At dinner, Sarah and I sat at a round table with a doctor and his wife. The wife was pretty and cloying. Sarah adored her. "That's so very true," Sarah said every time the wife finished a sentence. Or, "I can't wait to tell Patrick about that."
An annoying habit of Sarah's: she thinks about everything twice. Sometimes she'll say something, then mouth the words to herself afterwards. She doesn't know she does it. If Sarah ever wanted to be a spy, she'd have to work on hiding that.
The wife sold Amway, and Sarah said, "I've been meaning to get into that. It sounds like an ideal lifestyle." Then Sarah mouthed to herself, ideal lifestyle. I asked her silently, Who are you?
The doctor husband was from Iowa -- no, Ohio. I ate with one hand in his lap.
As we all headed out together after dinner, the husband said, pointedly, "I'll be in touch about that back problem you mentioned. I'm in Room 407. Four...oh...seven."
I was careful not to look at the wife, but Sarah stared with her mouth open.
"Tom. Well, I never," hissed the wife. Then she took his arm and they were gone.
"Maybe if you did, he wouldn't," I said.
Sarah's mouth was still open. Then, "Jesus, Maggie. That's rude."
"Sarah. Why do you judge me so much?"
"Someone has to." She adjusted her bra strap. She looked at her rings. She sniffed her wrists, her own perfume.
We returned to the room and Sarah struggled into her nightgown. I changed into a T-shirt. Sarah brushed her hair. I brushed my teeth. We lay down. She fell asleep, as usual, and I didn't, as usual. I never have slept well. Usually I think about things: plan menus, imagine what life would be like if I were a princess, a jockey, a cowboy. Now I just thought about Sarah, sleeping next to me. I thought, this is the person in the world closest to me, genetically. There is nobody more similar to me than her. And nobody I understand less.
The next day we went shopping at a Caribbean market. Sarah's pink straw hat again, and a matching purse. We walked through the crowded stands ablaze with colors. Turquoise, orange, red, purple, glaring bolts of cloth. Sarah held up something orange and said, "Would Patrick like this? On me?"
I nodded, so she bought it. Afterward, she unfolded it in the sun; it was a sari. Her shoulders sagged, and her lips started trembling. "Why did I just buy this? I'll never wear it." It drooped in her hand, the bright orange tinting her skin yellow. "I can't pull something like this off. He'll just laugh at me." Her face looked like a cracked windshield. She wanted to be a tropical princess. Not a housewife smeared with sunscreen. I felt awful.
"Come on," I said roughly, and grabbed the sari out of her hand. I draped it around her waist, and made her unbuckle her shorts and drop them to the ground. The sari stretched over her legs and curved away in the wind, looking like an enormous slice of cantaloupe.
"There you go. You're beautiful, Sarah." She was, almost. I'm not saying that because she's my sister; I'm saying it despite the fact that she's my sister. Sarah started walking through the market, a little clumsily. I leaned my forehead against a stand and took a deep breath. The inevitables: death, taxes, and family.
After I caught up with her, Sarah started chatting about our great-aunt, our only living relative. Our great-aunt was getting religious, studying the apostles and knowing the names of the saints and what they do. She sent me a St. Jude. This is the woman, who, when I asked if there was a God at age five, had said, "That depends upon your interpretation."
"Last time I visited, she gave me a tract. You know, one of those little pamphlets that say, 'Jesus is your pal!'" Sarah said.
Copyright © 2001 by Erika Krouse
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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