Two Sisters

Helen Rubinstein


Two sisters, walking down the street, crying, run into two sisters, walking down the street, laughing. The first two have just had a giant fight. Neither has anything more to say on the subject. Previously 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), but now they have somewhere to be and so must cry in public, side by side, unspeaking. They share but 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), because each blames the other, and this same fight happens every time. The younger will return to her city and the older will be left alone with the stink of the whole thing in her kitchen and especially on her cheddar cheese. They won't speak again for months. The cheddar will darken and become hard.

But first, on the sidewalk, in just a moment, they'll 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 from underprivileged backgrounds. You didn't know about that one? 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 first 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, two book deals, an additional full year of age, 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 appear as they contort their features into an appropriate reflection of hello. Now it's where are you from and how about you (for the laughing younger too is only weekending in town) and where are you going and how about you; 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.


Now, you must have 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. 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 waddled to the lake—unusually blue, unusually bright—and lay on its shore, in the crisp cold-snapped grass, until their cheeks were flushed numb. There were pelicans and flocks of gulls; the wind made their eyes water; they used a cell phone to photograph the older sister under layers of their parents' fuzzy sweaters and scarves, then the younger looking alien in her blue hood, but the battery soon froze and the p.o.s. couldn't be revived. Have you ever tried to find something only by sound? Me, neither.


Two sisters live far apart and speak on the phone. Correction: they try to. Correction: the older sister tries. She dials and listens to it ring, leaves another pathetic message the younger won't hear for weeks (Who checks voicemail? she'll ask, using the nickname she inadvertently created when she was a baby and couldn't properly pronounce the older's name, e.g., Who checks voicemail, Beezus?); the older sends a text and tries not to feel so pathetic.

Two sisters live next door to each other and share a wi-fi connection. Or 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. The vast majority of their bandwidth goes toward the younger's 30 Rock marathons and late-night video-chats with her boyfriend; a much smaller portion is used when the older YouTubes "Man in the Mirror," an event dependent on her menstrual cycle and therefore infrequent. The two sisters look forward to using the money they've saved via this arrangement for a yearly dinner out. If wireless internet costs $30 per month per household, resulting in a $15 per month savings per sister, which restaurant should they choose?

Two sisters lose each other playing tag in a field of tall grass where once there was corn. Because they are badgers, 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. But it takes a long time. Gloria? she yells. Gloria? Because they are drawn in pencil, because they are characters in a story for children, because this is a lesson on what to do when you are lost, Frances finds Gloria; when at last they make it home, they share a plate of bread and jam.