By Aerin Fogel
I had a sister right up until I was 32, when she publicly disowned me on The Tonight Show with flared nostrils. Her band, The Baby BooBoos, was on the show: a four-girl effort combining the disturbance of Phil Spector with the paranoia of Robert Fripp. It worked because you couldn’t really hear how bad they were. Growing up, our cat was named Jay Leno because of his chin.
I was appalled because The Tonight Show is for the important things in life, like celebrity babies: not for disowning your sister. But Carla was always jealous of my small successes and I had just stolen her semi-lover, Gillespie. They were only occasionally in a relationship, when they both felt like it at the same time. I didn’t even buy new underwear to seduce him. It was easy to do since I lived with Carla and don’t usually wear pants about the house. She had just left for work, and afterwards he made me lunch.
Carla told Jay Leno about our old cat, and then Jay Leno asked what their hit single “I Love You” was about.
“It’s about being in love,” Carla said. “That feeling that’s kind of like a sugar high, you know – I just wanted to express it in a new way.”
“It’s certainly a very original song,” said Jay. “Now how did you get started as a musician?” Watching the episode at home, wearing my fluffiest bathrobe and plowing through a value-sized bag of Doritos as well as several pickles, I laughed at her being called a musician. Her lifelong dream was always to become an astronaut/carpenter who would blast off into space and spend long weightless days building stools for earthlings. She felt people would get a positively uplifting feeling if they sat for long hours, since the stool was made in outer space.
“You know, Jay, I always knew I wanted to be a musician. My mother took singing lessons while she was pregnant with me.”
“Well they certainly start them young these days,” said Jay. Carla was lying, because mom just smoked a lot of pot “for the nausea” while she was pregnant and watched reruns of M*A*S*H. Dad never spoke, just ate his dinner while staring down the remaining peas fleeing in terror from his fork to the outskirts of his plate, then would kick off his shoes, get into bed, and only make eye contact with a stack of papers until exactly 10PM. One night I crawled into bed with him and he rolled me right back over the edge without missing a line on the page.
“Who’s the lucky man then?” asked Jay.
“We’re actually not together now.” She smiled. “He’s with my sister, who is not my sister anymore. There are no hard feelings.”
“Well that’s a shame,” said Jay, and then with either embarrassment or disinterest, segued into commercials. I was out of pickles, so there was nothing to comfort me in my time of need.
Only I knew that a disowning had just happened. To everyone watching, there could be so many reasons we weren’t sisters anymore. I wrote down all the possible reasons on the back of a grocery receipt:
1. Death by lightning.
2. Death by maggot clan.
3. Death by violent sandstorm that carries shards of Arabian glass across the sea.
5. Fatal food poisoning from experimental meats.
6. Personal differences.
7. A random person left her on our doorstep shortly after her birth. The secret was always kept from her but had recently become a hushed scandal.
I believed in reason 7. We couldn’t possibly be the same blood. I think my mother pawned off her second burden of a child only to arrive home and find Carla on her doorstep.
I went to search the cupboards for more snacks. The disownment was probably fake because it was such an arbitrary statement for her to say, “My sister who is not my sister anymore.” I thought of all the shirts I gave away in my lifetime and said, “You are not my shirt anymore,” and I felt just awful about that. Who was I to say what was and wasn’t my shirt? Or anyone else’s shirt for that matter.
I expected her to call me in a few days, apologize, and ask how things were developing between her ex-semi-lover and me. Canadian dating etiquette is like a cherry blossom tree: if you are naturally punctual or at least neurotic and manage to catch the brief bloom, half the petals have already dropped and the rest are only full of potential. At first the tree smells wonderful but you soon realize the smell is nauseating. Many other people have already posted photos of themselves and the blossoms on Instagram. Its meaning evades you, and you feel slightly overdressed to be standing under a pink tree, and you tell yourself, Better luck next year, or, There are more trees in the park, or something soul-nurturing like that.
Later that night Gillespie got home from his axe-throwing club, the West End Huckers, and joined me without pants on the couch. We started watching a period piece without so much as a hello. During the boring part after the sex scene I sent him a text: Carla cut me on Tnght show. What bitch~. He texted back, omg what a bitch. Want popcorn?
“I’m totally on your side,” he said, getting up from the couch with the blanket.
“I know, right?”
“Wait, what happened?”
“She just disowned me.”
The kernels hustled in the popping chamber. We stared at the empty bowl and waited for something to emerge.
“Jay Leno asked about her song,” I said. “Did I ever tell you about my cat?”
“Yeah, the chin.”
“They talked about her song, and then she was just like my sister, not my sister.”
Gillespie tapped his nose with his finger. “I’m on your side,” he said again.
“He went right to commercial. It’s like, wouldn’t you want to know what she’s even talking about? Maybe he thought there was a normal explanation.”
