I thought I loved you but on second thought maybe it was just a case of bad gas. That’s what my sister would have said. She would have looked me square in the eye and said, “Sadie, you’re not in love. You’re just sick.” And you know what? She would have been right.

But what kind of sick? There’s a difference between a cold and a busted hip. A headache and a tumor in the brain. Heartsick is when your heart is squeezed so tight your stomach has to take over. That’s what my sister said when our mother left and I came down with the flu and threw up all night. “This is a good thing, Sadie,” she told me with my head in the toilet. “You have to get all the bad stuff out.”

No, I don’t love you. When I think of love I think of my sister on a wooden picnic bench cutting in our initials with a stolen penknife. I think of the knife’s dull blade. Even when my sister hated me, even with my sister gone now, too, there is that bench somewhere. There is an S + T.

I don’t not love you, though. Maybe someday you will see this as a kind of gift. If I loved you, if I hated you, now that’s two sides of the same coin. What you really want is to be something I can’t spend. “What I really want,” my sister said around the needle cap between her teeth, “is for you to get the fuck away.”

Years ago, my sister took me behind the house and made me help her dig a hole. I was five and she was eight. We dug for hours, until the hole fit us both, until we scraped down to the hard-packed clay and couldn’t dig anymore. She scrambled out and when I couldn’t follow, told me to wait. Then she left. I waited a long time. It was cold at dusk. There were worms. I cried because I thought I’d be buried alive or worse, forgotten.

I never worried about being forgotten by you. Some would say, “There. Love.” Like pointing at X on a map. But I don’t know. The feeling when my sister came back with a rope, that looks more like an X.

There is her hand, for one thing. There is the rope crossing over it on its way to me.

8 Comments

  1. Janelle Greco

    What an amazing, lovely portrayal of two sisters who love each other and the comparison between that love and romantic love. I got hooked right away in the opening paragraph and then the ending was just…beautiful. I get snagged a bit on the fourth paragraph. I think it’s because when the narrator says “If I loved you, if I hated you, now that’s two sides of the same coin.” I want to know a bit more what the narrator means here. Maybe another line or two, and the sentence “What you really want is to be something I can’t spend” packs more of a punch. This is really a well-wrought piece though that I think could be submitted quite soon. That last full paragraph and those last two lines really did it for me. Those are words that stick. Nice work!

  2. Bud Smith

    This is such a lovely portrait of two sisters and when she comes back at the end of the story with the rope, I was cheering like the entire earth had been saved. Sometimes it’s so hard to be one’s own self let alone being a sibling to another individual and this story was a very powerful look into what it means to be connected to someone by blood and how that is so much more meaningful than being connected to someone else just by virtue of the heart. You said it yourself, “But what kind of sick? There’s a difference between a cold and a busted hip. A headache and a tumor in the brain. Heartsick is when your heart is squeezed so tight your stomach has to take over. That’s what my sister said when our mother left and I came down with the flu and threw up all night. “This is a good thing, Sadie,” she told me with my head in the toilet. “You have to get all the bad stuff out.”

    I am going to think about this story for a long time. If you wanted to explore this story a little deeper I could see something happening in the continuation where the narrator tries to reconnect with the person that are heartsick over and they can’t get in touch with that person anymore (maybe they’ve been blocked on the telephone and on social media) so they reach out to the lover’s family and a disgruntled brother tells the narrator why she shouldn’t bother with the brother and what it’s like being related to him and how horrible it is and stay away — or better yet, maybe she wants to go on a date with the guy’s brother or something. Just some way to keep the family motif going but to see it from the other side of the coin

    Great work here!

  3. Taylor Grieshober

    Oh Sam!
    So many beautiful, evocative lines/moments here.
    I was especially struck by:
    “What I really want,” my sister said around the needle cap between her teeth, “is for you to get the fuck away.”
    I cried because I thought I’d be buried alive or worse, forgotten.
    There is her hand, for one thing. There is the rope crossing over it on its way to me.
    There’s a solemness here but also a warm comfort and tenderness I felt deep in my bones. What is love if not setting boundaries, immortalizing, a cool hand on the back when you’re sick, digging down to the roots with someone? This piece feels like a sibling tribute, a carving in wood that says this is how we loved. What a pure joy it’s been to read your work all weekend! xoxo

  4. K Chiucarello

    Obsessed with the opening paragraph here. The picnic table imagery really tugged at me. It showed simultaneously how impermanent and permanent love can be — physically impermanent, forever lasting perhaps. The hole digging totally destroyed me and is seared in my brain. There’s such momentous devastation behind it and wild desperation. There’s this Anne Boyer line from Garments Against Women that I think of often: “I will tell the story like this: it appears that she refused the ladder, but in truth she refused the rope.” I think of that line a lot when I write or read stories that have to do with love and rescuing and the self and who gets to rescue who. I think the length of this is just pitch perfect and the title is absolutely spot on (I guess pun intended?). This is such a brilliant bang to end the workshop with. Thank you for sharing your work.

  5. David O'Connor

    So many good lines, the first is a real hooker, got me. I was engaged throughout and felt everything flowed, solid voice, excellent details, a pleasure to follow the inner workings of the mind while tracing sisterly love… Not sure the title does justice to how good the story is… well done and thank you!!

  6. Amy Barnes

    Such a memorable look at sister interactions. That opening paragraph grabs hold and doesn’t let go — honest, straightforward. This is an interesting narrator on her own but adding in the sister thoughts makes this so much more than a love story gone wrong. The permanence of sisters — the digging of holes, the carving of initials in park benches, the saving of a sister, the “X” that makes the sister spot.

    Those last lines, such gut punching words that are visible and invisible all at once. Powerful prose. Have loved reading your posts this weekend!

    “There is her hand, for one thing. There is the rope crossing over it on its way to me.”

  7. Martha Jackson Kaplan

    Samantha, I laughed at the first line, a clear hook. Throughout, not funny but a solid tone describing this relationship between two sisters. Well written with so many details. When the older sister left the younger in the deep hole it felt like an ominous moment, very scary. It was a relief when the rope arrived, and yet there is an ambiguity still about how the rope will be used. Love and an X. Well done.

  8. Neil Clark

    Lovely portrayal of two siblings and study of the contrast between conditional and unconditional love (my reading of it anyway)

    The first sentence made me laugh, and I feel like this line will forever stay with me – “Heartsick is when your heart is squeezed so tight your stomach has to take over.”

    Then the ending really got me – as if it was ever in doubt!

    This reminded me of my father, whose big sister looked after him as a teenager when their parents died. Absolutely loved it Samantha.

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