If you don't understand how a woman could both love her sister dearly and want to wring her neck at the same time, then you were probably an only child.
-- Linda Sunshine
We had left the house in haste, afraid that a moment's hesitation would make it too easy to back out; we had plans . I hadn't been to Bonita Fest -- an annual community festival and crafts fair -- since I was a junior at Bonita Vista High, but I had told my mother a month ago I would join her on this outing. It was only natural that Jane would want to come along; our younger sister, Jenny, who had "nothing else to do," was a welcome last-minute addition. As is the case with siblings, my sisters and I often forget how easy it is to regress into the familiar roles of childhood. Regardless of how old we may be or how mature we think we have become, we are still sisters with an antagonistic tendency to fuck with each other's heads.
"Hey, Jenny ," Jane said in a taunting tone of voice. " Jenny , you watch Jeopardy! ? Huh?"
"Knock it off, Jane," Jenny snapped.
"What? You don't like Jeopardy! ? Do you watch it? Jenny ?"
"Very funny. Can you just drop it?"
I quickly learned from a grinning Jane that one of the recent answers revealed on Jeopardy! was something like, "The term for a female jackass," for which the correct question was, "What is a 'jenny?'"
She was annoyed, but I detected a faint smile on Jenny's lips. I was relieved to see it. Everything is copacetic until somebody loses her cool -- after that, there's no telling how much long-term damage might be done. Jenny and I have been known to rehash arguments we had in elementary school.
"Speaking of television, did you see 20/20 ?" Jenny asked, deftly changing the subject. Jane had, I hadn't, so the two of them gave me a brief synopsis, which came in the form of a barrage of fragmented sentences, interrupted and elaborated upon.
"A woman's brain shrinks eight percent when she's pregnant--" Jenny began.
"Yeah, and you're more aware of things around you; your eyes are always moving because you're extra protective of your kids, like I was with Bella, and like I am now."
"Jane, you're always like that," I said. "You're the most distracted person I know."
"Right. Anyway," Jenny continued, "I thought the brain would just keep diminishing with each pregnancy, you know, like with Mom, but I guess it grows back six months after the woman gives birth."
"I could kill someone and not think twice if they raised a finger at Bella," Jane added, with a crazy gleam in her eye. "I really could; you have this savage protective instinct--"
"Jane's not a good example," said Jenny. "Now, a normal woman-- Ow ! You don't have to hit me."
"Come on, let's go! The boys are dressed, out the door, quick!" my mother shouted from the other room.
It was chilly and gray when we piled into the minivan, but by the time we found a parking spot, the sun had burned away the cool haze. Having donned sweaters and dismissed the notion of sunscreen back at the house, we were promptly baked. As we descended the long hill that led us into the center of the chaos, the warm, heavy air delivered to our noses the sweet aroma of sugar-drenched fried dough, cotton candy, and popcorn, mingled with the pungent salty scent of sausage and onions.
The children -- Jane's daughter Bella (3) and our temporarily absent sister Heather's sons, Liam and Brian (4 and 2, respectively) -- were calm, for now. More intent on watching people than browsing the many booths, Jenny and I split off from the stroller-pushers. We didn't get very far ahead of them, though -- I was hindered by two layers of stitches, about 24 in all on my backside, the result of the great "mole-removal surgery" that has inspired David to call me "Franken-ass."
An hour and a half of festival seemed to be the limit. Two of the three children had passed out in their strollers and the third's incessant whining caused a chafing sensation in my ears. We were all hungry, tired, and overheated.
"Can we walk a little faster? Let's go ," ordered Jenny.
"I need to stop at the drugstore on the way home," said Jane.
"Why? What for? We need to go ; I'm supposed to meet up with Brad. Come on !"
"Why? Well, for Preparation H, Jenny . For you , because you're a hemorrhoid! " Jane taunted.
"That's right. You're a sensitive, itchy, and inflammatory pain in the ass. You're a hemorrhoid, and we're going to get some Prep for you -- H. " Jane smiled, pleased with her clever, inarguable taunt.
"You're sick in the head," said Jenny.
"Whatever, H ... Roid ... Jenny ."
In the car on the way home, things got loud. Mom drove, I rode shotgun, and Jane, Jenny, and Bella were in the back row, the two boys in front of them. Brian wailed the miserable tune of an over-stimulated two-year-old. In an attempt to soothe him, my mother laid down a high-pitched layer of words over the child's cries: "Brian! Look, Brian! There's a lady on a bicycle. Oh, I hope the lady on the bicycle isn't going to fall! Brian, look! Let's watch and make sure she doesn't fall!" The mechanical voice of Buzz Lightyear cut in every three seconds as Liam obsessively pressed the toy's buttons: Targeting visor, check!... To infinity and beyond!... How dare you open a spaceman's helmet on an uncharted planet! As a sort of flourish to this clamorous symphony, Jane sang "Afternoon Delight" in Jenny's ear, teasing her because she was in a hurry to meet up with her boyfriend. I was sure my head would pop. To avoid messing the car with my exploded brain, I held it together by pressing my index fingers hard against my ears.
When I arrived home, I was stunned by the sweet silence that greeted me, as though I had finally found the "mute" button of life's remote -- even David was quiet, offering a reposeful smile when I walked in the door. Then the phone rang.
"Yo," said Jane. "Guess what?" She sounded excited. "I just sang the entire song, every word, of 'Afternoon Delight,' on Jenny's voicemail!" We both laughed, imagining Jenny's face as she listened to the solo.
Jane has always been good at thinking up seemingly innocuous tortures for her younger sisters. One year she managed to persuade Jenny (the only blonde in our family) that she was adopted, while simultaneously convincing me that I originally had blonde hair but that, since I was born "unconventionally" (from my mother's rectum during a bowel movement), my hair was forever stained brown. Now that we're old enough to know better, the three of us do our best to get back at our eldest sister.
"I'm gonna call Mom while I do the dishes," Jane informed me. Talking on the phone is how Jane copes with tedious tasks, like doing the dishes, folding laundry, or driving.
"But I was just going to call her," I teased. She took the bait.
"No, don't, I want to do the dishes now . Don't call for like 20 minutes."
"I'm gonna call in ten. Better yet, I'll call in five, that way you'll just be getting into your conversation," I said, smiling.
"I'll hurt you," Jane warned.
"Right, first you gotta catch me, prego."
"I'll kick you in your ass . Right in the stitches ," she threatened.
"Bitch. I'm dialing her on my cell phone right now--"
I chuckled when she disconnected the call, picturing her frantically keying Mom's number into her phone. I stared at my cell phone for a moment and then dialed.
"Hey, Jenny ," I said. "Have you checked your messages?"