This story was told live for Second Tuesdays St. Louis, a monthly storytelling gathering.
It is December 1992. You are in your favorite acid-wash jeans and flannel-lined denim jacket. You are also in some ridiculous hat that your mother insisted upon, probably some cast off from your older brother. You are seated on the tailgate of a silver Chevy S-10 sporting the license plate “SOLJER” on the back. Your feet dangle freely and the air in this cut-your-own Christmas tree patch smells like clean, American country. Like pine and diesel fueled chainsaws.
You are ten, and you have the misfortune of being my sister.
I am four. I am loud. I am unpredictable and unwieldy, and you are my favorite target. Your reverie is broken, again and again, by my shrieks, taunts, dawdling, and general brattiness. I am an Id on legs, and my puffy fuschia snowsuit has my panties in a wad.
We bump slowly through the Christmas tree patch, ostensibly looking for the Perfect White Pine to murder and drag home for the annual corpse decoration. When someone sees a tree they like, a shout goes up, we traipse out to measure it, and if it’s a contender we mark its location with a scuff mark in the sandy road through the patch.
I fall in a patch of cacti. I am covered, head to toe, and no needles pierce my skin but I shriek and sob anyway. You roll your eyes as mom and dad pick me up, dust me off and, in their sweet Midwestern way, tell me to “suck it up!”
Seated securely again on the tailgate, I start in. Whether it was the “I’m not touching you” bit or playing the repeat until your head caves in, one of my bits finally sends you over the edge. You snap. But this is you we’re talking about. Whip smart, but understated. Calculating. A glint comes into your eye and then it’s gone in an instant. An air of sophisticated calm comes over you as you lean down and look me straight in the face.
“If you don’t quit it right now, you’re going to end up like our other sister.”
I am four. I also am too smart for my own good, but I trust you. You are my older sister. I idolize you, even as I annoy the shit out of you. My beady eyes narrow with skepticism.
“What other sister?”
You unspool a tale of horror, about a long-lost sister who existed before me, who was, like us, taken into this very Christmas tree patch. A sister who, like me, was annoying you to no end, driving you to THROW HER OFF THE TAILGATE OF THE SILVER CHEVY S-10 AND INTO THE WOODS. Mom and Dad didn’t realize she wasn’t in the truck until after we drove all the way home, and by then it was too late. They could never find her, and she’s never been seen or heard from again, though some hear tell of a feral girl in the woods of Cass County who’s been raised by coyotes.
My four year old mouth hangs slack. You adjust yourself on the tailgate and swing your legs freely, again enjoying the quiet and the crisp air. Mission accomplished.
Or so you thought.
For now I am twenty-eight. And for twenty two years, I have insisted that you tell me the same. damn. story., over and over, every time we go back to Rawlins Tree Farm for our poor tannenbaums. For twenty-two years straight, I have begged you in person or called you over the phone, asking to hear the tale of our other sister.
This year when I called, your seven-year-old daughter recited the story along with you on speakerphone. And as the story ended, she shrieked “AND THEN SHE BECAME A WEREWOLF.”
And so the legend grows, and you will be doomed to tell the tale again and again for the next generation.