From Chicken Soup for the Sister's Soul

Sisters of the Attic

We shared parents, homes, pets, celebrations, catastrophes, secrets. And the threads of our experience became so interwoven that we are linked. I can never be utterly lonely knowing you share the planet.

Pam Brown

My sister and I are playing in the attic of our old house. It is night. The river roars like a line of runaway log trucks past our home. The old knotty pine house stands secure, and we are safe.

Daddy guards us. He guards well, because he sees with his ears. His people—the Cayuse and Nez Perce—taught him how, and he taught us. They love him, too. He is one-half them.

We hear the window open downstairs. My sister and I, sitting as if frozen, see with our ears too, like Daddy. We can picture in our mind what Daddy is doing.

We see the light from his flashlight on the river. It moves upriver slowly; then downriver more quickly. The beam of light loops and moves upriver again. It inches over the rocky incline, just one hundred feet from the window. “Too close. I’ll stay up tonight,” Daddy says, and he means it.

A bulb dangles from an orange- and green-striped electrical cord, directly above our heads. I like the shadows the spider webs make on the walls. When the light wiggles, they wiggle, too. The webs don’t scare me, just the spiders who make them.

The window slides shut. My sister shrugs her shoulders. We know we are safe from the storm and the swift river, because Daddy keeps watch.

Only my sister and I are allowed to play in the attic.

The rain sounds like road gravel pelting the roof. Wearing polka-dot pajamas we sit on the floor under the attic roof, an upside-down V, like a teepee.

“I get the typewriter first!” I say as I accidentally bump the light, causing the spider webs to dance. “I’m going to write a story. You play in the Christmas stuff.” I am six, and she is four and a half. That’s why I can boss her.

I don’t know how to type and haven’t a clue what a dictionary is. If you ask me what a thesaurus is, I would tell you it is a dinosaur. I would look right at you, and you would believe me, because I believe me. You might ask, “What kind of dinosaur?” and I would tell you, “A baby one that doesn’t know how to fly.”

Here is a story for you. It is a summer story. I write summer stories in winter because it makes me happy. My fingers wiggle over the keys; words pour from my mouth, fly into dark corners of the attic, or hang upside down, pinned on spider webs. They are baby words that haven’t grown wings yet.

“My Fort Stump” by me. My fort is an old stump. It is white and part of it is in the Zig Zag River. That’s the river outside our house. I play with my tea cups there.

I also play with my dolls and my fishing pole. “Look Lavelle! There’s a big fish down there! Let’s get it!” I am flat on my belly crisscross on the log part of the stump.

She grabs the pole. We have no bait. “I’ll get the bait, hold the pole,” she says. I watch the giant fish move into the dark murky depths, under the log I lay upon.

The fish swims towards the periwinkle pool and rests in the shade, looking like a silver spear on the sandy bottom.

Lavelle comes back to the log, sits down beside me and opens her fingers. Red huckleberries fill her palm. “These look like Daddy’s salmon eggs.” I watch her brown hands bait the hook. Her skin is the color of dark pinecones in the summer. Mine are red and sunburned. We drop the hook and the fish swims away. Lavelle stands up and says, “I am going to get Daddy’s salmon eggs out of the Frigidaire,” then leaps off the log.

“Run! Go fast!” I tell her (because I am terrified to be at the river alone. I think a cougar is in the brush, stalking me, waiting to eat me. She thinks one’s there too, so she runs fast . . . besides, she wants to catch the fish, too.).

Soon she is back beside me. She opens the lid, while I pinch the sharp, mean-looking hook tightly. She puts a pink salmon egg on the hook and says, “Let’s catch this fish and give it to Daddy.”

“I’m scared of that big fish!” I tell her, and hand her the pole. She drops the egg in front of the fish’s nose! The fish swims away, makes a big circle and comes back. “He swallowed the egg!! He did! He swallowed it!” He jerks the line with a whole bunch of strong yanks, then dives deep into the dark water.

“He ate it! He ate it!” we scream. He jumps out of the water right at our faces! He’s as long as Mom’s yardstick! We both hold tight to the pole!

“I’ll hold the pole; you run and get Daddy.” She hands me the pole and runs. “Hurry, he’s breaking the pole!” I yell.

The fish flies straight up, cutting the air in two, then hits the water, and leaps into the sky again; then dives deep down to the bottom, and moves up the river like an arrow shot from a bow, ripping the line off the reel in a loud whirrrrrrr. My arms are aching, I can’t hold on much . . .”

Oh, oh. These tiny finger keys are jammed. They are like a bunch of thin flat hammers all tangled. Now I have to untwist them. Oh! There’s ink on my fingers, Now they are finally untwisted. Okay. Where was I?

