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The Fruits of Sisterhood

Carol Scheina is a speculative fiction author who also works as a technical editor in a traffic-jammed city. This is her second appearance in Daily Science Fiction. You can find more of her writings at carolscheina.wordpress.com.

One would be chosen to drink the wine, and by the time she was eleven, Agri knew it wouldn't be her. The knowledge hollowed an anger bubble inside her, but she didn't want to swallow it down like she always did.
She wanted to do something else. She'd wanted to do it for so very long. The wine was locked up, but the grapes were right there outside the house.
Agri set out into the vineyard.
"Agri!" Magda called after her younger sister.
"You coming, Magda?" Agri pressed on, examining the signs Mother had placed throughout the vineyard, like an army of miniature wooden tombstones peeking out through the twisted greenery. Each sign noted which ancestor was buried there, with a vine planted atop. As the vine spouted fruit, the ancestor's knowledge would seep into the grapes.
Glancing over several names, Agri brushed a matted curl out of her eyes. Her hair traced the same shapes as the vines, twirling this way and that. Not like Magda's, with her tight woven braid that echoed Mother's orderly hairstyles.
Agri could hear Magda's footsteps behind her, a light tread to ensure nothing was trampled upon. The younger girl smiled. Her sister was just as curious as she about the knowledge planted before them.
A few bunches of "Great-Great-Grandma Rita" gleamed small and red, ready for picking. She decided right then those were the ones she'd try first. Agri slipped two into her mouth, sun-warmed and popping with juice between her teeth.
"Magda! Here!" She ran toward her sister with more in hand.
Magda's eyebrows shaped into a worried punctuation, but she pressed one grape between her lips. "I can't believe we're doing this!" she gasped in a half laugh.
Agri twirled, arms outstretched, then grabbed Magda's hand. "I love our adventures together! Now see what comes next!" She squinted her eyes and waited for knowledge to fill her.
Magda waited as well, several quiet minutes, then shook her head. "I don't think we can get anything from the grapes. Mother always says knowledge takes time, and maybe that's why we make the wine."
Agri looked once more to the red spheres on the vines, feeling the anger bubble. Foiled once again. Why couldn't she drink the wine? Why couldn't she have the knowledge? She kept the bubble inside as her sister guided them out of the vineyard. Magda didn't want them to get caught.
Only to have Mother figure out where they'd been by the red stains on their lips.
"Magda wouldn't have eaten the grapes on her own." Mother's harsh tone coated Agri's tongue with a sour taste.
Agri swallowed deeply and said nothing. Magda looked down at the rough wooden floor.
Mother continued, "Those are not snacks for munching upon. Those are our ancestors in that vineyard; their knowledge and history live in those grapes. Remember, one day, one of you will become the Family Wisdom and drink the wine of knowledge."
As the current Family Wisdom, Mother spent hours penning long letters to relatives in distant towns. She sat at the head of the table during the annual family gatherings and provided guidance that would shape the family future. She had answers for any questions the aunts, uncles, cousins, or other family members asked.
But why did just one get to drink? Agri wanted to know.
Mother had given many reasons. Their ancestors' knowledge could conflict. A sole Family Wisdom prevented confusion in interpreting the knowledge. The wine they made was a tradition going back the hundred-some years the vineyard had been in their family. Plus, knowledge was a difficult burden to carry.
So what? Agri wanted to say. What if I still want to taste it?
Mother's unspoken words hit like a grape thrown against the wall, the red stain spreading through Agri's heart: Only one can drink, and it will not be you.
As she glared at her mother, Agri's words threatened to spill out. But she was eleven, and she was learning the bitter knowledge that nothing she said or did would ever change her mother's mind. The feelings bubbled out her eyes instead, wet and ragged as they dripped down her face.
Why did she and Magda have to have that divide between them?
Behind the folds of their dresses, Magda fumbled for Agri's hand and gave it a squeeze, reminding her sister that they adventured together. Always. Agri squeezed back.
At age 62, Agri's hair had turned course and white, with tendrils that tangled in her eyelashes as she stared out at the vineyard's edge.
Agri noticed the wooden signs had been removed. If she thought hard, she could remember a few ancestor's names here and there, but it didn't matter. Such knowledge was Magda's responsibility now. The new Family Wisdom.
But there was one ancestor Agri wanted to know about. "Where's Mother?" she asked her sister.
"Over here." Magda guided Agri to a vine, the leaves a budding green, the grapes a deep reddish color Agri hadn't seen before. "We planted her body five years ago."
Agri took in the vine of her mother. They hadn't spoken in years. So many things she wanted to say. So many things she never would. "Have you made the wine?" Agri finally spoke.
Magda nodded. "We used Mother's grapes for the first time. I've been waiting for you to drink it with me."
"Mother would never have approved," Agri said.
Magda simply took Agri's hand, and they walked into the house with shoulders brushing.
As her older sister poured the wine, and Agri admired the swirl of reds, pinks, and creams mingling in the glass.
"But the Family Wisdom is supposed to drink this," Agri protested again.
Magda lifted her glass, a smile on her face. "Cheers."
When had Magda become so daring? It had always been Agri who had bounded ahead. Knowledge seemed to have changed the older sister.
Magda waited for Agri to lift her glass, and they sipped together.
"Oh," Agri coughed. "I didn't expect it to taste so bitter."
"Knowledge isn't sweet," Magda laughed.
Agri felt the flavors seep into her tongue, her mind suddenly spouting new thoughts curling like grapevines down paths she never knew existed. She squinted as she explored within her mind. "I keep looking, but I'm not finding Mom's feelings. I was hoping I could find something."
"It's knowledge only," Magda said. "That's the biggest thing I learned after I first drank. If you're looking for love, you won't find it in this bottle."
"Is that why you shared it with me?"
Magda didn't answer, but Agri knew the truth. So many years of knowledge grew in the vines outside the house. Agri had been curious for so long about that forbidden fruit and the wine it created. Yet as the knowledge filled her mind, she felt everything she needed was sitting there at the table with her.
Agri reached out and squeezed Magda's hand. Her sister squeezed back.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, August 14th, 2020

Author Comments

I wrote this tale with my sisters in mind. Whenever one of our parents turned a scolding eye toward us, we'd rally together faster than an eyeblink, all squabbling forgotten. Even today, we're by each other's side. We may be weird, but we're weird together!

- Carol Scheina
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