The postman sifted restlessly, disgustedly through the growing mound of heartfelt envelopes: all the diverse colours of the rainbow, with crinkling paper enclosed inside-imperfect but loving. Crisp, as icy white as untrodden snow. Splashed with love heart, star and smiley face stickers. And all destinied, postmarked, for one location, faraway, starless and bustling cities away...but sent and, most imperatively, received at all? And was this postman, this post office, this scene, as a bereft mother who trekked home every week to her distraught daughter, really as genuine as she insisted?
For as long as she could remember, Zoe had loved starlight. Tracing the intricate diagrams of the night sky, as they strung together like a rich necklace of jewels. Wondering what alien extraterrestrials lay beyond this finite, small planet: their characteristics same or different? Laughing with a lilting sound like a flowing mountain brook as she caught flickering fireflies in glowing jars: those masqueraders of nighttime light. And so had her sister Arianne. With a deft artist’s hand, Arianne could paint all the wondrous constellations of the night sky with just scanty pots of brushes and colours. A miracle, then, that she could unearth and unwrap the ancient secrets, codes, of the stars floating like mirror balls in the universe: sketching all those indescribable things as if it were easy as breathing. They dotted white specks and named them cutesy girlish things, like ‘Barbie Star’, ‘Pinky’ and ‘Goldie’. Just what you would expect, although Arianne was definitely more of a tomboy than Zoe, who timidly watched her turn handsprings and cartwheels in the freshly mowed grass.
Mother and Father benignly watched over them, glowing with affection at their two affectionate and gifted daughters: so different yet very much the same, and they sake to keep them inside this paradise as long as possible. Their parenting skill set and minds were absolutely flawed; they wanted to shelter their little daughters for as long as possible from the astronomically harsh ‘real world.’ But it worked for now: Arianne and Zoe gambolled over the fields like energetic puppies, greeting every animal as they went-their grins always plastered on chubby child faces. However, their parents always knew that one day, the real world would invade their innocent souls-so innocent and pure, like angels. So they went, this family round of truth, for now, at least.
The sisters enjoyed drawing, from the age they could toddle on plump unsteady legs. The haloed and indescribably adorable pictures of their small creation adorned the beige, bland walls of their spacious house. Soon Zoe and Arianne’s artistic skills blossomed, almost meteoric in the way they progressed from everyday wonky houses and strips of grass, to perfectly shaded apartments and mansions, and jade green strands of life that almost seemed to wave in the suggested wind. They laughed-none of their house’s four square walls were quite the same without the tonal ring of their hilarity-and played together in the vast and enchanting gardens. There were tickling delicate flowers and grasses, graceful and coloured like downsized rainbows, and tall ferny trees that nevertheless shed their strips of coarse, paper like bark every season. The seasons indeed marched on, insistent, sweeping them away from the nostalgia and fun of their childhoods. But, like the trees, they had only pruned down and branched out; still they displayed their artistic powers in artworks that boggled the eye. And Zoe could not imagine life without her sister.
Then the shockwave came. When Zoe was fifteen and Arianne was seventeen and on a holiday trip with her friends, Mother gave the unbelievable, unbearable news-to Zoe: Arianne had moved out. A sharp-edged lick of tears floundered inside the rim of Zoe’s reddening eyes-but for once she was strong and unafraid; she knew that this day had been long in coming for a while.
Still, the ever-encompassing night sky didn’t seem the same without Arianne.
She started writing letters. Innumerable. Possessed by all the loving and tender sentences, Zoe would scrawl endless strips of prose by the night stars, which seemed to wink cheerily at her, with Arianne’s endlessly patient face and eyes. Posting thousands of myriad letters a week to the address Mother haltingly provided, she would cross her fingers each day for a reply, with them twined together like balls of yarn-but there was no reply; the brightly painted letterbox remained empty of Arianne. The halting sobs that sometimes confronted Zoe at night seemed foolish; yet she cast away her present content happiness at school, and wept with the grief and mourning of losing the treasured love of a family member. It was silly and imperfect, ever so childish, Zoe told herself. Arianne had moved to another address. Arianne was busy with her work, frenetic. Arianne simply had no time to answer her letters. Self-justifications flapped around in her exhausted mind like paper butterflies.
Today, she couldn’t take it anymore. With her latest, mint green postcard nestled snugly underneath her shoulder, Zoe strode to her mother’s bedroom, who was reclining on there-weeping. A strange, horrible desire came over Zoe like a tumultuous tsunami wave-to shake Mother until she oozed porous blood, to ask her what really happened every time she resolutely walked to the post office, insisting that she really did deliver the envelopes.
But then-what motive?
Mother startled to find Zoe leaning ominously over her-her nightgown almost trembling in audible fright. In the judder, the change of sudden position, a waterfall of letters spilled to the stained weatherboard floor; some frayed and worn with age and time. And then-Zoe glimpsed tears beginning to bud again in Mother’s eyes; a plead for forgiveness already at those moist lips.
So Zoe hardened her heart, and waited for Mother to begin speaking.
Her sparkling rose-gold phone shone with a new notification-by whichever unknown number, it didn’t matter in the gravity of the present situation. Is it really true you’ve been withholding the information all these years-that Arianne got run over by a car while on holiday, and lied to Zoe, saying she had moved away?
Mother’s still pink lips did not move-not even tremble, like a fallen leaf blown by gales. And that night, Zoe did not paint iridescent galaxies, but fallen stars or supernovas, death so brilliant and wonderful and poetic-but still death, and the hidden darkness festering behind their innocent forms.