Sitting cross-legged on the quilted bed spread, Mina draws out the scene on a fresh page in Sal’s spiral-bound notebook. Sal lies down alongside her, her head propped up by her hand, her feet dangling off the mattress. Outside, visible in the limpid, otherworldly color that streaks through the tiny basement window high above them, the night sky is already slurring into an icy, pinkish dawn. The early light casts them in the touchable, textured chiaroscuro of a painting.
Together, the younger with her hair in her eyes, and the elder with her illegible expression, they communicate with slight changes to posture and diversions of attention rather than words. Sal watches the bobbing of Mina’s bowed head as she carefully recreates the vision, noting her focused, scrunched-up face, the precise movements of her crimped hand. In many ways, Mina behaves like an eternal child—stubborn for the sake of stubbornness—but on the rare occasions when seriousness takes over instead, it transforms her from a girl into something else entirely. Not exactly like a woman, Sal thinks, but like a pendulum finally set into motion.
Mina’s version of the tiger looks less like a beast and more like an oversized house cat, an effect further exaggerated by comically triangular ears and oddly proportioned eyes. Mina’s drawings have always been clumsy, but she never fails to get her point across. The rectangular altar is thrice-outlined in ballpoint pen, ink oozing at its corners, announcing its position as the vision’s imposing emotional center. The heart of the dream. The lumpy oval lies above it, a vaguely humanoid form which Mina is now describing as a sacrifice.
“And, to either side, this guy with a very sharp thing, and an old woman. Like a king and a witch from a story.” Mina draws them rapidly: stick figures with bobble heads and blank faces. After a moment’s thought, she scribbles in a curved dagger in the hand of the first figure, and a hood cloaking the second.
To herself, in her capacity as an interpreter of dreams, Sal thinks: Time, slicing seconds off with a knife. Death, shrouded. That leaves three meanings to elucidate before dream becomes reality: the tiger, the sacrifice, and Mina, the archer.
To Mina she says: “And the bow and arrow?” Sal taps the corner of the paper closest to Mina, trying to shape the scene from her in-dream perspective. “This is where you stood?”
“Yeah,” Mina agrees. “Roughly there.”
“And what did you do with them?”
Mina lays the pen down and stares at the drawing, one hand worrying at the edge of her mouth. She feels the weight of Sal’s gaze falling on her like footsteps coming heavily down a staircase, moving choppily from her downcast eyes, to her twitching, rabbity nose, to her quivering bottom lip. An acapella of blotchy skin, tense cartilage, and jerky facial muscles, assembled into a face she hates, and whose movements she knows betray her immediately to Sal. No use hiding, but still her pride, whose demand to be satisfied is as strong as hunger, insists.
When Mina finally glances up to meet her eyes, she knows from the arch of Sal’s blonde brow that she’s been found out. The jig is up. Still, stubbornly, she steels herself for the profound discomfort involved in denying the obvious, which she will insist on doing despite her knowledge of the eventual outcome.
Sal comes out with it straight. “So you interfered in the vision. That’s the trouble you were referring to.”
Mina shrugs, looking at Sal expectantly as she does. The noncommittal tack isn’t intended to end the conversation, but as her first defensive maneuver—from here, she knows, Sal will poke and prod until her defenses vanish in a plume of smoke. But to her surprise and disappointment, Sal doesn’t push it.
Instead, she slides off the mattress. “Let’s go upstairs,” Sal says, extending a hand.
“How did you know?” Mina mutters, looking everywhere but at Sal’s outstretched hand. Because Sal hasn’t forced the conversation, Mina immediately wants to reveal her secrets, to indulge in a whispered revelation; it’s so effective a maneuver that Mina has to wonder if this is one of Sal’s tactical moves. It wouldn’t be the first time she’s played a part written for her by another.
The best and worst thing about Sal, Mina thinks, as she creeps off the mattress and sets her feet on the cement floor, is her instinct for control. She’s too clever, too patient, too good at exploiting Mina’s known weaknesses with it. Sal can wield control casually but with calculated intention, which marks her as a master of the craft. She knows how to both apply and withhold control, as painfully as a bear trap, as delicately as a brush of the fingertips. When she drops a subject, she does it as though allowing a fragile, cherished item to fall from her fingers, knowing Mina will lunge to catch it.
Even the mercy she shows, however loving, however generous—Mina thinks of Sal in the bathroom, averting her eyes from the wet crotch of Mina’s pants and the spit drying patchily around her mouth, combing her fingers through Mina’s sweaty, limp hair—is a cousin not of compassion, but of frigid, neutral control. She isn’t a person like me, Mina thinks, with some venom, staring at Sal’s open palm waiting in the air between them. She isn’t a woman who battles her own worst impulses and loses, every single time.
In the end, Mina takes the offer of her sister’s hand. Her fingers curl around her palm and Mina is transported then to a game day, a million years ago, jumping into the radiant summer sky, palms slick with sweat, to catch the ball, arms light as clouds, and then missing a step, losing her balance, choking on terror as the dirt races forward to meet her, and feeling the sting of bodies colliding as Sal, then eleven to her nine, skid forward to break her fall. Her fingers tight around her skinned hand.
“A beast, a king, a witch, and a sacrifice,” Sal muses as she leads Mina up the basement stairs.
“Maybe not a king,” says Mina, shyly. It’s her dream, something to which she was sole witness, but her fear of Sal’s occasionally cutting intellect makes her fearful of offering an opinion. “He had one of those things you use to cut wheat. A farmer?”
“You mean a scythe,” Sal says lightly, airily. There’s a hint of condescension—nearly unnoticeable, maybe imaginary, but still too barbed for Mina’s tender psyche—to her reply.
Does Sal love her? If she does, it is the gutted love of a dismissive, coolly competitive older sister: dutiful, eternally loyal, but pointedly empty of respect for her and her choices. Does she love Sal? She does, but it’s not a love she chose to feel, and this makes her resentful.
“So, who did you shoot, Mina?” Sal asks, without turning to look at her.
Mina bristles. “Can you guess?” she says, impishly. Sal doesn’t answer, but her silence feels keenly sharpened, purposeful, suggesting she has some inclination but does not desire to inform Mina of her suspicions.
They make their way out of the basement, into the main hallway, with its ugly carpeting and hyacinth-themed wallpaper, and out the front door. They stand on the stoop of their childhood home, in the timid light of the very early morning. When Mina shivers, Sal wastes no time in easing out of her cardigan and draping it over her. Mina feels a jolt of pure love, then—but annoyance, too. If only she were the interpreter, and not the vessel, of the dreams—would she be the giver, the protector, then, rather than what she is now?
She focuses on a street sign at the edge of the sidewalk, trying to train her gaze on anything but Sal. The sign’s dark green metal pole is caught in the embrace of a climbing vine. “Bliss Point,” she reads, and then remembers.
“That was in my dream. The dream was here,” She turns quickly to Sal, searching for her face with a panic that erupts from her chest like a fountain of vomit. The sandy grit of irritation vanishes entirely. All that is left behind is Sal. Family. A safe haven. “Sal, holy shit. It happens here.”
Sal nods, her eyes and lips crinkling like wrapping paper as she begins to say something. As she does, in the distance, a handful of houses away, a young woman screams. They look at each other, and Sal releases Mina’s hand as they both break into a run.