has​ ​to​ ​be​ ​something​ ​else.​ ​I​ ​ask​ ​my​ ​mother​ ​what​ ​could​ ​it​ ​be,​ ​and she​ ​asks​ ​me​ ​how​ ​much​ ​sleep​ ​I’ve​ ​been​ ​getting​ ​these​ ​days?​ ​Honey,​ ​she​ ​says.​ ​You​ ​need​ ​your​ ​sleep.

But​ ​all​ ​I​ ​really​ ​want​ ​is​ ​a​ ​hint​ ​and​ ​all​ ​I​ ​have​ ​to​ ​go​ ​off​ ​of​ ​is​ ​her​ ​voice.

It​ ​feels​ ​like​ ​a​ ​very​ ​long​ ​time​ ​since​ ​someone​ ​has​ ​touched​ ​me.


My​ ​sister​ ​is​ ​in​ ​recovery​ ​far​ ​away​ ​when​ ​I​ ​see​ ​a​ ​book​ ​advertised​ ​by​ ​my​ ​local​ ​bookstore​ ​on​ ​Instagram.​ ​I drive​ ​there​ ​immediately,​ ​it’s​ ​almost​ ​8​ ​p.m.​, ​nearly​ ​closing.​ ​The​ ​girl​ ​at​ ​the​ ​checkout​ ​tells​ ​me​ ​I’m​ ​lucky, that​ ​they​ ​just​ ​put​ ​this​ ​one​ ​up​ ​on​ ​the​ ​shelf​ ​and​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​tell​ ​her​ ​I​ ​already​ ​know​ ​this​ ​because​ ​I​ ​saw​ ​it​ ​on my​ ​phone​ ​fifteen​ ​minutes​ ​ago.​ ​I​ ​toss​ ​her​ ​my​ ​money,​ ​no​ ​thank​ ​you​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​need​ ​a​ ​bag.​ ​The​ ​book​ ​is called​ ​​The​ ​Where,​ ​the​ ​Why​ ​and​ ​the​ ​How​​ ​so​ ​it​ ​must​ ​have​ ​answers.​ ​On​ ​the​ ​cover​ ​the​ ​description​ ​reads:​ ​75 Artists​ ​Illustrate​ ​Wondrous​ ​Mysteries​ ​of​ ​Science.​ ​I​ ​flip​ ​through​ ​the​ ​table​ ​of​ ​contents,​ ​reading questions.​ ​​Why​ ​do​ ​whales​ ​beach​ ​themselves?​ ​Why​ ​do​ ​we​ ​sleep?​ ​How​ ​are​ ​stars​ ​born​ ​and​ ​how​ ​do​ ​they​ ​die?​ ​Do​ ​trees talk​ ​to​ ​each​ ​other?

I​ ​get​ ​in​ ​my​ ​car​ ​and​ ​thumb​ ​through​ ​until​ ​I​ ​reach​ ​the​ ​one​ ​about​ ​stars.​ ​The​ ​PhD​ ​writes​ ​“Stars are​ ​born​ ​in​ ​galactic​ ​nurseries​ ​of​ ​cold,​ ​dense,​ ​dark​ ​gas​ ​clouds,”​ ​and​ ​I​ ​think​ ​it’s​ ​a​ ​nice​ ​touch,​ ​the​ ​galaxy as​ ​nursery.​ ​The​ ​opposite​ ​page​ ​shows​ ​the​ ​artist​ ​has​ ​latched​ ​on​ ​similarly—she’s​ ​drawn​ ​little​ ​cribs​ ​with newly-born​ ​stars​ ​sleeping​ ​in​ ​them.​ ​The​ ​backdrop​ ​is​ ​black​ ​like​ ​a​ ​chalkboard​ ​and​ ​the​ ​stars​ ​and​ ​cribs and​ ​mobiles​ ​are​ ​all​ ​etched​ ​in​ ​white,​ ​numbered​ ​as​ ​figures​ ​1,​ ​2,​ ​3.​ ​Figure​ ​8​ ​is​ ​titled​ ​Nurse​ ​Gravity​ ​and is​ ​a​ ​darker​ ​black​ ​than​ ​the​ ​rest,​ ​like​ ​someone​ ​blotched​ ​that​ ​part​ ​of​ ​the​ ​chalkboard​ ​clean​ ​with​ ​hot water.​ ​I​ ​take​ ​a​ ​photo​ ​with​ ​my​ ​phone​ ​and​ ​send​ ​it​ ​to​ ​my​ ​sister,​ ​text:​ ​Star​ ​babies.

