My sister, Kenyon, and I used to sleep in the same bed, wound together like puppies. We lived in rural Tucson on a cattle ranch. Now we are separated by eight states. She’s a social worker for a hospital. I’m a writer. We rarely see each other—the cost, the distance—but we alternate calling the first Sunday of every month.
The conversations tend to go one-way, her way. As the older sister, I’m still supposed to listen and figure a way out more or less like I did when we were kids. If we ate handfuls of Rice Krispies straight from the box, I tried to let her have the most.
Kenyon’s called to complain about her father-in-law. “He doesn’t believe I used to rope calves when I was five,” she says. “He doesn’t believe that I roped calves and that you and I used to go on all-day rides herding cattle with the cowboys.”
“I remember the all-day rides,” I say. “I’m not sure about the roping.”
“I roped calves.”
“Did I?” If she was five I would have been eight. While I can remember the long hot rides, the cowboys joking, I don’t remember being able to rope, although the idea that I could do such a hard thing pleases me.
“Sure. We both could, Sally. So write about that. You know the fascinating stuff that nobody knows about anymore. Write about how fat and fast the raindrops were. How the ground outside our dumpy house would fill with water and become a river. How we’d catch ants and float them away on Oleander leaves.”
“You want me to write a weather report?”
“Don’t be sarcastic. I just want you to write about the rain and how we went with the cowboys and helped rope cattle—all-day long. Two little kids—all day-long.”
“Have you been drinking?”
“Just a little wine. Why?”
“You sound drunk.”
“Well, I’m not. I’m just making a point here. A point I want you to get. I want you to write about how tough we were. How we never cried or complained. I want my father-in-law to read it. And don’t ruin it by putting in all the bad stuff. Okay? Just write about good things. After the story sells, send me a signed copy to give him. The stupid bastard. He thinks he’s so smart. I hate him.”
This is the second set of in-laws my sister has had. The first set bit the dust shortly before that marriage ended.
“I can’t write about raindrops. No one will buy it. There will be nothing to autograph.”
“You’re the writer. Figure out a way to make it work.”
“How do you know I am a writer? You never read any of my stories.”
“I’ll read this one.”
“So you want me to start with a weather report and then write about two little kids riding horses and roping cattle, which may or may not have happened…”
“Followed by floating away ants on Oleander leaves during Tucson’s monsoon season.”
I’m thinking fast. Pictures are forming in my mind. A story is growing. I can feel it pushing to be born.
“Okay. But I want to write the real story. I want to write how we lived on this wonderful ranch and then our father was drafted. His plane was shot down and he was gone forever. Our mother began to drink, use drugs, and became a whore. We ended up losing the ranch. We ended up orphaned. Now that might sell.”
Kenyon is silent. I think briefly about how as a hospital social worker, she’s supposed to help people and probably is expected to like them at least a little bit. But she’s always telling me she hates her clients—that she’s grateful she only has to see them for three days and then they’re discharged or sent somewhere else.
I wish I could erase our past the way she has. Our past has been the hidden platform of many of my stories. And, as long as I’m into wishes, I wish I didn’t long for a verification of our childhood from her.
We’re both functional. We hold real jobs. We didn’t marry men who beat us senseless—although Kenyon has married two drunks. Neither of us have children to abuse. Kenyon has three poodles. I feed the wild life and feral cats.
“I know what.” I try to swallow the meanness that’s made its way to my throat. I want to know if she remembers what I remember. I want to talk over every single sordid detail with her. I want the sister who used to howl and kick the bedroom wall with me when we were locked in our bedroom, hungry and alone.
“What? Have you gone into a coma? I can’t wait forever. I’ve got stuff to do,” Kenyon says.
“How about if I include the time Bill lined us up against the kitchen wall and said he was going to kill us. We were six and nine then, I think. Remember how he began shooting over our heads and yelling at Mom that he was killing us?”
“I remember she was lying on the bed in the other room, drunk, and yelling back that she didn’t care,” Kenyon says, surprising me. “Her exact words were, ‘Go ahead. Do me a favor. Kill the damn brats.’” Usually Kenyon tells me to shut-up–that she doesn’t want to remember. She must be really mad at that father-in-law.
After a second, she tells me not to put that in. She wants our mother left out completely. She wants me to make her already dead. […]
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Marion de Booy Wentzien was a recipient of the PEN Syndicated Fiction Award (twice) and The New Letters Literary Award. The Chicago Humanities for the Arts presented one of her stories in their Stories on Stage. Her stories have appeared in The Sonora Review, The San Francisco Chronicle (twice), Scholastic Books, Seventeen Magazine, Blue Penny Quarterly, Story Magazine, On the Page, Big Ugly Review, The Quotable, Prime Number, Bareback Lit, Tattoo Highway, Red Fez, Cossack Review, Citron Review, Extract(s), Drafthorse, Solstice, ROAR, Spry, Literary Orphans and other literary journals.