I knock on my sister’s door to make sure she is still alive. When she opens it, she is not dead, but she does have a swollen finger. It looks as if she has an eggplant prosthetic attached to her palm where her ring finger should be. I take her hand in mine and the engorged skin feels like an inflated balloon and I say, what happened.
My sister has a habit of eating the things that hurt her. When we were younger, children, we could not afford to go to school camp. Lisa and I scrounged for change in the bottom of our pink purses and found only fingernails full of crumbs and dust. Later that night, Lisa was admitted to hospital for having eaten two dollars’ worth of pennies. She said she liked the way they tasted. Metal, sidewalk, pocket, blood, salt. If she jumped up and down, we could hear the clanging jangle of our lack.
My sister says, I can’t get it off. She forces her finger between her lips, an assault, and chews like a carnivore.
Your finger? I ask.
The ring. She is mauling her appendage like a rabid creature and I am too scared to touch her for fear of being named her next prey.
Do you want to come in? she asks.
Lisa had the pennies removed from her gut and she got to keep them. When the doctor handed her the jar of coins, she smiled and shook it in the air, victorious. She said, we’re rich!
My mother looked concerned as she watched her daughter tap strangers on the shoulder to tell them of her wealth. She was saying, I grow money inside me, and shaking her jar at them before moving on to the next. And she was so solemn in her confession that she did appear to have forgotten that she had eaten the coins in the first place.
Lisa’s wooden foyer is sticky and it sparkles in a way that isn’t the clean way. In the living room, there are cigarette butts protruding from the carpet like optimistic sprouts from lint-ridden soil.
I ask Lisa, are you doing okay? and she tells me she isn’t. I think about being sympathetic but I am distracted by a trail of ants that is so methodical and steady that it looks as if Lisa’s countertop is divided by a perforated line. As if you are supposed to tear the sink section from the microwave one.
Hey, says Lisa, aren’t you going to show me a Wikipedia page to make me feel better?
I became addicted to creating Wikipedia pages at a young age. It’s hereditary. My mother showed my sister and I her first Wikipedia page when my father left. The page was called Real Estate Agent Adultery Statistics. She pointed to a section that said, “63% of married men cheat on their wives with real estate agents,” and she said, see, girls? We’re in the majority!
Lisa lights a cigarette and holds it between her bloated ring finger and her pinkie. She inhales once, then coughs and drops it to the floor. Crushes it into the carpet with her bare heel.
I didn’t know you smoked.
I don’t, she says. I’m trying to pick it up.
I frown at my sister. She is thin. Her limbs are sharp angles and she looks like an x-ray, her skin is failing to hide her bones. You’re trying to pick up smoking? I ask.
For my health, she explains. My doctor told me I should consider smoking.
I look at the front door.
I know, I know, she tells me, smoking kills, and all that. But the doctor says that even smoking would be better for my health than eating all of these candles.
After the penny incident, my mother came to Lisa and me one night as we sat, slopping about and sliming together in lukewarm bathwater. We were too old to bathe together, so we called it a hot tub.
Girls, my mother said, showing us her phone, look at what I found on the Internet. Ingesting coins can cause cancer.
A Wikipedia page titled: Coin Cancer. Lisa’s eyes grew and she slipped in the tub, kicking my crotch with her heel. She stopped using cash after that.
Sure enough. On the floor, scattered between barely burnt cigarettes are little lumps of wax. Lisa stands and opens her fridge. She extracts a cardboard box and opens it to reveal three long stick candles. She takes a candle and runs a fingernail down its smooth surface, scratches a canyon into its flesh until the space between her finger and her nail is packed with wax.
Then she lifts the stick to her lips. I wince. She takes a sharp bite from the top. Chews. I imagine the wax gluing itself to her teeth, rolling into balls on her tongue. She swallows and takes another bite. I watch her finish the entire stick. Then she reaches into her mouth, pinches her fingers, and slowly extracts the wick, a long string, from her lips like a magician pulling a scarf from his sleeve. She ties the string in in a knot and slips it onto her wrist.
It’s so the hospital folk know how many I’ve eaten, she explains.
When my mother died, a suicide, at age 60, Lisa begged to have her cremated against her wishes. I eventually agreed to pretend I didn’t know she always wanted to be buried. We received the ashes in two identical urns, one for my sister and the other for me. I kept mine on the mantel. Lisa ate hers for dinner.
And now my sister sits in her living room, perched on a couch so sagging it smiles, and she bites into candles like chocolate bars, savouring the flavour of Fresh Linen or Summer Breeze.
Her husband died in a mine blast last month, and I know she will eat candles until the wax fills her insides and becomes her. Until her body becomes a statue fit for a Vegas museum. I take my phone and type up a Wikipedia page titled: Dangers of Wax Ingestion.
I found her writhing on the carpet, clutching her stomach, groaning bovine. Her lips looked rotten with black and she was drooling dark bubbles like something possessed. What happened? I asked. What’s wrong?
Lisa, nearly unconscious, I ate Mum.
There was already a Wikipedia page for that.
Aha! I got it!
I click publish and look up from the screen to investigate the source of Lisa’s glee. But before I can stop her, she sets her wedding ring on her tongue, closes her lips, and swallows.