Demeter, my sister, is a small girl with long, dark hair, large white rabbit
ears, sleepy eyes, blood red cheeks. When we were born she was three years
younger than me. I am fifteen now, but she is still three. She always has
earaches, stomach aches or rashes--psoriasis. She's allergic to at least
seven different things: chocolate, coffee, carrots, eggplants, mangoes,
apples and eggs are the only ones I remember. But she continues to eat
chocolate, itching at the dry red scabs that form on her arms, cheeks and
Each winter, her ears are filled with a wax drenched cotton, and her neck
is white with cortisone. The ear medication is a sticky brown substance
that crystallizes. They have to heat her ears in order to pour it in. I
sit next to her while her mother, Marilyn, takes a hair dryer and blows
it into her ears. Demeter begins to cry because it's too hot, tries to wriggle
out of her mother's grip. Sometimes Marilyn impatiently yanks Demeter's
ear and my sister screams in pain. They begin screaming at each other. The
medication drips out and they have to begin again, a few more drops. By
the end, it looks as if Demeter's entire ear has been dipped in chocolate.
Sometimes her ears hurt too much and I'm allowed to stay at home with her.
She sits on my bed watching me read, trying to read beside me but not being
able to concentrate for more than a few minutes. She'd rather swing her
legs on the edge of the bed and draw her dreamy portraits of our family.
In these pictures, we have these enormous heads, small hands and feet that
dangle from the head. There is no torso, no mouth, no nose. Only ears and
eyes and puffs of hair that drag them into the sky. The sky is always crimson,
pink or golden: nightfall, never morning.
Demeter isn't the right name for her. It's too golden, too grandiose; it
would take years to fill that name. Her two lungs are not sufficient. I
tell my sister the story of Persephone: Persephone is the daughter of Demeter,
a girl who accidentally eats the red kernels of pomegranates and lives in
I love pomegranates, she says, buy me some. We go to the open
air market, her hand in mine.
I love the feel of Demeter's hand in my own: her hand is so small, the skin
is so soft it is as if they newly uncurled.
She squeezes my hand so tightly that a film of moisture cements our hands
together and our two arms form an elegant, elliptical bridge. I remember
the moisture in my armpits, my palm, the upper lip beading with sweat. The
dust and the sun overwhelm me; my sunglasses slip; I'm wearing my father's
aviators to avoid eye contact. Because we are white, they hassle us even
more than usual. The only pomegranates we manage to find are the size of
a child's fist, wizened and yellow, a scraped knee.
You want these? I ask, doubtfully.
Yes, she replies, can you buy me five? Demeter is greedy: her mouth, hands
and teeth are stained a luminous garnet, she refuses to share, even when
Why didn't you buy one for yourself? she says and takes the plate
up to her room. She quickly caches any sort of gift our father brings home
and bolts the door of her room. When she is at a friend's house for the
night, Wystan and I dig through her room, unearthing treasures that have
long gone stale, tiny boxes of chocolates that we didn't care for but ate
anyhow. Evening would find her swollen-eyed and tearful, locked in her room,
refolding the individual wrappers. By the time she was eight she had a large
collection of chocolate boxes that were all empty but looked completely
She also locked the door when she took her bath. Her baths took several
hours and since there was only one bathroom, Marilyn would be somewhat annoyed.
Are you deformed? she would ask, banging on the door. What are you trying
to hide, a third breast?
Demeter is the door against which my father leaned and leaned until the
earth collapsed beneath him.
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