Devoted Sisters

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
A contemporary story which examines the complicated inter-sibling relationship between Grace and Lisbet. The sisters live very different lives; and both are, on the surface, happy with the way things are. But how will things change between them after today's event?

Submitted: October 18, 2011

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Submitted: October 18, 2011



Devoted Sisters(by Anne Armstrong)


When Lisbet fainted in the lingerie department of Holton's Stores, she managed it with customary finesse.  Sliding gently onto the dove-grey carpet, she avoided the sharp edges of glass display cabinets and the outstretched arm of a suggestively-posed mannequin draped in a flimsy, flame-coloured negligee.  She lay in a tasteful pose, revealing no more than an inch of thigh, which served only to emphasise her vulnerability.  Sales girls abandoned their duties and fluttered round; the department Manager was summoned; someone, acting on her own initiative, phoned at once for an ambulance; and by the time that Lisbet's naturally-black eyelashes began to flicker, there was a sizeable group of anxious onlookers hovering over her.

Grace, who had lingered in the ground-floor drapery department, weighing up the comparable qualities of cheap curtain materials, was oblivious to the fuss surrounding her elder sister.  By the time that she had decided against buying any of the poor-quality cottons and had taken the escalator to the top floor, Lisbet had regained consciousness and had been helped to the Manager's cramped office.  The sales staff had returned to their posts and were engaged in their usual tidying, folding and pricing duties.  There was nothing to show that a minor crisis had occurred in the department.

Grace felt uncomfortable in the lingerie department.  Everything here came under the heading of  "LUXURY".  Underwear was a necessity; but not this kind, costing this much. Of course, Lisbet wouldn't consider it a luxury. She could afford to wear silk and hand-made lace every day.  She would spend more on a pair of knickers and a bra than Grace spent on food each week.

Grace sighed. There was no sign of Lisbet.  She was probably in the changing-room, trying something on.  Grace herself had never tried on underwear before buying it.  You could buy bras and multi-packs of perfecty serviceable briefs in the supermarket now.  But for Lisbet trying things on was an essential part of shopping.  She frequently tried on things that she had no intention of buying.  She had often cajoled Grace into accompanying her into the changing-room for "an honest opinion".  And she didn't feel embarrassed about stripping off in a stuffy cubicle, separated from total strangers by only a thin curtain that would not mask the grunts and groans and mild expletives that would be an inevitable part of struggling back into an ill-fitting girdle and other too-tight undergarments.  And she didn't care if an over-solicitous sales assistant kept peering round the curtain, asking if she required any help.  Grace could never have faced that.  She would have felt that they were assessing her body and her utility underwear.  Both, she knew, would not rate highly.

Grace's body bore the marks of giving birth to four large babies and of eating, of necessity, food that was cheap and filling.  Lisbet and Tony didn't have any children; but they'd have still been able to afford expensive things, even if they had. Tony's high-profile job in marketing saw to that.  Lisbet had manged to keep her trim figure and she spent as much money as was necessary  to stave off any signs of ageing.

"I'm the lucky one, really," Grace constantly told herself. "Well, me and Joe are lucky."

It was impossible for Grace to imagine what it must be like not to have the children and to be involved in all the shared joys and worries that were an inevitable part of parenting. In her mind, this was the one thing that gave her and Joe some kind of superiority over Grace and Tony.

"P'raps they've never wanted a family,"  Joe pointed out, every time, in response to Grace's regular pronouncements on the subject. But Grace was convinced  that it was the one thing that marred Lisbet's perfect life. Sometimes, she had been unable to resist reminding Lisbet of the joys of motherhood that she was missing.  Grace's own loss of looks and permanent lack of disposable income were a worthwhile sacrifice.  She had fulfilled herself.  Lisbet had not.

"Excuse me..."  Grace approached the salesgirl who happened to be nearest.  The girl turned and smiled the set smile that she had been taught to use when addressing all potential customers.

"Do you need assistance, Madam?"

It was a natural enough question.  Grace cursed the growing flush of embarrassment that she felt staining her cheeks.  The girl's eyes were on her face, no doubt taking in the absence of make-up and the unbecoming frame of hair.

