As quickly as the time between decades
by Genevieve Sachs
I like a slow intro. One with three women lazing on one loveseat far too small for them,
and it shows; the upholstery is beaded and the stuffing underneath it is bulbous and misshapen
from a decade of squeezing on too many bodies. This decade ends as it began—slowly—with the
third girl’s spine distorted and stretched across the back of the loveseat, balancing precariously
on the ledge. She’s a Sagittarius. With every shift towards her mother, she can feel her vertebrae
teetering, eliciting a spinal feeling similar to the one she gets when a car whooshes by an inch
too close or a voice suddenly materializes at the back of her neck. A similar feeling, for an
unknown reason, as the one manifested when she eats a Nutri-Grain breakfast bar too quickly.
Her back remains sutured to the back of the couch while her sister’s fingers perform a
meticulous excavation of her scalp. The girls’ mother whines to be pet and the dog snoozes in a
puddle a few paces away.
The older sister, maintaining steely focus on the current archeological square inch of the
younger’s hairline, announces a proposal with deadpan authority: “Let’s play a game. Mom,
close your eyes and guess who’s about to talk. Ready, go.”
Mom obliges, her eyes closing. Sister looks at Sister looks at Dog looks at Mom. No one
speaks. Game over.
Upstairs, Dad kisses his figurines goodnight. The third baseman wears a pink miniature
tutu hand-me-down, and the pitcher is perched on top of the younger daughter’s old ceramic
necklace stand, straddling the top bar of the T, frozen in an image of plastic lust. An action figure of Captain Jack Sparrow stands defiantly next to this pair but at half the size of the baseball
players, coming up only to their midriffs despite his projected brawn, is often ignored in the
nightly ritual. The same daughter’s retired fake ID is propped up next in the line-up, and Dad
kisses the laminate last. He takes off his baseball cap and places it atop an earring stand adorned
with bluebirds. He doesn’t say goodnight to them. He turns off the lights and gently climbs into
the white four-poster canopy bed, careful not to get tangled in the pink chiffon canopy again in
his eagerness to join his C-PAP machine and dreams of Buster Posey.
On the subway, a mother barters Hi-Chews for kisses. On the G train, she promises to
heat up some soup for you so that you put the gun down. Only poke your sister with your gun if
you do it gently! I mean, don’t you ever feel the sudden desire to pummel the one you’re
spooning, to pummel the one you love?
Some people merge their last names at marriage instead of taking one or the other. But
it’s hard to make up a word—plucking from the air structures that are supposed to resonate.
Letters strung together only to serve as well-worn hammocks.
On the subway trying to make up words and phrases. Hammocks of letters.
|lunality lunal lunigate
|lunar tear not tear
The two daughters retire to their shared bedroom and the year 2005. Here, they are good
at making up words and phrases. They are good at passing the time. Here, they know the rules of
every game: You Go Get It
, in which an object is thrown and Player 1 says to Player 2, “You go
get it.” Player 2 retorts, “No, you go get it.” And so on. Can You Do This?
in which Player 1
performs an action in front of Player 2 and caps it off by challenging, “Can you do this?” And so
on. Food Fun
and Silly Fun
are not to be confused: Food Fun
, in which eyes are closed and a
surprise food item is placed into the mouth of the opponent, and Silly Fun
, in which activities
that are both silly and fun commence.
The witching hour strikes when the lights go out and BBC begins to play on the
television downstairs. The two sisters have no intention to sleep—only to harmonize to Michelle
Branch songs from the safety of their respective beds, screeching out an adamant We are!
unison when the Father tears his eyes away from a nude Damian Lewis to dare ask why his
daughters are not yet asleep. Finally, when even Michelle Branch must rest, Bomb
1 launches herself off of Player 2’s stomach, vaulting over the bent knee hurdle and, ideally,
sticking a landing at the foot of the bed.