But​ ​she​ ​is​ ​not​ ​answering.​ ​Her​ ​boyfriend​ ​texts​ ​me​ ​back​ ​on​ ​her​ ​phone​ ​a​ ​picture​ ​of​ ​her sleeping.​ ​The​ ​captions​ ​reads:​ ​Our​ ​sleepy​ ​girl.​ ​Her​ ​hair​ ​looks​ ​very​ ​soft.


Weeks​ ​go​ ​by​ ​and​ ​she​ ​is​ ​back​ ​at​ ​work,​ ​back​ ​with​ ​the​ ​babies.​ ​Her​ ​breast​ ​is​ ​still​ ​her​ ​breast. I​ ​am​ ​still​ ​obsessed​ ​with​ ​my​ ​new​ ​book.​ ​Not​ ​so​ ​much​ ​for​ ​the​ ​answers​ ​it​ ​provides,​ ​but​ ​the

questions​ ​it​ ​doesn’t​ ​ask.​ ​Can​ ​people​ ​become​ ​separated​ ​but​ ​remain​ ​together​ ​always?​ ​This​ ​question​ ​is not​ ​in​ ​the​ ​book,​ ​but​ ​I​ ​try​ ​to​ ​make​ ​it​ ​fit​ ​in​ ​the​ ​sections​ ​that​ ​discuss​ ​trees,​ ​how​ ​they​ ​talk​ ​to​ ​each​ ​other. Still​ ​this​ ​pulls​ ​up​ ​short​ ​and​ ​I​ ​am​ ​left​ ​irritated,​ ​irrational,​ ​selfish:​ ​I​ ​want​ ​the​ ​science​ ​to​ ​push​ ​further, become​ ​personal​ ​to​ ​me​ ​and​ ​my​ ​life​ ​and​ ​how​ ​do​ ​I​ ​talk​ ​to​ ​my​ ​sister​ ​now​ ​that​ ​she​ ​spends​ ​more​ ​time talking​ ​to​ ​someone​ ​who​ ​isn’t​ ​me,​ ​who​ ​doesn’t​ ​share​ ​her​ ​eyes,​ ​memories—and​ ​is​ ​that​ ​all​ ​that’s​ ​left?​ ​I can’t​ ​think​ ​of​ ​a​ ​third​ ​thing.

The​ ​ecologist​ ​in​ ​my​ ​book​ ​writes,​ ​“Many​ ​forms​ ​of​ ​tree​ ​communication​ ​don’t​ ​require complicated​ ​explanations:​ ​When​ ​one​ ​tree​ ​grows​ ​faster​ ​and​ ​higher​ ​than​ ​its​ ​neighbors,​ ​it’s​ ​telling​ ​them to​ ​either​ ​​grow​ ​up​​ ​or​ ​​grow​ ​out​.”​ ​I​ ​think​ ​there​ ​could​ ​be​ ​something​ ​in​ ​this,​ ​but​ ​the​ ​thought​ ​is​ ​yanked​ ​away quickly.​ ​We​ ​are​ ​not​ ​neighbors.

