I picked up her hand and held it tightly in my own, watching her blood trickle through my fingers onto the lino - the revolting brown lino she’d always hated. I used to hug my sister and feel her squeeze me in return, but now the tenderness was one-sided, it could not be reciprocated. It was too late. The tears streamed down my face and mingled with the blood on the floor. The blood saturating my socks now started to dampen my skin. The drip-drip of the kitchen tap penetrated the silence. The more I cried the more I struggled to breathe. It was the only time I found that crying did not make me feel any better.
I wasn’t very experienced in the ways of the world but even then it dawned on my young mind that someone had killed my sister. I knew this wasn’t suicide, and it wasn’t some nasty accident. I knew the red footprints on the carpet probably belonged to my sister’s killer. I bent over further, and placed an arm across my sister’s back, sobbing as I eyed the brown wooden handle of the knife. I wanted to turn her over. I wanted to know how long she had been lying there. It cut my heart in two to know that she had died in this way. Why couldn’t she have grown old and died in her sleep? Why had she been made to suffer? I oscillated between devastation and anger. Through my tears I only managed to say, “Why did this happen to you?”
I angrily waved away the flies who tried to land on her body, which was so bloody that I kept losing my grip. I emitted a desperate sigh as her body slid out of my arms back down to the floor. Then, as I attempted to stand, my foot slipped in her blood and I fell to my knees, both hands palms down in the blood. I was in a state of panic - that type of confused panic where you just do not know what to do. I felt like it was another of my bad dreams and if I pinched myself I might wake up.
I heard the sound of someone screaming from the hallway, and cried out in fright. A woman stood by the threshold to the kitchen, swathed in the bead curtain, a look of utter horror painted across her face. Her skin was ashen. She beckoned me towards her.
“Come here, kid. Come here.”
She waved frantically for me to go and stand with her, causing the bangles on her wrist to jingle against each other.
“What happened?” she asked slowly.
I shook my head, and blinked away my tears. I turned back to my sister.
“I n-need to call the p-police,” she stammered, but she stayed rooted to the spot, eyeing the phone on the other side of the kitchen.
Then she seemed to acknowledge the sirens, which were getting closer and closer.
“Oh, y-you phoned them already,” she said, looking as if she were about to be sick.
She was carrying a green carrier bag, which she dropped to the floor. I thought she was strange. And I was angry that she didn’t come over and help me turn my sister over so her face wasn’t in the blood.
“I live next door,” she said. “I was just bringing her some shopping…” her voice broke and she turned away, placing her hand to her mouth.
I knew she was crying.
“The police will be here soon. I think you should come next door to my flat and I’ll get you cleaned up, give you some milk and cookies. How’s about it?”
She extended her hand again, and tried to smile. All I could think was, did she really think I could even think of milk and cookies at that moment…was that really going to make everything better? I took an immediate dislike to her. I wanted her to leave my sister and I in peace until the emergency services arrived. I wanted to pluck the knife from my sister’s back, and clean all the blood off her body.
“Please, please come over here. She’s gone now, kid,” she pleaded.
I shook my head. She swallowed, took a deep breath, and walked across the floor, cringing as she grabbed one of my bloody hands. I hoped my hand would slip out of hers easily, but she held me firmly. I looked up at her, and saw an almost demonic look in her eyes.
“Come to my flat. Now.”
“I don’t want to!” I cried. “Now leave me alone.”
Her clothes smelt of stale smoke and her skin was covered in spots and blemishes.
“Get off me!” I shouted, as she tried to twist my arm backwards.
This could only be a nightmare.
“Come with me or I’ll fucking kill you. You’ll end up just like your sister you fucking little bitch. Now do as I say.”
The sirens stopped and I knew the police and the ambulance were there. I only had to struggle with this woman for a little longer before they found me, and could take her away.
“Hel..” I started to shout, but she cupped her hand over my mouth.
“Don’t even fucking think about it, bitch. I didn’t think I’d have to fuck up two from the same fucking family in the same fucking day!”
