Across the table sits
Justine, her back straight, her gaze unwavering. She ignores the waiter who
slides their plates in place and with a mocking bow, hands clasped high in
front of him, wishes them: Bon appetit and leaves.
Happy Birthday, Justine says, the words dry and empty of
emotion. She raises her glass, sips her wine. Her thin-lipped smile is neat,
contained. Nothing soft about her, Amy thinks, as Justine deftly cuts a small
portion of fish, spears it with her fork, raises it to her mouth. All the while
her elbows are tightly pinned against her sides, as if she were sitting between
strangers on an aircraft.
Amy looks at her plate, at the mound of creamy pasta, and knows she
cannot eat. She reaches for her glass, admires the deep red colour and drinks.
It would have been Lucys birthday, too, she
Of course, Justine replies, her voice clipped. Of course, Amy
thinks, of course, of course.
Lucy crammed more and
more cake into her mouth, breaking pieces off with both hands. Creamy icing was
smeared around her mouth. There was some on one cheek and a smudge on the side
of her nose. Her cheeks were bulging as she ate. She grinned at Amy and then
licked up the dribble of half-masticated sponge leaking from her open lips.
Amy clasped her hands tightly together in front of her and tried not to
cry. The beautiful birthday cake was broken. It stood on its silver platter,
one side of it crumbled into a ruined castle, its candles discarded, its wide
pink ribbon untied.
Dont you want any, Amy? Lucy asked through her mouthful
of cake. She chewed and swallowed, chewed and swallowed. Then she laughed. It
sounded like hens cackling. Amy put her head on one side, looking down, biting
her lip. She wanted Mum to come and take Lucy away. But that wouldnt
happen. She wanted Lucy not to be like Lucy was now. She couldnt stop the
sob that came from inside her. Lucy pulled at Amy, poked her in the tummy,
rubbed her dirty hand on Amys party dress, leaving a damp mark, spoiling
its satiny prettiness.
Baby, Lucy almost spat at Amy.
Stop that. Now! There was Justine in the doorway. She dragged
Lucy out of the room. Amy could hear the shouts as Justine pulled Lucy down the
hall and into their bedroom. She heard the slam of the door and Lucys
scream rising and rising, filling the house with the sad strangeness of a
wild-animal wail, filling Amys ears, till she covered them with her hands
and made her own sobbing, little-girl sounds.
Amy says now. A strange nebulous feeling balloons inside her. It could be
anger, impatience, sorrow, the pain of loss. She cant tell. Shes
never been good at identifying her own emotions. Instead, she somehow
understands how others feel. She sometimes thinks its because shes
a twin; finds even now that she thinks of how Lucy would react when something
Justine raises an eyebrow. Shes good at that. Her face remains
impassive but she can move one eyebrow and not the other.
Are you mocking me? Justine asks. Her voice is light. This is
not serious, shes telling Amy. Theres no bitterness between
Of course, Amy says. She smiles. She mocks. But Justine will
assume its a joke. The beautiful bland. Before Lucy went away
she used to call Justine that.
Justine sat on her bed,
saying nothing, looking at the wreck of the room. Amy watched her sister as she
took it in, seeming to photograph each piece of mess and consign it to a place
inside her where, later, it could be analysed and explained.
On the floor lay Lucy, her face marked by her wide grin. Her eyes were
open, somehow vacant and savage at the same time. But when she blinked a little
crease appeared between them, making her look tired, too, as if shed had
enough of this day, this days activity.
Amy held her breath, waiting. The wardrobe was empty, one door hanging on
a broken hinge. Their torn clothes were strewn around. All the drawers had been
taken out and thrown about, the toys spilled out of their box and some of them
smashed or broken. The books were in a pile, bent open, trodden on.
Amy wanted put her arms round Lucy, she wanted to hug her and have Lucy
hug her, too. Sometimes in the night this happened, Lucy crept into her bed and
clung onto Amy. In the morning, shed always be gone. Amy wished that she
could be bad, too. She wanted to share this with Lucy, so that her twin did not
have to make so much anger. But she didnt know how. She felt that she was
squashy inside, a cream-centred chocolate; Lucy was hard, a hard almond or
praline. Justine was harder still so that she could control them all.