I​ ​am​ ​paging​ ​through​ ​more​ ​whys​ ​and​ ​hows,​ ​listening​ ​to​ ​her​ ​playlist​ ​when​ ​she​ ​sends​ ​me​ ​a picture​ ​of​ ​a​ ​premature​ ​baby.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​after​ ​one​ ​in​ ​the​ ​morning,​ ​her​ ​night​ ​shift​ ​break.​ ​The​ ​baby’s​ ​eyes​ ​are closed,​ ​but​ ​his​ ​mouth​ ​is​ ​open.​ ​She​ ​captions​ ​it:​ ​Presh​ ​babi.​ ​Precious​ ​baby.​ ​And​ ​I​ ​know​ ​she​ ​is​ ​not supposed​ ​to​ ​do​ ​this,​ ​but​ ​the​ ​picture​ ​disappears​ ​after​ ​ten​ ​seconds​ ​and​ ​so​ ​it​ ​doesn’t​ ​feel​ ​wrong.

It​ ​feels​ ​like​ ​a​ ​sign​ ​of​ ​some​ ​sort,​ ​a​ ​map​ ​to​ ​her​ ​mind,​ ​where​ ​she​ ​and​ ​the​ ​boyfriend​ ​are​ ​headed. And​ ​I​ ​think​ ​of​ ​how​ ​weird​ ​it​ ​will​ ​be​ ​when​ ​she​ ​has​ ​a​ ​baby​ ​that​ ​is​ ​my​ ​niece.​ ​But​ ​instead​ ​of​ ​a​ ​new person​ ​coming​ ​into​ ​her​ ​life​ ​and​ ​splitting​ ​her​ ​from​ ​me,​ ​I​ ​feel​ ​a​ ​sudden​ ​rush.​ ​I​ ​set​ ​aside​ ​my​ ​book, seem​ ​to​ ​tune​ ​out​ ​my​ ​love​ ​songs.

Aunts​ ​keep​ ​popping​ ​up​ ​all​ ​over​ ​my​ ​stories​ ​and​ ​I​ ​think​ ​maybe​ ​this​ ​has​ ​something​ ​to​ ​do​ ​with it.​ ​I​ ​remind​ ​myself​ ​that​ ​I​ ​need​ ​her​ ​boyfriend​ ​in​ ​order​ ​to​ ​be​ ​her​ ​daughter’s​ ​aunt.​ ​Why​ ​daughter,​ ​I don’t​ ​know.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​just​ ​a​ ​feeling.​ ​What​ ​I​ ​do​ ​know:​ ​When​ ​I​ ​am​ ​an​ ​aunt​ ​she​ ​will​ ​be​ ​a​ ​mother,​ ​which​ ​also means​ ​she​ ​will​ ​be​ ​a​ ​wife.​ ​Twin​ ​will​ ​be​ ​tacked​ ​on​ ​last,​ ​even​ ​though​ ​it​ ​was​ ​the​ ​first​ ​thing.​ ​Even​ ​before daughter,​ ​she​ ​was​ ​twin.​ ​Death​ ​doesn’t​ ​take​ ​that​ ​away.​ ​Our​ ​father​ ​knows​ ​this.

I​ ​want​ ​to​ ​notch​ ​myself​ ​another​ ​point,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​is​ ​starting​ ​to​ ​feel​ ​less​ ​like​ ​a​ ​victory—this counting​ ​one​ ​for​ ​me,​ ​one​ ​for​ ​him,​ ​when​ ​they​ ​all​ ​should​ ​be​ ​for​ ​her.

I​ ​suddenly​ ​want​ ​to​ ​call​ ​my​ ​mother,​ ​tell​ ​her​ ​this​ ​is​ ​the​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​thing​ ​that​ ​keeps​ ​me​ ​from sleeping,​ ​but​ ​she​ ​will​ ​already​ ​be​ ​asleep,​ ​an​ ​hour​ ​ahead.​ ​Her​ ​body​ ​warm​ ​next​ ​to​ ​my​ ​father’s.

