‘How Can I Help?’ by Rivka Galchen


How Can I Help? by Rivka Galchen, 2016

The magic trick:

Going back to back with scenes of the story’s sisters exhibiting, first, extreme vitriol toward each other and, then, extreme compassion

“How Can I Help?” tells the story of a relationship between sisters. The older is more responsible and maybe not the smartest but endearing to the reader in her earnest efforts. Hayley, the younger, is a bit of a mess.

The essence of the story lies near the end. First, the story’s present-tense action crescendos in a scene that finds the sisters unleashing years’ worth of pent-up anger at each other. Hatred is not too strong a word. It’s intense. This is backed immediately with the narrator recalling a moment from their teenaged years full of unrequited love and insecurity. Hayley, she remembers, said something incredibly kind and unifying that day.

The two scenes contrast starkly and serve to provide a very nice summary of these two women’s relationship. And that’s quite a trick on Galchen’s part.

The selection:

Joshua’s father drove me home. I asked him to drop me off at the house two doors down from my actual house. The porch light was not on at my house. Inside, my mother was sleeping. Outside, Hayley had gathered the plastic bags of goldfish from all the corners of the house and was finishing placing a stack of them on our front lawn, next to a sign that read “Free! Please take!” She was never a keeper of family secrets. Only I was. I never used to tell Hayley, or anyone, anything. But for some reason, I suppose because Hayley had an undeniable talent with the other gender, that evening I confessed to her that I was in love with Joshua Michaelson. She stood quietly next to the fish. Quiet was rare for Hayley. She knew the Michaelson family.

Finally, she said, “You’re too good for him. Just remember that. He’s not rejecting you, you’re rejecting him.”


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