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LISTEN, MY SISTER, LISTEN by Gary J. Shipley

He watched his legs grow from the armpits of his baby sister every day for a year. Both white calves there on the door of the fridge whenever he looked, and around them the arms of his sisters that through some mistake of birth were limited to two. Their eyes and feet and ears likewise dyadic. And the things they had only one of absurdly depleted in this same way.

Your sister was never more than one, the mothers kept saying. For the mother-body also seemed to be hiding someone else inside it, without any admission as to why it was so many daughters should warrant as many mothers. But her techniques at being half of something were so practiced by then she was hard to tell apart – unless like his your eye had first been seasoned on more rudimentary versions. And so he mostly disapproved of the way he could see how the mothers’ mouth would work at overlapping words, and how even her most basic movements were tiny grotesqueries of overdetermination.

Reflected in a mirror, he never saw more than one of himself; and wondered as a result why his insides had never been finished, why he’d been born so explicitly exiguous in this way, and why nobody ever mentioned it. The men the mothers knew well enough to sometimes hold onto only ever arrived at night, when they were already asleep; but some mornings the extra body was still there in the house, and like the mother-body was both internally too many and deceitfully oblivious. If he ever saw them in a mirror he saw the population of the earth swell a hundred deep into drips falling outward toward other planets.

Before his sisters got words he heard them from the same place. They were honest things, but would turn to falsehoods like the mothers and the men. And then there were the people, not part of the house, that he refused to look at. And because of this the mothers took him to see more of them. The not wanting to look prevailed and though taken specifically to see he did not. And force was he heard no good for what he had. And there was shy and there was just plain fucking weird, or so the men said, one morning in the bedroom in the mothers.

At eight years he was settled into this aloneness. He’d persisted for a series of weeks that numbered more than all the people in the house in aping the missing half. He got as far as a pancreas he couldn’t recognize.  Another way of being more than one spoke out the body of his sisters when they could not. The thought that they’d one day talk and would that way hide inside each other was a future he imagined never happening, and so eventually imagined himself preventing. They were happy and would find new happinesses if they were less ensnarled in the masquerade of being the same partially put together thing as him and instead became that thing. And he would be less alone that way. And maybe then the mothers would stop pretending themselves in half, and the men too would stop arriving.

It was cold in the night and he didn’t sleep. The mothers were busy merging with the men. When he tried to wake his sisters only one responded. He was falsely beside himself in the seconds it took for the second one to cry. He decided not to live through further impairments that at any time might never end.

Inside, when he looked, the second sister was not incarnated like he’d visualized. He’d imagined she would slide effortlessly from the other when she opened. But there was just blood and blood the same as his. And then parts he’d seen before cast in plastic that weren’t duplicated like he’d imagined when he’d had to stop imagining her complete. And inside them no further version waiting to get out. He’d not been prepared for so many separate instances of subdivision. The scissors were to act like a wand and his sisters like doves. But the voices got quieter until they weren’t anymore. And he continued to look for signs of their returning. He looked until his sisters were covering the floor. And at the point he’d stopped believing, they came back. And they all of them rolled around in their sisters listening.

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