Again,​ ​I​ ​reach​ ​into​ ​the​ ​man’s​ ​pocket,​ ​find​ ​myself​ ​falling​ ​behind.​ ​


We​ ​are​ ​twenty-one​ ​and​ ​drunk​ ​and​ ​thinking​ ​about​ ​getting​ ​matching​ ​tattoos.​ ​My​ ​only​ ​requirement:​ ​It has​ ​to​ ​be​ ​something​ ​cool.​ ​Done,​ ​she​ ​says.​ ​I​ ​got​ ​it.​ ​The​ ​song—‘Remember​ ​Me​ ​as​ ​a​ ​Time​ ​of​ ​Day’​ ​by Explosions​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Sky.​ ​A​ ​song​ ​with​ ​no​ ​lyrics,​ ​but​ ​one​ ​we​ ​have​ ​internalized​ ​so​ ​fully​ ​every​ ​note​ ​is​ ​a word​ ​and​ ​we​ ​know​ ​all​ ​of​ ​them.

You’re​ ​brilliant,​ ​I​ ​shout,​ ​and​ ​we​ ​both​ ​crack​ ​up,​ ​beer​ ​on​ ​our​ ​chins.​ ​Everyone​ ​around​ ​us​ ​has no​ ​idea​ ​what​ ​we​ ​are​ ​talking​ ​about,​ ​but​ ​it​ ​is​ ​more​ ​fun​ ​that​ ​way.​ ​We​ ​joke​ ​about​ ​getting​ ​the​ ​same time—9:47—tattooed​ ​on​ ​the​ ​inside​ ​of​ ​our​ ​wrists.​ ​Do​ ​you​ ​remember?​ ​she​ ​asks,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​do.​ ​We​ ​used​ ​to talk​ ​about​ ​what​ ​time​ ​we​ ​should​ ​get​ ​when​ ​we​ ​were​ ​fifteen​ ​and​ ​since​ ​our​ ​birthday​ ​seemed​ ​too​ ​obvious we​ ​came​ ​up​ ​with​ ​9:47​ ​based​ ​on​ ​the​ ​numbers​ ​on​ ​the​ ​back​ ​of​ ​our​ ​soccer​ ​jerseys.​ ​I​ ​was​ ​9,​ ​she​ ​was​ ​4.​ ​I used​ ​to​ ​be​ ​7,​ ​when​ ​I​ ​was​ ​younger,​ ​which​ ​translated​ ​to​ ​the​ ​time​ ​of​ ​day​ ​(in​ ​theory)​ ​we​ ​would​ ​think​ ​of each​ ​other.

I​ ​wonder​ ​if​ ​she​ ​remembers​ ​how​ ​it​ ​didn’t​ ​use​ ​to​ ​be​ ​a​ ​joke.​ ​That​ ​the​ ​whole​ ​thing​ ​started​ ​out​ ​as morbid​ ​conversation​ ​about​ ​whenever​ ​one​ ​of​ ​us​ ​dies​ ​the​ ​other​ ​has​ ​to​ ​get​ ​a​ ​tattoo​ ​for​ ​her,​ ​the​ ​dead one,​ ​before​ ​we​ ​really​ ​knew​ ​what​ ​that​ ​meant.​ ​Somewhere​ ​deep​ ​down,​ ​our​ ​father​ ​and​ ​his​ ​brother must​ ​be​ ​buried​ ​in​ ​this,​ ​I​ ​know.​ ​But​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​go​ ​any​ ​further​ ​into​ ​it.​ ​We​ ​shouldn’t​ ​ever​ ​have​ ​to​ ​go​ ​any further​ ​into​ ​it.

In​ ​the​ ​end,​ ​we​ ​get​ ​too​ ​sick​ ​for​ ​the​ ​tattoos​ ​and​ ​the​ ​next​ ​morning​ ​my​ ​sister​ ​says,​ ​I​ ​hope​ ​you didn’t​ ​think​ ​I​ ​was​ ​actually​ ​serious.​ ​She​ ​passes​ ​me​ ​half​ ​of​ ​her​ ​breakfast​ ​bagel​ ​and​ ​laughs.​ ​Her​ ​wrists are​ ​very​ ​tiny.​ ​I​ ​remind​ ​her​ ​with​ ​a​ ​soft​ ​shrug​ ​that​ ​I​ ​am​ ​afraid​ ​of​ ​needles​ ​anyway.


