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  • My Sister Paints
  • Naira Kuzmich (bio)

my fingers the color of a raving pink, my toes the color of a lilting violet, colors too cheerful for my foreign skin, this immigrant body, this melancholy nature, even before the cancer. These are her colors, aggressively optimistic, and I have always known the violence in their glare. The blazers she wears to work are of a similar shade: a deepened yellow, a sun aged by another dying sun; a tense turquoise, its warm green stiffened over the cold blue. My sister is a darker shade of Caucasian than I, passing for brown, passing for black, and though she doesn't think about Race, about Class, terms with capital letters, has never heard the phrase "identity politics" directed her way in vitriol, whenever I ask her if she's white, she says, Hell no. Hell hell no. She says, I'm Armenian. She says it with a confidence I am both confused and strengthened by—I have spent years trying to explain in a literary language what she means and what I know. Her Armenian coloring lets her wear hues my Armenian coloring does not. Or maybe it's her confidence that's the difference? In our family's backyard I sit, my feet in her hands, and she's quiet as she burnishes the dead flesh from my heel. Everything is hardened, you see: my heart, the soles of my feet, the tumors in my chest. I have come crawling back home with a diagnosis. She pleads with me, begs me to let her wash my feet. I refuse. That is not the way it goes. I should be the one begging. Butt wipes, then, she says, with the knowing compromise of a new wife, a new mother, and she grabs the Huggies from her diaper bag, wipes the dirt from my skin, goes in between the toes the way I know she does with her infant daughter. Now, she says, grabbing a few polishes, What will you have? And I am so tired of having false choices, choices that don't amount to change, that I let her pick, and now she's made my fingers into weapons. Longer, bolder, an affront to my own eyes, and certainly my enemy's. Maybe she knows that in a few hours, I'd need them to claw the hardened shit from my asshole, all the enemas and suppositories in the world not impacting my opioid-induced constipation. But they will fail me, my hands, as they have often failed me, and the trip to the ER will end only in humiliation, no relief in sight. There is no relief for someone like me. Stage IV. Exit right. Outside [End Page 370] in the backyard, my sister marvels at her handiwork, then decides her body needs care, too. We are twins, you see. She is only ten and a half months older than I. A lifetime away, but twins. She knows she is the woman I ran away from, wanting the America of my dreams, free from tradition and custom, from goodness and obligation, from old-world generosity. I blow on my fingers as she takes the old color from her toes, as she talks about regrets. She says, I wish before I got married I did more for Mom and Dad, that I did more for this house, that I took them on trips. She says, A woman can't have it all, don't they understand? I see my daughter a few hours a day; will she know who I am? She says, I don't know why I'm crying and why I can't stop. She says, Please let me wash your feet after your nails dry. It is a sunny day in California. The grape leaves above us are fairy-tale green, the shape of stars, and they cast their shadows on our colorless faces. Or maybe they, too, are too colorful. It's hard to pick. Is it even a choice? To stay or to go? To fight or to die? I'm doing the best I can. Sometimes, she says, she feels like she is being punished...


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pp. 370-372
Launched on MUSE
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