"I was supposed to meet my sister here ... I can't see her,"  Grace offered reluctantly.

The salesgirl removed her gaze from Grace's pasty complexion and cast her eyes sweepingly round the department.  She continued to smile.

"You appear to be our only customer at the moment," she said.

"Oh ... I ... I ... I'm not a customer<" Grace stammered; and felt even more foolish.  She knew that her hair needed washing. It looked even more lank than usual.  As if she could read Grace's thoughts, the salesgirls's eyes seemed to scan Grace's hair.  But her smile was still in place.

For a minute or so, the pair stood looking vaguely round the room.  Grace knew that she was the one who had to break away and terminate this fruitless conversation.  A fresh wave of embarrassment came over her as she tried to summon up the confidence to say just  "Well, thank you very much".

Her thoughts were disturbed , suddenly, by the arrival of a pair of very young-looking paramedics who raced out of the lift and made straight for the Manger's office in the corner of the room.  Grace instinctively stepped back a pace to give tham free passage.

"Whatever's going on?" she said.

"One of our customers collapsed.  They've sent for the ambulance."  The salesgirl, no longer interested in Grace, was turning away.  She had obviously decided that, if Grace wasn't going to end the conversation, she would.

"Sorry I could not be of help, Madam" she added with impeccable manners.

Grace sighed.  Now she'd have to catch a bus home.  It didn't seem likely, now, that she'd find Lisbet and get a lift home in her car, as Lisbet had promised.

"Damn!" thought Grace. "That's another one pound forty -five."

She turned and began to descend the rather claustrophobic staircase.  There was no downward escalator; and she couldn't bear lifts.

"I'll just about catch the 12.35, if I hurry," she thought.  The bus station was only about two minutes' walk away.


"Mrs Fairweather .... Excuse me ... Are you Mrs Fairweather?"An urgent call echoed round the stairwell and there were footsteps on the stairs."Please ... Are you Mrs Fairweather .... Mrs Norman's sister?"

Hearing her own name had not caused Grace to pause, but she stopped immediately she heard Lisbet's name.

"Yes."She looked back, up the stairs, at the salesgirl she had been with only minutes earlier.

"I'm so sorry, Madam.  Mrs Norman has been taken ill.  Can you come to the Manager's office, please?"

Grace hesitated.  "Ill?"  she managed to blurt out.

"Yes, Madam.  She is asking for you," the salesgirl insisted.

Grace turned and began to mount the stairs as quickly as she could.  The effort made her gasp for breath.  And all the while, the salesgirl was uttering some sort of apology.

"I must apologise, Madam.  Earlier ... I didn't know that you were with Mrs Norman."  It was clear from the way that she said "Mrs Norman" that Lisbet was held in very high regard at Holton's Stores.  " This way, Madam."  The salesgirl ushered Grace through the lingerie department to the Manger's office.

The small room, already stuffed with filing cabinets, a desk, two chairs, a computer and an assortment of different-sized cardboard boxes seemed to be full of people.  Lisbet was seated in the Manager's own comfortable chair.  She was touching up her flawless make-up, using the mirror of her gold powder compact which the Manager himself was holding in position for her.

"Darling."  She stopped patting her cheeks with her powder puff and extended her hand to Grace.  "I'm so glad you're here.  Please tell everyone to stop fussing over me."  She smiled round at her audience in such a way as to let them know that their fussing over her was exactly what she would expect from them.

Grace frowned.  "But what's wrong?" she said.  No one seemed to giving Lisbet any treatment.  There was no sign of any reaal emergency.

"Nothing's wrong, darling.  I must have fainted.  That's all.  But I'm fine now... Absolutely fine."Lisbet paused for just the right number of seconds to add dramatic effect to her next words.  " Apparently, it's not unknown when  you're pregnant."


"Catch her, someone," yelled the Manager, as Grace reeled over and collided with one of the unstable piles of cardboard boxes.  There was a dull-sounding thud as her head hit the edge of the desk.

Lisbet smiled sweetly at the paramedics.  "i'm so glad it wasn't a wasted journey, after all," she said.










© Copyright 2018 Anne Armstrong. All rights reserved.