Winter​ ​in​ ​the​ ​Midwest,​ ​snowing.​ ​We​ ​are​ ​newly​ ​twenty-six​ ​and​ ​home​ ​for​ ​Christmas.​ ​Her​ ​boyfriend will​ ​join​ ​us​ ​tomorrow​ ​once​ ​the​ ​roads​ ​are​ ​clear​ ​and​ ​I​ ​will​ ​pout​ ​about​ ​getting​ ​kicked​ ​out​ ​of​ ​my​ ​old room​ ​because​ ​his​ ​bad​ ​back​ ​only​ ​feels​ ​less​ ​bad​ ​when​ ​it’s​ ​sleeping​ ​on​ ​my​ ​queen​ ​mattress.​ ​I​ ​will​ ​sleep on​ ​the​ ​trundle​ ​bed,​ ​below​ ​my​ ​sister’s​ ​body,​ ​her​ ​light​ ​snoring​ ​she​ ​swears​ ​up​ ​and​ ​down​ ​against keeping​ ​me​ ​awake.

For​ ​now,​ ​we​ ​are​ ​sitting​ ​on​ ​the​ ​couch​ ​and​ ​I​ ​am​ ​asking​ ​her​ ​to​ ​move​ ​the​ ​ottoman​ ​over.​ ​We​ ​put our​ ​feet​ ​on​ ​top​ ​and​ ​I​ ​turn​ ​on​ ​Netflix,​ ​find​ ​what​ ​I’m​ ​looking​ ​for.​ ​A​ ​music​ ​documentary​ ​I’ve​ ​seen​ ​five times,​ ​but​ ​she​ ​hasn’t​ ​yet.​ ​I’ve​ ​built​ ​it​ ​up.​ ​Said​ ​things​ ​like:​ ​It’s​ ​quiet​ ​but​ ​powerful.​ ​It​ ​will​ ​stay​ ​with​ ​you.

Okay,​ ​weirdo,​ ​she​ ​says​ ​and​ ​we​ ​settle​ ​in.

The​ ​Staves,​ ​a​ ​girl​ ​band​ ​trio​ ​of​ ​sisters​ ​from​ ​Watford,​ ​England​ ​are​ ​about​ ​to​ ​do​ ​a​ ​cover​ ​of Sufjan​ ​Stevens’​ ​‘Chicago’.​ ​​I​ ​fell​ ​in​ ​love​ ​again,​ ​all​ ​things​ ​go,​ ​all​ ​things​ ​go.​​ ​One​ ​of​ ​the​ ​sisters,​ ​the​ ​eldest​ ​I think,​ ​is​ ​telling​ ​a​ ​story​ ​to​ ​the​ ​crowd,​ ​something​ ​about​ ​sleeping​ ​in​ ​a​ ​car​ ​all​ ​night,​ ​and​ ​seeing​ ​a​ ​man staring​ ​at​ ​her​ ​through​ ​the​ ​trunk​ ​window,​ ​but​ ​then​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​other​ ​sisters,​ ​the​ ​middle​ ​sister, interrupts​ ​her.​ ​I​ ​didn’t​ ​notice​ ​it​ ​the​ ​first​ ​or​ ​second​ ​time,​ ​but​ ​have​ ​started​ ​to​ ​zero​ ​in​ ​on​ ​it.​ ​The​ ​middle sister​ ​picks​ ​up​ ​the​ ​eldest’s​ ​story​ ​and​ ​starts​ ​explaining​ ​the​ ​look​ ​on​ ​her​ ​face,​ ​the​ ​fear​ ​in​ ​her​ ​throat before​ ​they​ ​realize​ ​it’s​ ​only​ ​their​ ​drummer,​ ​Bobby​ ​or​ ​Billy.​ ​I​ ​watch​ ​and​ ​glance​ ​at​ ​my​ ​sister,​ ​but​ ​she doesn’t​ ​notice.​ ​The​ ​sister​ ​on​ ​screen​ ​looks​ ​like​ ​nothing​ ​is​ ​wrong​ ​or​ ​stolen,​ ​that​ ​it​ ​is​ ​simply​ ​a​ ​picking up.​ ​Her​ ​sister​ ​isn’t​ ​taking​ ​her​ ​story​ ​or​ ​looking​ ​to​ ​scoop​ ​up​ ​the​ ​laughs​ ​from​ ​the​ ​audience.​ ​She​ ​is​ ​just there​ ​too,​ ​watching.

