time

My older sister and I had not seen one another for a decade, had little contact during that time because of family conflict, and we were reuniting inside a Las Vegas hotel shaped like a pyramid.

From the air, as the plane was landing, that hotel looked like a geometrical piece from a child’s game. The brown desert only made its black glass triangle all the more striking.

Tired from my trip of 2000+ miles, I pushed sides of my limp blonde hair behind my ears, and fingered the locket dangling from around my neck; I opened it and looked at the tiny snapshots of my deceased parents. The locket was an amulet and I never traveled without it…not since I was eighteen and got it as a birthday gift.

Under a replica of the sphinx, a bellman took my bag and I went to check in. A water ride, on the ‘Nile’, was inside the building. Wonder if my sister would like to take that? Was walking too painful since she said she was now disabled from spinal problems? Could she stand in the long line, physically get into the boat? Would she look old, stooped, deformed?

My parents had once said that time was a most precious commodity, and is irreplaceable. But time had a way of passing without my sister; we’d only had time for our differences and hostility. Might we now find anything at all to ‘connect’, then replace emptiness with sharing? I fondled my locket; the smooth gold surface felt nice between my fingers.

Glad to get into my room, I hoped my sister’s plane from Los Angeles would get in on time.

Time again. We can’t make it up. I was three hours earlier than my usual biological clock and mused about the gain; I knew I’d be sleepy sooner than my sister, however.

Would I recognize someone I hadn’t seen in a decade? I talked to my image as I secured plastic combs in my hair. Did we have anything at all in common? Our lifestyles had been different. We didn’t look alike as children, or adults, so, middle-aged, what features, if any, might show we’d come from the same gene pool? Did she also inherit the staying-natural-without-greying hair of our parents? Would she make me self-conscious since I was still thin, and call me the childhood taunt Skinny Marink? Should conversation merely be polite or might we speak of sensitive things? Would old rivalries surface? I spoke to the bathroom mirror, then washed my hands with the only soap provided; it was perfumed and I sneezed.

Glitz city. Unreal. Perfect for this meeting which seemed unreal, too. My watch indicated it was time. Time again. Feeling excited yet anxious, I went to the check-in area to search faces and forms to find my sister. Should I run up to her and embrace her or approach with caution?

I scanned the line, and my eyes stopped on a woman with a cane. Her beauty shop-colored hair was pushed into a glamorous style. Was it her? No one else in line had a cane. I quickly walked over, crossed the barrier’s velvet ropes, and approached. I looked at aqua eyes framed by perfectly applied eye make-up and knew those aqua eyes belonged to my sister. I hugged her with disbelief, then felt self-conscious when my plastic comb slipped from my straight, fine strands.

She looked into my grey-blue eyes whose lashes were without mascara, as usual, and said, “Is it really you? Oh. I’m so happy! You’re the same.”

“Except for jowls and a wiggly neck, uh huh.”

She smelled fragrant, and I didn’t sneeze from the scent. This was not the image of an infirm, aging woman with a crippling disability. This was not the stature of someone hoping for sympathy for her physical plight.

Her nails were polished. I hadn’t done mine with polish since my wedding…I think about it, but typing, playing the piano, painting on canvas, golfing, doing domestic chores just don’t go with painted nails. She bit hers as a girl; I suddenly remembered. Now she had glamourous ones.

Memory. We do have that. As a child, I loved her, I hated her, I giggled with her, I went out of my way to walk to school along a completely different avenue just to not have to talk to her. No. These memories should stay where time put them.

Time was a most precious commodity, and is irreplaceable. Did she, too, know we once didn’t understand that?

She moved toward the check-in when space opened; she limped. She opened her wallet to show a credit card.

I stood next to this stranger whose genetic markers were also in my body although nothing on the surface indicated that, and saw, in the open wallet something that we two had that tied us forever. I felt startled, for a second, as it was so unexpected. I’d thought about so many differences, and wondered about anything shared. I reached at my blouse for my locket, blinked as if I could halt tears, opened the clasp to expose the contents. In her wallet’s plastic picture inserts were photos we had in common: our parents.

We knew not to press ‘buttons’ of hostility, during this weekend, and decided we’d meet in the near future; it never happened as we ran out of time when she died of stomach cancer.

An earlier version of this work was originally published in Palo Alto Review.

Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies. Collections of her personal items/photos/memorabilia are in major museums, including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian.

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