About the Sanderson Sisters

by Yael van der Wouden


When Winifred was five she turned a rabbit inside out by accident. She had wanted to pet it, and when it ran she tried to pull at it as she would the chair, as she would the spoon from the table — with a tug of her thought.

Her screams set a family of crows flying from the high trees. Her mother held her and held her and when she had calmed her mother said, “Now bring the rabbit home. No mistake should go to waste.”


At ten Mary had taken to whirling a storm in her bowl of broth with her fingertip. By the time she was fifteen, Mary would put her hand to the surface of a lake and whirl the whole thing apart: watched as, fascinated, the muddy bottom would appear in the storm’s eye. There were weeds, and rocks, and long fish that twitched in a panic. There were bones, too.

One evening she looked at her reflection in the shining belly of a pan and put her finger to the crown of her head. She whirled her hair up into a storm and giggled when it held.


Sarah liked to put her mouth to her mother’s shoulder. To her sisters’ hands, to the back-of-a-neck of that stranger who passed through their valley on the summer of her sixteenth year.

“I can taste if you’re pleased,” she told him, a wet lipped whisper to his ear. “I can taste if you’re afraid.”

“Oh yeah,” he tried to laugh, nervous, two handfuls of her skirts. “What do you taste now?”

She licked a small stripe below his jaw, then hummed. Smiled. Said, “Dear heart,” said, “I wouldnae do that.”

Winnifred used his skin to bind a book. Mary added the eye to ward off harm that might come to pass.


An ochre fever came one morning and lingered for a full week, rattling the beds and putting mildew in the sheets, before taking their mother away. They had seen enough of death before then, but had never conceived it could come for her — for them.

Before leaving this world, their mother said:

“I would give a life for another day with you, my darlings.”

Winifred would not leave her side. Attempted to pull her mother’s spirit back into her body, but found there was nothing beyond. Mary destroyed half the woods with hard winds and high waters, and Sarah disappeared for a fortnight. Returned with her hems drenched in dark liquid, her lips and teeth stained purple.


They slept in one bed, inspected the smooth skin on each other’s backs.

“Do not let me go like that,” Winifred said, voice small. “If you can, do not let me go at all.”


“It was a mistake,” Sarah said, crying over the bloody mess of the child. She’d carried it back home. “It just smelled so happy. I just wanted to taste.”

Mary held her as Winifred sighed, then tugged. “No mistake should go to waste,” she said, and pulled the life ebbing from the child.


Art by Debbie Balboa

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