Anything Was Anything
When she was four, my sister Lily accidentally made clothes out of whiskey.
Uncle Dan was drinking Bushmills and water and going on about how he hated
having to press 1 for English.
“Isn’t this America?” he said, a gold, strapless cocktail
dress hanging out of his glass.
Years later, I drove to her cabin. Cicadas sang their flittering song as
I waited at the door. I had to knock three times. Lily answered in a bikini.
I asked her if she was going swimming and she just grinned vacantly. I tried
to lock the door behind me but she had turned the deadbolt into seaweed.
The letters I had sent my sister over the last few months were stacked neatly
at the center of the kitchen table, unfolded and held down by a Greek cookbook.
Lily had always been reluctant to use whatever it was she had, and was a
shut-in after she dropped out of high school, but this was different. I was
she didn’t even respond. I knew then that she wasn’t Lily anymore.
I offered to make my famous milkshakes but the ice cream was a pygmy kangaroo
and it hopped out of the blender. We used to drink them in the attic when
my parents fought. Lily was the biggest baby when she got a brain freeze.
wailed and writhed and held her head in agony. I think she did it just to
see me crack up.
The pygmy kangaroo jumped out of an open window and disappeared into the
slouching oaks that surrounded Lily’s cabin. The cicadas droned like old piping.
When Lily first knew she could change things, it pained her. She felt like
she was angering God. But if we were going hungry, she’d make food or
if Mom was short on rent, she’d take some cigarette butts and squeeze
them in her hand until they were hundred dollar bills. It made her cry.
I sat down in one of her chairs and found myself sinking in sawdust. She
control it anymore. Anything was anything and nothing was anything for long.
She had two dachshunds.
“This one used to be my ex-boyfriend, Alvin,” she said pointing to
the yapper chewing on my shoelaces.
When Lily was little she never used to smile. She smiled all the time now.
The pressure had flattened and lobotomized her. I’ll bet my family regrets
all those comparisons to Jesus now.
I asked her if she could turn my cancer into something less deadly. She smiled
like the sun was coming out.
“Lily, I need your help.”
She looked down and twiddled two sticks together, two tuning forks, two Barbies,
two dead crickets. I had lung cancer and I had never smoked. I imagined that
Lily could wave her hand and turn the growth into a tiny fairy that would
fly out of me in a puff of gold dust. Lily told me how she fixed a leaking
all by herself.
I put her hand on my chest, right on the pain. This is where you change it,
I told her.
Her dachshunds were Komodo dragons. They waddled toward me, hissing. I thought
they were going to snap at my shins, but they turned into football helmets,
into two stacks of Esquire.
“No, here!” I yelled, pounding her hand on my chest.
Lily always just wanted to be a normal kid. She wanted to step back from the
spotlight and take care of dogs and find love and eat well and buy sweaters
that fit perfectly. She didn’t want to evade scientists or constantly
be asked questions.
“What are you going to do with it?”
Everybody asked her that.
She turned her poofy, red hair into cornstalks. Copper pipes. Feathered wings.
I told her I was sorry for yelling at her and telling her she was wasting
her life. I had pushed her as hard as anyone. I was always jealous of what
had even if I saw it drain her like she was getting blood-letted. She wanted
nothing more than to shy away from greatness and none of us let her.
I pointed to my right lung and begged her to help me. She glanced up at me
with a sliver of recognition. I spoke softly and told her what she had to
do. She squeezed down on my skin and I could feel her power surging through
She turned my cancer into an anchor. It didn’t hurt at first. My arms
went numb. I fell over, sinking down into blackness, onto the floor. The anchor
burst out of my chest like a battering ram through plywood.
I was afraid to ask her to change it again. So I stayed disfigured, and in
great, stubborn pain. I told Lily bye. I limped back to my car. The cicadas
weren’t making noise anymore. They were nickels now.
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