Below the foot of the bed and down the stairs, below the dining room table where a single
piece of dog feces sits fossilized, left by the family dog who died over a month ago, down one of
two more staircases and hidden within the halls of the Superhost Father’s Airbnb, sits an ossuary
of the sisters’ childhood relics—plastic storage bins packed to the brim with the Polly Pockets,
toy doctor supplies, stuffed animals that were deemed worthy enough to keep rather than tossing
to the Salvation Army wolves. Most important in this crypt are the remains of Brigadoon, an
elaborate Barbie society named after the 1954 Vincente Minnelli film, complete with French
street names, a town hall, plastic infidelity between the Hansen and LeBlanc families, and a Peter
Pan Barbie doll named Kirk (à la cherished Gilmore Girls
nuisance) that trolls the streets.
The sisters use this town as their shelter, a stakeout against their parents, a safe space, a
realm to address the woes and bewilderments of being young girls growing up in Catholic
school. The younger sister need not worry about Ms. Heeley deeming her jeans too tight on her
prepubescent frame, and opts for no pants at all, and the older sister can rehearse all of the
sarcastic retorts and comebacks she wants before playing them live on the passing period field.
Wow, Amber, that’s
really nice of you
. It wasn’t.
The plastic storage bins that hold Brigadoon’s remains call to the younger sister from the
basement under Bayfield Avenue and she decides that it is time she paid homage to the small
plastic houses and objects that saw so much. Too much. She sneaks down the first staircase and
then the second—avoiding the sunken corpse of an arm chair that holds her father and the
soundproof curtain that cocoons her mother—and slowly begins the excavation. The Barbie
fossils are unearthed, revealing the innocent plastic renderings that stood in for so much more in
the brain of a 10-year-old: the miniature doctors examination table that led the girls to explore
the foreign and forbidden concepts of sex and consent, the teenage Skipper doll that got pregnant
over and over again when another plotline was needed, the pink mansion in the corner of the
basement juxtaposed against the neighboring tin box serving as another character’s living
quarters, socioeconomic wealth disparities inherent even in fictional Barbie civilizations.
Meanwhile back upstairs, past the life-sized cardboard cut-out of Von Freeman and past
the love poem from her sister’s ex-boyfriend shoved in the communal bathroom drawer, the
older daughter comes up with a new game to distract herself from her sudden solitude in the
dark. It's a game in which the player may select one of two types of questions: deep or shallow. The
game is called Deep or Shallow
? This sister likes to be human with other humans and will use
this new game as an instrument to do so. She knows never to ask someone who in the world
knows them best unless you’re prepared to know the answer.
The sisters watch Thelma and Louise
for the first time, set in their belief that they are the
first of their generation to ever discover this radical ingenuity. The younger girl grows cold and
colder yet so her sister gives her another blanket. The teeth still chatter so she adds an afghan as
well, and a wool sweater retrieved from the vanity. The chatter endures so she leaves the room
and comes back with a couch cushion and that day’s newspaper, unfolding the sports section and
spreading it across her sister’s body. A photograph of Buster Posey peeks up from the pages
crumpling between her legs, and as she retreats into a tighter fetal position, he’s pulled deeper
and deeper in until he is inside of her completely. The catcher’s companionship still doesn’t keep
the girl warm, so more Tinder is added. The eldest daughter comes back with another blanket, a
Trader Joe’s brown paper bag, the unworn lingerie she was gifted for Christmas that year, a pair
of decade-old cotton underwear from the Philippines, the clown costume their father used to
wear at their annual block party, a toy Hot Wheels car, a framed photograph of their dead dog,
the wooden clog that she threw at their piano teacher before he quit, a pelt made from their dead
dog’s fur, the G.I. Joe she lost her virginity to, the chair Danny Tanner sits on backwards before
he gets serious, a pile of used Band-Aids found behind the kitchen T.V., a small quilt made from
the dandruff of various family members and a duvet made from her own, a sampling of their mother’s suitors, the protein powder their father snuck into their sandwiches, her future mother-
