Hasty Words

The sisters sit alone in the living room, their age-bent backs to each other. The windows are open but even the crickets and cicadas have stopped their chatter, afraid of attracting the wrath of the women inside. The guests have left unnoticed, sneaking away into the night, one of them chastised almost to tears for bringing up the decades old feud.  “I didn’t know!” she cries to her companions, “Why didn’t you warn me?”

The sisters have hacked and slashed at each other for hours now, their mouths dry and throats raw from prolonged discussion. They’ve revisited every battle except one.  The first one.  There is only the last part of the argument to get through now.  But who will begin?

The elder sister lost the most in the event, the details of which are fuzzy nearly fifty years later. But she recalls her patient, thoughtful course of action, all her careful plans, ruined by her sister’s hasty derailment.

The younger sister never apologized.  Her decision to ‘derail’ her sisters hopes, while made in haste, she never regretted.

The elder opens her mouth, tired, wanting to sleep, about to speak the final words and end the argument, the same way it ended so many times before, when the younger holds up a hand.

“You were twenty and beautiful,” the younger says, in a hoarse whisper. “Your life was like a perfect fairy tale, and you were engaged to your Prince Charming.”

The elder turns to face her sister.  This is something new.

“But you teased him so mercilessly. He banged through the screen door that last night, angry, frustrated.  I don’t think he saw me at first, curled up on the porch swing, he started to light a cigarette and we both heard you laugh. It was a cruel laugh.”

The younger’s eyes meet her sister’s briefly. “I saw his face in the light of his match. I saw the anger change to rage.  It scared me.  No.  No, scared is not right.  The look on his face changed something in me.  I changed.  He dropped the match and the cigarette, I saw his hands turn into fists, and he took a step to the door.  I jumped into his path.  I didn’t think, I just acted. Pure instinct. I acted without all the careful consideration that you pride yourself on, sister.”  The last word flecks her lips with spittle.

“He certainty didn’t think when he yanked me by the hair and threw me to the ground.  The back of my head hit the corner of the swing, not enough to bleed, but it dazed me for a moment.  He took another step towards the door, and I think I grabbed his ankle, I’m not sure. He kicked at or stomped on my hand. He broke three of my fingers. I told our mother I fell off the porch. I was sixteen and clumsy.”

The elder sister folds her hands tightly in her lap to stop their trembling.  Her memories shift in her mind and come into focus.  The secret sense of relief she felt when he called off the engagement resurges.

“I held on,” the younger continues, “I could not let him enter the house.  Somehow I knew that he would never really hurt me.  He didn’t care enough about me to go that far.  But you… I knew that if you went on with your plan, that if you married this man with all his wealth and beauty, that somehow, he would kill you.  I knew it in the instant he heard your laugh.”

“There was no time to think it through.  I told him, while I lie there on the porch clutching his leg, I told him I would scream.  I told him I would tell the world he tried to rape me.  I told him to leave, to call off the engagement.  I held my mangled hand in the light from the door and told him to never come back.”

The elder sister clears her throat, “He told me you said I wasn’t a virgin. Why…” The question, asked a hundred times before, has to change now, “Why did he say that?”

The younger sister hears the change and meet’s the other’s eyes, holding steady. “He said he needed a reason to end it.  I told him to blame me.”

“You could have told me the truth.”

“You wouldn’t have believed me.”

The elder sits in silence, absorbing the new truths.

Eventually, she sighs and rises slowly, carefully from her chair. Her younger sister stands as well, and they help each other towards the back of the house.

Before they separate, the elder touches the younger lightly on the cheek. “It is good to know,” she says.

The crickets and cicadas resume their chorus. The argument is over.  It is time for bed.


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