They are not twins but sisters though they like to match when they dress, when they do dress, that is, when a robe will not do for the little door-answering life they live, the door left open and the salesman or postal deliverer blinking at whatever peignoir meets him, a floating pink something turned on and forgotten. When they shimmy out of these, they wear dress suits and sensible shoes, so sensible that a clerk once said they could cross the continent in them, if the laces didn't give.

    Then he sold them hide laces.

    In the old home movies they love to watch, the elder sister dances in her own shoes, neither the sensible nor the peignoir but what you wear for a tutu. She dances all the right steps, showing them off to the father not shown, who works the camera. Later she wears the tutu shoes to beauty contests and maybe she wins them and more often she doesn't, according to her younger sister. This sister keeps the sensible shoes because two pairs are bought for less. However, she has been known to refuse to walk altogether or else will walk right on through the door and belt the mailman in the chops for being so forward, for taking the postage due, in her opinion, too slowly.

    Their mother—the single one they have and who needs more? —stays in her room and does not insist on warmed crackers or seeing the milk poured from the carton, not the way the girls say she does. That odd bit of a life in which the girls appeared—a brother too—has more to do with the grandmother who rosaried the mother into a gasp of marriage than with the professor who quickly shook them off and died of drink. Now in amongst the TV dinner droppings and the pitchers of water—this is an earthquake state—the mother keeps her ups and downs to herself, as much of herself as her daughters will allow, as much as they can complain and still roll her around in her mechanical chair, mechanical they call it, not wheel.

    The boy had waited in the Boy's Room, dressed but never answering the door. He kept a dog who peed when petted but still required walks which he took, the boy dragging the dog begging to be petted past the salesman out into the baked block of whatever sunbelt they had moved into. This relieved the dog, yes, but the boy more.

    In their youth, no other children inhabited those just-asphalted perimeters of the cities they relocated into with what little money the professor had left them. Other children make noise and trouble, said the mother. A girl will attract traffic and a boy might throw a ball through a window and which would you want? The boy didn't have any balls to throw but did know boys who did, bad boys but not by name, anyway not by their given names but by the ones his sisters used, pointing them out at a distance, boys who lived somewhere in the cities they lived alongside.

    The dog was a big white fluffy affair, about as peignoir a dog of that size could be, the only kind his sisters would allow, although the boy only saw its black tongue and the way it closed its eyes just before being petted. Men could not so easily get past the dog after the door-answering because of its size, men could not then take advantage of women not quite ready for proper presentation, though the younger sister fell into prayer for extra measure: Oh, my god, don't let him have a letter I have to sign for.

    Men are not the point of the elder sister’s beauty contests. Her talent in those contests for beauty has always been dance, not seduction. She dances for money with partners with blue boleros and very tight black satin pants who turn up their pinkies when they twirl her.

    But the little money she makes does not add enough to the little money the father has left. They all have to okay law school for the boy. The father had taught at that school and when the son is admitted, he grows a beard like his father's at the end of his face, a scraggle of face hair that grows as if it is left over from somewhere else, someplace better for hair.

    The girls shave it off him one night, the elder bearing down, with the younger holding his arms behind him with arms she has built up, the way they do on TV, lifting cans of beans instead of weights high over her head. The brother weeps through the shaving but their mother, rolling herself in, laughs at him for weeping, tells him to be a man. Or whatever.

    He hasn't been in practice for more than twenty years before he marries his secretary. She's after his money, whispers the elder to the assembled, pushing the mother up the aisle in a corsage and purple veils, all smiles. She's got him by the bullocks, says the younger. He'll take up drink like his father, they tell the justice of the peace.

    Since the two girls hadn't managed to get out of their robes to get to the rehearsal the night before, none of the bride’s party has had the pleasure of inspecting the groom's. They stun: the elder still sports quite a bosom and legs and has selected a lowcut short sheath bearing polka dots of the clown kind, dots meant for viewing from stadium seats at a contest. Her face she covers with pancake makeup until all the expression underneath slips around at the lipstick and lashes. A large rhinestone butterfly lights up her false blonde chignon in accent.

    The younger glitters, she French-twist glitters, shoulder glitters, eyelid glitters, she glitters with whatever catches in the net of her strapless, full-length ballgown. The late afternoon light, golden in this season of suburban fruition and waiting, reflects every millimeter of every square of the glitter. Her taut, bean-heaving biceps glitter.

    An usher leads them to the front, to the groom's side. Stragglers from the bride's side fill out their side. The two sisters twist around to see who is watching but everyone is looking elsewhere. Then they use compacts with mirrors to find the bride's eyes as she walks up the aisle, to blind her with light. But their brother is getting away anyway, there is no doubt about it. The two girls curse the flowers, the choice of ring, the sermon, the length of his pants, and then it is over.

    But it is not over for the elder. First the bride's father croons a little song he made up the last time he saw her, a diaper changing song, if not prenatal, and then the bride and groom dance and then her parents dance, his mother sitting in her chair smiling, although not idiotically—she knows enough to roll herself into the ladies right after. Then the music speeds up and those with drinks set them down and dance, surrounding the bride and groom who move as if they are alone, theatrically alone, slow against the fast beat, and the elder says: I know the man's part, and she puts out her hand for her sister.

    Her sister takes it.

    All glitter and dots, the two women clear the floor with their precise wide turnings and leanings back, both faces grim or professionally pleasant. Where is the father to watch? Where is his camera? When the dance ends, as much as they do end at receptions, no one claps and urges them on, no one comes forward to cut in. But no one dances next, a kind of triumph for the two of them.

    They fetch their mother from the bathroom and find their way out of the place in the dark, pushing and jerking the wheelchair over gravel.

    Three geese fly at the chair when they open the car door, Christ is what the elder says when she can't find the keys under the mat and her breasts pop out of her sheath, and the boy says nothing at all afterwards, the best he can manage, this time saying it twice, his bride helping.

Terese Svoboda's third book of prose, Trailer Girl and Other Stories, was released in paper last fall by Bison Books. Her fifth novel, Pirate Talk or Mermalade, will be published by Dzanc next fall, and her sixth novel, Bohemian Girl, is scheduled for publication in 2011.

Back to Freight Stories No. 6


Terese Svoboda

Christ and Three Geese and What Happened to the Boy Afterward