Maybe​ ​it​ ​feels​ ​significant​ ​to​ ​me​ ​because​ ​I​ ​don’t​ ​get​ ​to​ ​watch​ ​anymore,​ ​touch​ ​the​ ​way​ ​I​ ​used to.​ ​Since​ ​moving​ ​away,​ ​beginning​ ​grad​ ​school,​ ​I​ ​only​ ​get​ ​her​ ​through​ ​a​ ​screen.​ ​FaceTime,​ ​Snapchat. Everything​ ​else—just​ ​words:​ ​text​ ​messages,​ ​voicemail.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​never​ ​enough​ ​or​ ​the​ ​same,​ ​the​ ​way​ ​I want​ ​her,​ ​and​ ​I’m​ ​about​ ​to​ ​say​ ​something​ ​to​ ​my​ ​sister​ ​along​ ​this​ ​thread,​ ​perhaps​ ​fill​ ​her​ ​in​ ​on​ ​why​ ​I keep​ ​making​ ​little​ ​jabs​ ​at​ ​the​ ​boyfriend’s​ ​holiday​ ​weight-gain,​ ​how​ ​I​ ​can’t​ ​stop​ ​pointing​ ​out​ ​that​ ​his breasts​ ​are​ ​bigger​ ​than​ ​hers,​ ​but​ ​when​ ​I​ ​turn​ ​to​ ​her​ ​I​ ​can​ ​see​ ​she​ ​is​ ​a​ ​little​ ​bit​ ​bored,​ ​and​ ​her​ ​eyes​ ​are slowing​ ​down.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​the​ ​time​ ​right​ ​before​ ​dinner​ ​when​ ​our​ ​father​ ​will​ ​soon​ ​come​ ​with​ ​his​ ​Bloody Mary,​ ​switch​ ​to​ ​the​ ​five​ ​o’clock​ ​news.

It​ ​feels​ ​like​ ​high​ ​school,​ ​like​ ​we​ ​are​ ​still​ ​living​ ​in​ ​the​ ​same​ ​house,​ ​only​ ​a​ ​bedroom​ ​apart,​ ​and no​ ​boys​ ​are​ ​coming​ ​over,​ ​our​ ​parents​ ​in​ ​the​ ​kitchen.​ ​Her​ ​breathing​ ​gets​ ​heavier​ ​and​ ​she​ ​looks​ ​over at​ ​me.​ ​I​ ​might​ ​not​ ​make​ ​it,​ ​she​ ​says.​ ​I​ ​yawn.​ ​Me​ ​either,​ ​I​ ​say.​ ​Dad’s​ ​going​ ​to​ ​kick​ ​us​ ​out​ ​soon anyway.​ ​Her​ ​chest​ ​is​ ​rising​ ​and​ ​falling​ ​and​ ​she’s​ ​wearing​ ​a​ ​sports-bra,​ ​so​ ​her​ ​breasts​ ​look​ ​taped down​ ​or​ ​not​ ​even​ ​there.​ ​I​ ​rest​ ​my​ ​eyes,​ ​our​ ​feet​ ​touching​ ​in​ ​the​ ​space​ ​where​ ​the​ ​cushions​ ​meet,​ ​the little​ ​gap.​ ​Her​ ​feet​ ​are​ ​always​ ​warmer​ ​than​ ​mine.