“Is there a normal explanation for that?”
“Have you ever heard of being disowned?”
“Well, no. Maybe. Do you want butter?”
The best thing about Gillespie was that he really got me. We had such depth between us. One time I told him the shape of his face when we had sex was positively revolting and he said he’d do his best to change it. Another time he spotted troves of lilies about the house when I’d had a rotten day, and I threw them into the neighbour’s yard because who buys lilies these days?
Gillespie didn’t mention the disowning after that. Not even the next time we watched a period piece, which sometimes triggered things for him.
Later, I was bored and scouring the neighbourhood for nice things on people’s lawns. While doing the grapevine towards some excellent plastic flamingos, I tripped over a rock. I loved it for tripping me and looking utterly indistinguishable from any other rock, so I brought it home and placed it on the mantle.
The next week Gillespie and I had fried chicken and bits for dinner. It was our favorite dinner. The bits were whatever I found that didn’t disintegrate in a pot of hot oil such as carrots or chips.
He had this awful habit of arranging and re-arranging his cutlery for several minutes before eating. I never knew if I should participate. If it was equivalent to saying grace, I might miss an essential part of my cosmic evolution. He had another awful habit of brushing his teeth immediately before sex. We’d be down to our skin, and he’d suddenly say, wait here one sec, as if I might wander off empty while he scrubbed his gums, and then he’d be back a minute and a half later smelling like peppermint and somehow more aroused.
“What do you think about politics?” he said, finishing with his cutlery.
“Keep talking, I’m listening.” I walked over to the pot of oil and spooned some out for my rock. I had been waking up through the night to check on it.
“No, I mean like, what is your opinion of the whole thing?”
“Oh! I see. I like it, it’s good.” I dipped two fingers in the oil and rubbed the rock’s craggy face.
“Can you come back to the table?”
“I will, I just need to finish this.”
“I’m thinking about working for a party. I think it could be a really great career move.”
I wiped the remaining oil off on my pants. “What do you do again?” I asked. Gillespie looked down at his plate.
“Are these peas?”
“Yeah, frozen peas.”
“Interesting. I’ve never thought of deep-frying peas. I work in the Ministry of Transportation…” He said something after that and I could not for the life of me pay attention. He had probably explained his job many times. He would talk for several minutes and as soon as he finished I would come alive again and realize I hadn’t listened to a single word. I figured it wasn’t that important anyways since it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
In my twenties I worked for a union, abhorred by my father because he earned everything the hard way. I just didn’t like the union’s contribution to the greater good. I am more like a potato. I once read that a potato is some sort of secretly vindictive vegetable that leeches the nutrients right out of your bones. And yet, who in this whole entire world does not love a potato? Especially when fried. Stealing Gillespie away from Carla was like a potato.
“You’re obsessing over that rock,” Gillespie said. “Did you hear me?”
I stared off towards the kitchen wishing I had been organized enough to plan dessert. His cutlery sounded loud on his plate.
“Can you stop your cutlery?” I said.
“Have you spoken to Carla?”
“No. Why? We’re not sisters anymore.” He hadn’t taken responsibility for his role in the disowning yet. I put my plate in the sink and decided I would clean up from the chicken and bits another day. I didn’t want to be in the same room as Gillespie anymore, even though he was wearing his sensational green shirt. He was positively smothering me.
I slept restlessly that night, checking on the rock many times. Somewhere between 4 and 5AM it moved on its own. A tremendous pressure consumed me, spreading over Gillespie, the bed, the rock, the city, the squandering electrolytes at the bottom of the ocean, and the whole entropic planet.
In the morning I felt confused and thought I was in my childhood home. Sometimes when I came down for waffles my father would say I’d gotten out of the wrong side of the bed. He’d order me to do it again, and not come back down until I got it right. So I’d get in and out for hours, trying earnestly to see if sliding upside down or sideways made any difference. I’d go back downstairs where my father would claim I hadn’t changed a damn thing and with one waft of his cigar, fill my lungs with a pungent mixture of shame and yearning.
After a few minutes I realized Gillespie wasn’t there. A note beside the bed said, I don’t think this is working anymore.
He never came back to his apartment after that. I didn’t know where he was and I didn’t ask, since this way I had a place to stay. It was for the greater good. I brought the rock back to the house with the plastic flamingos and did some pirouettes on the lawn this time. I left it under the supervision of an orange cat, and made sure to warn the cat that the rock had a tendency to trip people.
Aerin Fogel is a Toronto-based writer, astrologer, and musician. Her work has appeared in Prism, Riddlefence, and Echolocation, and was second runner-up in Prism’s 2013 Literary Fiction contest. She writes a monthly online astrology column for Fashion Magazine, and her music project is called Midheaven. Her stories dig into the human psyche to get a taste of what’s really under there, and a sense of how it might begin to transform.