This story is by AJ Watt and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
AJ Watt is a stay-at-home mother with a newly discovered passion for writing speculative fiction. She believes in treating her superheroes and dragons to a healthy dose of reality. AJ lives in snowy Switzerland with her husband and two daughters. When she’s not writing, she’s reading, plotting and scheming.
We lie together on the bed and watch Mummy pack all the new clothes into the suitcase. I play with the little ladybirds at the bottom of Sarah’s plaits, making them crawl up her shoulder and neck. Mummy holds up the new yellow daisy dresses.
“Daisies for the Queen!” Sarah giggles.
“The Queen is too busy,” I tell her once again.
Mummy blinks and turns around to fold the dresses. “We can certainly ask her.”
Sarah pokes me. “Told you,” she says, and sticks her tongue in my face. I stick mine back, a little further, because I am a little bit bigger than her.
“Mummy, can we have lollipops for breakfast?” Sarah lifts her head to look at Mummy, and I do the same. Of course Mummy will say no.
“Lollipops and chocolate,” Mummy says but she doesn’t turn around.
Sarah falls back against the pillow and laughs. “Tomorrow will be the best day ever!”
I laugh with her, because I love lollipops and chocolate too, but Mummy is being strange. I ask Daddy if she is sick. Daddy laughs and hugs us. He tells us to play on the swing before we have to leave. We sit together and ride through the sky. Her smile is a mirror picture of mine, except hers is a little bit bigger.
“They’re talking about the hospital,” I tell Sarah. “Great Almond Street.”
“Maybe there are chocolate almonds,” she giggles.
“Chocolate almond ice-cream cake with cherries on top,” I say.
“And whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles.”
We laugh so hard we almost fall off the swing.
In the car, Daddy tells us it’s not Almond after all.
“What’s Ormond mean?” asks Sarah.
“It’s just a name.”
“Boring,” she says. “I’ll call it Great Chocolate Almond Street.”
“That’s fine, sweetheart.”
“But it’s wrong.” I cross my arms.
Sarah gives me a push. “You’re boring too,” she says.
My eyes tickle but I don’t cry because everyone else is happy. “Great Chocolate Almond Street with a cherry on top,” I say, and Sarah laughs in my face.
There are no almond trees in London, but there are lots of black taxis and red buses, just like in our book. At the hospital, everyone is so happy to see us that I feel like we are queens. Sarah tells the doctors about the chocolate almonds and they laugh. They take us to a room with fairies on the walls. We get our dinner on four brown trays. Mummy and Daddy promise us a ride on the biggest ferris wheel in England!
A nurse comes with a bowl of chocolate almonds. I let Sarah have more than me, because she is the very best sister in the world.
It is the last night. Her ladybird plaits tickle my nose. I lie awake but I’m very still. I don’t want to wake up Sarah, even though she will be sleeping all day tomorrow.
I fall asleep and dream of swinging, but I am alone and not giggling. I wake up and she is still here. Daddy strokes my hair for a long time and I fall asleep again.
Then it is morning and we have lollipops for breakfast! We look at the new clothes and choose our favorite dresses. Sarah chooses the yellow daisies and I choose the same.
“That’s boring,” Sarah says. “Choose something else.”
So I choose the black and white squares because it looks like Daddy’s game.
The doctor comes. She tells us all about it again. Sarah laughs and claps and I nod. I have a tummy ache. Maybe it is the lollipops. We go to a different room where there are no fairies. Only lots of people and funny things on the walls. We whisper all the things we will do tomorrow and all the days after.
“I will push you on the swing and you will go higher than ever before,” I tell her. Her mouth smiles and her eyes shine. Then they close and her smile goes away and I can close mine too.
Mummy’s eyes are red and Daddy’s face is white. I hurt everywhere because Sarah is gone. Mummy and Daddy lie beside me, so I am like the jam in a sponge cake, but it feels all wrong. Sarah is gone and I am broken.
I do not talk or walk or laugh. The doctors smile but they don’t laugh either. Mummy says that everything is going to be alright. Daddy says that Sarah is safe now. But I say they are both lying. Sarah is not safe without me. I hit Mummy and scream because I want to see her. Daddy says Sarah is already in heaven and she has left her old body behind. He says she has a new body that can run and play and not hurt.
I don’t think that’s fair.
The Queen doesn’t visit us, but Princess Anne does. She doesn’t look like a princess. I think she is pretending. She tells me I am very brave but she is wrong.
They show me Sarah in the daisy dress. She is very still, like she is playing sleeping lions. I put my arms around her neck one more time and I know that she is broken, just like me.
We go to a church with very high ceilings and sing slow songs. Somebody says it is the last goodbye but that is also wrong. It is my first goodbye. I watch Sarah’s box go down and down. Maybe she will stay down there and play with rabbits instead of going to heaven. It is a little bit closer to me.
I watch people cry and blow their noses. I don’t know who they are and they never swung on swings with Sarah.
We go to the London Eye because I want to look into heaven to see if Sarah is having chocolate almonds with Queen Victoria. All I see is clouds and an airplane. A lady with fat feet says she likes my daisy dress. Mummy tells her I have worn it for two weeks and it needs a wash. Daddy says if we can still see the daisies it’s clean enough. I cross my arms and close my eyes until we get back to the ground.
I lie on my bed and eat a lollipop. I feel inside out and upside down. I fall asleep because then Sarah is back and we can swing together like before. We kick our legs so hard we don’t need to be pushed.
Daddy lies in bed with me and it almost like being with Sarah, but he is the wrong shape and size and he smells different. I hold him tight around the neck. His cheeks are wet. He tells me tomorrow we are going home.
I look down at the place where Sarah used to be. There is a big bandage all around it. I cough and try to talk but it is only a whisper.
Daddy jumps up and calls the doctor. They unwrap me like a Christmas present. My tummy is red and bumpy and all covered in an ugly net. Daddy tells me it will get better and better until it is like real skin. I liked it better when Sarah was there.
At home I lie on our bed and I am all alone for the very first time. Even when she was asleep I could hear her breathing. It is very, very quiet. I can hear our princess clock ticking.
I go to the garden. I am dizzy like I have just come off the roundabout. The swing is quiet. I sit on it and it is much too big. I was wrong to say Sarah could decide because Sarah was not the sensible one. If I had said no we would still be two peas in a pod.
Instead, it is the first goodbye.