by Duff Brenna

Illustrations by "Luna Ticks" aka Elizabeth Fiend

Netty clipped the daily weather report from the newspaper and placed it in a shoe box with her other daily weather reports. She put the scissors back in the nightstand and took up a bag of lavender with which she dusted the shoe box, then her pillow and her long, black hair. She put the bag back and closed the drawer. She lifted a tiny brass bell between her thumb and forefinger and shook it. A warm tinkling sound filled the room.

"Ahhh," Netty sighed. Then she spoke to the bell: "Tinkle, tinkle, little bell, how I wonder what you'll tell; is my knight in shining armor just like Pa, a goddamn farmer?" She laughed and shook the bell as hard as she could.

Netty's sister entered the room, looking dowdy in her seven dresses. From the sleeves, her bony wrists and hands foiled nervously with the air, as if shooing away the sound of the bell. She snorted at Netty and curled back her thin lips on two rows of oversized teeth.

"You keester, Netty," she said. "You don't stop that bell, I'm gonna bite your nose off."

"Bethy, listen to this funny poem I made up. Tinkle, tinkle, little bell ... what the hell?"

"Well, it isn't exactly Lord Byron."

"There was more, honest."

Beth looked at the shoe box on Netty's stomach and asked her what the weather was going to be. Netty ran her hand over the clippings, then suddenly stabbed one and brought it out. "Warm and sunny," she said. "Lift the shade."

Beth jerked at the shade and it rolled briskly up, while sunshine streaked across the bed and lit a nest of wrinkles on Netty's cheeks.

"Bugland full of bizzaros," said Beth, as she glared out the window. The harsh light made Beth's face look pasty and loose, as if she could mold it into any shape she wanted as soon as she got sick of it hanging and trembling.

"What do you see?" asked Netty, nearly breathless with anticipation.

"The Taj Mahal, what do you think I see?"

"And what else?"

"Two Irish farts sitting on a stump."

"The same two? Is it the same two?" Netty's heart was pounding so hard she could hardly talk.

"Tweedledee and Tweedledum."

"And is Lola coming?"

"Can a camel see through the eye of a needle?" Beth snorted and adjusted her seven dresses, smoothing them repeatedly across her huge, artificial breasts. "Those men better quit staring at me," she declared, with a noisy sucking of air through her teeth.

"They're at it again?" asked Netty, pulling the covers to her chin. "Men!" she spat contemptuously.

Across the street two boys sat on a bus bench, passing a long, black cigar back and forth between them.

"That one flicked ashes at me, the keester!" cried Beth.

"Another hot one. All these hot ones. Give 'em your profile, Bethy."

Beth turned sideways and continued to smooth her dresses, until a bus came and took the boys away.

"Oh, they threw that ugly, fat cigar at me," said Beth.

Netty threw the lid off her shoe box and scrambled the clippings with her finger. "I'll make it rain on 'em, Bethy," she said. "That'll cool 'em off!"

Another bus stopped, then went on. A thin woman, with pitch black hair cut in bangs straight across her eyebrows and hanging down so that it curved into her neck and underneath her chin, stood waving her hand at the diesel exhaust, through which she stepped toward Beth and Netty's apartment. The woman wore a bright yellow sunsuit, with blue flowers printed on it. She also wore red, heartshaped sunglasses, which kept slipping down her nose. Her mouth was a gash of red smiling up at Beth in the window.

"The tart!" cried Beth. "Disgusting, disgusting."

"What? What?" Netty asked. "Is it Lola?"

"The last of the Lolita's herself. Come look, Netty."

Despite her paralysis, Netty jumped out of bed to see. She laughed and waved at Lola. "Isn't she a slut, Bethy?"

"A wet little whore."

"Do you guess she makes a lot of money?"

"Look how bowed those legs are."

"We had legs like that once. Those were fun days, huh, Bethy?"

"What're you talking about? It was a pain in the ass, that's what it was."

"It was fun sometimes. And we made lots of money. Men like sisters."

"Perverts," growled Beth.

"Now there can be three of us!"

"Don't be a keester, Netty. Lola isn't gonna want to stay."

Netty slumped to the floor. Beth turned and stepped over her and went to greet Lola.

After they looked each other up and down, then hugged and kissed, Lola asked, "And how is nasty little Netty?"

"Paralyzed from the butt down."

"Poor Netty."

"It's to be expected, Lola. I'm next, you know?"

"Yes, I know. Oh, dear dear, just like Mummy."

"And grandma."

"Just like them both." Lola sighed. "But maybe Netty's the last, " she added hopefully.

"Oh yeah?" said Beth, grabbing a straight pin off the dusty sewing machine. "Look at this, my girl." She shoved the pin through the skirts of her seven dresses. "Don't feel a thing."

"Oh, dear dear."

"I'm next, Lola."

"Yes, I see. Oh, dear dear, the family curse." She ran her hands down the sides of her hips and patted her thighs. "The profession," she said. "We just weren't made for it."

"You sure look like you were," Beth told her, turning her sideways. She reached over and squeezed Lola's bottom. "You still got the keester," she said. Then she limped away toward the bedroom and motioned for Lola to follow.

