Big Sisters

My best friend and I in Catholic School were both the eldest daughters with younger sisters we were committed to having complete control over. We did this by distorting their perceptions of reality and telling them lies about how the world really works, putting us in total control.

I had one younger sister to torture while Mary had four. I envied her power over so many siblings to keep in line.

My method involved mirrors. Alice in Wonderland was my favorite book and Through the Looking Glass made me very curious about what the world was like around the corners I couldn’t see in the giant mirror behind our living room couch. When no one was looking, I would often climb on the back of the couch and see if there was any way I could actually climb into the world of the mirror.

There was also a mirror on the dresser in the bedroom I shared with my younger sister. When I was about nine and she was seven, I decided to tell her one day that the reflections of me and my mother in our bedroom mirror were in fact her real mother and sister trapped there, and that our mother and I were really witches who had taken their places. How did we switch places? Through the electric outlet on the wall.

My sister started crying. “Get away from me. I want my real sister.”

“You can only see her in the mirror,” I said. “In your life you are stuck with me.”

“Mommy, Mommy help me!” my sister cried into the mirror.

My mother ran upstairs and tried to put her arms around her.

“Go away! You aren’t my real mother! You’re a witch! I want my real mother!”

“What did you say to her?” my mother hissed at me.

I told her what I had said and she told my sister that was a stupid lie and of course she was her mother. She made me tell her I was lying. I admitted I had lied in the most unconvincing sarcastic voice I could muster. My sister gradually calmed down, but after that, I continued to hint that she will never know the truth for sure and she never let my mother kiss her after that.

*

My friend Mary had a larger brood to manage. She had brilliantly convinced all four of her little sisters that if they ever counted the imagined stairs to heaven, they would die when they reached one hundred. This simple tactic gave her total control. Whenever her sister were annoying, all she had to do to keep them in line was to start counting softly under her breath, “One, two, three,” and they would quickly fall in line. This worked for years. Her sisters were so traumatized by it, they swear they don’t remember it, just like my sister doesn’t remember the mirror switch.

*

One afternoon, I heard my two young daughters talking at the top of the stairs. I caught some of what the older one, about six, was saying to the younger one, about four, something about being a robot who had replaced her older sister who had travelled to a different planet. The younger sister was asking if she could have her real sister back. I of course knew immediately what was going on. Fortunately, the older hadn’t yet gotten to switch me with a fake mother and I made her stop telling the lie and help me reassure her sister that it wasn’t true.

“I know it wasn’t true,” the younger claimed, out of pride. But she seemed extremely relieved.
Of course now that they are grown, neither of them remember this reality distortion conversation.

4 Comments

  1. Trent

    Hey Gloria,
    glad you’re back in a workshop –

    This makes me think of a braided or collage essay. That’s how it flows, in any case, with anecdotes.

    My one “consider this’ item – was there a situation in the reverse, where someone told you with “Remember so and so” and
    you didn’t? And it was kind of unsettling to picture? Just an idea, especially to make it Halloween or horror adjacent.
    That could make it a fiction/plus non-fiction piece, where the reader has to wonder just how “based on a true story” all of it is.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    • Gloria Garfunkel

      Trent:

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. In fact, I have had two separate brain injuries in the last ten years and both of them have affected my memory so I am constantly saying to friends and my adult children that I don’t remember things I said or that happened and it is always disconcerting. My memory has greatly improved since both episodes, but it took a long time, up to a year or so to gain back a mostly fully functioning memory. I’ve never written about it. That actually might be a good topic for a separate story as well. Or I can just contrast how vividly I remember my childhood compared to past events in my adulthood which is equally disconcerting and could be woven into the story.

      Thank you for your careful reading and generous help with my stories. I have really appreciated reading your very unusual writing, totally unique and unlike any I have ever read before.

      Gloria

  2. Aimee Parkison

    Gloria,

    “Big Sisters” does a wonderful job of capturing the psychology of childhood and sisterhood and how that relates to make believe, power, and control when growing up among sisters.

    I love the way this flash fiction moves through time, showing the narrator in childhood with her sister and then ending many years later when she is a mother speaking to her daughters, who are sisters. As a mother, she recognizes the way the older sister uses a make-believe horror story about herself to terrify and control the younger sister.

    The story really exposes something universal about growing up in a family of siblings, the way children attempt to use scary stories and make believe to entertain and control each other, especially older and younger siblings. It’s part of growing up, part of child psychology, but also mythical and sinister.

    I love the following paragraphs:

    “My method involved mirrors. Alice in Wonderland was my favorite book and Through the Looking Glass made me very curious about what the world was like around the corners I couldn’t see in the giant mirror behind our living room couch. When no one was looking, I would often climb on the back of the couch and see if there was any way I could actually climb into the world of the mirror.”

    “There was also a mirror on the dresser in the bedroom I shared with my younger sister. When I was about nine and she was seven, I decided to tell her one day that the reflections of me and my mother in our bedroom mirror were in fact her real mother and sister trapped there, and that our mother and I were really witches who had taken their places. How did we switch places? Through the electric outlet on the wall.”

    The writing just blew me away!

    This is such a powerful fiction revealing family dynamics and coming-of-age in its themes.

    I admire the use of time and cyclical structure, starting with the narrator’s childhood and moving to her being an adult, a mother, witnessing moments from her daughters’ childhood that mirror her own. It’s such a satisfying story with a wonderful use of tone and theme about growing up, power, and horror stories among sisters.

    You might consider sending this to Milk Candy Review, The Laurel Review, Lake Effect, and/or Boulevard.

    Thank you so much for sharing your very moving writing with me and for showing the diverse ways that horror touches reality through your flash fictions!

    Xoxo, Aimee

  3. Gloria Garfunkel

    Aimee:

    Thank you for your kind and encouraging words about my story which I had hesitated posting because I was exhausted from the previous one and not sure it was good enough. So I do appreciate your encouragement.

    i just want to thank you for an amazingly wonderful workshop experience. I will need later today to finish my comments. I hope that is OK. I just got overwhelmed with all the reading and writing. But the structure was perfect and your comments always brilliantly insightful and helpful to all of us writers.

    One of the things that astonished me was your wide knowledge of such a vast array of literary journals and what kind of stories they publish. How do you manage to read and keep track of them all? Compared to you, I have a paltry Duotrope list that I often don’t find very helpful at all.

    You are a very gifted teacher and writer, with a big and loving heart and it has been a privilege to be part of your amazingly informative workshop. I have to admit that I actually get too anxious to tolerate horror movies, more so even than stories, because the creepy images get stuck in my head and keep reappearing. I feel like I’ve had enough horror in my life to take on more for fun. Yet as a former psychotherapist, I am very interested in helping people heal from the various horrors of sexually and physically abusive childhoods and had a very high tolerance for those sorts of stories when I was working. So I guess I have a higher tolerance for real rather than fictional horrors, especially if I am in a position to be able to help with the rescue.

    Gloria

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