Sisters Trout by Helen Rubinstein

First they were crying in the two separate rooms of the older’s apartment, the younger noisily and quickly getting it out, the older silently and shamefully weeping. Now they have somewhere to be and so they cry while they walk, side by side, unspeaking. They share and don’t share a certain seasickness about the outcome of their weekend, into which has gone a fair amount of effort: travel, coordination, dollars, the sunny heft of expectations, such as the omelet the younger had promised to cook, and the cheese the older had sworn would be so good. (This same fight happens every time.) The cheddar will darken and become hard.

But first, on the sidewalk, in just a moment, they run into two sisters who have just shared a joke—a lovely, well-groomed joke with fine arm muscles—on their way home from the farmer’s market that is run by high school students. These two sisters have pert posture and freshly washed faces, and I’m not sure it’s relevant but I’ll tell you anyway that this older sister, who happens to share a name and a city block and a handful of friends with that other older sister, also possesses exactly the things the crying elder most desires: a dark-haired husband, a bright clean apartment, and a nearly ridiculous degree of conviction about her position in life. Smiling, and from a distance where she surely can’t discern their tears, the older laughing sister waves (her other hand steers a granny cart full of leafy and charmingly imperfect vegetables) to the older who is crying, and we can only imagine how the two who are crying contort their features into an appropriate reflection of hello. Now it’s where are you from to the younger who is crying, and how about you to the younger who laughs; and where are you two going and how about you and what beautiful chard!!; and it’s natural, it makes perfect sense, that the two laughing sisters are on their way home, while the two who are crying have just begun their trip out.

*****

Hey. One sister lives on Calliope Street. The other lives in a correctional institute. Or one lives on Carondelet at Carrollton in a multicolored mansion with original woodwork; the other lives in a pretty pink shotgun with a cat named Blue. How about one sister knows the band behind every car commercial, the other sister is anti-consumerism, one sister gets take-out, one doctors old envelopes for re-use, one sister is a sexy dancer, one sister is a silly dancer, one sister sheds twenties, one sister keeps receipts, one has drier skin, one has ranker farts, one has fetid feet, one has curly kinked hair, one’s hair is straight, one hates when the other sings along, one really loves to sing along. One sister idolizes her sister, one sister longs for her sister, one sister wishes to be like her sister, one sister wishes to be closer to her sister. One sister gets off the subway and one sister walks to meet her; one sister is wearing heels and one sister is wearing an outfit their mother would call a joke; two sisters wave at each other, two sisters mirror each other’s fake-fake-glee (it’s real), two sisters wish they were more like the other (her hair!), two sisters let go their suitcases in the slushy snow.

*****

Have you heard about the cold snap? The one in the city where it never gets cold? The one in the city where instead the wetness seeps into your down coat, flattening it with an earthy chill? No? The one during the year of heat waves, dull grass in February and everything melting—“Oh, snap!”—you know the one I mean. I swear newscasters proclaimed pets pipes plants people four to protect. Baby palm trees were swaddled in pink. The younger sister’s ankle was not quite broken but on some late-night Jack-and-Jill hill had twisted: she went around in a flat-soled boot and wore the older’s old blue sleeping bag of a coat. Together they hobbled to the lake—unnaturally blue, unnaturally bright—and lay on its shore until their cheeks were flushed numb. There were pelicans and flocks of gulls. Caw! Have you ever tried to find something only by sound? asked one sister. They closed their eyes. Caw.

Two sisters lose each other playing tag in a field of tall grass where once there was corn. Because they are badgers, because the grass reaches far above their heads, the younger one yelps in fear. The older calls out, Stay there, don’t move, I’ll find you. The younger sister doesn’t move. Because they are drawn in pencil, because they are badgers in a story for children, because this is a lesson on what to do if you are lost.

 

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