You Don’t Know Her
My sister waved a golden can above my head, covering me in a veil of mist. The sour smell of the hair spray made me cough. She spun me around to face the mirror, and I gasped. She had transformed my pin-straight hair into a halo of ringlets. The girl in the mirror couldn’t be me. The shy girl, who did everything her older sister, mother, teachers asked, had vanished.
“Your name will be Jane Sands,” my sister said.
The new name fit a bold girl, one with hair as magnificent as a lion’s mane. I could imagine reading about her in a book, even a series. Jane Sands Goes to Paris to See the Eiffel Tower. Jane Sands Goes to Africa to Save the Elephants from Extinction. Jane Sands and Her Sister (Best Friends) Solve the Mystery in the Shed.
My sister dressed me like a doll, buttoning up my mother’s floral shirt that had shrunk in the wash. Then she wrote my new name across the top of a lined piece of paper. “Write it five times,” she commanded.
The letters wobbled and warped on my first try but soon flowed as naturally as if I’d been writing them forever. The flourish of the “J” and the “S” held more drama and glamour than the cramped, enclosed “E” and “A.” Like liquid to solid, I had changed. I wasn’t going back.
“Mother, this is Jane Sands. She’ll be staying with us for a few days,” my sister announced as we entered the kitchen.
Our mother turned from the sink and laughed but made her face serious when I scowled. She didn’t kiss my cheek like usual. Instead, she said with formality, “Goodbye, Jane,” and turned back to the dishes.
Jane became even more real.
“You’re a new girl, so we can’t walk together like we usually do,” my sister said, pausing at the back door.
That made sense. Jane Sands was not like Elizabeth, forever trailing after her older sister.
Besides, Jane wanted to walk to school alone, to choose between taking the shortcut across the muddy field or sticking to the sidewalk the long way around.
I took a last look in the mirror by the door. If this girl was Jane, I could be Jane. I was Jane.
Jane stepped into the chilly March morning and strode up the hill to the railroad bridge, her backpack bumping against her coat. She was wearing Elizabeth’s winter coat. There had been no alternative. It was hard to be Jane when Jane was wearing Elizabeth’s hounds-tooth checked wool coat with a brown velvet collar. Elizabeth had worn it every day to school since October. Her mother bought the coat at the second time-around shop. Elizabeth often wondered who had worn it before her and would imagine the mystery girl playing hide and seek in the rhododendrons at Marquand Park or ice-skating on Lake Carnegie. Now she was living the story of the girl who would wear the coat after Elizabeth.
Jane reached the school doors as the warning bell rang. She slid into her seat just in time, her curls bouncing and shimmying, bold in the silence of the nine o’clock bell. Debbie, who she played horses with at recess sometimes, giggled at her from behind a hand. Jenny, who made everyone laugh, but was always in trouble for talking too much, stared wide-eyed, mute.
Miss Zing, clutching a clipboard, read attendance. “Elizabeth.” Silence. “Elizabeth, is that you under that hair?” Miss Zing smiled at Jane.
“My name is Jane Sands,” the girl said, and the room went quiet, the tittering banished by the defiance in her voice.
Miss Zing wrinkled her brow but said nothing. Elizabeth would have died rather than risk displeasing Miss Zing, but Jane wasn’t afraid to say what she believed was true.
Jane felt a stabbing pain in her stomach but pushed the words out in a clear voice. “My name is Jane.” Why couldn’t Miss Zing understand? The curls changed everything.
“This is not like you.” Miss Zing frowned.
A flush of heat, shame, and pleasure swept through Jane’s body. It wasn’t like Elizabeth. It was like Jane.
Miss Zing tapped the paper with her perfectly manicured red fingernail. “For today, please write Elizabeth’s name in that box.” Miss Zing did understand.
Jane turned the pencil upside down and pushed the pink square hard across the beautiful, graphite letters. The eraser shed pink scales. The words vanished. But beneath “Elizabeth” was the imprint of my other name.
Elizabeth Amon is an award-winning journalist and writer whose work has been published in “The New York Times,'” “Bloomberg News,” and “Harper’s Magazine,” as well as “River Teeth,” “New Millennium Writing,” and “The Journal of Compressed Arts.” She believes in SCIENCE and has been recently working to protect civil rights and promote environmental protections.