She yanked me backwards, while I kicked and wriggled with all my might. I went to bite her on her arm but she punched my head before I could do it.
“Fucking do that, and you’ll be dead before the fucking pigs get up the stairs!” She spat all over me as she said this.
She dragged me out of the flat. I thrashed around with every ounce of strength I had left, trying to drag my feet along the floor so the police could follow the trail. They’d find my discarded satchel beside my sister, they’d acknowledge that a young girl had made the call, and they’d immediately start looking for me.
I was dragged into a flat two doors away from my sister’s. It smelt putrid inside. It didn’t look like anyone had cleaned there in ten years. She kept her hand over my mouth until she had slammed the front door behind her. I tried to scream again, but she crammed a filthy cloth in my mouth.
“If you make any more noise, I’ll set fire to that cloth, I swear!” she said angrily.
She wiped her forehead with her sleeve, then darted into the kitchen, and picked up a butcher’s knife. It glinted in the sunlight, but I saw that it was already covered in blood. Was this another knife she’d used on my poor sister? She looked at me and smiled, revealing her crooked, discoloured teeth. I could hear commotion in the hallway outside, and I knew the police had discovered my sister.
The nameless woman sauntered slowly towards me, turning the knife over in her hands. My stomach lurched. She smiled and sniggered to herself. Then I heard someone pounding on her front door, and the police identified themselves. The knife dropped to her side and she rolled her eyes. Then she ignored the knocking and began to walk towards me, slowly raising the knife higher in the air.
“Two in one day,” she said quietly. “Now that would guarantee me a life sentence.”
I pulled the dirty rag from my mouth and screamed. She threw herself at me, but I rolled across the floor, just as the door was kicked in. Policemen flooded the flat. I rolled onto my stomach so I was face down, just as my sister had been, buried my face into the filthy carpet, and cried tears of sadness and rage.
* * *
I never returned to my school, and I never saw my best friend ever again. My parents promptly packed my belongings and sent me to live with my grandmother fifty miles away, so I was never exposed to the media frenzy that followed my sister’s murder. I lost the bracelet Lucy gave me and in later years I realised my grandmother had probably disposed of it on my mother’s instruction - either because it served as a permanent reminder of that horrific day, or because it was deemed necessary to discard any reminder of old life, prior to her death - an exorcism, if you like.
When the local press discovered that my parents had rejected my sister from the family home, they lambasted them. A witch hunt ensued, with my grieving parents the target. A darkness fell over my parent’s faces during that time and that haunted look has never left their faces. I knew it was guilt because they had forced my sister into such a salubrious world and with horrifying consequences. I also knew they felt wholly responsible - as if they might as well have been the person in the dock answering to her murder. All except their fervently Catholic friends disowned them.
Years down the line, when my mother suffered with arthritis, I started to clean her house once a week to help her out. I was of course an adult by then, married with three children of my own. I was tidying my mother’s dressing table when I found a dog-eared, yellow piece of newspaper caught at the back of one of the drawers. Now, I had never been told the reason behind my sister’s murder. At times, I had been curious to know, but I knew I would not be able to cope with that knowledge, and so for many years remained in blissful ignorance. My head had been well and truly in the sand. Yet now, accidentally, I had found the answer.
A school photograph of my sister smiled back at me from the paper. I felt woeful that she had been denied the opportunity to grow into an adult as I had. Through tearful eyes I read that she had effectively died because of her neighbour’s Heroin addiction. The harridan who had pulled me away from her body and stuffed a filthy rag into my mouth had knocked at my sister’s door, begging for money to feed her habit. When my sister told her the truth - that she had no money to spare - the woman had shoved her into the kitchen and stabbed her thirty times. My stomach lurched but I read on.
The article said her killer, who was called Kathy (I had never known her name) told Police she had no regrets about what she had done and that she’d do it again. She’d been sentenced to life imprisonment. I tore the article to pieces in disgust and thought longingly of the brief thirteen years of memories I had to remind me of my sister. And for the first time since her death, I said her name. I whispered, “Alice.”