In one story, the two sisters were an olive at the bottom of a dirty martini
and were clipped in two by a set of large teeth.
One sister was the top half of the olive. She imagined herself in the mouth of the old man she was in love with. The other sister, the bottom half, was trapped under the tongue until she slipped out as the large mouth took the shape of laughter. There was something just right about the way she moved in his mouth and she knew he was probably thinking about it right then, whoever he was, and thinking about that made her think of the old man she was in love with and how much easier it would be to keep the whole thing a secret, now that she and her sister were free of one another.
It was at the precise moment she was having these thoughts that the top half of the olive came sliding over the bridge of the large mouth’s tongue and fell into her sister. The two of them were pushed back between the set of large teeth. The teeth came down and the sisters were mashed beyond recognition, swirled back and scattered on either side of the gums before the tongue did a twirling number and grouped the bulk of them back in one place. Then they were swallowed.
They came apart as they moved down the throat of the man who wasn’t the man they were in love with but who made them both think of that man, and they came together again in a mucous-thick canal, which steadily drew them together toward the stomach. They were sore and cursed one another and wished more than anything that they were back in the jar where they’d been less than an hour ago, back when they were together and felt they could never be apart.
They reached the stomach, and were digested. They were spread thinner than they could have imagined, but they found each other again. Rather they were forced back together, neither one knowing quite what to do with herself or what was happening, but both feeling very tired and resigned to this new torture that was now their lives.
They were forced together in a new moist environment and they settled there for a moment, and rested. Things weren’t perfect, but they were still. And that was a place to start.
One turned toward the other quite suddenly, opened her mouth as if she were about to speak, but the water around them shifted. They were pressed closer together, too close for comfort, and the sisters, scattered as they were, thin as they were spread, started arguing for the first time in as long as they could remember. They argued and cursed but it did no good because the water around them only continued to be drawn away and they were only pressed closer together.
Then they were inched along. Slowly at first, and then with some speed. They were squeezed more tightly than if they’d been made entirely of the same material and after a moment of complete darkness, they emerged into a great bright space. They were flying, and then they sank.
Water held them, worked its way between them. They clung to one another then, but the water was relentless in its soft separation. They buoyed once, gasped for air, and were flushed.
The whirlpool took them somewhere wonderful and strange beyond the capability of most to imagine. It was vast and dark and full of strange, sudden sounds. They looked to one another, but recognized hardly anything of the other’s face. Ad yet what they found most shocking – other than the physical abuse, the unsettling shifts of reality – was that they had each forgotten the man they’d been in love with. As they were slowly spread apart from one another, melting away to only a trace of what had been, their thoughts drifted from this to that, but rarely to him. And when it finally came out, when one casually let his name fall at a moment when there was too little left of either of them to amount to any noticeable trace of what they had been, neither seemed to pay it much mind. The name slipped out, and they dissolved until there was nothing left.
In one story, the two sisters had a dozen children between them.
The children were from two different men, brothers actually. But it had been so long since the sisters had seen either brother, their memories of the two men had fused into one collective entity.
That man wouldn’t raise a finger to stop the world from falling, one sister said.
He had five children to replace each of his senses, and the final one to take the place of his governing mind, the other agreed.
The sisters didn’t care much for these children. One sister named each of her children Lyle, even the two girls. The other sister named each of her children after one of the apostles, but immediately after began referring to each as that one.
Tell that one to stop yelling at that one before that one wakes up and starts howling.
The sisters weren’t hateful, just disinterested. They let the children run free most of the time, explore the woods and streams around their small country home. The twelve children learned to fend for themselves. They knew the surrounding area like a team of scouts. They figured out elaborate pulley systems and took a tree down with a few ropes, some sharp wood and some scrap metal. Out of the tree they made chairs, a table and walls for a fort. They tangled the branches and made a decent roof. Every now and then, when it was warm enough, they were made to sleep outside, and so they’d built a place entirely for themselves. The older set soon realized they would eat better if they hunted, rather than relying on the gruelish meals their mothers prepared. So the children saved what food they were given and used it for bait. They ate rabbits, squirrels, birds, whatever they could catch.
