Bong Water

by Wendy Oleson

My sister’s dating a guy who might name his new dog “Bong Water,” and I’m trying to be supportive. I’m that person who makes the wobbly table straight by stuffing napkins under the short leg, so if we’re talking the wobbly table of my sister, I’m the one to even her out, buy her non-dairy ice cream and environmentally friendly energy drinks because I know what she needs to be her best self. The guys she dates make fun of her for being vegan. They belittle her politics. It’s not like the current guy (who’s already named his truck “Big Richard”) is going to benefit from Sarah feeling strong and confident. The guys she dates want a three-legged table.

As the older sister, I’ve always cared too much. Once, when Sarah was a baby, I thought she was choking. Mom had put her to bed wearing a pacifier on a string around her neck, and Sarah was crying in this wheezy, tornadic way (we’d had a tornado warning that week, so I was already thinking tornadoes), like this vortex of absence ripped through by a wailing funnel cloud. The song of her need pierced my soul, and I got there in time to spare a purple baby from strangulation by shoe lace. One of Dad’s old running-shoe shoelaces. Dingy and frayed.

So I saved my sister’s life. But if I remind her she just says “Thanks awfully fucking much.” She wobbles. Has 93% of the Daddy issues between us, and today while we’re eating non-dairy ice cream during our scheduled hang out, her truck guy shows up in the driveway, triple-honks Big Richard.

Sarah drops her spoon in the dish like some Pavlovian response and out of nowhere holds up a new dog collar for Bong Water. It’s studded with blue-green gems that match her lacquered nails. “Real Swarovski crystals,” she says. “Aquamarine because Bong Water’s a Pisces.”

I take our dirty bowls to the sink, put away the non-dairy ice cream. From the window, I watch him kiss her, and he seems to like the collar—not Bong Water but truck guy whose name I can’t remember—and she doesn’t wave back as Big Richard pulls out of the driveway.

Dad and I used to call Sarah “Peanut” because we loved Peanut M&Ms—except M&Ms aren’t vegan, and their dyes are tested on animals, which I know because of Sarah. She tells me about food insecurity in America and the dangers of speed boats to manatees in Florida. She knows about mass incarceration and gun violence and eroding reproductive rights. Sometimes I feel guilty for thinking men are making Sarah’s life shitty. Maybe it’s just life. Because she figures out ways to be happy even when everything’s fucked. My sister asks me to learn and remember when it’s easier to forget.

Wendy Oleson (she/they) is the author of two award-winning prose chapbooks. Her recent flash appears in Ninth Letter (web), Necessary Fiction, HAD, and Pithead Chapel. She’s managing editor for Split Lip Magazine and associate prose editor for Fairy Tale Review. Wendy lives in Walla Walla, Washington.


Photography by: Luis Domenech