Hair and Flesh
Our tiny stomachs wriggled back and forth on the snowiest day of the year. My mother held our hands and dragged us through the living room to the kitchen to the dining room and back to the old beaten couch where we started. Like the slaves! She shouted. The slaves who wore weights on their ankles that made them slide.
Snow concealed our front yard beneath weak white mountains. The dogs barked at sinewy plows armoring themselves against the gale, searching for black pavement, the skin of a polar bear. A plowman bit into a frozen egg sandwich with chafing hands. No one was going to school.
My mother amped up the heat in the house to eighty-six degrees and our long hair melded to our backs. She called us brujitas when our father wasn’t listening. Little witches.
When we were younger, my sister and I looked so much alike that strangers could barely tell us apart by the length of our legs. Pinki took up the job of speaking for me when there was something to be said: Tata wants water. Tata wants a nap. She hardly requested anything for herself; instead, she would redirect what she wanted to me.
A friend of my mother’s advised her to stop dressing us the same since my sister was not developing a proper sense of herself. Conversely, my uncle’s wife dragged us aside and told us we were meant to be born twins but I took too long to gestate and so my sister, the braver, ventured on without me.
You were born two hands of the same body; you need one to grasp the other.
We thought she was crazy but when you’re young, you can’t ask your mother what’s real bruja shit and what’s not.
When my sister was fifteen she won a scholarship to Belford, an elite academy upstate. I had never heard of it until our house started swimming in pamphlets; pictures of girls wearing plaid knee length skirts, carrying big books and smiling, laughing, leaning into each other like a malformed plant.
We grow girl-plants, here at Belford. Girl-plants that eat and drink and bleed together. We grow girl-plants so tall that they don’t know how tall they are until they tower over you, then we clip ‘em, light ‘em, smoke ‘em, and blow rings of girl-plant air.
I teased her about it ruthlessly. Are you a lesbian? Is that why you’re going to Belford, to wear a long ass skirt so you don’t have to shave your legs and hide away from boys?
It angered her more because it was a word she had taught me, lesbian, right after we had met Titi Gladys’ best friend Ouilda at her birthday party. My sister no longer spoke for me and in the meantime, I had a developed a mouth that ran wild and amuck.
Her door was shut all the time. I had to pass by it to get to my own, so I had to stare at its ugly face and wonder what she was hacking away at inside. Back in the day, we used to trickle into each other’s rooms like rain drops. I would steal paper from the top of her desk or she fell asleep on my bed. We spoke of forming one enormous apartment where we could fit a treadmill and a kitchenette and a human hamster wheel, living together autonomously. Now, it was as if her room had floated away and left a fat gaping lesbian hole in our house.
A week before she left, we threw her a goodbye party. Or a congratulations party because my mother kept tearing up at the word goodbye. She patted down the hair on my sister’s head, pressed her close, and hollered: see you later, see you later. My sister acquiesced because she knew what it meant, no matter how much it fucked up her hair.
A party with a big bulky banner that said Congratulations, Pinki! Pinki because her skin was flush and royal. Tata because my head was shaped like a potato.
There was ropa vieja, sorullitos, mofongo, arroz con leche, and two meager salads sloshed with wet tomatoes and iceberg lettuce torn apart from its unfortunate core. My father pitched a tent to cover us from impending rain; the forecast was rocky but there was no rain, only wetness hanging in the air. Two speakers linked up to an iPod. and a long table with white chairs and a blue balloon knotted around each one.
My mom smoothed out her teal dress with ravenous animal paws. My father flipped burgers on the grill. My sister and I fished watermelon rinds out of the garbage and wore them like hats.
Pinki came back to visit three times a year: Thanksgiving, Christmas, and two months in the summer. The first November, she started looking different; her skin was clearer and her hair was neatly braided. In December, she cut her hair so short there wasn’t even enough to braid. During the summer, her shirt covered her entire belly and she wouldn’t even tie it up enough to let her stomach breathe.
Sometimes, she would give me a hint of her older self, scaring me in the shower or feeding the dog under the table. She called me by my ancient nicknames: stupid or fea or fatty. She called me those things as easily as she listed the names of her new favorite authors: Calvino or Emerson or Nabokov.
She was really pushing it with Nabokov.
Not everything is magic. Not everything is witchcraft. Not everything is dreaming and thinking that it will happen. There is no no matter what. You can’t just luck into everything, Tata. Sometimes, it takes work. Scratch that. It always takes work.
My sister has hit me with inanities for over a decade. What do you want? What excites you? Where’s your ambition? She lays her own out for me like a deck of cards:
I am due for a promotion in February. If I don’t get it, then I will write my boss a letter stating that I will have to move on from the company if I don’t receive a promotion in the following five months. Prithik is probably going back to graduate school to become a business person. He will open up a business person business someday, probably something that occurs only on the business internet. We will have at least two children but no more than three. We will vacation in Europe. I will grow old and wear big flouncy hats and be able to afford more than my fair share of Prosecco, suck a dick suck a dick suck a dick what’s yours?
For well over a decade, my stomach has jerked at this question. It makes me sick. It gives me a migraine. It turns me into a real crab.
She folds her hands: You have to face the truth sometime. You can’t play games forever.
The truth about what, Pinki? Days come and go and I like to watch the colors of their passing.
There was one evening during a few summers ago, when I snuck into my sister’s room and woke her up. She rolled onto her side as if she had only been in shallow sleep anyway and murmured: what’s up? The night felt young and purple, the kind of night we could trace each other clearly beneath the lolling moon.
We ambled in pajama pants and camisoles to the center of town, our hair pulled into messy buns and our faces red and shiny. I look like shit, she joked. It didn’t matter; the joke was made for the sake of filling space, same as she made her plans and her presumptions. In our hometown, a car hardly drove past, everyone retired to their minimansions at nine and left the place to ghosts. The paper in the trash cans, the rainwater running into the sewer, the wind behind the flagpole.
I led her into the central parking lot where not a car was to be found, only the faded lights of napping storefronts and a lonely fence that divided the lot into two segments. I told her to hang back while I hopped the gate stirrup by stirrup, climbed on top of the dew-covered dumpster, and returned moments later with three leftover boxes of pizza the shop lay on top if they had extra by the end of the night.
A smile bloomed across her face; she bit into a cold, unctuous slice and rolled up her pajamas to free her sweating ankles: who teaches you these fucking tricks, patata?
Julia Mendoza Friedman is a writer/filmmaker from Lexington, MA. Her work has previously been published in Pacifica Literary Magazine and Juxtaprose Magazine. Her short film “Portrait of an American Woman/Dreams of Productivity” screened at LA Femme Festival and Broad Humor Film Festival. Julia currently lives in Brooklyn with her fat cat and works on the HBO Show, High Maintenance.