Sisters

With National Novel Writing Month less than three weeks away, planning for this year’s NaNo novel is finally underway. After playing around with different protagonists I think I’ve settled on Scarlett. Here’s a sneak preview of the story:

“What?” Scarlett lowered the phone from her ear and stared at it without comprehension. Several moments later she raised it back to her cheek. “Are you sure?” Her blood was pumping like a river in her ears now, torrents of emotion surged through her like thick tar, drowning her in sticky disbelief. She knew the words being spoken on the other end of the telephone line were in her native tongue and yet they may as well have been in Martian, for all she was processing of them. A memory popped into her head then, so clear it was like watching a television screen. She and Ruby were children, sitting on the front lawn of the White House that sloped down towards the sea. It was a warm summer’s day with an unusually gentle breeze and yet their mother had dressed them in warm tights and corduroy pinafore dresses. Scarlett remembered the scratchiness of the tights, her longing to remove them and feel the coolness of the grass against her legs, to stretch out and close her eyes; to dream. Her sister, however, seemed not to care, so engrossed was she in the flora and fauna, not to mention the iced bun clasped between her chubby fingers. They were so different even then, but for all their differences they loved each other. They were sisters after all. “Hello?” The woman’s voice at the end of the crackly phone line sounded impatient now. She had delivered her news and that, it seemed, was where her sympathy ended. “I’m sorry,” said Scarlett, her voice hoarse. “It’s just a lot to take in.” “Of course,” said the woman, her tone flat. “Now I go, okay?” Scarlett hung up the call and let the phone slip from her grasp. It landed on the floor with a thud that matched the thudding of her heart. Ruby, her beautiful, inquisitive, infuriating little sister, was dead.

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.