It’s Tuesday and my sister, Lilly, will be here any minute. I seat myself at the table for a long, deep look at my kitchen. I’m trying to drink it in, commit it to memory; the kitchen, as it looks to me now; me, as I am now.
Later, when Lilly is sitting across the table smoking her Virginia Slims and talking about Ed and the kids and her job at Motorola I’ll lose everything; myself, the kitchen, everything in the house will be made over in her image.
It was always like this. I could never defend my position.
Not that she isn’t admirable; she works hard, she has a house in Arlington Heights, a husband and two kids. I still live in this house our parent’s owned. She left a long time ago.
I know my sister has an interior life (everyone does, right?), but she never lets on to it. So after 15 minutes of talking about work and the kids and Ed she drains everything from the room that isn’t there; anything that doesn’t have physical existence ebbs away until all that is left is my cracked and yellowing Formica tabletop, the curling shelf paper, the empty jars and tins atop the curling paper.
Even I recede; my picture of myself becomes her picture of me. I might be talking about finances or my own work, but she looks at me like I am still jumping up and down on the couch in my Barbie pajamas. Still leaping onto the coffee table, knocking over step-father’s ashtray and glasses with abandon, ashes and Southern Comfort forming dark puddles on the rug.
I’ve tried using external queues and reminders.
Once, before she arrived, I placed a colander near the refrigerator, then glanced at it in intervals as we spoke. Another time, I held a plastic barrette in my hand for 20 minutes before she arrived. As we spoke, I pressed it into my palm, hoping for continuity, a blue plastic bridge between who I am now and who I was before she arrived, lit her first cigarette.
But it didn’t work – the colander didn’t even put up a fight – it just sat there….was just a colander. The barrette was just a barrette. It didn’t even try.
She’ll stay for maybe 30 minutes.
But that’s all it takes to lose my position. I’m not like her. I don’t have her nails or her voice and, for me, ‘don’t’ isn’t a battle-cry, it’s an onomatopoeia; the click of a dandelion’s head when you snap it from the stem.
It takes an hour or two for the house to refill, for my kitchen to look like my kitchen, for me to feel like me. It starts slowly, rising around my ankles, up to my knees but I still feel her eyes and hear her voice until the kitchen is restored and I’m who I was before she came in and water fills the billowing spaces between my skin and my pyjamas and I’m tumbling, weightless, above my bed, my hair in rubber bands.
Cigarette – Wikimedia Public Domain
Colander – John Lord on flickr – Some Rights Reserved
Guest Author Bio
Blog / Website: David Ghedini