by Willow Barnosky
Grandma cheats at Scrabble: “It’s a loanword and it appears in some English dictionaries,” just conveniently none of the ones that are on hand. She purses her mouth and says, “Well I don’t know about that,” when her neighbor calls your sister pretty, and on Mother’s Day when your aunt gushes, “Five kids, Mom! I don’t know how you did it!” she says, “Abortion wasn’t legal until the year after you were born.” She always has a cup of PG Tips that she fills from the same kettle and you wonder if all the rust and dirt built-up in the thin spout is the source of her acidity. You’ll have a colleague, also British, who’ll remind you of her, who will provoke everyone in the office and describe herself by saying, “I don’t suffer fools gladly,” and you’ll think, lady, that’s one hell of a euphemism.
Your sister, who’s named after your grandmother, moves quietly from room to room, kneeling in front of shelves, lifting statues off doilies, opening closets. “What do you think you’re doing?” your grandmother asks, her grumpy voice coated with a thick layer of oh I don’t care. At dinner your sister announces that she’s marked, with masking tape, everything in the house that she wants when Grandma is dead. Your grandmother is sixty and healthy and startled, and you think that for once she is going to call out your sister, but no, because your grandmother knows when she’s met her match. Like recognizes like.
That evening your sister shows you a figure she’s taken. “I asked Grandma if I could have it now,” which you doubt, but you say nothing because your sister is all claws and mettle, and you haven’t yet learned to tap into your share of the family inheritance. The figure is small and made of plaster, a woman with a pale blue dress and a floppy white hat, covered in a thin glaze, and it looks only a little better than what you’d make in elementary school art class. Your sister holds the figure up to your face. “Look at her expression. She looks like she’s just told a joke and she’s really satisfied with herself.” You don’t see it, and you don’t understand why she’d want that cheap thing, but a feeling rises up, like it’s the end of a long, hard movie and everything has worked out for the protagonist, the music loud and rhapsodic. Because your sister is capable of seeing beauty in such a simple little thing, your sister who is always conspiring, and you think that — maybe — she will turn out ok.
Willow Barnosky currently lives in San Jose, California, and hopes to return to Poland next year to continue as an English Language Fellow at the University of Rzeszów. Her stories appear in Misery Tourism, The Write Launch, and The Font. You can find her on Twitter @onomatopoesia.