One day the eldest Lyle discovered the uneaten carcass of an enormous blackbird. With his pinky finger, he scooped the maggots from their canals. He plucked the feathers from the body, pinched ants from its sunken chest. He cooked the thing over a spit, half a mile or so from home. He offered bite after bite to the other Lyles as they watched. That One and That One watched him too, but none would eat the mess, even roasted.
That night, the eldest Lyle threw up in the living room. He threw up in the sink. The two sisters put him out back and he spent the night alone, sleeping on the porch right outside the door, alive with fever dreams and sweating up a thick film along his arms and legs and chest. In the morning, they found him at the very top of an old oak tree. Nothing anyone said could get him down. The two sisters yelled,
Come down this instant, and he squawked like a bird.
One of the Lyles threw a rock and hit the eldest Lyle in the leg. He moved farther up into the thinner branches of the tree. One sister scolded the rock thrower while the other cooed at the eldest Lyle,
Come down this instant, Sweetie.
He did not come down. Finally, one of the middle Lyles stepped forward.
You best come down, he said. You best come down because Mom didn’t tell us the full story of that tree and I read the full story from one of the books on the shelf.
None of the children had paid much attention to the single shelf of books installed above the family fireplace. The eldest children had shown no interest in reading or learning to read, and the younger children had followed in their footsteps.
And that tree is a haunted tree and we’ve been living our whole lives right next to it, climbing it without even sensing its being haunted. But it’s a man-eater, they say. That’s the way the book put it. It will open itself up and swallow a man or a boy whole. Zip up its mouth like a set of blue jeans and the man or boy will drown in the aging wood.
The eldest Lyle shouted down,
is that true?
The other Lyle nodded slowly, with assurance.
The eldest Lyle climbed down from the tree and asked what they had to eat. He’d thrown up the roasted bird all night and was sick all over and feeling weak. The two sisters took turns lecturing him and scolding him and reminding him how much trouble he’d put himself and the rest of them in and by the end he wasn’t hungry anymore.
That same storytelling Lyle is now the town’s own Lyle Garrity, soon to be mayor. And people whisper, as Lyle Garrity descends the stairs at the podium, wiping away sweat with a silk handkerchief, having laid them all bare with one of his mighty pre-elections speeches, they whisper,
He’s got the gift, that one. He could talk a sick bird out of a tree and into being his own brother.
In one story, the two sisters shared a keyhole.
It was undeniable, they decided, that there was something on the other side of the door. The door was locked, had been for as long as they could remember. It was made of thick wood, and neither of them had the strength to bring it down. So they kept watch. One sister got the morning hours. Her eyes were weaker and, when the light failed in the afternoons, she had trouble seeing. The better-sighted sister kept watch from noon until dark. But she often stayed up later, her eye affixed to the tiny shot of darkness there at the door. They were each confident they had seen something moving on the other side. One described it as a dark figure, hairless and shifting like a shadow. The other had seen what could have only been a man’s hand.
No man could live in there for that long, the sorry-eyed sister said.
But what if he leaves while we’re at the market, asked her sister. Or at night? If he found times to leave, he could live in there for as long as we can live out here.
The skeptical, better-sighted sister said,
We would hear him.
She watched for him, nonetheless. She woke up as early as she could, while her better-sighted sister was still asleep, tired from staring into the dark keyhole late into the night. The sorry-sighted sister would sneak to the keyhole and stare. One eye shut, one eye stuck to the cool frame of their unknown.
One morning she whispered into the hole.
If you’re in there, she said, you can come out. We won’t hurt you.
There was no response.
If you want, I can bring you food, she whispered. Then, I think I’m in love with you.
Nothing. She had trouble turning the keyhole over to her sister that afternoon. Some part of her was sure if she remained just a moment longer, he would say something back. But the rules were the rules, and neither wanted things to get nasty. They were eating less and less, each spending more and more time at the keyhole. The sorry-sighted sister woke at 3:30 each morning and saw the sunrise behind her in its illumination of the keyhole. First the gilded shape of the hole lit up, and then its shadowy contents. Somewhere inside there was a table…or a tall chair. There was a length of wood anyway. The floor shone too. It must have been hardwood.