“. . . I can’t hold on much longer!” I yell at the top of my lungs, as loud as I can! “Daddy! Daaaddddy! Help!”

Lavelle sits down beside me. “My turn! You go play with Mom’s old clothes and the Christmas stuff,” she tells me.

“No! I hate it over there in the corner. There are spiders. You aren’t scared of spiders, I am!”

“They’re only daddy longlegs! You have to share! I’m telling Mom!”

I don’t answer her. I move my fingers faster over the keys. I know she is going to tell Mom how selfish I am. I start a new story:

Fish don’t like berries, just bologna. I know where there are fish. They are in the deep pools right below a waterfall. My friend has a baby deer. It has a bell around its neck. I’m scared a cougar will eat it.


My fingers type faster. I only have a few seconds before Lavelle will be up the ladder, yelling “My turn!” I type faster, I talk faster and louder so Mom will hear.

Lavelle is my sister. She snuck into Mom’s chocolates that Mom hid under her bed and she ate almost all of them. She took Dad’s fishing eggs out of the Frigidaire, and she doesn’t share. I saw her hide her food in her milk carton. She is going to have her tonsils out.

Lavelle sits down and grabs the typewriter. I crawl way back into the dark, spider web scary places. With gray insulation stuck to my pajamas, I watch Lavelle from the corner. She lifts the lid of the old machine, and lets the metal hammers hit, then puts her finger on the old spool and turns it at least five times. She clicks a little hook thing, and spins the ribbon the other way. She opens up the top and peeks in, then moves the carriage back and forth—over and over. It goes zip-flip-ring, zip-flip-ring. She hits a line of ???????? and a line of !!!!!!!! and then mmmmmmmm and then starts the alphabet real slow. A. B. C. D. E. She gets to O and likes Os so does a whole line of Os like this OOOOOOOOO. Now she is ringing the bell with her finger . . . ta-ling . . . ta-ling . . . ta-ling. She’s doing this on purpose to tease me.

I have stories stuck in my head. I glare at her. I know she wants to take the typewriter apart.

“It’s my turn! I’m going to tell! You’re going to break it!” I whine.

“It’s already broken, dumb-dumb.”

I grab the typewriter. She grabs it back. I grab it back.

“I don’t want to play anymore,” she says.

“All right. You can have it,” I give in. I want her to play.

I play in the Christmas ornaments and pretend I don’t care. It works. She comes to the Christmas box and finds the manger set. We unwrap the animals. We are looking for the baby Jesus. We find him. We put him in his manger bed. “I get the camel! Where’s the camel?” I unwrap an angel. She has the camel.

“Does it hurt to have your tonsils out?” she asks.

I’m scared. I know it does. I dig deep looking for more angels, more angels for Lavelle. She hands me a wise man and says, “He goes with the camel.” I tell her it doesn’t hurt to have her tonsils out, and she can have all the ice cream she wants. She knows I had mine out when I was two so she believes me.

I sit back down at the typewriter. There is a camel and a wise man in my lap. Again my fingers wiggle over the keys . . . I think in my head because I don’t want to speak sad words out loud.

Tomorrow Lavelle has to have her tonsils out. I am scared. I know it will hurt. I was two when they took mine out. Mom said the doctor is going to save them so Lavelle can see what tonsils look like. Lavelle said she would put them in the Frigidaire right by Daddy’s salmon eggs. This is true, it REALLY is. I don’t think Mom should let her put the—


The first rains of autumn are here, and the leaves are the color of butter or corn on the cob. No they aren’t. They are the colors of memories, and they skip from the trees and dance across my mind, like giggles in the wind. They float down the river, just like they did fifty-three years ago. I scoop them up in my hands, and they fall through my fingers onto the keyboard. I wrap up the words and lay them beside the manger, in the attic of my soul. I give them to him. It is his gift. He can do with his gift what he pleases.

The wind blows again. I peek at the words from the attic. Just a quick tiny love peek. It is first light. The sun is spilling over the Zig Zag mountain, the morning has come. It is time. I push SEND and the words become wings. “Fly words! Do good words! Make the world a happier place!”

. . . My eyes fill with tears . . . I don’t know why . . . My fingers move again upon the keyboard.

Hi Sis!

I’m sending you another story, about when we were kids; and we used to play in the attic with the old typewriter.

Don’t worry about having your gallbladder out. It doesn’t hurt too long afterwards and you can eat all the ice cream you want!

. . . now my eyes overflow with tears . . . I am thankful for e-mail. At least it doesn’t arrive tear-stained.

I miss you. Can you come up this summer?
I love you,

Glenda Barbre

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