Sisters

“What a beautiful day for a wedding!” Aunt Marjorie says as she scurries into the lounge, a tiny human tornado comprised almost entirely of cobalt blue feathers and taffeta. “Where’s your sister?” she says absent-mindedly, scanning the menagerie of balloons, cards and flowers that scatter the living room like fallen soldiers. The scan finally complete, she rests her eyes on me and gasps. “Lucinda! Why aren’t you ready? The car will be here in fifteen minutes!”

Before I can proffer an answer Mum comes down the stairs; my guardian angel. Though the sisters share physical similarities they are fortunately where the similarities stop. Where Marjorie is more highly strung than a ball of string, Mum takes a more relaxed approach to life, though I suppose with a husband as laid back as Dad she hasn’t had much choice about that. “Marjorie,” Mum says, “the girls aren’t too far off being ready. Why don’t you sit down and I’ll make a nice cup of tea?”

Making the most of this temporary distraction I slink out of the room and begin to climb the staircase, wincing at the squeals of laughter coming out of my sister’s bedroom. Alice, you see, is everything I’m not. Tall, blonde, disquietingly beautiful and clever – an A grade student whose ambition is matched only by her sickeningly loving nature. Don’t get me wrong, I love my sister with all my heart. I just don’t always like her very much. I mean, when the genes got handed out couldn’t the Big Man have given me something? A runner’s up prize of good hair, for example, or nice nails? Instead I got frizzy brown hair, stunted growth and freckles. It’s hard not to feel jealous. Except…

But it’s not my looks that have been the problem. I’ve never had a shortage of boyfriends. They like the elfin look, you see, and I’ve mastered it well. I’ve learned over the years how to make the most of what I do have – a big bust (deep V-neck jumpers go down a treat), long eyelashes (voluminous mascara) and doe eyes (smoky eye makeup sends the boys wild). No, my looks have never been the problem. What’s wrong with me is my personality, or at least that’s what I’ve been told all of my life. Why are you so ungrateful, Lucinda? Why so rude? Why can’t you be clever like your sister? Why can’t you be kind like your sister?

Growing up in the shadow of perfection isn’t easy, but I coped with it as best I could. Sure, I ran wild, but why not live up to the expectations? They were going to think the worst of me whether I went that way or not. But even they don’t know the worst thing that I did. No one can ever know that.

I walk into my sister’s bedroom, still kept as a shrine to her teenage self with her ballerina jewellery box on the dresser and boy band posters on the wall. When I moved out our parents turned my room into a guest room without even asking. Alice sits in the middle of the bed, flanked by her three bridesmaids who are fussing with her hair, her makeup and her jewellery in turn. She turns as I come closer and flashes a megawatt smile. I smile back, hoping she won’t notice that it doesn’t reach my eyes.

An hour later the cars pull up outside the church and we climb out – my sister and her bridesmaids in the Rolls Royce, me, Mum and Marjorie in the taxi behind. The bridesmaids make last minute rearrangements to Alice’s dress as we make our way into the church. As soon as I cross the threshold a wave of nausea washes over me and I hold on to the doorway to steady myself. Mum looks over at me, and in the second that passes whilst locked in her gaze I realise that she knows.

We walk down the aisle to the front pew and take our place with the rest of the family. I’m suddenly conscious of how tight my red dress is, how inappropriate for a wedding. Why did I wear it? Couldn’t I just have let Alice have the limelight for this one day? But I know why I wore it, and as I tug at the hemline and he turns around I feel I might faint.

Taking his cue the congregation turns to get its first sight of the vision in white lace that is my sister. She wafts in as if on a cloud, her arm loosely draped through Dad’s, tendrils of her hair falling lightly over her softly rouged cheeks. She beams at her groom as she processes towards him and takes her place beside him. But as they turn towards one another to proclaim their everlasting love, he shoots an almost imperceptible look into the crowd that says what I already know.

It should have been me.

Phantom

After giving birth to my son the nurse told me he didn’t exist.

Can you imagine? The child I’d carried to full term, whose heartbeat I’d heard with my own ears, whose little legs I’d felt kicking inside me, whose features I’d seen at every scan.

At first I struggled to take in the meaning of those seemingly nonsensical words. But, as her tone of voice became more insistent and her manner shifted from one of consolation to frustration, it dawned on me that, for some unknown and utterly incredible reason, she believed it to be true.

I myself was incredulous, as I’m sure you can imagine, and when Michael arrived I begged him to explain, to tell them they were wrong and that there was a baby – our baby – somewhere. There had clearly been a mix up and our son, our Max – or James or Saul, we hadn’t yet decided – was in someone else’s incubator, mislabelled like an erroneous tin of soup in a warehouse.

Once the truth had been uncovered there would be a full investigation, of course. Heads would roll, and we would sue them and set up a trust fund for our son with the payout. In years to come we would laugh about the ridiculousness of the situation, and it would go down in family folklore and be told at annual gatherings for generations to come.

At first Michael agreed it was ludicrous. In fact, he was outraged. How could a woman carry a baby to full term only for it to disappear?

And yet, slowly but surely, they turned him against me, poisoned his mind with vicious lies about my state of mind.

This is my last attempt at freedom, a final bid to unshackle myself from the false accusations that have led to my incarceration, that have stripped me of sanity as I knew it.

I beg you to read my story and decide for yourself who is mad; them, me, or every one of us?

Image

I came across this charming little fellow whilst exploring a temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He was certainly very wary of me!