Fine and Dandi

Two sisters.

One, the oldest, as pretty as a model, blonde hair, blue eyes, a killer of a smile, a waist that never puts on weight. She was the smart one, and the one who never talked ‘cause she was shy. Her thing was music. She ate, drank, slept music. She played a kick-butt cello. Her name was Anna Belle. Everybody called her Fine.

Her sister, two years younger, was Mary Belle, but she was known as Dandi. She was the popular one, a little bit on the chunky side and long, stringy hair, a washed-out blonde. She had no particular bent for any of the arts. She liked people and people liked her. She had such an infectious laugh. And she could tell a joke that would have the listener rolling on the floor.

Fine and Dandi were inseparable. As the two grew up, no one could remember them having a disagreement. If a guy wanted to date Dandi, he had to find a friend for Fine. The guys didn’t mind. After all, she was the attractive one. But her attitude toward them made them conclude she was stuck up. She just didn’t reciprocate their affection while Dandi did. So there came a time when Dandi no longer was asked out. The guy couldn’t find a date for Fine.

Fine waited to go off to college until Dandi graduated high school. During the two-year interval between high school and college, she gave cello lessons to bring in some money to pay for the rent her mother charged. “It’s time you paid your way,” she told her daughter. “Can’t stay around here and twiddle your thumbs.”

Dandi managed to get through high school with a B average with her sister’s help. But it was just barely a B. Then she and her sister took off to college. They had a dorm room together. They went to the same classes. Decided they would become teachers. They both liked kids.

Soon they had their degrees and were interning at one of the local elementary schools. Both waitressed at the same restaurant and made enough in tips to keep a roof over their heads. They moved several hundred miles away from the college and found jobs as teachers at the same elementary school. They found a two-story house and renovated it over the next three years.

When the sisters went home for Christmas, their parents noticed the two were looking more and more like each other. Fine had long, stringy hair, a washed out blonde. She gave up the cello. Now she played guitar. Dandi lost weight and now strummed a guitar. Both had become shy but they had Dandi’s infectious laugh.

Then there was something else. When Fine left a room, Dandi worried that she wouldn’t return. When Dandi went off to the store to pick up some groceries, Fine kept looking out the window. It was as if each expected something bad to happen to her sister.

Sure they had always been close, but this was ridiculous. At least, that was what the parents said to each other. “We’ve got to do something,” their mother said to their father as they laid in bed, worrying. “But what?” their father wanted to know. He’d always been a man in control, except when it came to his daughters. So the parents conspired. The parents decided that the closeness was unnatural. It reminded them of people in a cult. What they needed to do was an intervention.

The holidays came to an end and the girls returned to their life in the town three towns away from their parents’ home. Their mother went on the internet and found exactly what she was looking for. It was a Saturday when the de-programmer showed up on her porch. The mother invited him in, told him what she had in mind.

“You sure you want to do this?” he asked the parents. “Once we start on this road, there is no turning back.” He told several stories of what happened when parents backed down after the process began. It wasn’t pretty. “This is what we want,” both parents agreed.

The next Friday night, two men sat in a van across from the sisters’ house. They watched. Saturday passed and both the girls stayed indoors. And the same for Sunday. On Monday evening they came home from work and began their usual vegetarian dinner. While Dandi cooked in the kitchen, Fine set the table.

The doorbell rang. “I’ll get it,” Fine called out to her sister, happiness in her voice.

She opened the door. A man in a dark blue suit threw a hood over her head. She screamed but it was too late. The two men had her in their van and they were down the road.

Behind the van, Dandi in the sisters’ red mustang was a block away and gaining. On the seat beside her lay the .38 the girls kept in the house for protection. Just as she came up behind the van, it started to rain. She almost touched the van’s bumper. Crying, she tried to think of what to do. Then it came to her. She pulled around to the side of the van and slammed into it. The rain was pouring. She pushed harder against the van with her car. The van hit a telephone pole. Dandi stopped her car and jumped out and ran over to the van.

The driver opened the van door. He looked stunned. The other man was slumped over in his seat, unconscious.

“Get out.”

The driver crawled out of the vehicle.

“Now where’s my sister.”

He pointed at the back of the van.

Dandi stuck her gun into his gut and said, “Open the back door.” He unlocked the door.

Fine was on the floor, tied up. “Untie her,” Dandi urged.

The man did as he was told. Fine crawled out of the van.

“Now turn around.”

The man did as he was told.

Dandi said, “Hands behind you.” The man’s large hands went behind his body. “Get into the van and lay face down.” He did as he was told. Dandi handed the gun to her sister, then tied his feet and hands together with his belt. She slammed the door, went to the driver’s seat and took the keys and threw them over into a nearby yard. Down the street came a police car with a flashing light.

Fine and Dandi got into their car and slowly drove away. Dandi left the lights off the car and the police did not follow.

Their car disappeared into the night. That was the last anyone saw them. Ever.

In ancient Greece, there was a story of two brothers, Castor and Pollux. When Castor died, Pollux prayed to Zeus, the king of the gods, to let his twin share his divinity, so that they would never be separated. Zeus agreed and they were made into the constellation Gemini. Perhaps the next time you look up to the heavens with your telescope and see Gemini, you will think of Fine and Dandi. I know I do.

Near 500 words: No More Comparisongs

“What are Comparisongs?” you ask.

Comparisongs are those I compare myself with. But there is no way on God’s green earth that I am going to come close to catching up with them. I am talking writers here, of course. If I was a musician, they would be musicians.

When I was young and green, I wanted to be the next Hemingway. ‘Course I didn’t have the machismo in me that the Maestro. I wasn’t into hunting or fishing or bullfighting or punching someone’s lights out. That didn’t stop me from wanting to match myself up against the Master. I thought I could write simple declarative sentences and make them sing as good as Papa did. Little did I know how much hard work had gone into those sentences.

Being Hemingway for me was like a rich kid from New England trying to be Mark Twain. That kid would not have had a chance. He might have had some Mayflower in him. He sure wouldn’t have had much Mississippi mud in him the way Sam Clemens did. And he probably would not have wanted to be a riverboat pilot either. Or a newspaper man, for that matter.

Being a Southerner, I could’ve taken on Faulkner. After all, he wrote sentences as long as the Big River. Faulkner didn’t interest me. I knew there was a story there but I sure didn’t have the patience to find it among all those sentences. They didn’t make much sense to me. The one thing I did have was some storytelling in me and it was rarin’ to get out.

When I was young and wild and had my head up my rump, I thought I had the potential to do anything literary I wanted. That was my expectation. Little did I know that there was a heap of life those writers, and others too, had lived and I had not lived it.

Along the way I took on Graham Greene and Alice Munro and William Trevor and Yasunari Kawabata. I wanted to do what they had done. Only there wasn’t nary a way it was going to happen. Sure, I could take a shot at imitating their sentences and try at the stories they wrote. But I wasn’t them, and they weren’t me. They had lived their stories. And I forgot that the only story I had to tell was my own.

What story was that? It was the story built out of my own life experiences. I was no Midwesterner who took off for Paris after suffering a war wound on the Italian front. I was no English rover who saw the underside of the world and lived to write about it. Elegantly, I might add. I was no Canadian woman nor Anglo-Irishman. I was not Japanese.

It took me a long time to lay down the expectations and the Comparisongs and take on the mantle of the writer I was to be. But this Thanksgiving I am thankful for the Journey and for those Masters who showed . And also thankful that I have reached a place in my vocation when the only expectation I have is this. To let go and sing my stories the way only I can sing them.