Colder,​ ​still​ ​winter.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​in​ ​Fort​ ​Collins​ ​and​ ​she​ ​is​ ​in​ ​a​ ​black​ ​and​ ​white​ ​bikini​ ​in​ ​Jamaica​ ​with​ ​her boyfriend.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​wearing​ ​a​ ​dirty​ ​apron​ ​in​ ​February,​ ​trying​ ​not​ ​to​ ​get​ ​yelled​ ​at​ ​for​ ​mixing​ ​up​ ​blue corn-cakes​ ​and​ ​corn-cakes​ ​with​ ​chile​ ​rellano,​ ​my​ ​mistake.​ ​New​ ​year,​ ​new​ ​job,​ ​but​ ​I​ ​can’t​ ​untwist​ ​all the​ ​Cs​ ​in​ ​my​ ​mouth.​ ​We​ ​are​ ​twenty-six​ ​and​ ​she​ ​is​ ​sending​ ​me​ ​pictures​ ​of​ ​white-sand​ ​beach,​ ​blue clear​ ​water.​ ​Paradiiiiise,​ ​reads​ ​the​ ​text​ ​caption.

Hiding​ ​in​ ​the​ ​restaurant’s​ ​bathroom,​ ​I​ ​am​ ​acutely​ ​aware​ ​of​ ​how​ ​not​ ​the​ ​same​ ​we​ ​are​ ​in​ ​this moment.​ ​In​ ​the​ ​photo​ ​I​ ​can’t​ ​tell​ ​if​ ​there​ ​is​ ​a​ ​scar,​ ​her​ ​breasts​ ​look​ ​the​ ​same​ ​as​ ​always,​ ​except​ ​pinker from​ ​the​ ​sun.​ ​

I​ ​have​ ​made​ ​her​ ​a​ ​playlist​ ​titled:​ ​Jamaican​ ​Me​ ​Crazy​ ​Because​ ​I​ ​am​ ​Here​ ​in​ ​Colorado,​ ​Enjoy. It​ ​doesn’t​ ​have​ ​anything​ ​to​ ​do​ ​with​ ​where​ ​she​ ​is,​ ​so​ ​much​ ​as​ ​where​ ​I​ ​am.​ ​It’s​ ​pretty​ ​much​ ​all​ ​The Staves​ ​except​ ​the​ ​first​ ​song,​ ​the​ ​one​ ​I​ ​can’t​ ​stop​ ​listening​ ​to.​ ​Dawn​ ​Landes,​ ​‘Honey​ ​Bee.’​ ​It​ ​is​ ​a​ ​love song​ ​but​ ​it​ ​doesn’t​ ​remind​ ​me​ ​of​ ​a​ ​lingering​ ​broken​ ​heart,​ ​the​ ​bad​ ​feeling​ ​in​ ​my​ ​gut​ ​that​ ​is​ ​somehow still​ ​there.​ ​My​ ​mother​ ​tells​ ​me​ ​I​ ​am​ ​really​ ​good​ ​at​ ​holding​ ​onto​ ​things,​ ​and​ ​I​ ​know​ ​this​ ​is​ ​true.​ ​I picture​ ​my​ ​heart​ ​as​ ​a​ ​tentacle​ ​and​ ​when​ ​it​ ​finds​ ​someone​ ​it​ ​recognizes​ ​it​ ​refuses​ ​to​ ​let​ ​go.​ ​Yet​ ​when Dawn​ ​sings​ ​the​ ​words,​ ​​this​ ​song​ ​was​ ​made​ ​for​ ​lovers​,​ ​I​ ​think​ ​of​ ​the​ ​higher​ ​us—me​ ​and​ ​her—and​ ​it​ ​feels like​ ​a​ ​lullaby.​ ​​Sugar,​ ​won’t​ ​you​ ​come​ ​by​ ​me,​ ​​she​ ​sings​.​ ​Rock​ ​me​ ​to​ ​my​ ​soul,​ ​to​ ​my​ ​soul.

