Creative Nonfiction

Women’s Work

EILEEN GARVIN is the author of the novel The Music of Bees, which is forthcoming from Dutton, and the memoir How to Be a Sister: A Love Story with a Twist of Autism. Her writing has appeared with PsychologyToday.com, the Oregonian, and Introvert, Dear. She lives in Oregon.

“There are so many things to love besides one’s own offspring, so many things that need love, so much other work love has to do in the world.”
REBECCA SOLNIT, THE MOTHER OF ALL QUESTIONS

I. SISTERS

I’m three and Margaret is six. We are naked and standing in the bathroom next to the tub. I shiver as we wait for our older sister, Ann, to come in and turn on the water for us. I’m not strong enough to do it, and Margaret can’t. I wonder for the first time why not. I look at her. She’s nearly as tall as Ann, just two years younger, but she can’t do this simple thing. Her messy hair hangs in her face, and her bangs are ragged where she cut them as a joke. She’s worried a raw spot on her chin with nervous picking. She’s missing one front tooth, and the other is half grown in. Her face is as familiar as my own, and so dear to me. My sister. I never think of Margaret as my big sister. Something is different about her, I understand then for the first time.

Ann stomps in and wrenches the taps open. She sighs, waiting for the tub to fill, and slams the door behind her as she leaves. The oldest, she’s eternally sick of us, but she always makes sure the water isn’t too hot. Margaret and I climb over the high, cold side of the tub and sit crosslegged in the warm water. I pass her the soap, the washcloth. Margaret sings, and her high, fluting voice echoes off the ceiling. Later, we are clean and warm in cotton nightgowns. I fall asleep listening to her whisper and laugh to herself in the dark. This

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