Sisters – Michelle Frances

As Ellie got off the train at Redhill station, laden down with her overnight case and a bag full of gifts, she was immediately caught in a gust of freezing wind, laced with sleet. She grimaced and pulled her cashmere scarf closer to her neck, not just to keep herself warm, but also to stop the scarf from getting ruined by the atrocious weather. Thank God she’d treated herself and bought it. It had cost a small fortune but on days like today it was well worth the investment. If she’d gone away for Christmas, like she had in the summer on a birthday treat to herself in the form of a two-week holiday to the Maldives, she wouldn’t have needed a cashmere scarf. But the credit card balance was looking a little high, to the point of starting to give her sleepless nights. Her plan had been to pay it off with the pay rise once she’d been offered the trainee teacher job at the school where she worked. Instead, Ellie was still smarting from the rejection she’d received only the previous week. Ellie sighed as she put her ticket through the barrier machine. Leaving the station, she looked up at the busy road and contemplated the twenty-minute walk to her childhood home. The sleet was getting heavier, large droplets of frozen water attacking her. She walked over to the taxi rank and got into the first one. Sod the expense, this was an emergency. Abby glanced at her watch – she was late. She’d sent a guilty text to her mother, Susanna, to apologize: she’d had to stay on at the office and finish off some reports.

She hadn’t really needed to, but she was so used to working all hours that she felt anxious when she wasn’t, a feeling exacerbated by the knowledge that she was going to her mother’s house for Christmas Day. Abby saw it as a feat of endurance. She’d managed to duck out of it for the last few years, citing either a work trip or, once, so as not to hurt her mother’s feelings, she’d pretended that friends had invited her over, when in actual fact she’d spent the day alone in her flat. They’d sent texts wishing each other a happy Christmas. Her sister Ellie had taken a selfie of herself and Susanna with paper hats on, arms around each other, saying they missed her. Abby thought it unlikely. As she walked up the road to her mother’s house she saw the familiar black gate, the lights on in the windows. She knew Ellie would already be there, her sister and mother gossiping over glasses of wine, heads bent conspiratorially. Whenever Abby came into the room, she always felt as if she was ruining their moment, as if she was guiltily tolerated. It was only thirty-six hours, Abby reminded herself as she fixed on a bright smile.

She rang the bell, resolving to make an effort. The door opened but instead of her mother, it was Ellie standing there. It was ridiculous but Abby immediately felt slighted, as if her mother couldn’t be bothered to welcome her. ‘You look wet,’ said Ellie. The sleet was still pelting Abby but Ellie made no move to shift aside. ‘Well, let me in then,’ said Abby, as she stepped into the house and shook off her coat. ‘You should ask Mum for a key,’ said Ellie. Abby didn’t feel as if she should have to. Ellie seemed to have had hers for years without ever having had to ask. Her sister was glowing, as usual.

Ellie leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. ‘Nice to see you,’ she said, and Abby felt the soft warmth of Ellie’s skin, smelled the high-quality shampoo in her lustrous blonde waves, just as she caught sight of her own reflection in the hall mirror: red nose and sleet-flattened hair. Ellie had always been the one to draw the looks. On the rare occasions the two of them went out together, Abby felt very much in Ellie’s shadow, the invisible girl, while men fluttered around her sister like hummingbirds around nectar. She told herself it didn’t matter, that the men wouldn’t be the type she’d go for anyway, but when it happened every single time, it couldn’t help but bug her. And then there was that time Ellie had stepped well over the line, just after that boat trip they’d been on. Abby felt herself start to simmer and quickly put the resentment to the back of her mind. Now was not the moment to rake up old animosity. ‘It’s been a while,’ said Ellie dryly, and Abby was immediately reminded of how her sister had emailed some time ago suggesting they meet for dinner one night. Abby tried to remember all the conferences and board meetings that had taken place since then and thought it might have been back in the autumn.

That was months ago, she realized and felt a pang of guilt. ‘Ah, Abby, it’s you,’ said Susanna, appearing from the kitchen with a glass of wine in her hand. Who else would it be? thought Abby. ‘Hi, Mum. Thanks for having us.’ Susanna waved a hand in a gesture of generosity. ‘Oh, it’s a pleasure. You know I like to spend Christmas with my daughters.’ She beamed, but her eye contact was with Ellie, Abby noticed. More wine was poured and a shop-prepared shepherd’s pie pulled out of the oven.