And​ ​this​ ​is​ ​how​ ​I​ ​reason​ ​it:​ ​Everyone​ ​is​ ​allowed​ ​to​ ​leave,​ ​except​ ​for​ ​her.​ ​Love,​ ​even​ ​the​ ​kind I​ ​believed​ ​so​ ​rare​ ​and​ ​mine,​ ​is​ ​allowed​ ​to​ ​go,​ ​move​ ​away,​ ​age,​ ​forget,​ ​be​ ​with​ ​someone​ ​else.​ ​It​ ​is never​ ​a​ ​contract.​ ​It​ ​is​ ​on​ ​faith​ ​and​ ​faith​ ​I​ ​have​ ​found​ ​is​ ​never​ ​so​ ​steady​ ​as​ ​we​ ​tell​ ​ourselves​ ​in​ ​the moment.​ ​But​ ​my​ ​sister​ ​is​ ​the​ ​only​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​faith​ ​I​ ​believe​ ​in​ ​anymore.​ ​I​ ​have​ ​always​ ​had more—minutes,​ ​breast​ ​tissue,​ ​language—but​ ​I​ ​am​ ​only​ ​now​ ​starting​ ​to​ ​see​ ​that​ ​she​ ​has​ ​someone else​ ​and​ ​that​ ​makes​ ​me​ ​feel​ ​less​ ​hers.

A​ ​person​ ​is​ ​not​ ​the​ ​same​ ​as​ ​a​ ​song,​ ​is​ ​how​ ​I​ ​would​ ​try​ ​to​ ​explain​ ​it​ ​to​ ​her​ ​if​ ​I​ ​could—if​ ​she asked.​ ​Instead​ ​I​ ​ask​ ​her​ ​during​ ​my​ ​ten-minute​ ​break​ ​how​ ​the​ ​weather​ ​is​ ​and​ ​she​ ​texts​ ​back​ ​quick: Fantastic,​ ​I’m​ ​never​ ​leaving.​ ​The​ ​boyfriend​ ​sends​ ​a​ ​follow-up​ ​photo​ ​a​ ​few​ ​hours​ ​later.​ ​My​ ​sister​ ​in the​ ​sun,​ ​her​ ​white​ ​stomach​ ​exposed​ ​and​ ​growing​ ​red,​ ​her​ ​mouth​ ​hanging​ ​open​ ​in​ ​sleep.​ ​He​ ​captions the​ ​photo:​ ​​Our​ ​girl​.

Her​ ​skin​ ​looks​ ​like​ ​it​ ​is​ ​starting​ ​to​ ​burn.​ ​Mine​ ​is​ ​covered​ ​in​ ​oil,​ ​kitchen​ ​grease,​ ​my​ ​fingertips sweet​ ​with​ ​honey,​ ​or​ ​maybe​ ​it’s​ ​syrup.​ ​I​ ​still​ ​haven’t​ ​showered.​ ​We​ ​are​ ​not​ ​in​ ​the​ ​same​ ​time​ ​zone. We​ ​are​ ​not​ ​in​ ​the​ ​same​ ​time​ ​in​ ​our​ ​lives.

But​ ​she​ ​​is​​ ​our​ ​girl.​ ​Our​ ​girl​ ​has​ ​blue-gray​ ​eyes​ ​just​ ​like​ ​our​ ​father,​ ​like​ ​his​ ​brother.

Like​ ​me.


Emily Harnden holds an MFA in fiction from Colorado State University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming from the Normal School, the Adroit Journal, and CHEAP POP. Originally from small-town Illinois, she currently lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Photo by Srijan Kundu.

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