Authors: Mari SanGiovanni
To Kim, always, for my life.
Also for my sister,
who tirelessly pounds the streets in Provincetown,
harassing all the ladies to buy her sister’s books.
My sister’s voice always went through my head anytime I saw a fortune cookie, and I heard it now as I ate a stale one from the takeout scraps in my cupboard. “See, a vagina!” My sister Lisa saw vaginas everywhere she went. If she had been in my kitchen, she would have broken the fortune cookie in half, turned the triangle-shaped cookie wide end up, shoved it in my face and said, “See, a
!” I knew this too: no matter the mood I was in, she could crack me up.
Other vagina sightings ranged from the obvious flowers to a more obscure list that included: puffed rice cereal, pre-sliced hot dog buns, the Toyota logo, a Dorito, tacos, and several varieties of shellfish. When we were kids, she would trap a long, wide blade of grass vertically between her thumbs so she could blow into it to make a whistle, then at some point she should shove her spitty fingers into my face and say, “See, a vagina!”
Lisa always spotted the vaginas before I did—and she said this was my biggest problem. Sure, I could see the resemblance in a fortune cookie, but I maintained that the blade-of-grass-between-two-thumbs-whistle was stretching it just a bit. With my sister around, there was simply no way to hide a vagina, except maybe with her favorite pair of extra-large camouflage boxer shorts.
While Lisa chose camouflage as a fashion statement, there was never anything camouflaged about her preference for the fairer sex. My sister barreled out of the closet (knocking me down with the closet door she’d ripped off its hinges), proclaiming herself a lesbian just as I was starting to wonder about my own preferences. I was the gay tortoise; she was the queer rabbit. While I was secretly reading
books in the library on a fact-finding quest after hopelessly falling in love with my straight best friend, Lisa left me in the dust, blazing by me in a friggin’ rainbow-colored Macy’s Thanksgiving Day float with a turbocharged engine.
The fortune cookie wasn’t the only reason I was thinking of my sister. Lisa had threatened to call any minute now, so what I really needed was Cheetos. And not the fake Cheddar Puffs Mom bought when we were kids, but the real deal. I tried to ignore the craving as I settled back on the couch, remembering how Mom would hide the generic Stop and Shop bag deep in the trash and pour the inferior puffs into a white ceramic bowl, thinking us kids wouldn’t know the difference.
“See,” Mom would say, “same orange stuff on your fingers,” then she would offer up the neon evidence as if they were the real thing. But Lisa and I noticed how the fake ones sat uncomfortably in the bowl, with much less of a dramatic curl, looking packed flat, like cheap Chinese food. And we noted the Orange No. 5 was off just a shade (was it Orange No. 6?) and that the color didn’t cling to your fingers in the same fluffy-fiber way, but more like thick war paint.
I wished I could spot a faux lesbo just as easily, and I thought of Lorn Elaine for the millionth time. The Actress, the ex. I knew she was never the real deal—or, that she wouldn’t let herself be because of her career, or, at least, that was the perfect excuse. The more distressing question was, What made me believe I could ever make her stay? From the very start, being with a woman did not sit easily with her. She, too, always sat uncomfortably in the bowl, and, in the end, she didn’t cling to my fingers nearly as long as I would have liked, and I ended up smeared in war paint.
I anticipated the phone ringing as I dozed on the couch, giving into the sudden nap attack, which was brought on by the exhausting prospect of heading out to the store to score that bag of electric orange carbs. After six long weeks without Lorn and my sister Lisa’s impending phone call, I hoped that when the phone rang I would be able to stifle the agonizing hope it was Lorn calling to tell me she was coming back. Maybe this would be the time I could hide my disappointment when I heard my sister’s voice (or any
voice besides Lorn’s) and then my sister wouldn’t tease me, “Still waiting for The Actress, I see.”
I considered letting my answering machine take my sister’s call, but I couldn’t risk the chance it might be my brother, Vince. His check-in calls were fairly regular, and getting more frequent since he was having girl troubles of his own. Vince had been with Erica for almost as long has I had been with “The Actress”—as my sister and Vince’s girlfriend, Erica, called her.
I was in LA when I first met Erica, the woman who would become my brother’s girlfriend, and she had introduced herself as “Erica . . . as in
All My Children,
” and that nickname stuck for a while. I liked Erica’s cocky attitude and had introduced her to my brother, then congratulated myself at quite regular intervals on putting together the world’s most perfect straight couple. When I told Vince the unsurprising news that “The Actress” decided she could not be with a woman (again) and it was all over (again) and she was so sorry (again), Vince trumped me with his own news: Vince and Erica, the world’s most perfect couple, were also breaking up.
So, I did what any sister would do when presented with these facts: I blamed my brother for blowing the perfect couple I had created. He was mad at me for a week (evidence: he called me only twice). By the following week he’d resumed his normal pattern of calling every other day, eventually realizing it wasn’t my fault, since we all knew his track record with women had been spotty at best.
Before Erica, my sister and I could blame our brother’s failed relationships on his selection of The Barbie Doll of the Week. This time, it was my reputation on the line. I had made this perfect couple, and he had blown it, big time. Erica and Vince were no more. My sister had been equally compassionate when I had called her to share my news about being dumped.
Lisa had said, “There’s something about straight girls you just can’t put your finger on . . .” and then she laughed and snorted for several minutes at her own joke.
I snapped back to reality when the phone rang and I opted to
pick it up rather than hear my nauseatingly cheerful voice on the answering machine, since I was no longer that person. That person was sporting my pre-dumped voice.
Lisa said, “Don’t get your panties in a twist, it’s just me,”
“Don’t be an ass, I’ve stopped thinking she’ll call,” I said.
“Shut it,” I said.
Lisa said, “Don’t lose your sense of humor. You fucked a straight actress, she pulled an Ann Heche on your sorry ass, and you got dumped. Now scrape your friggin’ shoe and move on.”
I said, “Don’t pretend you didn’t like her.”
“Of course I liked Lorn, I like all women,” Lisa said. “That doesn’t mean I don’t know how to kick a dog to the curb if they piss on my leg and try to tell me it’s raining.”
“So what’s going on?” I said.
Unlike Vince, who always called about nothing, Lisa always called with some sort of news.
“Are you sitting down?” she asked.
“I’m lying down,” I said, already exhausted. I braced myself, because you never know with Lisa.
This could be the call our family all expected, the call from a prison in Maine for running an Italian restaurant out of her home with no permits to sell food or the gallons of homemade wine she calls “V.” She told Mom and Dad “V” stood for Vino, and then she forgot, and told them she named it after Vince, but the triangle-shape label was an obvious and familiar reference. Dad figured it out and would ask for a glass with pure delight, “Give me another shot of that V-jay-jay-juice!” When he got away with that in front of Mom, Dad switched it up to: “Sure am craving some more Vayjay-jay!”
Lisa said, “You may want to sit up for this. I’ve decided what I’m going to do with my share of grandma’s inheritance!”
“You mean the money you said you didn’t want because it would only bring pretentious and empty lives to all who touched it?”