Friday was my first at The Carolina Quarterly and I am so excited I can hardly stand it. Yes, I just wrote a post about being pulled in too many directions, but this internship provides the professional and creative momentum I need to keep myself on track. And maybe reading submissions for The Quarterly will help me get back on track with editing, revising, and submitting my own work . I've lacked literary community for so long, and being a part of a journal, no matter how small that part may be, is just what I need right now to really hold myself accountable to...myself. If I don't make jewelry or knit for a bit at a time, that's ok, but if I go too long without writing, or without reading relevant up and coming writers and scholarly periodicals, then it feels like my critical eye begins to atrophy and that's no good when you're your own editor.
I was reading this past issue and came across a non-fiction piece called The Sisters, by Eli Connaughton, that left me absolutely destroyed, and in the best way a striking piece of writing does. If you've ever had the wind knocked out of you doing something you love, then you know exactly what I mean.
Here's an excerpt, which can be found on her website :
From Sisters, published in Carolina Quarterly, Spring 2013
It is Mother’s Day, and except for the unorthodox appearance of a dozen brownies, the church picnic has been a bust. Too many bees, too much praying and now Catherine and I have been abandoned on a dock with our mother while our father floats on the lake in an aluminum canoe. We pout extravagantly. Our mother finally says, “If you don’t wipe those looks off your faces I will give you a whole lot more to pout about.” She doles out other warnings as well. No interrupting, fighting, or falling into the lake. “And don’t even think about getting a splinter,” she says. “I didn’t bring any tweezers.”
I am six years old, Catherine is three, and we still wear our church clothes – matching pink dresses with smocked butterflies flitting across our chests. It is hot, even for South Carolina, and our feet sweat in white tights and patent leather Mary Janes. Catherine wears a yellow plastic bracelet, one of the many trinkets my father gives to well-behaved kids as they exit his dental office. It is too big for her wrist, so she has shoved it up to the chubbiest part of her forearm where it digs in just below her elbow.
With pouting no longer an option, we wander off the dock to pluck fistfuls of wild onions and nibble the ends. We find long sticks and destroy anthills, slice the heads off dandelions. Our mother calls us back, and we situate ourselves at the dock’s edge to poke at the polliwogs that swarm below. I have learned about polliwogs in school, and I share my knowledge with Catherine. I tell her they are in-between animals. Not a baby, but not a grown-up. Catherine’s brow furrows under her straight blonde bangs, and she says nothing, weighing my age and wisdom against the possibility that I’ve lost my mind.
“I want one,” she says. “I’ll name it Scrab.”
I tell her Scrab is a terrible name because it rhymes with crab, but she ignores me and leans over the water, hand outstretched. Unable to reach, she shifts onto her knees. Her butt tilts toward the sky, and her frilly bloomers explode from the hem of her dress. I watch her, sure that this behavior is in violation of at least one of my mother’s rules, and try to figure out an appropriate moment to tattle.
For now my mother isn’t paying attention, engrossed in a conversation about summer plans. Trips to beaches, lakes, mountains. Swim meets and family reunions.
Catherine is now extending both hands over the water, and I take the opportunity to distance myself from her and assume the position of superior sibling. The polliwogs have vanished, but Catherine only leans over farther, beckoning them with promises of a nice home. Her yellow bracelet slips free and slides, without impediment, past her wrist and into the water. For a moment it bobs on the lake’s surface, taunting her. Then it disappears.
When Catherine falls in, it is surprisingly quiet. The surface of the lake receives her without protest. A bubble. A shimmer. Then a few lazy circles that drift out under the dock.
I know she can’t swim, but I also know I am not to interrupt when my mother is talking. Which crime will she find more offensive? Falling in or interrupting? When Catherine starts to struggle, I grab a fistful of my mother’s skirt and start tugging. She ignores me. “I promise you,” she says. “If we ever pay off this dental equipment–”
“Mom,” I say. Tug some more.
My mother looks down at me. “What have I told you about interrupting?”
I point to the murky lake. The women gasp collectively, and in a blur of high-heeled shoes and church dress, my mother is in the water. She even gets her hair wet – an act I have never witnessed – and it is then that I realize the severity of the situation.
She yanks Catherine from the water, and my sister howls, red-faced and choking. A thick trail of snot winds its way around the side of her mouth.
“My bracelet,” she screams and pushes away from my mother toward the lake.
“Catherine,” my mother says, business-like. “Your father has three million of them. We’ll get you a new one.”
Later, after we are reunited with my father and make our way back to our car, I hold my sister close and tell everyone who will listen: “My mother let my sister fall into the lake, but then I saved her life."
I want to read it over and over again. To see the whole story, click HERE...
No more reading for me tonight, for I am off to see Bill Callahan perform at The Cat's Cradle this evening.
His song, Javelin Unlanding, has me intoxicated right now: