The second sister lives across the lake in a grand old cottage raised high on pilings. Malcolm counts steps and there are sixteen to get to her front door. Her deck overlooks wetlands filled with creatures large and small.  We meet monthly at the mall to buy a new shirt or a lipstick – always another red for me, always something frosty for her. “You got the good lips,” she tells me. She’s the smallest of us with a body that packs too much suffering: ruptured disks, ovarian cysts that exploded like dynamite, and then a diagnosis last year of an auto-immune disease, Hashimoto’s, which sounds like a kamikaze pilot and almost took her down. Her thyroid stopped working. It’s taken a year to figure herself out, while she’s kept herself in a bubble of self-care.

I’m wearing a vermillion shade called Bozo; she’s got on C-Thru, a shimmery peach. In the food court, we scout for what she hasn’t excluded because gluten, sugar, dairy and soy flash pain into her joints. She shows me her fingers, the knobs. Arthritis runs on the Polish side of our family, our mom’s side. I examine her tender hand and don’t want to let it go. She’s fifteen years younger, with two sons in college.

She tells me she’s in remission, a cancer word I don’t want to be her word. We order what doesn’t hurt: grilled chicken, salad with olive oil and salt, steamed vegetables. When she was tiny, I’d have to carry her over the sand at the beach. She fretted over the crunch of gravel, the squeak of packed snow. How could I know then that this sister would become fearless and expert crossing any terrain? At home, she’s taught herself to shoot snakes that get close, aiming for the head.

13. “Mangia! Mangia!”

Ink on cold pressed watercolor paper

23″ x 23″