Boxes and Bags
Mandee Wright


My sister and I were young, barely alive, even, when we lived in a house with a front entrance that allowed one to come in with ease. However, for exiting, the door would not budge. It went on like this for years; I was Mr. Husband and she was Mrs. Wife and we had stained-glass window from which to gaze and a pink telephone that never rang. This was called playing house, you know, but while she was lifting her arms to angle out the shape of a roof -- I was positioned across the room, raising my own arms, standing in for the trees.
Then the door was repaired, and we could finally leave. Not long after that, I noticed my sister was beginning to grow taller than me; the knit of her sweaters was shrinking upward on her elongating torso. We could no longer share gloves. She showed off her new height by sticking her head in the freezer to get a good whiff of the stale air tainted with rubbery meat and ice cubes.
When we were old enough, my sister and I rode around in the car together, wheeling around streetlightless cul-de-sacs and braking for boxes and bags in the middle of the road. Once, on a particular excursion, we decided to go on a road trip, stopping at various Wright households across the American midwest. We were going to put a stop to the Wright gene pool. They all had grayish brown hair and plum-shaped noses. At family reunions flies orbited around chicken salad sandwiches and all our cousins had a squishy, shitty smell about them.
Were there Wrights everywhere? We hugged the western curves of Illinois for what seemed like months before daring to enter the void of Iowa. We drove to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, chasing the dream of a family restaurant themed around a mechanical fox that serves pizza (overheard by two chattering kids in Galena, Illinois -- we were sold by their excitement). We faced a weighty, tear-sodden disappoint-ment when we discovered the pizza parlor in downtown Sioux Falls -- it was a mechanical coyote, not a fox. My sister and I instantly became young people.
Bored during the drive, we stuffed velveteen pillows under our shirts to mimic pregnancy. The results were lumpish, horrifying. Our routine to halt the gene pool from advancing was simple enough -- we'd show up at a Wright doorstep, point out a pregnancy, and deliver our warning: "I think you should stop that right now."
My sister's strange phobias seemed to make themselves glaringly obvious to me on our rendezvous: ribbons, pumpkin seeds, metal objects clinking together, windchimes (most likely related to the fear of metal objects), children with ice cream on their faces, plastic replicas of food, split pea soup. There seemed to be an underlying theme: many objects, teeming together -- she couldn't take it, yet couldn't tear her eyes away. In Newcastle, Wyoming, we stopped at a corner shop for chocolate milk. Near the cash register, a vase of roses sat, each leaf decorated with aphid eggs. My sister stared, tears welling up in her cerulean-blue eyes.
"These have no teen appeal," my sister whispered.
My eyes caught my reflection in a mirror atop a twirling sunglasses display -- when I looked in the mirror I saw a genetic pattern that couldn't be allowed to reproduce. It was not my reflection that validated this. It was something beyond that, maybe -- I envisioned the first Wright, with a heavy Neanderthal brow, destined to be out-evolved by some sporty Cro-Magnon -- but somehow, this poor, hairy Wright, he slips through the cracks. He accidentally survives the Ice Age. He hacks his way through the Black Plague. Something suggested that I had been mistakenly placed where I should have been vacant.
"Do you think it's wrong we stopped them?" My sister asked me, later, as we were edging ourselves into northern Colorado. "We do get our smarts from them, after all." She pointed at her head dimly. It became apparent we were both in that trip for different reasons. Maybe she just wanted to eat from our gigantic bag of oranges all day, to slap a "Don't like the weather in Kansas? Wait 5 minutes" sticker on her worn leather suitcase. Maybe she wanted to just go thirty more miles until the next rest stop.


What else can I say about my sister besides the fact that she seemed to love her dog very, very much? Even from the first moment he arrived at our house, she started to fret about him dying. If we were away from home, she'd tear up in the car, thinking of the day he'd die, some unknown date in the future. When we'd come home, and find him below us, looking up at us like newly-hefted flags, his tail wiggle-woggling, she'd tear up again.
While she was mothering the dog, I was invited to participate -- or rather, take up space, in a group therapy session. The invitation came after I was kicked out of a community college art class for critiquing my classmates' work too harshly, with too little compassion for their feelings. We would fill out anonymous critiques on blank sheets of paper and then hand them in at the end of class. I guess I had nothing constructive to say, so I'd resort to insults constructed with perfect penmanship. The instructor must have recognized my handwriting and connected it with the tears that spilled over onto ruffled blouses and freshly-pressed chinos. After only four short weeks of the course, I was sent a notice in the mail informing me that my attendance was no longer required or desired. They were nice enough to allow a week to pass by before I got the pale yellow card with a black, shouty typeface inviting me to the group therapy session for angry teenagers of divorced parents.
The group was led by a Moderator. He didn't go by a name. The rest of us were required to wear nametags. Mine was always the most legible of the bunch, straight across my breast pocket, never slapped on angularly like the rest of my peers'. The first day, the Moderator passed out blank sheets of paper; he then told us we were to compose lyrics for the anthem of the new century. All I had to write with was a stumpy black crayon that'd been worn past its paper encasing; I could only fit three or four words across the page. "Going for the" is what I managed to scrawl out. It was then when I realized those were the first three words to the anthem of the last century. The Moderator clicked his tongue in disappointment.
That night, my sister and I made another trip around the cul-de-sac in the car. The whole time she was Dog-this and Dog-that, relaying anecdotes about the wee pup tripping over his food bowl, or barking at his own tail. I wondered if she had told the dog stories about me -- how she and I were some sort of Sister and Sister dynamic duo. She told me that the dog loved her, that he had feelings -- and more -- that if in an instance of the dog's stupidity, I uttered some bashing language, I could possibly scar him for life.
When we returned home, I hunkered down on the carpet and stared, face-to-face at the dog. I spoke to him closely to see if he was grasping my words or merely watching for my mouth to drop a morsel of food.
"I think you should run away," I told the dog. I looked for a flicker of understanding and saw nothing.


One day the Moderator put us through some sort of "trust" exercise where he guided us down some dark hallways with his voice. Apparently we were supposed to gain some respect for the man for not leaving us alone in the silence. The group all huddled through the blackness; once in a while I'd brush against the alarming clamminess of an arm or a hand and I'd gasp.
"I want you to imagine you're in love, and you're following love through a dark turmoil," said the Moderator.
I heard a few hushed giggles after that one. At the end of one hallway, it became apparent there was no longer going to be light. Never again. I heard a ripping noise -- a noise I understood as being a fake mustache torn away hastily. We walked forever in the darkness, together, the Moderator speaking in soothing, hushed whispers.
In the dark, I stumbled around, having been separated from the rest of the group -- I could hear the sound of the Moderator's voice far off in the distance, in a different universe practically -- I thought of this game my sister and I have played since we were children. She'd say a phrase, or even a word, and I would guess where, or how, she got the inspiration. I'm very rarely wrong, we'd discovered, probably because we'd lived almost identical lives. Once, during another rendezvous around the cul-de-sac, me behind the wheel, she removed a beaded bracelet from her wrist and allowed it to dangle from her index finger.
"Okay, guess," she said. She looked at me eagerly, expecting me to fail, to finally guess wrong.
Unlike my sister, everything about me seems to relatively easy to figure out. Whatever I am thinking, whatever I desire, will appear in the pupils of my eyes. When I desire limes, my eyes blaze the color of lime. This may or may not simply be the color of a traffic light reflecting in my glasses. When I hear a "thump" -- most likely, most times, it's just the sound of a bar of soap falling somewhere distant behind me. The process goes like this: a noise, a color, a lift-off of electricity, then -- on the tongue -- words.