• Vol. 08
  • Chapter 02
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older sisters are for going places

She always had a better place to be, and Cynthia loved her for it. 'That is what older sisters are for,' Cynthia coos to her youngest child now, when the child motions after her sibling’s careless freedom. 'Older sisters are for going places.'

Cynthia’s older sister went to New York, Washington, Paris and Berlin. When she came home for birthdays or other celebrations, or perhaps for a pause between exciting opportunities, she looked like she was too big for the place. Her suitcase sat in the hallway for the duration of her stay, gifts and notebooks and cables spilling from it onto the wooden floor. Everything about Cynthia’s sister was exotic, and temporary.

When she first left home, Cynthia longed for their evenings in front of the TV together, or the boring camaraderie of the time between dinner and bed. But after a year or two it was impossible to remember her ever having lived here. When Cynthia thought of her sister she only saw the traveller: a short-term visitor who dropped by to share a large laugh and a new shade of eyeshadow.

And so, when Cynthia’s eldest daughter was born, cuddled and cradled within the same, magnolia walls that had kept Cynthia safe, her car seat scratching new messages into the hall floor, Cynthia knew that one day her daughter was going to leave. The baby’s limbs reached out of the Moses basket and up to the sky. This was only natural. This was the natural order of things, as natural as the downy hair that grew on the baby’s back and started to shed when she was a few weeks old, marking her move from her first form of confinement. As natural as a voice that turned strange with the tones of another country: an American accent, played on the strings of an English one.


older sisters are for going places

And just as it was natural for the older girl to escape, it was natural for the younger one to stay. Cynthia’s youngest daughter, trailing her sister by ten years, would be the girl who kept the family going, just like Cynthia had. She would tug on the curtains in the living room every evening, dust the photographs on the mantlepiece, take the fish out of the freezer and put Tupperware boxes of leftover curry in there for another day. She would pin the washing onto the line and nod a shy hello to whichever birds were visiting at this time of year. She would watch the sun curve through the sky, feel the years roll into each other like the warm band of fat around her waist, and take comfort in the way that time passed through her, as if she was the pin that clasped the clock hands tight and so let them keep moving.

Cynthia’s youngest daughter shuffles her baby’s body out of her mother’s clammy grasp and starts to wail.