Storyglossia Issue 43, April 2011.

How to Tell Your Sister You Love Her

by Shannon Derby


You are walking down a dirt path in the woods behind your house on a particularly humid day, looking at the squirrels in the branches above and ignoring your sister's pleas to stop walking so fast. But you don't because it is one of those days that you wish she had never been born. You wish she had never grown into the body of a woman. You wish you did not see your neighbor, the one boy you were set on having, look at her like that. You left the house, not bothering with shoes, and she followed. So you walk as fast as you can and you don't listen to the tone of her voice. When you are not looking, she grows quiet and her pace slows to a standstill. Turn around and find her: eyes wide, wet and frantic, her cheeks beginning to flush dark hues of pink and purple. Her face looks like a sweating sunset. You run back to her, feeling guilty for walking so fast. Feeling guilty because it wasn't her fault. Feeling guilty because she can't control that she is pretty, that her hair parts smoothly on the side of her head, that she has breasts. You knew she has asthma. Why didn't you slow down? She opens her mouth and croaks like a toad, not quite breathing and unable to keep the tears from sliding down her nose and falling onto her dry, colorless lips. Her arms flail. Her head tips back as though her neck was made of string and you struggle to keep it upright in your hands. She can't breathe when her neck is stretched so taut over her trachea. You look at her and she sees the fear in your eyes and opens her mouth to say something, but if she doesn't calm down, she will get worse and the sounds of choking will come out as if an angry rattlesnake is living in her lungs or maybe a swarm of bees or locusts or a train approaching, approaching unaware of an oblivious caterpillar crossing over the tracks.

It is now that you remember what you need to do, so you pat the pockets over her hips, her butt, her right breast but you feel nothing. No inhaler. It must still be on the bathroom counter where you saw it last as you stood in front of the mirror, staring at your gangly body. You had thought about picking it up and giving it to her, but decided to leave it there. She has forgotten her inhaler and you're in the middle of the woods and you can't even see the house anymore and suddenly you are thinking this is your fault

Yell her name and hug her to your chest, all the while taking deep, exaggerated breaths so she can feel your chest rise and fall against hers. Beg her to be calm. Yell her name and tell her to breathe as you breathe, clutching her to your body, holding her perhaps a bit too tightly. But you can't let go. Inhale, expand your ribcage, exhale, let it fall until you can feel her body push against yours, taking deep, slow breaths until the croaking fades to the faint whirl of a hummingbird's wings.

Copyright©2011 Shannon Derby

Shannon Derby received her MFA from Emerson College and taught there for five years. Currently, she lives in Dublin and is pursuing a masters in Irish Writing at Trinity College. She plans to return to Boston upon completing her MPhil dissertation this fall. Her fiction has appeared in apt: a literary journal.