They ate, catching up on news. Ellie had a colleague whom she didn’t much like, a woman called Zoe, who’d recently been promoted to trainee teacher. ‘What’s wrong with her?’ asked Abby. ‘She’s all targets and plans,’ said Ellie. ‘Teaching doesn’t come parcelled up like that.’ Abby secretly thought targets sounded like a good thing, but recognized she knew very little about teaching. ‘And she’s hardly been at the school – only a year. She doesn’t understand the kids yet, not properly.’ Her sister was clearly disgruntled. Abby decided to rally.

‘You should have gone for it yourself. You’ve worked as a teaching assistant there for years, haven’t you? And aren’t you covering loads of lessons single-handedly? Must have masses of experience over this new girl. I bet if you’d applied for the job you would have wiped the floor with her.’ Silence descended. Abby looked up from her dinner, saw her mother and sister watching her. Suddenly it dawned. ‘Oh. Sorry, I didn’t know.’ ‘I didn’t want to just put it in an email,’ said Ellie pointedly. ‘I never know if you read them.

’ Abby felt a wash of shame. She knew Ellie was talking about the fact they were meant to have met up. Abby had never replied. ‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘Work . there’s been a few changes,’ she stumbled, evasively. ‘It’s kept me more occupied than usual.’ ‘What changes?’ asked Susanna. ‘Sorry?’ ‘You said there were changes?’ She had, damn it. Why hadn’t she thought before opening her big mouth? And now they were both looking at her again.

‘I, er . I had a promotion.’ ‘Oh right,’ said Ellie. ‘What kind of promotion?’ ‘I’ve, er . I’ve been made a director.’ Abby knew she sounded apologetic, and it rankled. She was over the moon about her new role, had worked so hard for it. ‘Congratulations,’ said Ellie eventually. ‘Thank you.’ ‘Yes, congratulations, Abby.

That’s great,’ said her mother breezily. ‘Now, who’s for dessert?’ Abby knew she wasn’t a child anymore and didn’t need her mother’s approval, but it still stung. When does that feeling of longing for parental endorsement go away? she wondered as she lay in bed that night, the first to go up as she was so exhausted. She was a fool. There she was, a successful business leader on a huge salary, but she still couldn’t shake the feeling that at home she was very much second best. Worse, it still had the power to wound her deeply. ‘Merry Christmas!’ they all chorused to each other the next morning. The sleet had turned to snow overnight and the unexpected surprise of a thick blanket of white over the garden seemed to bring in a sensation of newness, of starting afresh. Susanna popped a bottle of champagne and poured them each a Buck’s Fizz. ‘Right, presents!’ declared Ellie, as she moved into the living room and pulled two gifts from under the tree.

She handed one to Abby, then sat back with a huge smile on her face, impatient for her sister to open it. Abby undid the fabric bow and peeled off the beautiful paper to find a jewellery box. Inside was a bangle made of hammered gold. It was so elegant and stylish, Abby gasped. She instantly fell in love with it, but found it hard to accept. She was worried. ‘You like it?’ asked Ellie, pleased. ‘It’s beautiful,’ said Abby. She saw Ellie was looking at her expectantly. There was nowhere to hide.

Abby retrieved her gifts from under the tree and handed one to Ellie. The smile on her sister’s face died as she removed the wrapping paper. ‘It’s a calendar,’ said Ellie. ‘An academic one,’ said Abby. ‘I thought it would be useful . you know, with you being at school. September to September.’ Her sister’s face was so crestfallen, Abby could barely look. Then Ellie found the other item in the package. ‘And a pen,’ she said.

Abby nodded. When she’d bought it, she’d been really pleased with it. It wasn’t a Montblanc or anything like that but it was a fancy rollerball, in a blue and chrome casing. She looked down at her bangle. It was clear their gifts were wildly different in value. Abby’s guilt rendered her silent for a moment and then she suddenly found herself getting annoyed. ‘I thought we had a budget,’ she said. ‘What?’ said Ellie. ‘I sent an email. Twenty pounds each.

I’m sure I did.’ ‘Well, sorry if I didn’t get your memo on having a tight Christmas.’ ‘It’s not tight,’ said Abby hotly. ‘It’s . ’ She was at a loss as to what to say. She could see that to some people it might seem miserly, but actually too much was spent at Christmas anyway; it was all so horribly commercial. ‘It’s sensible,’ she declared. Ellie choked on her Buck’s Fizz. ‘OK, good. As long as we’re being sensible.

