SISTERS AND LISTS
When I was dating Ariana, I never asked if she had any siblings, so it was quite natural to mistake her for her twin sister long after we’d broken up. As a way of correcting me, she introduced herself: Becky. I told Becky how seeing her brought back memories of her sister and, in return, she patted my shoulder. That gesture of sudden intimacy propelled me to invite her for a coffee, which led to a dinner, then another meal, and before I knew it I woke up with her in my arms. Ariana had left me a roster of all the things she didn’t like about me, which she thought was the takeaway from our relationship, though she didn’t give me a chance to address her concerns. With Becky, I tried to be Ariana’s ideal boyfriend. I bought Becky flowers, opened the doors for her and was gentle in bed. None of this left an impression on Becky as she dumped me, magnanimously leaving me with a list of what I wasn’t. A few months passed, where I mulled over her comments until I met Celine and found the sisters were triplets. I’m not who you think I am, she said when she saw my confusion. With Celine it took some time to break the ice, but when it happened it was hard to define boundaries. Unlike her sisters, she wanted me involved (her word) in every aspect of her life and she in mine. It was hard to keep up. After a few failures at involving her in my micro decisions—barhopping with friends without her, for example—she made a macro decision without my input and called it off. As part of the healing process, I went on vacation and was surprised to see Celine—or Becky, or Ariana—in the flight attendant outfit hovering over me. She asked whether I liked chicken or pasta and my eyes bulged open. Whoever you think I am, she said, I’m her sister. Then, she repeated her chicken-pasta question, and, in response, I asked for her name. Diane was fun and charming and didn’t take life as seriously as her sisters did which meant she didn’t mind sleeping with guys on her cross-continental trips. I played it cool for a while until I couldn’t. By that point, I was convinced that Ariana must have other sisters, that if Diane ever left me—which she did because I didn’t respect her freedom—I wouldn’t end up alone. So, running into Erica was nothing unexpected, neither was meeting Franny and Gina and Helen and Irene and Jane and Karen and Leila and Monica and Natalie and Olin and Penny and Quinn and Renee and Sonya and Tanya and Ursula and Veronica and Willa and Xena and Yuko and Zoey. They breezed in and out, leaving traces in my heart and a scrap of paper in my pocket brimming with their likes and dislikes.
When I see Ariana, I recognize her immediately. She’s aged, no doubt. She moves slower and dark lines sit around her mouth, crow’s feet under her eyes. She’s also shrunk in size as if she’s shed away part of herself with the years. I have no difficulty deciding that she’s Ariana, thanks to her sisters who’ve helped me to stumble through the trapeze of time. Myself, I’ve changed too. I introduce myself and keep talking for a while until her eyes shine with recognition. I remember you, she says. You never told me you have sisters, I say. Because I don’t is her answer. I smile as I crunch a jumble of papers in my pocket, twenty-six lists of nice-to-bes and not-so-nice-to-bes. Got time for a walk, I ask. She nods, bringing out the smile I’ve grown so familiar with. I throw my arm around the small of her back, tossing the crumpled papers away with my other hand.
Mehdi M. Kashani lives and writes in Toronto, Canada. His fiction and nonfiction can be found in Passages North, The Rumpus, Catapult, The Malahat Review, Wigleaf, Four Way Review, The Walrus, Bellevue Literary Review, among others. He has work forthcoming in Emrys Journal (for which he won 2019 Sue Lile Inman Fiction Award), The Fiddlehead and The Minnesota Review. To learn more about him, visit his website.