The Five Conditions of Need

by Kimberly Jean Smith


1. You are Needed

Little Sister’s arm fell off, landing behind the bed while she and Big Sister played.

“Ouch,” she said.

“Now,” said Mother. “Little sister needs our help. First her arm is missing. Next the legs may go.”


2. You Too Need

The next morning, Little Sister’s right leg and four fingers of her remaining hand fell. Mother tried gluing them back. They slipped off again and to the floor, so she put them in a basket. Big Sister carried them to school in the basket with Littler Sister on her back. The Sisters were almost late.

When they arrived at the red schoolhouse, a boy held the door for the girls. The open-mouthed teacher watched them. The teacher paused for a long moment, taking in the two girls, moving tightly together.

“Thank you, Boy,” Teacher said. “What an angel. You helped two unfortunate girls. You demonstrate goodness.”


3. Your Need Exposed

At morning recess, the teacher, called the girls to her desk, and they sat. “What is wrong,” she asked Big Sister, “that your little sister must suffer like this?”

“It isn’t our fault,” she answered, something catching in her throat––the sound of shame. “It just happened. Why, we do not know.”

“Nevertheless, it disturbs the others. She must wear this shroud as her nose is gone, one ear and a foot.”


4. After Shame, Resentment and Hope

Big Sister didn’t tell, but Mother knew by the shroud what had happened at school. She tore it off, threw it down and then took the girl’s into the parlor. Mother placed Little Sister on a stool, so what was once feet could be washed. Now the feet were stubs. Little Sister sat. She no longer had a mouth. Mother begged for her blessings.

“Help us,” Mother prayed hard. She looked at Big Sister. “You pray too. Your sister is special now. Her love gives us strength.”

Big Sister didn’t want to. She prayed though. She kissed air where fingers, a foot, a nose, an arm and a forehead belonged.

5. Despite Need, There is Love

The next morning, Big Sister took Little Sister for a walk to the dry creek. The girls went around the corner and then toward the meadow where wild lilies grew. Before arriving, something terrible happened. Little Sister slowly began peeling. It wasn’t just the skin. Insides, too, were melting away. Big Sister tried gathering parts. But there weren’t any pieces. Little Sister made a rose-colored puddle––like water in one spot, mud in another. The oozy liquid leaked through Big Sister’s hands where Little Sister should have been. “Oh, Sister,” she said crying. “What is happening to you?”

Big Sister recognized two eyes on the cracked sidewalk and a pink ribbon too. She placed them carefully in her pocket, walking home to tell Mother the sad news. Mother saved the ribbon and put the eyeballs on the mantle across from the stool.

Big Sister liked them there. Despite their blankness, they’re sweet, she said, first to herself, then to the invisible air. “It’s the way those eyeballs would blink, if they could, that I know I love. And I too was loved.

––"The Five Conditions of Need" first appeared in Ping Pong Magazine, 2010