It actually started with their brother. He woke up next to me in the bed and instantly started crying. It was as if the moment he opened his eyes he was reminded of something terrible that had happened in the night and he was now realizing it had been real and not some kind of nightmare. He flapped his arms and collapsed face first into my pillow.
I didn’t have to ask why he was upset. It was obvious. The little boy was covered in dark purple spots. Now, these were not small purple spots like chicken pox, but big splotchy ones, like a cow. A purple cow. A sticky purple cow. The spots were all up and down his legs and arms and his chest and back, every inch of his pajamas. As he cried into the pillow I saw that there were even some splotches in his hair.
“Gideon,” I said softly. “Gideon, did you go to bed with silly putty?”
He looked at me confused. “No?” He sat up and then looked down at his pajamas. “But…” He pointed and kind of shrugged lamely.
That was the beginning of the morning. It turns out the boy in the splotchy pajamas was not alone in his hideous condition. He had contracted the disease from his sister Lydia’s bed which was also covered in sparkling dots of a terrible kind. His sister, however, was apparently immune to sticky purple silly putty and survived the night completely untouched by the crawling puddle of flamboyant ooze. But she did not survive the fallout that followed.
She had been the one that brought the wad of gummy sparkling silly putty to bed with her. And it had not been her silly putty.
“That was mine!” Clara balled up her fists in a rage. “You had YOUR OWN putty, but instead of playing with it you decided to take mine and get it all over your bed! And now Gideon-” she waved her hands at the poor little boy that was now slumped on the couch in the living room, busily feeling very sorry for himself and his pajamas.
“I’m sorry, Clara,” Lydia said, but the apology was unconvincing. It lacked the correct level of emphatic passion and eye contact. She was already distracted by a piece of Lego which her toes had found on the carpet, and she was attempting to pick it up with her feet and transfer it to her hands without bending over.
Clara spun around and stomped up three steps and then stopped and stomped back down. “I want your putty.” She reached out her hand. “I want you to give me your putty to replace the putty that you took and ruined.”
Now Lydia made eye contact. Large round eye contact. And her mouth fell open in disbelief. “But that’s not fair, Clara! I didn’t mean it. It was an accident.”
“Either that or you are going to give me money to replace it.”
“I don’t even have money. I don’t have any idea where my money goes!”
This was true actually. Lydia’s money tends to vanish. Perhaps it is left in her bed and gets mashed into her brother’s pajamas and eventually disappears in the washing machine.
This was the moment when I entered the room and put an end to the argument. Or at least pressed a pause button. “Hey! Stop! We don’t have time to deal with this right now. I need you guys to get dressed and we need to be in the car in fifteen minutes.”
They pushed each other back and forth on the way up the stairs and I heard Clara say, “I’m never sharing anything with you ever again, Lydia.” This was whispered through clenched teeth, and it was answered by more clenched teeth and a growl in return.
Fifteen minutes became half an hour before we were all crowded into the car and backing out of the driveway. The boy staring out the window, half asleep. Clara squished in the middle, sternly looking straight ahead, arms folded across her chest. And Lydia frowning expertly away from her sister, ignoring the fact that they were pressed striped shoulder to flowered shoulder.
I watched them as we rounded the corners leaving our neighborhood. The sun spinning around them as I turned the corners. But then, there was a sort of intervention that took place. The hot hand of God suddenly tapped Clara on the shoulder and she turned to look out Lydia’s window for a moment. At the same moment, something caught Lydia’s eye and she turned to face in Clara’s direction. And their eyes met. I tensed, slowing the car, watching them in the rearview mirror, waiting to defuse the argument I could still feel was unfinished between them. They were sisters after all. They had a language between them that I could not hear and that I would have never been able to understand. Conversations in this language were happening at that very moment, in that space of 15 inches that separated the brown eyes and the blue. Hundreds- Millions of conversations.
And then it happened. The sun passed behind a row of trees and the light flickered over them. God fluttered his eyes at the girls, and when it passed and the full heat of the sun was vibrating between them once again Clara exhaled and her shoulder fell about two inches, and Lydia did the same. And I saw a tiny smirk appear in the corner of the older sister’s mouth. A moment later it echoed back from her sister in the form of a soft apologetic smile.
Lydia leaned sideways and made a nest on Clara’s shoulder, and Clara’s head tilted to lay on top of her. The two of them closed their eyes, a quiet totem pole of sisterly love, forgiveness, and hope. Their hair tangled together and their faces glowing. The silly putty was never mentioned again.
Later that same day we were at a large gathering and I was looking for Clara in the crowds of children that were darting in and around the legs of clustered adults all eating and talking and throwing footballs to one another in a large field. Lydia suddenly appeared beside me and took my hand.
“I’m looking for Clara,” I said, without looking down.
Within seconds Lydia was already pointing. “I see her over there. Way over there. By those older kids.”
Sure enough, she was there, a tiny flower hidden among clover.
“How did you do that?”
The little girl shrugged. “I just know her shape. She is one of my favorites.”
I squinted at her. “Your favorite shapes?”
She just smiled.
We started walking together.
“Lydia,” I said finally. “You and Clara as so different from one another. Do you think, if you weren’t sisters, that you would still be friends?”
She didn’t even hesitate. “Oh yes!” she stared across the field, a tiny sparkle in her eye.
“Why is that?”
I felt her tiny fingers wiggle inside of my hand. “Because she is the kindest person I know. If we weren’t sisters, I would still want her to be my best friend. I hope I would be.”
A few steps later and we were at Clara. I took the older girl’s hand as we walked up behind her, and then without speaking, I gently placed it together with her younger sister’s and I let go. They looked at me for a second or two and then looked away. Clara was already explaining to her what she had been watching in the field. With a final nod of my head I left them there. I slowly walked away, smiling confidently to myself, like a father that knew everything was going to turn out okay.