Hearing your voice makes everything seem to be alright. I can’t believe you called! I would have expected the president of the United States to be on the other end of that phone before I thought you would be. I was talking to Gary when the phone rang. I think we’ve still got our sisters’ intuition, because as soon as that tiny chorus of a telephone ring lifted and struck my ear drum, I knew it was a special call. I flicked my chin so quickly my nose had to catch up to the rest of my face. My nose was still looking straight at Gary, and the rest of my face was looking at the phone. Even though I could sense that it was special call, I didn’t know how special. When was the last time you called me, sis? I think it was to tell me you’d rather see me die than get momma’s pearl earrings… maybe not the best of telephone history. I let my garbage man suitor stay by the door, but after I answered and heard your deep, calm voice, a gave him a shrill, “get outta here, Gary!” I was actually in the middle of telling him that if he’d wear something other than that smelly trash-man shirt, that I’d go on a date with him, but I can tell him that anytime.
You started off so sweetly it was as if we had never had a bad moment between us. You asked how I was doing, said you were sorry that you never got around to responding to my mail, and that you missed me at your baby’s birthday party. You did real good buttering me up and making me forget the frigid temperature that frozen the space between us for the last few years. You even listened intently as I told you about the boy I knew that had bombed downtown and my slip back into the bottle’s grasp, and through the warm notes in your voice, it seemed like you really cared. You never scolded, never make a sarcastic joke, never seemed to be anything less than my sister again. I felt lucky on the other end of that phone. I felt light, so much so that I felt as if I could have given an angel a race up to the clouds. At one time, our connection, as women and as sisters, was the most important relationship in my life. To have that reduced down to nothing, even on the family holidays, was if I was living life as a 32 year old orphan. I hated it.
Then I turned the conversation for you to tell me about you and what’s been going on in your home. You said that baby was doing just fine, ready to start preschool any day now. I bet, if he’s anything like you, he’ll be in first grade by the end of the month. You always shot past me in the smart sections of our life. Your son will do the same. Then I asked you about Rae, and you got all hushed. It was a wide open silence, the kind you have around a very awkward dinner table. I should have known something that I didn’t. I was not privy to something very obvious. You said to me, “Well, Rae just started her 5th month in prison. She’s still facing being convicted of fifty accounts of identify theft.” I felt so humiliated. How could I bring up such a depressing and awkward subject? I swore you never told me, and you swore you told me on one of those nights I was drunk. I don’t know who to believe in this case. I’m not the kind of drunk that blacks out and forgets everything they did last night, especially important things, but there were some nights that were really rough. Maybe you had called me on a really rough night.
It wasn’t until the very end of the conversation, when I was pleading with you to come and see me or at least call me back in the next week when you dropped the reason why you had really called. “El, I was wondering if could sell one of momma’s paintings. Nothing important, not one that we want to keep forever, just one that would get me Rodney to next month.” That’s why you called. You wanted to sell a little piece of momma. I should have known when you let me ramble on about the little ducklings I see on my bus path every other day. I should have known because you called at all- you’d want something from me.You’d want something that would break my heart to give to you, and something that would break my heart not to give to you. When momma died she wrote down how many paintings we each got. She kept us living in undesirable places all our life so that she could afford those paintings, and when she was dying she knew that they were the only thing she had left worth real money– lots of real money. She wrote it down that you’d get seven and I’d get seven. You’ve run out of your seven. I haven’t touched one. I told you that I’d have to think about it, because they are so close to my heart. What I really wanted to tell you was that you can go to hell, but I don’t want to lose you again.
I’ll probably let you have one, a little one… an ugly one. Just call me soon.