in-law, the dying Catalpa tree from the backyard as well as the long-dead Japanese Maple, and the lime green, three-pronged back massager that taught the girls how to masturbate, and she lays
them over her sister one by one. She feels another chilled tremor through the layers and knows that her work is not done. Atop it all she adds the final layer, a 15-pound weighted blanket more
frequently used as a straitjacket. She tucks in the corners and steps back, fists on hips, and
exhales contentedly. Her work is done, the chills have stopped, and her sister is never seen
The following years stutter by like a sudden crash through the treetops, a slow fall
through the layers of foliage, hitting each branch on the descent. The sole remaining sister slinks
down through the cracks, pondering the last time she did something bad. She thinks it might have
been when she kept a leather jacket that someone left at her apartment. With each branch that she
hits, she remembers less of her sister. She forgets how to harmonize, forgets the rules of the
games. Her fears are realized; with each branch that she hits, her Barbies’ hair gets shorter and
shorter the more she tries to even it out. As her descent quickens and the layers above start to
block out the light, her glimpses of the sky become patchy, reminding her of the squares of fake
fluorescent blue skies and clouds scattered across the ceiling of her grandma’s nursing home.
People often compare aged skin to leather, but holding her grandmother’s hand on the way
down, and investigating with her thumb, she is more inclined to say satin, or the finest silk,
cinching in all the right places. Her head falls, exasperated, and she feels her grandma’s satin
fingers finally break through. She feels them on the back of her neck, petting upwards, back
towards the hallway’s fluorescent blue skies. Equipped with the finest silk scarf on her neck that
she doesn’t ever want to have to take off, her tumble continues, until it finally deposits her at her
sister’s cornucopic place of rest, her mother lode memento mori.
She collects herself, straightens her leather jacket, and slowly approaches the mound.
Unruffled, she sticks her arm in confidently, stretching deeper and deeper, searching, running her hands over the decaying infrastructure, stroking the sound of the vent turning on, turning over
the sinfonietta of raindrops on the skylight, fondling the twinkle of the toy trumpet her father
used to wake them up in the morning. Her fingers extract a single cassette tape. The label on it
reads Time’s River
As it begins to play, young, lispy voices fill her ears. They are children, and they talk
about loving and dying and purity. Prepubescent tongues hit the pronunciation of each word with
stuttering clarity. They are reading from a book of poems that follows the paths of aging. My life
was so difficult, and still is, my darling moon
, a young voice croons through a mouth
overflowing with braces. She knows that the point at which you stop understanding the poems is
the stage of life that you are currently at, and you simply haven’t experienced the rest yet. As the
tape continues, the girls’ grandmother’s voice starts scratching through, a voice no one has heard
so clearly in months. It comes out full power, mind and words and body connected, and for a
moment it’s almost easy to believe that it’s not coming from the same body currently holding her
hostage. Finally, it is the younger sister’s voice, shaky, reciting through her crooked front teeth: I
have spread my dreams under your feet. Tread softly
The tape clicks off just as it started, as quickly as the time between decades, and whirs in
cryptic completion. The older sister meticulously rewinds it, clears her throat, and hits Record.
She begins by making up a list of new words:
||tricycle of rainbow stars
|pink duct tape bike
||robin egg blue
|yellow plastic cup
||bad paint jobs
|turquoise kitchen pleasantries and
She knows that these words may sound like other words, existing words. But also that
none of you can possibly begin to know the real meanings.
Genevieve Sachs is an artist and writer currently based between Chicago, IL and Brooklyn, NY.
She received her BFA from New York University in 2018 and has since been developing an
interdisciplinary practice revolving around creative writing and printmaking. Her writing has
previously been published by Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Pioneer Works Press, Breadcrumbs Magazine,
and S/WORD Literary Journal. Select artwork can be viewed at www.genevievesachs.com.