* This is the prompt for Magpie Tales this week – a nun at a window. It almost stumped me, let me tell you. And then a little story came along….
I used to be a twin. A twin sister. My sister and I were identical except for the fact that I had two blue eyes and she had one green and one blue. Like David Bowie. I always thought it was cool that she had eyes like Ziggy Stardust, but she didn’t see it that way. My sister didn’t like to stand out from the crowd. She liked that we were twins – that we could blend together as one – she took to wearing sunglasses a lot to hide her striking, unmissable eyes.
Another thing separated us, a thing that afforded our mother a great deal of amusement, but caused me to glower in the corner with my arms folded.
We laughed differently. My sister’s laughed bubbled like spring water running over tiny rocks. It was the plucking of a harp, birds chirping at daylight. It gushed, it gurgled, it effervesced. It cheered.
My laugh was an exclamation, a grunt. A painful exhalation, a ripping of the oesophagus.
Don’t laugh, my mother often said to me. You’ll scare the cat.
Our friends at school commented daily on my sister’s eyes and her laugh. Glad to have points of reference from which to tell us apart.
My personal characteristics aren’t gimmicks, my sister said. They are signs. Signs from God.
That was when it started. Her recognition of signs and symbols – she saw them everywhere – the way the seed pods from the maple trees fell in early spring, gathering like runes in the back lane. The way the clouds looked like sceptres or picture frames capturing scenes from the heavens. The way the church on the hill with its hundreds of lavender bushes cast a smell like purple dreams throughout the local gardens.
The lavender bushes on the hill were the ultimate sign for my sister. Our name was Lavender. Mona and Delia Lavender. Desdemona and Cordelia if we were being posh. Our mother had two favourite things – Shakespeare and fragrant plants. She referred to those things as her life’s philosophy – her fragrant muse.
Delia became convinced that the lavender bushes were there to signify her calling. Her calling to the church. When she was barely 18 she signed up to become a nun.
It broke my heart because I don’t believe in it – all that God stuff. Telling people what to do all the time. Shaping their perceptions. Honing in on any weakness and calling it a sin. Compiling lists of wrongdoings like trophy gathering. And the guilt, piling it on year after year like boulders on shoulders. I felt like a fissure had formed right in the corner of my mouth, letting all the happiness pour out.
Delia believed in the God stuff. All of it. She embraced God and the trimmings wholeheartedly like a starving man at a Christmas feast. I could feel the exultation in her heart. The extraordinary joy. The frightening sense of purpose. The fissure in my mouth grew wider. I missed her different-coloured eyes and sunshine-filled laugh before she was even gone.
I don’t know if Delia knew that I could feel what she was feeling. Sometimes it was a stronger feeling than what I felt myself. I had been able to do it in the crib, during that sensory period babies find themselves in. I wasn’t sure if she was hungry or in pain from teething or just wanting to be held. But I could feel the need and the longing rising up from her very soul.
Delia never mentioned whether or not she felt the same thing with me. But from that moment in the crib when we were nestled in our lavender romper suits – Lavender by name, lavender by nature – I felt every infinitesimal emotion she did.
They say that, don’t they? Twins feeling each other’s pain. Knowing if the other is hurt or injured even if they are not occupying the same physical space. I felt everything Delia felt and it perplexed me, even irked me that she never said she felt the same thing with me. Not once.
When Delia joined the church she turned her back on our mother. On us. On me. She lived in the church on the hill with all that lavender drifting around us like a song sung only in September when the spring came. Except that because we never saw her we came to associate the lavender with her and we heard the song of spring all year round. It wasn’t a joyful song as you might expect. It was a song of loss. She never came back to us, you see.
Sometimes we see her at the convent window. Those vast windows framed in oak that let in all the lavender coloured light. She is older now, broader in the shoulders. We all are. Her habit hangs crisp and pure. New pages in a book.
I have been in and out of love. Mostly out. I have had my hopes eroded, my heart is unfinished. I have wondered if Delia has wondered about love, but all I have felt from her is a kind of soaring that is mostly inexpressible.
She is close to the sky, to her God, to the light. She does not regret a minute of her life; while I dwell, absorbed by mundane issues, little vexations. My pills are jagged, hers are smooth, illuminated by the grace of God.
Sometimes I wonder if she misses me. If she thinks of me.
I am afraid that by saying goodbye to us – to Delia and Mona Lavender – that I am saying goodbye to myself. I miss her eyes, two halves of the whole, plucked from the land of fairy. I miss her laugh, bubbling like tightly capped lemonade released into a glass.
I gaze towards the morning floating in lavender dust each day. It is the only prayer I have. It is the only time I think of a possible God. I see my sister, face freshly washed, the convent window cleared of everything but her presence.
And then I hear it – the laugh – brimming over with good cheer. Flowing down the hill. It is the depth and breadth of life, that laugh. It is blessed. It is the laugh that brings me back. To Mona and Delia Lavender. It is the laugh of my twin sister. My only heart.
It is all mine.