Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Sisters In Arms

Photo credit - Nevit Dilmen

I shuddered as the waves crashed on relentlessly, and the white foam licked my feet. My sister sat by me, as we had sat in the past as children, gazing in fascination at the sea, which had always held a strange awe for us. When Dad retired after receiving his Golden Handshake, his first impulse had been to buy a cottage by the sea, which was Mom’s biggest dream as well. All through our childhood, our vacations had always been spent at the seaside, and Dad’s decision came at the right time.
The first time we saw the cottage we were overwhelmed. Mom wept in joy as we looked out at the blue expanse outside our window, and heard the crash of the waves which grew louder in the quiet of the night. The very next evening, they broke the news to us. Mom had this little tumour growing insidiously within her, and I remember running down to the beach to weep copious salty tears filled with regret. Regret that I had not had Mom to myself, regret that a stranger had come in to share her with me...
It was when I was four that Maria came into our home. “Anna, this is your sister, Maria!” smiled Mom. After I was born, the doctor had said that Mom could not have any more children. “We felt that we should not be selfish and that you needed a companion to play with!” added Dad.
I hated Maria on sight. Not only was she prettier than me, but she also knew how to use her charms and beguile everyone around her - my parents whom I had to now share with her, my friends who had been mine only, even  strangers on the street who would pinch her cheeks and smile at her, even as I stood by in sullen silence.
I found myself taking refuge in silence, which seemed to be my only ally. We would sit by the seaside, Maria and I, and while I would be lost in my thoughts, she would be plotting her next move... on how to humiliate me in public, or to get me into trouble!  She had a face that was as innocent as an angel’s, and under that a heart as black as night! She became my tormentor, an assassin who smiled as she smote!
When Mom passed away, she wanted her ashes to be scattered in the sea. “So that I will always be with my girls!” she had smiled weakly. Every time we looked at the waves, it was as if Mom was there, waving to us, smiling her beautiful smile.
Dad suddenly aged overnight. He missed Mom desperately, and we missed him the way he used to be. It was as though he was pining for her and we knew deep within that he would not survive very long without her.
One evening he called the two of us to his room, his voice breaking as he spoke of our future. The lawyer had come that morning with Dad’s will, and it was this that he wanted to discuss with us. “My dearest girls, I have always wanted you to be close, like real sisters, hoping that you would be there for each other even after Mom and I died!” His voice turned wispy, as though his thoughts were taking a burden on his emotions, and suddenly I knew what he was trying to say. He and Mom had always known that Maria and I hated each other, despite all their efforts. She was the interloper, I said to myself fiercely. She should have tried harder...
Dad was still talking. “I have made out my will. I do hope that it will keep you together.” Big chance, I scoffed inwardly, and found Maria looking at me with a curious gleam in her eyes.
Dad went without a struggle, almost glad that he would soon be with Mom. As his friends came and held our hands, condoling with us, tears overwhelmed me. “Now you have only each other!” a stray comment hit me like a thunderbolt. I had never felt so alone in my life ever!
The lawyer cleared his throat and began to read Dad’s last will and testament. I was shocked at the investments he had left behind. I never realized how much he had been putting away all these years for me - for us! Had Maria not been around, I would have been very comfortable all my life. The next few words broke into my thoughts... “I divide my wealth and property between my two daughters, on the condition that they live together under one roof for the rest of their lives as sisters.  On the event of the death of either, the money will be transferred to the other.”
My world collapsed about me. I had been looking forward to severing the umbilical cord, if you could call it that, between Maria and me, but now Dad had decreed that we were to turn into Siamese twins. I couldn’t imagine the dreary years ahead, years where I would be carrying a burden I didn’t want to.
Maria too seemed shell shocked, but she turned on her fake charm and smiled sweetly at the lawyer, who melted under her charm, as I looked on grumpily.  Another scalp to her collection!
That night I tossed and turned, as sleep eluded me. I thought of the many years Maria had been a thorn in my side, of the times when she had made a scapegoat of me and got me into trouble. Her sickly sweetness towards Mom had made her a favourite even though Mom never openly showed it. Wherever we went, she would be the star, as her beauty and vivacity made me look even duller and quieter than I was. Even my friends gravitated towards her, even though they remained loyal to me. I sought refuge in long silences, but my blood boiled unceasingly.
And now I was expected to endure her till the end of my life – or hers! That is when the germ of an idea sprouted in my mind. I drew myself up with a start. Was I thinking of murder? The idea took firm root and refused to let go, worrying me like a dog nibbling at a bone!
My mind worked overtime, and suddenly, there it was, the perfect plot! And the setting was equally perfect. I would get rid of Maria by the sea, the one place where we had spent so many hours together. Getting her to the cottage would be simple. Dad’s ashes too needed to be scattered in the blue waters, where they would mingle with Mom’s. We would walk along the beach, barefoot, and it would take nothing more than a handkerchief soaked in chloroform, and a strong resolve, which I definitely had.
The plan was all too simple. The next evening we were at the cottage, where we pointedly ignored each other, but the tension was palpable. We had nothing to say after all these years. It was late evening when we decided to take Dad’s ashes and go to the beach.  Maria went on ahead, and I pretended to loiter at home, but actually I needed to make my preparations, and I wanted to get to the beach only by twilight, the hour when everything gets blurred and shadowy shapes abound.
I quickly soaked my handkerchief with chloroform, and then looked around for my gloves. As the sun set in the distance, I rummaged around in my suitcase frantically, but there was no sign of them. Finally I decided that I would have to do the deed with my bare hands, and wipe off my fingerprints as well as I could. I sprinted down to the beach, where Maria stood, gazing at the russet sky, ears cocked as though listening to the waves talk. There was a strange stillness about her and even as I hated her, I could not help but admire how beautiful she looked.
As I moved closer to her, she turned around and held the little urn out to me. “Let’s do it together!” I said, breathless after the run, and together we tilted the ashes, watching them merge with the waves, even as the sun went down in the horizon. It was now or never. I felt in my pocket for the handkerchief, when Maria pointed behind me and screamed, “Look out!” I turned around in shock, and in the next instant, felt a handkerchief against my nose. As I began to black out, I noticed the gloves on her hands.

Published in yourstoryclub.com

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