"How long have you limped, Bethy? I didn't notice it when you let me in."

"It comes and goes," she answered meaningfully.

"Lola! Is that you, little sister?" Netty called, as the door swung open.

"Precious, how are you?" Lola cried.

Netty had gone back to bed and arranged her hair on the pillow, so that it flowed out around her like a black fan. Above each eye, she had hastily pencilled jet brows, which made a startling contrast with her ghostly pale forehead, just the way she knew her men would like it. She coughed for Lola and said, "Oh I don't know, Lollypop. Somedays my bum is just so numb -- there! another poem. You should have heard the one this morning -- tinkle, tinkle all to hell goes the bell... Oh, shoot, what was it, Bethy?"

Beth looked at Lola. "Netty thinks it's time she started using her mind."

"Don't be saying it like it's something new." said Netty. "I used to poemify all my men while we were doing it. It made 'em last longer.

"Pooh, who wants to make them last longer?" Beth replied.

"Well, I must say," said Lola, stroking Netty's cheek, "that you look full of invitation with your hair all spread out like it is -- so pretty, precious."

They kissed. Then Netty told her she wished she felt as good as she looked. It was the paralysis. It seemed like she had just used up all the feel she had down there.

"I know," said Lola. "It must be hard on you."

"I'd rather it was hard in me, Lollypop. But what's the use? I keep remembering Mummy, and all those years in bed."

"And grandma too."

"Oh, yes yes, and great grammy too."

"Great-great grandmummy."

"Seven generations now."

"Serving ourselves up for sacrifice."

Lola and Netty fell into each other's arms and bawled loudly. Beth placed her head on Lola's back and joined in. The three sisters had a good cry. When it was over, Netty passed around her box of Kleenex.

"Oh my," sighed Lola. "You're so dear to me, so dear dear dear."

"And you're dear to us," Beth replied, taking Lola's glasses out of her hand and putting them on. "How do I look?" she asked.

"Like a tramp, what else?" Netty answered.

"It's all an illusion." Beth told them. "Look at how Netty and I are fading. Both thin as reeds. When's the last time the doorbell rang, Netty?"

"I don't know. Did Lola ring the doorbell?"

"The bell hasn't rung in years."

"Maybe months," said Netty wishfully.

"So what do you think of that, Lola?" asked Beth. "What're you gonna do?"

Lola took her glasses back and put them on. She sucked on her finger for awhile, while she looked at her two expectant sisters. "Oh, dear dear, I don't know," she answered finally. "I mean, well, look at you, Bethy. You look positively plump and succulent."

"I don't either. Look at these wrists." Beth jerked on the sleeves of her seven dresses and revealed her tiny wrists. "And just you look at my ankles." She pulled her skirts up and showed a pair of ankles scarcely larger than the spikes on Lola's shoes.

"Dear me, you're not made for dancing, are you?"

"Nor striking a spark in a randy man. I'm positively shriveling up from foot to keester." She turned her rump around to Lola. "Pat that. See if you can find it."

Lola buried her hand in the skirts and found to her surprise that Beth still had a plumpish little bottom. Beth said, "See?" and bent over a bit, so Lola could feel it better.

"Why, this isn't so bad," said Lola. "It's warm too." She kept rubbing it.

"Let me feel," said Netty. Beth turned slightly, so Netty could reach. "Yeah, it's better than mine, " Netty declared.

"Are you sure?" said Beth, gasping. "You're not just saying that?"

The sisters felt some more all around, in every way they could, while Beth squirmed and gasped, until they finally convinced her. She turned around and held Lola to her and burst into tears.

"Poor dear Bethy," Lola panted.

Beth replied that she felt dizzy. She sat on the bed, crushing Netty's shoe box of prognostications.

"Get off there, you nitwit!" said Netty, and she gave Beth such a kick it unseated her completely. Beth hit the floor with a thin thud.

"You shittin' cripple!" cried Beth. "I could'a broke my coccyx!"

"Now my box is ruined," Netty told her.

Lola patted Netty's head. "I'll find you another," she promised.

"Good Lollypop. Sweet Lollypop. Bad Bethy."

"Shove it, Netty!" Beth picked herself up and stomped out of the room. In a moment the two sisters could hear the television tuned to Beth's favorite soap opera. Beth called to Lola. "That dope Tony is gonna screw his wife's sister. The little slut. Come watch, Lola,"

"Oh, that's rotten. Let's go see, Netty," replied Lola, and the sisters ran into the living room.

All day they drank coffee and watched the soaps; then Netty's legs wouldn't work, so Beth and Lola tenderly carried her back to bed. She cried and apologized for being so much trouble, but they told her not to worry; they understood. She ate her dinner served on a tray -- cauliflower smothered in cheese sauce, with an eight-ounce glass of vodka and two mint-chocolate patties. Then she watched the lights coming on in the apartment across the street. A bus came by and stopped. Netty got up to see who was getting off. Two tall, young men, scarcely more than boys, stood there, lighting a cigar. One of them flicked the match at Netty and set her heart to pounding terribly. She leaped back in bed and grabbed her crumpled shoe box, stabbing blindly for a weather prediction -- hot and steamy, it read.

