Fiction Sad

"I didn't know what else to do," I admitted, not able to hold my sister's gaze. I twirled a strand of my long blonde hair around my finger. "I never should have gone along with it."

"Why?" I could imagine the colour draining from her already pale face, a face that would be marred with confusion and her eyes welling up with tears. That's what I was sure I'd have seen, if I'd been brave enough to look at her face. Which I wasn't.

"I promised," even I could hear the pleading justification in my voice. Back then, I'd felt pushed into a corner. I had only been eighteen and she was, after all, my mother.

My mother. A woman who spun stories like fairground vendors span candy floss, who created tales with intricate details like a clever seamstress with an abundance of colours.

Half the time growing up I'd never known whether her stories were fact or fiction, and had turned myself inside out trying to make sense of it all.

"I used to be in the circus," (true).

"Your father was a clown," (false - she didn't know who he was).

"I sewed this for you from the cuts of your grandma's wedding dress," (who knew?)

"Dancing at the top of the Eiffel Tower was the most magical experience in the world," (false - I was pretty sure she'd never been to France).

"I could have been there (the Olympics as an ice-skater) I was talent spotted you know." (I never worked out the answer to this one, she could jump and pirouette on the ice rink like some kind of ethereal fairy - that much was true, but the rest - it could have been real or just another one of her fantasies).

I forced my icy blue eyes to meet my sister's and reached out to try and touch her hand but she swiped mine away in a fury. I noticed she had her nails done, deep red with shattered sparkles and a polished sheen that caught the light as she batted my hand away.

"Nice nails," I offered feebly. She relented slightly,

"Frankincense," she wiggled her fingers, "A new shade in." I gathered my thoughts and tried again.

"She made me promise, gave me lines to say like some kind of crazy school play," I pleaded.

"You could have said no!" she responded angrily, her words clipped like bullets. "No, as in no this is wrong, completely untrue, unfair, or how about completely ridiculous." Her eyes set in a dangerous glare as she challenged me to disagree. What could I say? She was right after all.

Our mother. Mad. Beautiful. Sad. Eccentric. Happy. Manic. Loving. Lying. Spirited. Selfish. Dead? Alive?

Eighteen. Just finished school. I'd celebrated by having my nose pierced.

"Love the sparkle," mum had commented, stroking my face with her long, thin, paint splattered fingers. And then,

"I'm leaving," just like that.

I'd jerked her hand away from my face, caught it firmly in mine and pulled us both down onto the nearest chairs.

"Leaving for how long?" I'd asked cautiously, "Are you going back to Braeburn again?"

My mother laughed and shook her head, her raven hair seemed like it was laughing behind her as her dark curls sprung in unruly fashion around her face.

"I've out grown Braeburn," she'd declared.

"Of course you have," I muttered under my breath. I'd never liked the muddy campsite, even if the tents were fairly new and spacious you never knew who would 'pop in' and the showers were frequently cold.

"What about Jack?" I'd asked.

"Jack," she'd scoffed. "He's sold out," (read-got a job) "anyway, they're all as high as kites."

That much was true, the one summer I'd stayed there my clothes had come away reeking of cannabis and I was sure I remembered at least one police raid. My mother, for all her faults, never did drugs, claiming she was 'high on life' and didn't need chemicals to 'alter her state'.

"I want to paint the sky," she had declared, with an almost religious fervor, "and not mindless crap that no-one understands."

I'd let her finish. I'd learnt by now that nothing I could say would be right.

"I'm not sure where I'll be going this time, that's part of it," she'd looked at me, clearly waiting for a response. At least she'd waited for me to do my exams this time, which was more than last time. Last time we'd upended was the summer when I was fifteen. We went from a canal boat in London, to Braeburn, to some skanky flat in Liverpool and then to a chalet in the New Forest. By the time I started back at school, I was already hopelessly behind and it was sheer graft that got my some GCSE's, and then three A levels. A levels only a week behind me now.

"I suppose a gap year would actually be quite fun," I'd offered tentatively, relieved for once that I wasn't the one dismissing everything as a terrible plan.

"I'm going," she'd repeated carefully. "Just me." Which to be fair, she had done before. The occasional summer when I had robustly refused to join her chaos and had blagged a bed at a sympathetic friends or over keen boyfriends.

