Cinthia Ritchie, “Paperdolls”

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Pretend you’re living with me. We are both girls. Your penis is gone. I don’t know where you’ve put it—maybe it’s in your back pocket. We’re painting our toenails Cherry Slurpee Red and eating cheese crackers. Orange flecks our fingers. Your toes are small and dainty. I lean down, cover them with my breath. Are they dry yet? I curl beside you like a cat, the salt from your knees tasting of burnt sugar. You reach for your back pocket. Please, stay like this. A girl.


Imagine your sister comes back from the dead. She hasn’t aged a day. She’s five, eleven, seventeen. Her skin is beautiful—you can’t stop touching. Is she a ghost? She gets out the Monopoly game. You buy all the red and green properties. Just like Christmas, but she’s too busy trying to land on the last railroad. You cheat, maybe she does too. No one buys Boardwalk, the chances of landing on it are slight, and besides, it’s so expensive. You roll, move, it’s so soothing, so familiar. When you look up, your sister is picking her nose.


Pretend we’re in bed. Can you remember? It wasn’t that long ago, or maybe it never happened, maybe we never met. White sheets, sun across the ceiling. You are wet, I am hard. I wait for the end, pillows propped, skin damp. Our stories will outlast us, but so what. Your cock tastes of almonds. The hangnail by your thumb bleeds and heals, bleeds and heals. Heel, I say to my dog, and she shuffles down close to my ankle—demure, suffering. I no longer believe in afternoons.


Imagine your sister moves in with you. She’s dead, but she was always stubborn. She cleans up your messes, cooks dinner, remembers to feed the fish. Maybe you just lost your job or man or best friend. She wipes your face with a lavender-soaked towel, hides your credit card bills, telephone, car keys. You lie naked on the floor while she reads a Nancy Drew mystery. Her voice is young and high. Her vowels warm you. Imagine swallowing a paperclip, that cool metal lodged in your throat. Maybe you’ll die this way, yes, but not today.


Pretend we’ve been married for years. Our kids are away at school, our bodies bent and ruined. Our sad knees, our yellowing teeth. For years we struggle to understand language, decipher pauses and shoulders. It does us no good. Knowledge isn’t love—we learn that too late. Curled in bed with our pajamas off. We are no longer beautiful but still our hands clutch, our legs tense. Oh fucking Jesus. Stray passion crushes our chests, gasps our breaths. How many years do we have left? Pretend it doesn’t matter. Just try.


Imagine your dead sister is nursing you through a long illness. She feeds you chicken soup, tells you stories, changes the TV channels. You are afraid to sleep, so she sits with you as you struggle against the softness, the temptation of dreams. What if you don’t wake up? Hush, it’s okay. Close your eyes. What is the last thing you wish to see: Your children’s faces? The mountains in the morning? Tell me. Tell me now.


Cinthia Ritchie writes and runs mountain trails in Anchorage, AK, with her dog, Seriously. She’s a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee and recipient of a Best American Essay 2013 Notable Mention. Find her work at Evening Street Review, Under the Sun, Water-Stone Review, Damfino Press, The Boiler Journal, and Panoplyzine. She also has upcoming work in Barking Sycamores, Postcard Poems and Prose, and Poetic Medicine. Her first novel, Dolls Behaving Badly, released from Hachette Book Group. She blogs about writing and Alaska life at


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