CONJUNCTIONS: A Web Exclusive
Guide to a Childhood Diversion
Emma Smith-Stevens



This is a game for two sisters.
          The sisters must be close in age, perhaps six and eight. They will need the sash of a terrycloth robe. There must be a kitchen island or some other domestic island. There must be a mother who is busy in some distant region of the house, perhaps a yard or an attic. The girls’ bodies must be hot and damp from their baths. It must be the time of day that makes adults want to take naps, but which makes children wild and prone to head bumps, crying bouts, and sugar cravings. The girls will need adrenaline, bare feet, and complete disregard for the basic workings of the human larynx.


This game involves a runner and a chaser.
          The younger sister shall be the runner. Her running legs must be fueled by four Pixie Sticks, the desire to witness a solar eclipse, mild psoriasis, fear of the sound of her parents making love, repeated difficulty at eating rice with chopsticks, wonderful dreams of flying, the feel and smell of having wet the bed, the malignant smiles of circus clowns, an inability to comprehend the point of childhood, lust for the taste of paint, paste, sand, powdered laundry detergent, and felt-tip markers, a memory of the pruned-up hairless body of an old naked woman in the locker room of a public swimming pool, and the yearning for her sister to know what it feels like to be caught by the neck in mid-stride, to feel that powerful choking, to be trapped, to have her own momentum turned against her, to not take air for granted.
          The older sister shall be the chaser. Her chasing legs must be fueled, in turn, by a fraudulent memory of actually being born, love for the squeaking sound of the balls of her own feet on the waxy wood floor, a fond regard for childhood—the immediacy, the simplicity—and a yearning for it to last forever, her status as the best friendship-bracelet weaver in her class, an ability to jump without hesitation into ice-cold natural bodies of water, pride in having tan lines, a high level of comfort around both horses and dogs of all sizes, the whipping of the thick rope of hair down her back, many stored memories of winning at this game, and a general feeling of safety and well-being.


The game is called Lasso.
          The sash of the terrycloth robe must belong to the older sister, who is invariably the initiator of this game. It must be tied into her approximation of a noose, which is actually a simple, knotted loop. Before the game starts, the older sister must stand silently in the doorway of the living room, where the younger sister is looking at the river out the picture window, biting her square little nails, watching freight boats and tugboats come back to dock. The younger sister must turn slowly, sensing the older sister’s presence in the doorway. They will know then that the game is imminent, and that when it begins, they must both run as fast as they can around the kitchen island or other domestic island, the older sister chasing the younger sister. The older sister shall attempt to lasso the younger sister around the neck.


This game requires an inevitable lifetime of misunderstanding.
          The young sister will, in her adolescence, revert to using her childhood lunch boxes. She will keep track of favors she has done for people, and she will tally them in her mind, but while she will fantasize about what exactly these people owe her in return, she will never ask for it. As an adult, she will grow accustomed to a state of perpetual anxiety, not unlike the feeling you have when you’ve just dreamt that you’ve lost an eyetooth—that it simply was ejected for some horrific and perplexing reason from your otherwise accommodating mouth—and she will ultimately develop dark circles under her eyes. The circles will be the size and color of small, organic plums. Should you ever, one day in the future, behold the eyes of that younger sister, they will remind you of the William Carlos Williams poem, the one that in grade school you said you got but in fact were secretly worried that you didn’t get, because there didn’t seem to be quite enough of it, except that it was simple and lovely, which the first sister’s eyes won’t be.
          The older sister, on the other hand, will grow up possessing the sort of conscientious attitude that you pretend to aspire to, but which in fact irritates you. She will have a compost bin, and she will cook food for her dog that includes fresh vegetables and meat fit by any standard for human consumption. She will profess a particular fondness for most people, she will rarely masturbate, and she will go her entire life without becoming associated with the following things: box wine, scratch-off lotto tickets, self-deprecating humor, venereal disease, MSG, psychoanalysis, the watching of late-night or early-morning infomercials, a fear of snakes, punching a wall (or even a fleeting desire to punch a wall), and any sort of ritualistic behavior aside from those which can be called a ceremony or a practice.


This is how the game begins.
          Upon entering into this game, there must be an understanding that, should the younger sister manage to grab away the lasso, she will then be the avenger. This must be her hope, her motive for continuing to engage in the game, day after day, despite the pain. But she will never win. She will never get the lasso. On some subterranean realm of their shared consciousness, that must also be understood. The older sister must contemplate her younger sister for a moment, sitting by the window like a lamb. The older sister, filled with a surge of power, feeling tall and rooted as an oak, must announce her presence by saying one word: “Run.”


Emma Smith-Stevens is an editorial assistant for Conjunctions. Her work has appeared in Conjunctions:55, Urban Arias, Web Conjunctions, The Collagist, and PANK. She is from New York City and currently lives in Gainesville, where she is an MFA candidate at the University of Florida.