I looked around at the party streamers and balloons scattered around the empty room. My hope for a second chance, for new beginnings had died away as the crowd of people had left the room, each murmuring their thanks. I’d stood at the door, shaking the hands of each of my guests, trying to distract myself from the growing pain inside my heart. Now that the people were gone, It was back to just me, an empty room and a memory. I thought back to the days before the party. The days where my sister twirled about the room, this room, singing songs and trying to tell me that the burnt cake was not entirely her fault. It always was though, but I’d laugh along with her anyway. She’d grab my hand and spin me across the floor, the loud speaker she’d bought from the second hand shop down the road, blaring loud rock n’ roll music. She’d always turn this dull, colourless room into a festival of music and lights. It was who she was, and I’d liked it that way.
But then the sun had set over our little house, and one night, I’d awoken to the sound of her coughing from the other side of the room. ‘Sophie?’ I’d asked her, ‘Are you okay?’ But she wasn’t.
Her breathing had been shallow, and I remember tears running down my cheeks. My voice had been hoarse from sleep, but I’d still demanded that she got better. ‘Don’t be sick!’ I’d said, ‘You can’t!’ But no matter how much I told her to get better, she didn’t. She no longer twirled across the room with that mischievous grin on her face, nor did she burn any cakes, for none were made.
Soon, she’d been so sick she hadn’t even been able to get out of bed.
‘Gracie,’ she’d called out to me one day. ‘I need to tell you something,’ she’d wheezed. ‘I might not be with you for much longer, and I need you to do something for me.’
‘Why Sophie? You can do it yourself when you’re better,’ I’d said, but Sophie’s sorrowful expression told me everything. ‘I’ll get the doctor, I know we can’t afford it, but I’ll do anything! Just please tell me you’ll be okay!’ I’d yelled. She’d wiped a tear from her eye and had shaken her head. ‘I’m dying Gracie!’ she’d cried. The news stunned me, though I’d well expected it. Hearing her say it from the same lips that had once sung songs, laughed and smiled made my heart break into a million pieces. ‘You’ll get better, you will!’ I’d sobbed. She’d been trying not to cry, trying to be brave for me. ‘Don’t leave me!’ I’d whispered. ‘Don’t leave me here alone.’
She’d wiped a stray tear from her cheek and looked up at me for a long moment. ‘Go to Thomas and tell him to find someone else,’ she’d said. ‘Find someone else?’ I’d asked, though I already guessed the answer. ‘Yes Gracie, I- I love him,’ she’d sobbed.
‘I won’t do it,’ I’d replied stubbornly. She’d begged me, ‘Please Gracie! Do it for me!’
I’d shaken my head. ‘I can’t! Get better and tell him yourself!’
She’d started crying, and her body had shaken wildly. ‘If you won’t tell him, then you can leave.’ I’d stared at her, shocked. ‘But, I can’t leave you, you’re my sister!’ She’d shaken her head. ‘A real sister would respect my dying wishes!’
My face had contorted in pain. ‘You’re not dying!’ I’d screamed.
‘Leave Gracie. Leave me alone,’ she’d whispered.
And I’d stormed out of the room, leaving my sister alone in her tears.
Now, looking back, I wish the last words I’d said to my sister weren’t the ones I’d said.
I’d woken the next morning, and she was gone.
Since then, my dreams have always replayed that moment.
I would be standing by her bedside, and she’d ask me that question again; ‘Gracie, go to Thomas and tell him to find someone else,’ I’d shake my head and say; ‘I can’t! Get better and tell him yourself!’ Then she’d start crying and tell me to go away. ‘A real sister would respect my dying wishes!’
I’d refuse, and she’d whisper; ‘Leave Gracie. Leave me alone.’
‘Fine!’ I’d cry.
And then the dream would end and I’d wake up.
I picked up a photograph from the floor that had been knocked over by my guests. It was a photo of Me and Sophie. Our names were engraved into the softwood. Sophie’s name was written in pretty swirls that looked like waves, while mine was just in plain old print, boring and dull, just like the empty room around me now. In the photograph, Sophie wore a lovely light blue chemise with pink flowers and a purple ribbon. I was wearing a plain black cotton dress. I was scowling too, and looked rather depressing compared to Sophie’s angelic smile and graceful frame.
What had happened to those days? What had happened to the light at the end of the tunnel? I was in the middle of the tunnel, but there was no ray of sunshine anywhere in sight. A tear rolled down the side of my check, and I brushed it away.
This party was supposed to have been a distraction! An opportunity to start over and forget all that had ever happened. But it seemed it had brought more memories than anything else.
I remember the time I was standing in front of the church building for Ma and Pa’s funeral. I had been holding Sophie’s hand while she’d wept silent tears. My eyes had been dry, for I had been too young to understand the meaning of death, or life for that matter.
Sophie had been fifteen then, so she became my guardian. We didn’t have any other living relatives to look after us anyway, and if we did, they clearly didn’t want us staying in their home, for nobody spoke up when the officials questioned.
She’d quit school in order to look over me, for I was only four back then. She’d looked out for me, protected me, and supported me through everything. When she was seventeen, she’d come home from work one day, tired and worn from her job at the factory. She’d told me in between sobs how she wished Ma and Pa had never left us. I had been only six then, a foreigner to sorrow and grief. By now, I am overcome with it.
Sophie died when she was nineteen. She’d had her whole life ahead of her, and yet, she’d given it up, all of it, for me. And when she’d needed me the most, while she was lying sick on her deathbed, I’d given up on her.
I’d let her down.
So, as I clean up the remnants of the room where she’d once sung and danced, I think to myself, if I could go back to that moment, that moment by her bedside that day, would I act differently? Or just do the same?
No, I think quietly to myself. I would stand by her bedside and say; ‘I will.’