346866864_f562ec920a_zIf your sister is a drunk, set the neighborhood Chinese Food restaurant’s ring tone on your cell to something cheery, Taylor Swift maybe, so that when the owner calls you’re in a decent mood for the communique: “Your sister is here again. Telling us about Su Lin. You come get her now?” Goddamn Su Lin. I can’t decide if it’s racist that Rose winds up at the restaurant to apologize for the 1937 kidnapping of that giant panda cub, or if it even matters since the owner is perpetually accommodating.

Don’t hang with drinkers if being told the same story more than once makes you feel invisible, if it makes you furious that all previous conversations seem to leak through the poorly sealed doors of their minds, if it depresses you that their memories drip out, pool on the floor, leaving everything inside to spoil.

Ruth Harkness, 1920s self-styled New York socialite, snatched baby panda Su Lin from Sichuan, China, fed him from a baby bottle, and brought him via steam ship across the Pacific to California until he wound up in Chicago at the Brookfield Zoo. He was a bit of an American celebrity, if celebrities were served boiled vegetables and carried around on fur coats during cab trips uptown.

“He took photos with Shirley Temple!” Rose will tell you, as she opens the freezer at my place to chop, chop with a knife at the ice, to drop it plink plink into her scotch glass.

If those kinds of repetitive sounds churn inside you until they become a mini-tornado smashing and sucking at your heart, don’t have a drunk for a sister. Rose had a baby once, and it’s hard for me to say if the drinking started before or after she lost it.

Don’t have a drunk for a sister if you don’t want to wind up shampooing Labradoodles in a mobile Pups ‘n’ Suds truck that you park outside McMansions. My job with the primates at the Brookfield Zoo came to a dramatic end when I turned my back on a sauced Rose and she gave Mrs. Marshall’s first grade class a real show, swinging around an empty enclosure and singing about monkeys who have been sent into space.

When Rose and I emerge from the dark foyer of Mrs. Ma’s restaurant, a bag of fortune cookies in hand, Rose tells me one I haven’t heard before—she spends a lot time at the public library while she’s nursing her morning shakes: A bunch of French ladies rubbed radioactive Tho-Radia lotions onto their faces for thirty years in the mid-twentieth century.

“They hoped for a healthy glow when in fact it was radioactive,” Rose confides, like it is a government secret.

At home Rose falls asleep on my couch, and as she sobers up, she whispers, “I’m afraid of being alone. I wanted to be a mother. I don’t want to grow old.”

I tell her I know. I tell her I’m here.


About the Author: Among other places, Katherine Gehan’s writing has appeared in Literary MamaLuna Luna Magazine, The Stockholm Review, Sundog Lit, Pithead Chapel, and Third Point Press, and has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize, Wigleaf’s Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions, and Sundress Publication’s Best of the Net Anthology. Read more at or @StateofKate.

Story Song: "Timeless Melody" by The La's

Photo Credit: Leesa Cross-Smith