Returning

* 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.

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21 thoughts on “Returning

  1. selma, that is exquisite! what a wonderful writer you are, i was entirely captivated, so beautifully written, such wonderful characters who seem very real. and i was immersed in the story, and enjoyed it so much, like being inside of some extraordinary reality made of scent, color, feeling

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  2. It must be a very different experience of life being a twin!
    In the story, ‘you’ think you feel her feelings, “…close to the sky, to her God, to the light. She does not regret a minute of her life” but you also gave us a hint that maybe she wasn’t feeling quite that comfortable. “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.”
    The again, maybe she did feel all that joy, cloistered and insulated from the real world. The story of your loss was so well done and as you see, left me with lingering questions as it should.

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  3. My husband has twin sisters and I’ve always been intrigued with the mysteries of twins. They have some fascinating stories to tell, including dreaming the same dreams on the same night.

    Beautiful, beautiful piece, Selma.

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  4. The story really matches the prompt – the nun with her back to the world. The beginning ‘I used to be a twin’ is really good – the way everything is in the past tense (even though she is still alive). As Stafford says there are some contradictory elements which leave the reader wondering – bit like life really (hard if not impossible to come to a firm conclusion or choice when loved ones are involved – even though it we are desperate for a resolution to the pain). Wonderful writing as usual Selma 🙂

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  5. HI COSMOSCAMI:
    I really appreciate you saying that. Thank you so much for stopping by!

    Hi TIPOTA:
    Your comment has made me smile all over. 😀

    Hi KATHE:
    You are so kind to say so. Merci.

    Hi KRISTEN:
    It means a lot to me that you should say that because I often think life is like that – beautiful yet heartbreaking. It was wonderful of you to stop by!

    Hi SUSANNAH:
    Awww. Thank you. So nice of you to say so.

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  6. Hi DAOINE:
    Very well put. I have often thought that myself!

    Hi SQUIRREL:
    It just came to me. I think it was triggered by some nuns I saw in the street and how indistinguishable they were because of their habits and then I thought of twins and BAM – there was the story. It’s weird how they just pop into my head.

    Hi GERALDINE:
    It is a slightly different subject, for sure. So glad you liked it!

    Hi STAFFORD:
    You give the best critiques. I really do appreciate the effort and consideration you put in. It means a lot and helps me to improve as a writer. Thank you so much 😀

    Hi DEBORAH:
    Awesome. I am moved that you were moved. That has made my day. Thank you so much for stopping by!

    Hi WILLOW:
    I too am fascinated by twins. The dreaming the same dreams has really got me thinking. How amazing is that? Looks like I’ll need to look into it a bit more. Thanks, hon.

    Hi CATHY:
    You are such a sweetie. Thanks so much!

    Hi TUMBLEWORDS:
    How well put. Co-joined emotion intrigues me. How can two separate people have the same emotions? It is just so fascinating. I’m going to do more reading about it!

    Hi GABRIELLE:
    I’m so glad the contradictory elements worked. I don’t think I set out to include them intentionally – they just appeared – catching me off guard. Much like life, really!

    Hi MELEAH:
    I know what you mean. Not everyone is comfortable with stories involving religion. Thank you for reading it. And for liking it XX

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  7. I think understand that people has to go their own way but it’s is sad not be together, I think twins are quite unique, they have a bond regular siblings don’t, lovely but sad tale

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  8. Hi LISSA:
    It is sad when people can’t be together and life takes them in different directions. I am fascinated by the bond between twins. I used to teach two sets of twins years ago and it was uncanny how alike they were. I’ll never forget it.

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  9. “Don’t laugh, you’ll scare the cat.” Laughed out loud at that line!

    I can’t imagine what it’s like to have religion require you to turn your back on family. It’s a foreign concept to me. Usually we see the nun’s point of view. You took it another level by showing how those left behind feel. Fabulous.

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  10. Hi AINE:
    A lot of the Irish people I knew from childhood entered the church and those left behind never really discussed it although I could see there was a strong sense of missing the person. The family approved of the choice to enter the church, were proud of it even, but you could see there was an element of loss there. I am really glad you liked it!

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