Shall I fetch Mother? Amy whispered. This is what they call
her now. Mum became too comfortable a word; too soft,
Mummy was long gone. Mother was a shell. She lay on the sofa and
looked at Amy when she spoke to her, but didnt answer. Sometimes she
smiled, but when she did, she turned away, as if there was a secret she
didnt want to share.
No point, said Justine. She stood up. Amy thought she could
hear the cracking of her joints as she straightened her legs and pressed the
heels of her hands together.
Justine finishes her
fish and salad; she wets her lips with a sip of white wine; she looks
critically at Amys untouched meal. She starts to speak and stops. She
clears her throat. Amy knows what Justine wants to say. She wants to ask why
Amy is so plump and yielding when she eats so little. Amy thinks of telling
Justine that being with her spoils her appetite, how normally she enjoys her
It was difficult for you, Amy says. She wants Justine to stop
Justine shrugs; still her arms stay neatly pressed to her sides. We
survived, she says.
Not all of us, Amy reminds her.
If Mother had been more
Amy starts. She wants to order
another glass of wine but knows that Justine will disapprove. Shes not
sure that, just now, she could bear that.
It was not Mothers fault, Justine says. Her hand jumps
up to summon the waiter. Shall we have coffee? she asks.
In the beginning, Amy
thought, in the beginning it was not so. She remembered the sandpit with Lucy,
both of them with buckets and spades. Amy was making a castle.
Im just diggin a hole, Lucy said. Im
goin to get in the hole and be a rabbit.
Mummy laughed. She used to laugh then. She and Daddy laughed a lot. That
day the sun shone. Justine played on the swing, her yellow hair flying in the
air, her legs swishing back and forth, back and forth making her go higher and
higher. When they were bigger, Amy and Lucy would be able to swing like that
without being pushed.
Before Lucy knocked over Amys castle, she asked if she might.
No, said Amy.
Im goin to anyway. Cos I want to and its
Amy often thought about that day. Lucy taking her spade and bashing the
castle. How Amy tried to stop her and felt the bang of the spade on her arm.
The anger that spurted from the pain and the struggle for the spade. How she,
Amy, hit Lucy twice on her head. What Amy remembered most is, later, the taste
of her tears mixed with sand, when she lay down in the sandpit and buried her
face, sobbing with the desperation and unfairness of being punished, when it
was Lucy who had knocked down her castle and hit first.
Was that the start? She would wonder, screwing up her eyes to picture
other days in the sun, family picnics, meals when they were all together with
no dark shadows.
then? Amy asks.
Justine frowned. No ones. It was just one of those
Didnt it begin when Father left?
Father didnt leave
her fingers. Amy notices the tight shininess of the skin over her knuckles. She
doesnt contradict Justine, but she knows that Father left. She remembers
his absence, even though he still came home. Mostly, he came home. And when he
wasnt there and something happened, there would be a
holding-your-breath-and-wait feeling in the house.
Lucy laughed and jabbed
again at Amys hand with the scissors.
Dont, Amy yelled. Ill tell
You cant, hes not here, Lucy grinned. No
one to stop me, she whispered, screwing up her face and widening her eyes
Amy ran into the hall. Daddy, she called. She ran into the
living room. Mummy was on the sofa, staring out of the window.
Lucy hurt me, Amy said, offering her the damaged hand. Mummy
turned to look at her and Amy waited to be seen, to be noticed. Years later,
she would recall that long heart-stopping moment as her mothers eyes came
slowly into focus. Amy stood, holding her hand to her mouth, licking it slowly,
tasting the rustiness of her spilled blood.
You poor little girl, Mummy said finally, her voice cool but
not soothing. She took Amy's hand and held it. How did that
Lucy did it. She poked the scissors
No, Amy dear, Lucy wouldnt do a very naughty thing like
that. Mummy laughed. It sounded like water going down the plughole after
I did do it, Lucy called from the doorway. When she giggled,
it was like upside-down crying. Amy shook her head, confused.