The better-sighted sister sometimes fell asleep with her face pressed to the keyhole. If the house shifted, her one eye shot open, surveying the darkness on the other side. She rarely fell back asleep.
Nearly five days passed and neither sister left the house. They paced the kitchen, the perimeter of the living room, waiting for their turn at the door. The sorry-sighted sister still whispered. All morning, all the day through.
I imagine you’re a kind man, she said. I imagine you’ve got a good thing going in there and don’t want to disturb us, and I appreciate that. We’re happy and don’t need any complications. But you’ve got us all tied up in knots out here. I’m not saying it’s your fault, but your mystery has a kind of gravity to it. You could be the worst or the best man in the world, I’m in love with your shape.
She ran her thin finger around the arc and the base of the keyhole. Nothing. The next morning she began by singing softly into the keyhole, a song about pigeons and cloth and ribbons wrapping around the shape of each new thing as it passes through to some holy space where maybe they could go and forget all of this, this whole mystery of waiting and darkness and burning eyes and lonely hearts. She was exhausted. She was hungry. Her better-sighted sister was asleep, leaning against the wall across from her. The keyhole was warm with the sorry-sighted sister’s face. The wood of the door was soft against her cheek. A voice said,
Please, it said. Go to sleep. Go to the market. You’re killing me.
The sorry-sighted sister looked behind her to make sure her better-sighted sister was still asleep. She was snoring softly, slumped chin to chest, her knees locked and her body still.
Open the door, she whispered. I’ll feed you. I’ll give you water. Come out and see us. I knew you were there all along. I just knew it and…it makes me very happy that you’re talking to me finally and…she was raising her voice and had to cut herself off before she woke her sister who might scare the voice off with how excited she’d be.
Please, it said. Life is very hard in here. You’ve got to understand.
She did understand. She really did. Life was not easy for her either. Her sister was very demanding and even cruel sometimes. They were alone most of the time. They didn’t eat well, they never had. She didn’t like hard work. She didn’t like the walk to town. It was lonely and the people in town were so complicated and cruel too. She did not like life outside the house and she did not like life inside the house. She liked the feelings that her thoughts about the keyhole gave her. Daydreaming was a perfect blanket and a set of hands. But now they were spending all day and all night in the house, afraid to leave, too excited to leave, their faces pressed to the keyhole hour after hour.
I’ve been waiting for you, she said.
Please, said the voice, leave.
Open the door, she said. Open it and come out and let me see what I’ve been waiting for.
I can’t, said the voice.
Why, she asked.
She rattled the knob. She leaned away from the keyhole and rattled it again with both hands.
Please don’t do this, said the voice.
Please don’t do this, she said back.
She rattled the knob. She kicked the door at its base.
Her sister’s eyes opened.
Come out! The sorry-sighted sister was yelling now.
What’s going on, asked her better-sighted sister.
The sorry-sighted sister left the room. She came back with the rusted axe they’d used for chopping wood nearly fifteen years before. With the inhuman strength of a madman she plunged the axe into the door.
You come out and I will feed you and give you your water.
She dug the axe out, plunged it again into the meat of the door. Again, she plunged, using her whole body, her arms, her legs, her back. Her hair came loose from its ties and whipped alongside the axe as she plunged it once again. And once more before the bulk of the door gave way and daylight from the open room matched that of the living room to hold them in a swathe of dusty beams. She let fall the axe. Her sister came to her side. Their hands came together, and they waited.
About the author:
Colin Winnette is a writer and performer living in Chicago, IL. His first novel, REVELATION, is forthcoming with Mutable Sound Press (November 2011). He was a finalist for the 1913 First Book Award, judged by Fanny Howe, and is a current nominee for the Pushcart Prize for fiction. More information and links to more work can be found at colinwinnette.com.