‘My Sister’s Marriage’ by Cynthia Marshall Rich

My Sister’s Marriage by Cynthia Marshall Rich, 1955

The magic trick:

Employing a narrator who is both very insightful and naive

The narrator guiding us through this story is an odd bird. On one hand, she has tremendous insight. She is keenly aware of every up and down in the relationship between her sister and father. At the same time, she shows total naiveté about love and romance. It’s not that she’s a classic unreliable narrator; she just is very limited. It’s up to the reader to sort through what she’s reporting accurately and what she’s missing. And that’s quite a trick on Rich’s part.

The selection:

But I suppose that these things really had made a difference in Olive. For we had always been alike, and I cannot imagine allowing a perfect stranger to ask me personal questions before we had even been introduced. She told me about it afterward, how he had bought a book of three-cent stamps and stayed to chat through the half-open grilled window. Suddenly he said, quite seriously: “Why do you wear your hair like that?”

“Pardon me?” said Olive

“Why do you wear your hair like that? You ought to shake it loose around your shoulders. It must be yards long.”

That is when I would have remembered – if I had forgotten – that I was a lady. I would have closed the grill, not rudely just firmly enough to show my displeasure, and gone back to my desk. Olive told me she thought of doing that but she looked at him and knew, she said, that he didn’t mean to be impolite, that he really wanted to know.

And instead she said: “I only wear it down at night.”
 That afternoon he walked her home from the post office.

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