Later, when Daddy came home, he sat with the two little girls, explaining
how bad Lucy had been and how she must say sorry to Amy. His voice was so tired
it sounded all used up.
Soon after that, Lucy started making her wolf face and growling at Amy,
at Justine, at Mummy, Mum, Mother.
It was mother not reacting that made her
Amy turns as the waiter
comes to the table. He looks at her uneaten pasta and looks
Finished? he asks in that deferential but accusing way that
waiters have. Amy nods. Id like another one, she says, all in
one breath, lifting her wineglass. She hears Justine sniff. Amy keeps her face
turned away; she imagines the rising of the single eyebrow.
And Ill have coffee, Justine says. A small
black. The waiter slinks away. Mother was reacting, Justine
explains. She was dealing with
Lucy was trembling. It
was almost imperceptible, but Amy could feel it. Sometimes it was as if she and
Lucy were still connected, as if their bodies were not completely separate.
Lucy started to grin, her teeth showing white in the growing darkness of the
garden, but Amy could feel her fear. Between them was the broken lump of fur
and blood that had been next doors cat. Amy wanted to tell Lucy that
shed gone too far this time. This was not something Justine could put
right, smooth over, pretend was just a little blip to make them all appreciate
even more their family happiness. She could feel Lucys hot breath on her
check. She could smell it too: a sour and rancid, bloated scent. Amy shook her
head, imagining Lucys tongue dead and swollen inside her mouth.
Im going to give it to Mother. She hated that cat.
Shell be glad to see it dead. Lucys rasping voice sounded
close to her ear.
Amy shivered. No, she said. Lets bury it. Pretend
it never happened. She felt Lucys fingers digging into her
Mother wants it, Lucy hissed.
At first Mother didnt seem to realise that it was a cat, a dead
cat, on her knee. Lucy sat cross-legged on the floor in front of her, grinning
up at her, while the cat lay, oozing a little blood, which finally started to
make a thick, dripping sound on the floor. This image, this sound, is etched in
Amys brain, she often closes her eyes and sees and hears it as if it were
still happening. The smell, too, is there: sweet, gummy, meaty.
While Lucy waited for their mother to acknowledge the gift, Amy stood in
the corner of the room, her hands clenched in front of her, mouth open as if
ready to scream. Finally, it was Mother who screamed.
In Amys memory, the scream is loud and high enough to crack the
glass in the windows. It lasts for a long time and is confused with the sound
of an ambulance coming to take Lucy away. In reality, Amy knows it didnt
happen like this. Justine took charge, telephoning for their father, for the
doctor. Throwing the cats body into the garden, putting on rubber gloves
and cleaning up, running a bath for Mother and putting her clothes in the
washing machine. And locking Lucy in the bedroom, who some days later was taken
away to hospital, but gently, in their fathers car.
says, feeling bold with her second glass of deep red wine. Lucy was
trying to bring Mother back to us. It was that way round.
Justine smiles: an almost painful twist of her lips. She shrugs, her
shoulders moving only slightly. If you want to see it like that, I
cant stop you, she says, meaning that she knows shes right,
and Amy, like her twin, is hopeless and confused.
When Amy came back from
school one Friday, Mother was in the kitchen. There was a smell of baking.
What are you doing? Amy asked.
Mother smiled. Im making a cake, she said.
Were taking it for Lucy tomorrow.
For a while, Amy was silent. I didnt know you could
cook, she said finally and started to cry. Later, she came back into the
kitchen, drawn by the smell of burning. There was no cake to take to Lucy the
next day and Mother did not come to the hospital. She was still in bed when
they came home. She remained there for the rest of Amys childhood. This
memory, Amy knows, is true.
couldnt even come to Lucys funeral, Amy says as her birthday
meal ends. Justine says nothing. This time she cannot disagree, Amy thinks with
a little frisson of tired triumph. Perhaps she couldn't cope with the
suicide, she adds.
Lucys death was an accident, Justine said, her mouth
snapping open and then sharply shut.
Well, said Amy. She turns away and sees the waiter who steps
forward with his false and patronising smile. Amy smiles back. Its so
much easier to deal with the rudeness of waiters than the pretence of happy