Cerise sighed when she spied Adelie curled up in the reading nook, eyes on the rain outside.
Her heart sagged in her chest, a damp dress hung over a coat hanger. Limp. The air caught against her ribs, and for a moment, she couldn’t breathe. Framed against the washed-out backdrop of droplets, Adelie looked older than her age. For one frozen snapshot, Cerise caught a glimpse of the adult her little sister would soon become. A temporary maturity — achieved through grief. Every nerve ending and vein ached, and not only for their recent loss. She wanted to clutch her, hold her to her chest, and scream, No, you can’t grow older! You must stay at this age forever!
Cerise made the stairs creak beneath her weight, to not startle her. She had gotten used to placing her soles in the silent spots. At the wooden groan, Adelie turned, then shuffled back to face the rain. Her eyes flashed in Cerise’s mind, Tipp-Ex white. The water against the glass mirrored the tear stains on her cheeks.
Cerise rounded the top of the stairs, the smooth bannister like silk beneath her fingers. Divots and dents, knots and holes. The watery grey light trickled in through the nook’s window. A closed copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets sat in Adelie’s lap.
She tried to think of what to say. The kid had professed her disbelief in Santa a year or two prior — a shrewdness she’d approved of. Any talk of Heaven or Hell, angels or demons made a sour taste in her mouth. And Cerise didn’t think Adelie would believe her, anyway.
But, on the flip side, she couldn’t pile her scepticism onto the kid, either. It went against everything Cerise stood for, for one thing. No indoctrination, let people think for themselves. And for another, it would offer Adelie no help.
Suck it up, death’s a part of life. When you’re gone, you’re worm fodder. We go to the same place we came from — darkness. Nobody goes to Heaven, but — then again — nobody goes to Hell either. But she’d never say that. Not to anyone, but least of all her baby sister. Her baby sister who wasn’t so much a baby anymore. Although not an adult herself, Cerise understood her beliefs would offer no comfort. Or, rather, her lack of beliefs.
Grand-Mere Bibi’s words whispered to her through a haze of smoke. There is more to this life, my darling, than what we can see. Now, Cerise didn’t quite agree with her — either then or now — but she had a point, in a way. If not a literal explanation of the world.
Cerise left Adelie in her nook, as the droplets pitter-pattered against the pane. The girl’s shoulders slumped, even though she held a standoffish air about her. Adelie didn’t want to be alone — not really. She wanted comfort and wisdom, words to ease the pain. Well, Cerise might not be able to offer that, but she did have something else — she hoped. She headed for her old room in their grandmother’s house, and bare feet whispered upon the floor. Beneath the bed or on top of the wardrobe, and if not there, then in some other dusty crevice.
When Cerise came back, Adelie hadn’t budged. Her copy of Chamber of Secrets now lay open, but the girl’s glazed eyes continued to watch the downpour. She shook the box in her hands, and its contents shuffled within. Adelie glanced over her shoulder, a disinterested flick of the eyes.
“I, uh, I’ve got something you might be interested in.” She took a step closer to her sister, now within that sacred circle known as personal space. Cerise tilted the box, this way and that under the weak, grey light. “It’s an Ouija board.” A slight twitch at the name. “Do you know what one of those is?”
Another furtive glance. “It’s what those dumb chicks in horror films always use, right before the ghosts kill them.”
Cerise grinned. One day soon, she was going to slay with that sense of humour of hers. She’d be a real hit with the boys. Or the girls, Cerise admitted. Whatever the hell she liked. “Yeah, that’s right. I was thinking, um, that we could do a seance? For Grand-Mere Bibi?”
The rectangle light of her phone glared up at her, from atop the board. She had two articles open: Wikipedia and WikiHow. The former for background information on seances. The latter for instructions — How to Perform a Seance (with Pictures).
“Isn’t that stupid?”
Cerise faltered. Yes, she wanted to say. It’s very stupid. I’ve got some great YouTube videos from James Randi that you should see. Instead, she said, “Grand-Mere Bibi didn’t think so.”
Adelie turned to face her full-on. “No?”
She shook her head. “She believed in all this stuff. Now, I’m not sure how scientific it is, but she thought spirits were real.” And before Adelie could interject: “Not like a—” she imitated a ghost “—wooooo kind of way. But in the-ones-you-love-never-truly-leave-you kinda way.” Cerise glanced down, a blush in her cheeks. “Do you wanna try it?”
A short pause.
