Sister Golden Hair

On younger nights, before Lisa could escape in the Firebird Daddy bought her (on a drinking binge), I could slip cat quiet into her room and brush her hair while she conjugated French verbs or talked to boyfriends on the phone, polished fingers weaving in and out of the coiled cord.

The brush slipped through Lisa’s hair like warm honey. She rarely acknowledged me as I worked, but that miracle mane in my small hands was intimacy enough.

Lisa was my only sibling, and eleven years older. There was no sweater sharing or giggly prank calls to boys. We didn’t argue over the TV or slam bathroom doors. She was Howdy Doody and Vietnam; I was Sesame Street and Hinckley. What was there to fight about? To talk about at all?

One spring afternoon, Lisa, sweaty-faced, slapped her schoolbooks on the table, popped open two TABs from the fridge and handed one to me. Folding laundry, my mother protested this uncharacteristic brashness, but Lisa waved her off and tugged me upstairs.

She brought no homework and took the phone off the hook. In her chair, she untied her ponytail and grinned at me in the dresser mirror.

I knew what “drunk” was; Lisa was not. Yet she hummed with that same sad energy, simultaneously excited and exhausted. Confused, I reached for the brush, but she stopped me. No, let’s roll it!

The Clairol curling set, and my trust, warmed. As I pinned in each roller, Lisa talked breathlessly about her prom dress and college in the fall, repeating the details—winking blue sequins, the dorm cafeteria waffle bar—as if she dreamt of them constantly. Or had to.

When I finished, Lisa leapt up and placed Kool and the Gang on the turntable, “Ladies Night.” Then Michael Jackson, The Who. By the last We don’t get fooled again!, we were clasping hands and spinning, singing, giggling, the loosening rollers orbiting Lisa’s head like carnival swings.

I was still laughing as this foreign, fun Lisa sat again and I unwound the rollers. But her smile dissolved as she told me about that day. Craving booze, Daddy found the spare Firebird keys, walked to the high school and took the car. Students watched him stumble across the parking lot, snickering as the Homecoming Queen was forced to walk home in platform sandals.

Yet Lisa suddenly felt free. This was the final humiliation. No more stolen money, or steering dates around his sour body on the floor. September, she was gone.

Except I wouldn’t be. And she hadn’t prepared me for the heavy mantle that awaited.

But she was trying now, and that was enough. I didn’t care about tomorrow. I brushed her hair, rubbed those shining strands between my fingers like a rosary, a small ritual of thanks for today alone.

Laura Boswell

Laura Boswell lives in Arlington, Virginia where she works in marketing communications. Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, USA Today,, Structo, 3Elements Review and on Sirius XM Radio’s “The Bob Edwards Show.” She is an alumna of the 2015 Yale Writers’ Conference. She writes a sports blog, The Ladies Room, and recently played a Secret Service agent on “House of Cards” (and desperately hopes they don’t cut her scenes because she hasn’t shut up about it).


Artwork by FireReDragon.