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Jul/Aug 2017 Fiction

My Sister's Labyrinth

by Lâle Davidson

Image courtesy of the British Library Photostream


By the time I found her, she had built a wall around her house that obscured the stained glass windows. I circled and circled and finally found an opening hidden by a rose bush trained to the wall by many ties. The opening led into a boxwood labyrinth. For 20 years I walked the labyrinth, looking for a way to the center where she lived. At intervals tidy gardens of monks hood and amaranth bloomed. When I found her front door, I knocked.

She answered, her brows pursed in concentration, the lines around her mouth squared. "It is so hard for me when family visits," she said, "because my boundaries are so thin."

"Let's at least have lunch," I said, "Before I go."

"I require an appointment. I have a husband and three children and will have to see where I can fit you in."

The path to the street turned out to be only a few short steps from her door. I don't know how I could have missed it.

She met me at a café three days later. When I hugged her, my arms—expecting to find the resistance of flesh—closed too tightly around her bones, but she hugged me back with surprising strength, and I remembered why I had searched for her for so long.

"We can never truly know another person," she said after we sat down, and I thought I saw something move in the depths of her eyes, like an eel or a dolphin swimming through fathoms of green water.

"It's not that difficult," I said. "You spend time together." Our tea was served. Hers was lavender and breath of hummingbird.

"We are all essentially alone," she said.

"That's why I'm here, " I said.

She was just as I had always imagined her when I used to sit outside her closed bedroom door as a child, asking to be let in. That day she wore a jacket hand-woven from milkweed silk and trimmed with moss-covered buttons.

When she sipped her tea, wisps of piney lavender and something that beat faster than the eye could see drifted my way.

"You don't understand," she said after a pause.

"I could." I took a deep swallow of my black tea with milk and honey.

"We are different," she said.

"Yes, but still within the realm of human. If we spend time together, we will get to know each other."

The food arrived. Her order was canapés of violets wrapped in rose petals and fennel fronds.

"Why not spend time with others?" she asked, spearing a canapé with a tiny glittering fork I had not seen before and cutting a piece the size of her pinky nail.

"Because there's a quality of connection you get from spending time with someone with whom you have shared blood and history," I said, heaping a forkful of rice and broccoli into my mouth.

"That quality is too close for me. Too warm."

"You might get used to it," I said, filling my mouth again.

"I am not willing to change for you." She wafted the scent of her food toward herself and inhaled delicately.

"It took me 20 years to find your front door, and when you asked me to make an appointment, I did."

"I didn't ask you to my door. I didn't ask you to make an appointment. I just told you my requirements, and you decided to accommodate. "

"Yes," I said. "Will you ever accommodate me when I ask?"

"I will not change myself for anyone," she said, again. "It's not my job to meet your needs. It's your job."

"Will it always be this way?" I ask.

"Always."

That was the last I saw her. I often remember her labyrinth, full of baby's breath and forget-me-nots. The long, bare branches of her yew bushes twist like dancers in green shawls. I have taken up residence at a house across the street, where I watch others come and go from her labyrinth by appointment.

Sometimes, when I leave my house, I find a scarf tied to a low branch, a blend of blues and oranges, intricate as oil on water, or one woven from butterfly wings frozen by winter come too soon. I know she's left the gift for me, so I wear it.

 

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