Picking at My Sister’s Bones

Danae Leali

August 1, 2007

My fiancé, Steve, and I stood outside of the restaurant and watched as car after car pulled through the parking lot. I stared at Ohio license plates and waited until the Pennsylvanian plates of my grandparents’ navy SUV turned the corner. As the car pulled to the curb, I could see her outline in the backseat. The door opened just before my grandfather had fully stopped, and I watched as she made her way toward me.
The seventeen-hour plane ride hasn’t messed up the straightness of her blonde bleached hair. Though she wasn’t wearing make-up—she couldn’t bring the liquid on the plane—her face looked perfectly tan except for a few lines of flaking skin around her neck. I never paid much attention to the way her cheek bones stuck out and the darkness that always dwelled underneath her eyes. I knew that she hadn’t slept much on the flight over. Her smile stood out with her bright white teeth against tanned skin.
Her arms tapered into short fingers with long manicured fingernails. Her elbows stuck out like the knots on trees, and she’d waxed her forearms so much that the hair doesn’t grow back anymore. Her hips jutted out of her white sweat pants and her small green shirt just barely came to her belly button, showing just a bit of her tan, flat stomach. I felt something like jealousy in my stomach as I met her with outstretched arms and a slightly yellowed smile.

My arms wrapped around her, and I could touch my fingertips to my elbows. Her blond hair smacked me in the face. I pulled my purse up and wrapped my arms around it, allowing it to cover my stomach. Steve wrapped his arm around my hips, and I could feel my body pulling away from him. I pulled my purse tighter against my middle and could hear the crunch of my wallet against the plastic.
She stomped past Steve and walked inside, leaving my grandparents, my fiancé, and me outside waiting. My grandmother leaned toward me and told me that my sister was hungry; she didn’t eat on the plane. I nodded, knowing her temper. We moved inside to follow her. As hostesses ran back and forth, my sister sat beside my grandmother and moved her fingers over the buttons of her neon pink cell phone. My grandmother watched her, her eyes moving over my sister’s small frame, but talked to Steve and me about life, about picking up Brittany at the airport, about the Penn State football game. I smiled and laughed and watched my sister out of the corner of my eye. Her liquid brown eyes were full of fatigue and hunger. But they were still beautiful, swirling darkness—not as deep and as insightful as mine, but so much more stunning.

My grandmother pulled over the hostess, asking about a table—her granddaughter is hungry. And that pang again, that little bit of jealousy, hit me with the hunger I’ve been feeling as well. But we were seated quickly, and I tried to remind myself to drink plenty of water and watch the bread. Small portions, carbohydrates are bad. But I don’t. My sister and I tore at loaves of hot, oily bread that caused our fingers to shine in the dim lights. We talked about each other, but not to each other directly. I told my grandmother stories, and my sister laughed. Every once in awhile our eyes met, but we would look away. She stood up from the table, her fingers wrapped around the pink case that housed her phone. My fingers tapped at the table, trying desperately to stay away from the small pastel plates of Italian bread. But my eyes wouldn’t look away, and my fingers flew back, causing me to pick at the pieces of bread left, letting the moist warmness touch my tongue. In my mind, I kept thinking that it was too much. Brittany would have stopped, but my fingers kept moving around the oven-heated plates until they were moved to make room for others. Our food delivered—my sister was nowhere to be found.

My grandmother’s back was rigid against the dark wooden chair, and I could see the redness spilling across her cheeks, bringing small veins to the surface. Her white shirt outlined by the darkness of the wood and the room around her. The noise of distant talking and clinking silverware swirled around us, the waitresses moving listlessly to the tune. Her penne arriabiata had to have been getting cold. Her hands disappeared into her lap. She kept turning in her chair to look toward the bathroom.

I could feel her eyes watching, but I continued to stare at the salad in front of me. I let my fork pierce a large piece of crumbled feta cheese and soggy spinach. I tried to think how my sister would eat it. She’d have asked for the cheese on the side. I tapped my fork against the side of the bowl and let the cheese crumble back into the leaves. I lifted the fork and examined it slowly. The fork stood halfway to my mouth when I caught her eyes. Her lips were pulled tight, thin enough to have turned white under pressure, and the creases at the corners of her eyes crinkled like discarded paper. My grandmother’s words were clipped when she did speak.

“You’re beautiful the way you are. Never do what she does.”

I don’t need her to explain—I’ve been thinking it too. The knees of her size 0, white sweat pants rubbing against the grainy grayish tile. Her small breasts leaning against the white porcelain but back far enough so that the bleached blondeness of her hair doesn’t touch the top of the water. Her fake acrylic nails moving against the tissue of her throat so that the bread she’d just eaten could find its way past her teeth, past her lips.
But she returned with a phone in her hand and sat down to eat the salad in front of her. She picked like I did, her fork pulling at the steak pieces that flopped against the iceberg lettuce in the bowl. I watched how she ate and began to feel my fork follow her patterns. Our only sisterly bond by the end of the night is that each of our salad bowls is still nearly full of green leaves.

Our goodbyes are often longer then they need to be. We make promises to visit when we know that we can’t. We thank and thank and thank for everything we’ve been given and that we haven’t. I watched her small figure glide across the parking lot, following my grandfather, one hand holding a small, expensive purse, while the other is pushing back the blonde hair that’s being caught in the wind. Steve and I walked to the space where his small turquoise Tercel is parked. Inside and down the road, Steve must have felt that the distance was safe enough to confide in me.

“Your sister looks terrible.”

But I didn’t know what he was talking about. I thought she looked beautiful.

Danae Leali is a senior from Canal Fulton, Ohio, majoring in Creative Writing.