"Oh, those hot bastards," whispered Netty. "Throwing it at me like that." She scooted way under the covers and held the clipping against her breasts. "Ooh, ahh, ooh, ahh," she panted, over and over and over, squeezing and relaxing the muscles of her thighs, until she brought rain upon the man who flicked the match.

"Bethy dear, believe me. I can't stay. I have a life to live yet," Lola explained, as the two of them sat facing each other on the couch, legs entwined, like Indian wrestlers.

"You can't abandon us, Lola. Did Netty abandon Mummy?"

"Netty's got you," Lola whined, as she stroked Beth's callused toe.

"Netty's got nothing," Beth answered. "Can't you see what's happening to me? Peel that off, honey."

Lola tried but the callus clung stubbornly. Finally she bit it off.

"You probably have a manager, huh?" asked Beth. Her eyes were fiery with condemnation.

"It's the only way these days, precious."

"What's he like? Does he have it where it counts?"

Lola nodded. "A living, breathing man, black as jet, full of whip and cream."


"He looks a lot like the one Mummy used to have."

"The one who did massages with baby oil? The gorilla-nose?"

"Just like him."

"Does he massage?"

"He uses a vibrator, Bethy, and he sweats all over you."

"You know," said Beth, rubbing her bad leg. "I limp now. The only thing that helps is a massage."

Poor Bethy. I'm sorry."

"He could stay with us, Lola. It would be okay."

Lola shook her head. "No, no, dear, not yet. I have my own life to live."

"Selfish as always. You were always the selfish one, Lola."

"I know. Do you like my summer suit? He bought it."

"Can I wear it?"

"How can you wear it, precious?"

"I'll take these dresses off."


"Then I don't like it. You look like you're trying to be young."

Lola frowned deeply. "But I am young, Bethy. I'm younger than you or Netty."

"So what? Your face looks like a prune. You got a flat nose. You've got little lemons for tits. What's he see in you? Bowed legs?"

"White skin."

Beth paused and stroked her long nose with her forefinger. She liked her nose. She told herself it was a perfect Aryan nose. "I'm as white as you," she said softly. She raised her skirts so Lola could see how white. "Whiter than you. Whiter than Aphrodite."

Lola caressed Beth's big toe and gazed on all the whiteness. They both sighed and sighed.

The next morning Beth limped so badly she couldn't get any farther than the couch, before she had to lie down. So Lola called her boyfriend and told him she would have to stay with her sisters at least another day. She was kept busy going from Netty to Beth and watching the soap operas. Netty wouldn't come out of the bedroom. She said she was too paralyzed and exhausted. Beth moaned during the TV commercials and only got up once, when Netty told her to come see the two perverts at the bus stop.

The same boys sat there looking at a magazine together.

"Filthy pictures, I bet, " said Beth. "Well, that does it!" She smoothed her dresses across her breasts and opened the window. Leaning out she called to the boys. "Full of sap, aren't you? Full of slimy sap, I know!" Then she slammed the window shut, rattling the glass dangerously.

"Good one," said Netty, in a seething voice. "Give me my shoe box. I'll fix 'em."

Beth gave Netty the shoe box and Netty went under the covers with a clipping and made it rain again.

For three days Netty kept to her bed and Beth kept to the couch. Lola was always running from one to the other, trying at the same time to keep up with her soaps. Finally she had had enough. She took charge and ordered Beth into bed with Netty. Beth took off her dresses and obeyed meekly. Then Lola jerked and bullied the television into the bedroom, into a corner near the window, where they could all watch it. Netty and Beth praised Lola's organizational genius. They made room for her on the bed, so they could lie together and cuddle and squeal over the tawdry lives being acted out in front of them.

More days passed, and Lola phoned her boyfriend to tell him it would be another day or two before she could feel right about leaving her sick sisters. He was going to give her a bad time about it, so she hung up. Another week went by. Then she called again, but this time no one answered. For several more days no one answered. Then Lola got so busy with watching television and making dinners and giving Beth and Netty massages and them giving her massages, that she completely lost track of time. A day came when she tried to phone her boyfriend but discovered that she had forgotten his phone number. When she tried to remember his name, her mind wouldn't focus. Netty was in the bedroom, whining for vodka and mint patties. Beth was saying it was time for Lola's massage. Lola served Netty, then Beth served Lola, and while this was going on, Lola looked out the window and was mildly surprised to find that summer had turned to autumn.

"There they are again!" she warned her sisters, staring past Beth's busy head to the two boys standing by the bus stop, holding books in their arms.

"Loaded with books!" said Beth, turning around and peeping over the edge of the sill.

"Enchantments!" cried Netty.

"Show them, Lola. Show them what they're missing," ordered Beth.

Lola pushed her skirts down and buttoned her seven dresses over her huge, artificial breasts. She smoothed herself down, before she opened the window and shouted, "That magic won't work on us here! We got better things to do than let you in!"

"You keesters!"

"Give me my shoe box!"

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