Memories fill my mind as I gaze at the glass ball in my hand.
As the late afternoon sun slowly dwindles into dusk, I am reminded of another winter’s afternoon like this one. Three years ago, my sister was murdered, on a dark December day when the sky was full of snow and frost glittered on branches and windowpanes. The weather then was crisp and cold, much as it is today, and the expectancy of Christmas hovered in the air. I remember looking out of my bedroom window, hoping that Sophie had worn her scarf and mittens, waiting impatiently for her to return home – not because I wanted to see her, but because my mother had said I couldn’t finish decorating the Christmas tree without her.
The miniature world in my hands reflects that last fateful day. Within this perfect sphere, diminutive trees and houses imitate my own street; tiny people huddle beneath the whirling snowstorm that I control. Three years ago, my own world was turned upside down and shaken violently: like the people in the glass microcosm before me, I am trapped in a never-ending blizzard, emotions fluttering around me as I wonder, yet again, why this happened. I gently shake the globe, searching for answers, but none fall from the sky.
Shaking the globe once more, I watch the snow settle, musing on other, far away memories. I breathe deeply, allowing the Christmassy scent of pine mingled with cinnamon to infuse my nostrils, transporting me back in time. The house was brighter then, before the light of Susie’s life was extinguished: a log fire burned in the grate, crackling with warmth and laughter; candles twinkled on every available surface. Above the mantelpiece, Christmas cards from friends, neighbours and relatives jostled for attention, their bright colours competing with the sparkling tinsel and the few shiny baubles I hadn’t been able to resist hanging on the tree. The smell of mulled wine filled the house – my father kept a huge vat of it bubbling on the stove from the start of December every year; and my mother’s homemade gingerbread stars added their own spice to the olfactory mixture. When Sophie and I were little, we used to fight over the stars – each of us convinced the other had eaten more. One year, she made herself sick trying to gobble them down faster than I did, and another time, she hid a pile of them under her pillow to make sure I wouldn’t end up with more than she did. A thousand recollections whirl in my mind, each one as individual as a snowflake. I ache for what I have lost.
My sister’s presence still haunts me; her absence fills my heart. My gaze travels to the framed family photos, those casual snapshots taken at a time when we took each other for granted, couldn’t imagine that anything would ever be different. If I’d known then that in just a few months’ time she would be gone, we would have fought less, laughed more. I would have forgiven her for all the times she barricaded herself in the bathroom, taking all the hot water when she knew I wanted a shower; I would have forgotten that she hung around with Archie Green after school when she knew I liked him myself. These days, I would give anything to see her rummaging through my drawers once more, borrowing clothes, make up, money without asking. Back then, the mere sight of her in my room used to irritate me to anger; today her absence gnaws at my soul, making me feel as if a part of myself has been ripped away.
It’s strange to think we were once rivals: I envied her looks, her agile grace. She was always the pretty, talented one whereas I was the plain bookworm: clever, but not loved universally, the way Sophie was. Her medals for dancing, still on display, now stare at me reproachfully, reminding me that my little sister will never again twirl and spin. Beneath the ground, in her satin lined wooden box, her limbs are stiff and solid: the lithe and lively teenager has ossified into lifeless bones. Feeling a tear roll down my cheek, I mourn for what was. Grief never goes away.
Grief has affected my parents too: they creep about these days like still, grey ghosts, shadows of their former selves. Sophie’s loss has aged them prematurely: their faces are etched with marks of woe. Sorrow has ravaged them both, sprinkling dark hair with silver, compressing them into smaller versions of themselves. My father’s laugh no longer booms out in our living room: instead, he and my mother whisper, just like they did on the day the police brought Sophie home. I close my eyes, remembering. Her pale, waxen face resembled a beautiful doll; but the ugly purple bruises on her neck denoted where life had been squeezed out of her. Whoever it was, she must have put up a fight: the police found bits of skin, not her own, under her fingernails.
The present swirls into the past as I relive my parents’ shocked faces, the sudden quiet that descended on our home. I wanted to cry like they did, but I was unable to weep, the weight of my guilt – for hating her the morning she left – pressing down on my heart, hammering it shut. When tears finally came, over twenty-four hours later, I wept like an undammed river, grief-stricken that it had taken something so unexpected – so final – to make me realise Sophie’s worth. And three years later, the pain is still as fresh as it was then: laughter left our house when life left Sophie’s body.
Desperately struggling to hold back the tears that the memories produce, I wonder, yet again, why this had to happen, who could have caused such pain and suffering for my family. I search for answers, but there are none: her death is as pointless, as inexplicable today as it was three Christmases ago. I shake the sphere once more, willing my sister to fall from the sky, for normality to be restored.
But as the snow-globe slips from my fingers, my memories shatter into a thousand tiny pieces.