The Bird Sisters

The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen

Book: The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen Read Free Book Online
Authors: Rebecca Rasmussen
Tags: antique
Milly to participate in her style of verbal banter, and whenever Milly did, Bett would congratulate her. “I knew it! No one can be that nice!”
    Milly didn’t see herself as being either nice or mean, but sometimes it was hard to know who you were without someone telling you.
    “I’ll tell you who you are,” Milly’s mother would say to Twiss when she’d done something wrong. When Twiss ate a handful of their mother’s sugar cubes and denied doing it, for example, their mother said, “You’re a thief and a liar, and it’s only seven in the morning!”
    When Twiss used their mother’s nightgown to carry potatoes, she said, “You’re like that farmer who harvested Mr. Peterson’s alfalfa field. You take what isn’t yours.”
    People were making predictions about what Mr. Peterson, the rightful owner of the field, was going to do about the misappropriation of his property. Mr. Sprye not only had harvested his field but also had bought a three-piece suit from Italy with the earnings. Mr. Peterson’s delaying taking action made people believe blood might be spilled, even though he seemed like a good man—he’d helped their father, after all.
    “Maybe there’ll be a public hanging,” Bett said.
    “Or a shoot-out!” Twiss said.
    “This is Wisconsin,” Milly said. “If anything, there’ll be a fair and speedy trial.”
    In eighth grade, she’d studied the Constitution. So had Twiss, though she’d balked at the idea of a bunch of men getting together to decide people’s rights. “Where were all the women?” she’d said to her teacher.
    “Betsy Ross sewed a very nice flag,” the teacher said.
    “At least we have the right to vote,” Milly said.
    “Hang voting,” Twiss said. “I want to be the president!”
    Milly liked to picture Twiss in the Oval Office, handing down orders and smoking cigars with foreign ministers. Twiss had a good voice for politics, a dramatic timbre.
    “Good morning, my fellow American!” she’d say to Milly when they got out of bed each day. She’d use the carafe of water as a microphone. “How did you sleep, fairest senatoria?” After Bett came to stay with them, her morning announcements changed to include their cousin. “How did you sleep, Senatoria 1? Senatoria 2?”
    “You’re worse than an old man!” Bett said one morning in late June. “Have you seen the circles under my eyes? The red balloons? No one will ever want to marry me like this.”
    “Cucumbers help puffy eyes,” Milly said, while she brushed out her hair at her dressing table. “Cold cloths, too.”
    Twiss started for the bathroom. “Why does everyone want to get married?”
    “Because I don’t want to be sleeping next to you for the rest of my life,” Bett said.
    She took the cold cloths Milly offered her, but they didn’t bring down the puffiness beneath her eyes, nor did they take the redness out. No matter how many hours she spent on what she called the Great Beautification Project, Bett couldn’t get her hair or the skin beneath her eyes to submit to her desires.
    “Here,” Milly said, offering Bett one of the silver butterfly combs her mother had given her for her birthday. The combs came from the small stash of items in the bottom of her mother’s jewelry box that had belonged to her mother since she was a girl. Before she and Aunt Gertrude had married for love and were cast out of the sphere of their immediate family, their father had given them each a set of sterling combs and dainty oval lockets with the words “For my darling” inscribed on the back. Her mother said she missed that—being called darling.
    “It’ll keep your hair out of your face,” Milly said to Bett, who took the comb, but frowned when she saw the result in the mirror.
    “You have no idea how pretty you are, do you?” she said to Milly. “You can have anyone you want.” Bett stared out the south window at the green of the front lawn and the garden, the spread of clover and crabgrass, the

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