"What about Sapphire? " My gorgeous three year old sister with my mother's raven curls, muddy brown eyes and a smudge of a nose. Like me, the owner of a ridiculous name; I had changed mine from Rain to Reanna as soon as I started high school.

My mother's eyes had flicked briefly over her youngest daughter before returning to me.

"You'll take good care of her for me," she had said, without a hint of remorse, regret or pain," and you will tell her I am dead." I'd laughed at first and then she had said it again.

What followed had been the most momentous row, or it would have been if she'd got angry. I'd screamed, shouted, pleaded and begged. Roared at her, listing a catalogue of disasters we had endured. (Water cut off, leaking tents, incorrect school uniform - because she had decided to be creative, sleeping with the headmaster, that was just a few). She had merely reminded me of our summer in Italy, our dancing in the rain and toasting marshmallows over fire pit as well as one hair-razing run from the police when we were 'roof top' jumping, a hilarious and (semi-dangerous game) that involved running along the flat roofs of the university (that we had sneaked into).

We'd stayed up all night arguing, or at least I had, I tried to reason with her, raged, cried, raged, cried on a cycle until I fell asleep exhausted. Having finally fallen asleep at 4, I woke up to Sapphire crying the next morning and my mother gone. She had left me a letter with words, like a play, carefully scripted, of what she wanted me to say.

"But why?" Saphy exhaled, "why would she do that?"

"I had wondered myself - was she ill or simply selfish, caught up in some cult or ruthlessly determined to succeed and we hindered her?

I found work as a receptionist, worked out how to claim benefits, put Saphy in nursery, kept studying - God knows how, and I created my own stories. She was in hospital somewhere. In prison somewhere. On the streets somewhere. Having her own gallery exhibition somewhere. Leading some kind of crazy revolution half way across the world. In a commune somewhere, without us.

"I did what she asked," I responded flatly.

"I told you she was dead, hit by a lorry and I would look after you, when you asked where everyone else was I told you that there was no-one."

"And is there?" she asked, curious.

"I don't know, every time I asked she would tell me a different story, or shut the conversation down. Sometimes our grandparents were in prison, sometimes they had thrown her out when she was pregnant with me, sometimes they had immigrated so Australia, sometimes her siblings had died in a fire, sometimes they had never existed at all. The stories became real and interwove in my head, so now I don't know and I wouldn't know where to start knowing or looking," Sapphire held my gaze.

"It seems to weird to be true," was all she said, bluntly.

"You look a lot like her," I offered. An olive branch.

"I wouldn't know," she scowled. "And I'm not sure I can believe today."

Today had upended everything. Policemen on our door first thing in the morning, just as I was going to work and Saphy was about to go to her first lecture. They'd found a body and they thought it was her. A suicide. She'd jumped from a multi-story car park an hour away. Among her possessions they'd found some connection to Braeburn and then, through some miracle back to me. It taken a while. Only now someone had to formally identify her.

Before I could grasp what was happening, Saphy had blown a gasket, reminding me of how I had screamed at my mother until my lungs were hoarse, years ago. The police had retreated, giving us some time to 'process' and now I was being evirated by my twenty year old sister.

"So is she dead?" a tearful Saphy asked her voice threaded from shouting.

"I don't know," I sighed.

As I waited to identify the body, I wondered. Was there nothing at all in her that might have wanted to say goodbye. They waited for my nod before carefully removing the white cloth from the top of her body. A dark haired woman with eyes as black as coal greeted me. Similar, but not her. I shook my head, expecting to feel something, but nothing. Her face was familiar, I dredged my memory for a clue. Snippets of a young woman, strumming a guitar with a skull marked strap came back to me. I remembered that her name was Shirley, I remembered it because it seemed like such an 'Un Braeburn' name.

I spoke briefly to the officers and told them what I knew, scraps of information, I said I hoped they would find her family. Stepping outside, I wondered if I had time for a restorative latte before facing Saphy again. A movement cross the road caught my eye, an altercation, cross tones of an elderly lady barged by a women with long raven coloured hair. A blue car obscured my view for a second, I tried to reach them, hurtling towards the road, thwarted by traffic, I couldn't cross and then she was gone, both of them were, real? Or some crazy part of today.

Back home, I met Saphy's gaze. All of a sudden I was eighteen again and jiggling her on my knee, trying to come up with a plan.

"Was it her?" Saphy asked quietly,

"I'm sorry Saphy," I replied, "she's dead."

November 15, 2020 17:06

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