The grief had pushed her into spiritual territory. Or the insistence of her older sister had nudged her to accept. Or the kid hadn’t yet outgrown all her childhood superstitions. Whatever the reason, Adelie relented. “Yeah, okay.”
Cerise smiled and took a seat opposite. Both curled up together in that reading nook, as the rain lashed down outside. Rather cosy, if they hadn’t mourned the loss of their maternal grandmother. She unfolded the board between their crossed legs and placed the planchette on top.
“Did you know,” she read from the Wikipedia page on her phone, “that word seance comes from the French word for session? Which in turn comes from the old, old French word to sit?”
As Cerise expected, this perked Adelie up. Anything to do with their French ancestry ignited her curiosity. And Grand-Mere Bibi had been French through and through. From her thicker-than-bread accent to the way she smoked her cigarettes with a stick. Like a stylish actress from The Jazz Age.
Her big, childish eyes widened. “Really?” Too young to yet see the cheesy wow-what-a-coincidence-it-must-be-fate rubbish Cerise had pulled. In another year or less, she wouldn’t get away with it.
“Okay.” Cerise tucked a few strands of hair behind her ear. “So, we both place a hand on the planchette, like this. See?” She took Adelie’s hand — still small and a little bit chubby — and brought it to the planchette. “Next, we clear our minds, and think of the loved one we’ve lost.”
“Grand-Mere Bibi,” said Adelie. Her voice came out thick and hoarse.
“That’s right. And then, one of us...” Cerise trailed off and decided to improvise. “The most pure one — that’d be you — needs to reach out. Needs to call out to Grand-Mere. And, if she’s there, she’ll answer us.”
Adelie stared down at the board. The Sun — YES — sat in the top left, the Moon — NO — in the top right. Two curved semicircles ran through the alphabet, with numbers one to zero beneath. Below that, with stars on either side, lurked the rather ominous phrase GOOD BYE.
“How do I start?”
“Ask if anyone’s there.”
Adelie nodded and cleared her throat. “Um, is anyone there?”
The planchette remained in place, pressed down beneath both sets of fingers. Cerise wiped away the sweat from her palm with her little fingers. She had to be careful — if Adelie suspected foul play, this whole charade would be for nought.
Adelie let go of the planchette. “It’s not working.” Her lower lip curled.
Before she could say this is stupid, Cerise cut her off. “Try it again, Adie. Ask for her by name. Ask if she can give a sign.”
Adelie scowled, but her shoulders sagged and she rested her hand atop the planchette.
“Are you there? Grand-Mere Bibi? Can—” She licked her lips, started again. “Can you give me a sign? Can you give us a sign?”
Cerise leaned over and whispered to her.
She repeated what Cerise had told her. “A knock on the wood, a flicker of a light.” Adelie jutted her chin towards the ouija board. “Some letters or even words. Anything.”
The planchette quivered beneath their touch.
And then, breathless: “Grand-Mere Bibi?” Her voice lost that grown-up quality — became childlike and innocent. The sound struck a bell in Cerise’s heart, reverberated through her bones.
The planchette slid — as slow as a caterpillar — up to the Sun.
A gasp and a rush of air as Adelie exclaimed. It didn’t surprise Cerise to see her eyes red and watery. Hell, even her vision had blurred — and she’d pushed the damn thing.
The pointer scraped across the board and highlighted a letter.
By the time the sentence had finished, both girls sobbed. “I love you Grand-Mere Bibi,” said Adelie. A thick glob of snot trickled out of one nostril. “I love you too. I miss you.” Unable to help herself, Cerise echoed her sister’s sentiments. Whether she’d offered helpful nudges or not, nobody could deny her emotions.
And then, because she didn’t want to overegg the pudding, she slid the planchette down to the bottom of the board.
A packet of Kleenex later, both girls appeared a tad more respectable. Adelie eyed the Ouija board, now closed with the planchette inside. “Could I…” She chewed her inner lip. “Could I have this?”
Cerise chuckled. “I think Mom would probably freak if you took this home, Adie.” When the girl started to look dejected, she added, “But you don’t need it. These boards are just tools.” She held it at arm’s length and showed both sides. “It’s to make things easier. But when you’ve got as much love in your heart as you do, as I do, as Grand-Mere did…” She shook her head. “Well, then you don’t need it. Whenever you need to talk to Grand-Mere Bibi, just clear your mind and think of her. As I showed you here.” Cerise reached out and squeezed Adelie’s fingers. She embraced the silliness, embraced the cheese. It would be the last time she’d pull it off.
“And if you listen closely, you’ll be able to hear her.”