I. My sister tells me that if I stare too long at the clothes whirling around in the washer I will get cancer.
A. It takes a while for me to figure out this is a lie. For years, I will glance at the washer’s soapy porthole and quickly look away.
B. As we grow older, I turn out to be the better liar.
II. My sister wears her copper-red hair in a ponytail. She is freckled and skinny as a straw.
A. I am a chubby child but my sister never holds this over me.
B. We look nothing alike. “Y’all are sisters? From the same boom?” an incredulous boy asks us.
III. When she is six, my sister gets in trouble for kissing the boy who lives next door, the one whose sister is in a wheelchair.
IV. There is a gap between my sister’s two front teeth.
A. The gap closes after she gets braces.
B. Fifteen years later we are at a holiday party. We sit at a table with my cousin, with whom my sister has always felt a rivalry. My cousin talks about the gap between her own two front teeth, how men find it alluring. “Too bad you got those braces,” my cousin says to my sister.
V. On the street I run into a family friend whom I haven’t seen in years, not since my sister and I were teenagers. She asks, “How is your sister? Is she married yet? I thought she’d be married by now. She was always so boy-crazy.”
VI. My sister explains to me the meaning of the words “man overboard.” She is preparing for a role in the school play about the Mayflower. She tells me about how one of the Mayflower passengers fell off the ship and drowned. I am fascinated and thrilled by this information.
A. It turns out the guy who fell off the Mayflower didn’t die. He got back on the ship, dried off, debarked at Plymouth rock, and procreated like hell.
B. Did my sister lie or did I misremember this?
VII. After five years together, her boyfriend proposes. She plans to have her wedding in March but after consulting an astrologer, moves the date to July.
VIII. Some of the kids in her second-grade class are mean to her. One of the boys breaks her glasses. For revenge, my sister kicks that boy hard on the shin.
IX. When we are in grade school, my mother takes my sister and I to a museum. A cute boy walks by us. I have the sudden instinct that my sister will do something stupid to try to get his attention. Moments later, she throws my new hat over the railing and into the atrium in a vain attempt to get the boy to notice her.
X. Her favorite afterschool snack is Dannon coffee-flavored yogurt. She sits on a stool at our kitchen counter and eats cup after cup.
A. She and her boyfriend go to Mexico over Christmas and I agree to cat-sit at their apartment. I open the fridge and see packs of Dannon coffee-flavored yogurt.
XI. My sister comes up with code names for the boys she likes—Kiwi, Orange—each one a different type of fruit.
A. “I didn’t come up with that,” says my sister. “Anastasia did.” Anastasia is my sister’s childhood best friend. If there is one person who could come close to my sister’s level of boy-craziness, it is Anastasia.
XII. “Promise you won’t tell?”
A. We preface our secrets with this question, like a prayer before a confession.
B. Often my sister breaks her promise and tells on me. Her excuse? “I can’t lie. I’m a bad liar.”
C. For a while, I stop trusting her with my secrets.
XIII. Even though she’s older and taller, I always win our fights because she bites her nails and therefore can’t scratch.
A. After one bad fight, I leave red scratch marks all over her cheek. They are still there by the time we go to school the next day.
B. During another fight, I pull on her necklace. It snaps off and the beads roll all over the kitchen floor. My sister begins to sob; she loves the necklace. I feel a guilt that I can’t express so I run into another room.
C. “That really happened?” she asks. “What did the necklace look like? I don’t remember that at all.”
Nora Newhouse is a massage therapist based in New York City. Her work has been published in Rookie Magazine and is forthcoming in Atticus Review.