Monday, 10 August 2009

ALICE By Rebecca Swan (Part 1)

This tale is a two parter, so please keep reading into the next blog...

This is Rebecca's first here at TK'n'C so please join us in welcoming her.

ALICE

I have a chronic hatred of the summer months, because they remind me of the time I found my sister's lifeless body on her kitchen floor. I revel in seeing the clouds, feeling the rain on my skin, but as soon as the sun shines, I just want to block it all out. I shield my face from it, I draw the curtains closed. I stay indoors until it sinks away, and wait until it’s dark before I go out, like a vampire.

When somebody dies, and their body has not yet been removed to an adequate place, a sense of heaviness lingers in the air. In the time before the corpse finds its way to the mortuary, or the chapel of the rest, the body can lie undiscovered for days, weeks, years or perhaps even indefinitely, and there is something so degrading about it. The candle has been extinguished quite suddenly, and it feels as if that person’s life - regardless of what length it was - has been pointless. You are put on earth without choosing to be, you slog away in some dead end job, or cream off the state, and then you’re dead. You are given a life to live but you’re rarely the one who benefits. What’s the point in everything when you know it will all end one day? It’s the one thing we all have in common - and it’s the only certainty in life. It’s almost too depressing to contemplate. Yet this is what I had to contemplate when I was just thirteen years old - the torrent of thoughts that overwhelmed me after I found my sister dead when she was just seventeen.

I was walking home from school on a still, balmy summer day, when some strange impulse made me take a detour via my sister’s flat. I was carrying a satchel, slung over my right shoulder, and inside it I remember clearly a Tupperware box containing the crusts from my cheese sandwiches, my homework, a half finished packet of strawberry bon-bons melting in the heat. I remember so well because later that day, it was covered in blood stains and had to be thrown away. I was wearing a friendship bracelet given to me that day by my best friend Lucy.

I alternated between walking and skipping, keeping within the squares on the pavement, whilst proudly fingering my new bracelet and its rainbow of colours. I would never see my best friend again.

My sister lived in a horrible, poky flat in a block that was notorious for housing all sorts of undesirables. You could smell the drugs being smoked, and even as a relatively innocent thirteen year old, I had developed the ability to distinguish between the smell of crack and that of cannabis. I didn’t know what a virgin was and I didn’t know any swear words but I was able to differentiate a Class A from a Class C. The whole irony is that I had to walk down a smart, tree-lined avenue to get to my sister’s address, and for a few blissful minutes you could convince yourself that she lived in one of those glorious houses and, I once fantasised, worked as a nanny for an incredibly wealthy family. But then I turned the corner and there was the eyesore in all it’s brown pebble-dashed glory. I preferred to stare up at the trees still lining the road then look at that horrific place. And to imagine my sister there, like an angel misplaced in hell, was so hard to bear.

My sister had been thrown out of home for getting pregnant when she was just about to turn sixteen. Our parents were - still are - devout Catholics, and she had brought unspeakable shame on the family. So, to show the strength of their commitment to their faith, they disowned her, and she was renegaded to life in this grubby little flat. The stress of being shunned by our parents caused her to lose the baby. But the damage was done, the family were disgraced, baby or no baby, so when she begged to come home our parents maintained that she was no longer part of our family. It absolutely killed me to see them turn her away. I hated them for it.

I reached the entrance door to her block of flats, and was gripped by the usual fear. I did not like the people that loitered around there. An old lady hobbled out of the door and I ducked inside. All I could think at that moment was how much I wanted a glass of orange squash because it was such a hot day, and I was parched. As usual, the hallways and stairwells smelt odious. Graffiti adorned the walls. If there was a hell on earth, this was it. Grimy windows looked out onto equally depressing prospects - more high-rises. Even at that age I questioned what type of person could live there, and reasoned that my sister definitely didn’t belong there.

The door to my sister’s flat was ajar. I thought nothing of this, and pushed it open, whilst calling her name. I noticed faint red footprints on the carpet in the entrance hall. I peered into the living room, where my sister could usually be found, but it was empty. The television flickered silently in the corner. The smell of cannabis pervaded the air, but that was nothing new. Whenever I asked her about it she said her friends smoked it, but she would never touch the stuff. In later years I realised this probably wasn’t true, but I think she hoped I might report back to our parents that she had been good so they would take her in again one day, and allow her to resume what was left of her childhood.

I wandered around feeling slightly confused, then drew back the beaded curtain to the kitchen. I remember trying to cry out but no sound would emanate from my mouth. There was my sister, lying face down in a pool of blood. Flies hovered lazily over her body. I found myself struggling to breathe. In my childish naiveté I thought that she might still be alive, just very badly hurt. Of course, I know now you cannot survive after losing that much blood.

Still gasping for breath, I sidestepped around the blood, and with trembling hands, dialled 999 and told the operator that I had found my sister lying on the floor with her eyes closed and a knife protruding from her back. I stood stunned while they told me the police and an ambulance were on their way. I deliberately kept my back to her body, as it was too devastating to look - to see her lying so still when we’d only spoken to each other on the phone a few nights before. I just refused to believe it. I grabbed my plait and played with it nervously. Then something in me snapped, and I acknowledged that this was my beloved sister, and I owed it to her to show her some respect. I skirted around the blood, then burst into tears and fell to my knees. I pushed her sticky, blood soaked hair away from her face. Her eyes were open and I experienced a flicker of hope that she might still be alive. But they stared vacantly into the distance. I could feel the blood soaking into my knee high socks, but now I did not care.

I imagined then that most children my age would perhaps have run screaming into the corridor, banging on doors, calling for help. But at that moment, after my initial excitement that she was still alive, I realised that she was beyond first aid. And I also did not feel that the people who resided in those flats would be the type to care. I knew even then that they might even use the situation to go into my sister’s bedroom and steal her savings. So I stayed there quietly until I was reassured by the haunting sound of sirens indicating that the emergency services were on their way to us. To me, to her.

TBC

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