I look in the mirror, sometimes, and see her there, and my throat constricts and I can’t breathe for missing her. My throat aches and my heart aches and my stomach aches and I wonder how I can possibly still be here, alone.
At night, sometimes, I look across the room at the empty twin bed, the pillows like giant marshmallows, fluffy and white and inviting, and the pale satin bedspread shining dully in the darkness, and I can almost hear her breathing. She always fell asleep before me. Habitually troubled by insomnia, I would lie awake at night and listen to her breathe, match my breaths to hers until I finally fell asleep. My sister, my oldest lullaby.
Margaret took her first breath seventeen minutes before me in a hospital room in London, Ontario. Bloody and red-faced, she screamed to the world her anguish at our separation, and when I emerged, small and slippery, after her, I joined her in her howl, cacophony in stereo. Two days later, our parents, Bill and Barbara Mudd, took their identical writhing pink bundles home to Old South.
Old South is an established neighbourhood near the city’s core, consisting of mature trees and cracked sidewalks and Korean-run variety stores. Houses are restored and stately or old and in need of repair, with peeling porch paint and overgrown barberry bushes. Ours is one of the latter, a small brown brick bungalow set back from the road. Dandelions thrive on the lawn, and the concrete steps are crumbling, but I hardly notice anymore. You can learn to live with pretty much anything.
I live with my mother and father in the house I grew up in, in the room I shared with Margaret. Twin beds separated by a nightstand, one lamp, one dresser for us to share. On the dresser, matching pink jewelry boxes, the music box kind with the tiny dancing ballerina inside. Mine contains the gold cross necklace I received on our confirmation; Margaret wore her necklace to her grave. Above the beds, matching Jesuses die for our sins, and dirty lace curtains let the moonlight in.
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Thy will be done.
At night, when I lie awake listening for the breath-lullaby that is no longer there, I wonder how such an ignominious death could be God’s will, and I hope that Margaret is up there, happy amongst the marshmallow clouds.
We walked the two blocks to school together every morning. Margaret and me, the Mudd sisters. Matching brown jackets, matching black boots. We rarely spoke. We lived identical lives; what was there to discuss? Alone together in a corner of the schoolyard until the bell rang, Margaret would look wistfully at the games of four-square and hopscotch while I picked at my hangnails.
Once inside, we were separated into different classrooms. Luckily, we were neither brilliant nor stupid. Solid Cs for the Mudd girls, and that suited us just fine. Better not to stand out any more than we already did. We were never late, and we never raised our hands in class. It was better to be ignored than to be called out.
Dirty Mudd sisters.
Why don’t you take a bath, Mudds?
And when Margaret would protest,
Shut up, Mudd, with such contempt that I would pull at her, plead with her, please Margaret please let’s go. Please.
There were no birthday party invitations, no sleepovers, no weekends at the cottage in Grand Bend. If we were one, some kind mother may have noticed, might have urged her daughter to invite that lonely Mudd girl over to play, but we were two, and therefore forgotten.