’ ‘You know what I mean.’ ‘Now, now, girls,’ said Susanna, holding up the champagne bottle. ‘Anyone for a top-up?’ ‘I just don’t see the point of spending loads of money on something people don’t really want,’ said Abby. Ellie slowly put her glass down on the side table. Her hand was shaking. ‘First of all,’ she started quietly, ‘you take the time to think of something people do want, maybe by spending more time with them so you actually get to know them. And what is wrong with spending a bit of money? Especially if you’re being paid a whole stack of it!’ Her eyes were blazing with hurt and accusation. Abby resented other people having opinions on how she should spend her salary, the expectation that because she was well paid, she should disburse her cash at a higher than average level. Well, it was none of Ellie’s business. Abby had a strict budget and she was going to stick to it.

‘I’m sorry you didn’t get the email,’ she said, ‘and I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.’ She cleared her throat, wanted to set the record straight. ‘But actually, I did put quite a lot of thought into your present.’ ‘It’s a calendar!’ said Ellie. ‘To help me organize my school year! Oh God, now I sound like a spoiled bitch. I’m upset. There, I know it’s vulgar, crass beyond belief to discuss this, but I really can’t quite believe it. Next you’ll be telling me the pen is to do my marking.’ Abby opened her mouth but then thought better of it and closed it again. She lowered her eyes.

Ellie’s jaw dropped. ‘Good God. No, I don’t want to hear it. Seriously?’ ‘Please don’t . ’ said Susanna. ‘Do you have any idea how much I earn?’ said Ellie. ‘Do you? Twenty grand a year! I bet that’s your annual bonus, isn’t it?’ Actually, it was about a third of her annual bonus, but Abby wisely kept that to herself. ‘And yet, I still don’t get a decent Christmas present, even though I like to think the one I got you is quite special.’ Ellie, suddenly deflated, slumped down on the sofa. ‘Oh, never mind.

’ An unhealthy silence filled the room. After a while, Abby cleared her throat. ‘I might go out for a bit of fresh air. Just five minutes.’ Nobody said anything so she went into the hall, donned her coat and boots and, grabbing her sister’s key on the hall table, she stepped outside. As Abby walked on the untouched snow, she wondered how she was going to get through the rest of the day. She genuinely hadn’t meant to hurt her sister’s feelings – the whole thing had been a huge misunderstanding (she must check her sent box to see if her budget email actually went) – but at the same time, she couldn’t help feeling a bit resentful. What was the big deal, anyway? Her sister always had to make such drama out of everything. It always had to be about Ellie. By the time she had traipsed over much of her childhood stomping ground, she’d calmed down.

The unexpected beauty of the snow, and the way the bright blue sky made her gaze upwards with a smile on her face, had lifted her spirits. Nothing could be that bad, she decided, and she resolved to apologize fully when she got back to the house. Better than that she’d finally sort out that dinner invitation Ellie had sent all those weeks ago. She felt a pang of shame then at having overlooked it for so long, but now was the time to make amends. Abby nervously made her way back up the front path and let herself in. Christmas music was playing loudly from the kitchen. She hung up her coat and put her boots to dry next to the radiator. She took a deep breath and, before her resolve left her, went to join them. Her mother and Ellie were huddled together at the table with their backs to her, poring enthusiastically over Ellie’s laptop. Neither seemed to hear her come in.

Abby was about to announce her arrival when she caught a glimpse of the image on the screen – a beach somewhere. Suddenly they realized she was there and Susanna guiltily minimized the tab. ‘What’s that?’ asked Abby, furious that her voice sounded so small and hurt. ‘We were just looking at places to go,’ stumbled Susanna. She gave a big smile. ‘Nice walk?’ ‘Go?’ repeated Abby. Ellie looked awkward. ‘Mum and I were thinking about a couple of days away somewhere. You know, a European break.’ ‘Oh yes? When?’ ‘Um .

probably March time, escape the cold. We were, er . ’ Ellie looked at Susanna. ‘We were going to ask you to come but thought you were probably busy. You know, with work. But you’re more than welcome to join us,’ she added brightly. Except Abby knew she wasn’t. In fact, if she hadn’t walked in on them at that exact moment, she would have known nothing about it. ‘I’ll check my diary,’ she lied, ‘but I do think March is quite full . a new contract we’re negotiating.

’ Ellie smiled. ‘You see, always working. You should take a break every now and then.’ ‘You’re right,’ said Abby. Suddenly she thought she was going to burst into tears. It shocked her. She made some excuse and went into the living room where she made a gargantuan effort not to cry. It was too shameful, too weak. She couldn’t let them see how upset she was. Ellie and Mum.

Mum and Ellie. That was how it had always been. It was lonely being the third wheel of the family. What had her sister got that had made their mother fall in love with her, right from as early as Abby could remember? Abby knew that whenever Ellie walked in the door, her mother’s face lit up like the golden star on top of the Christmas tree, and no matter how long she lived, nor what she did, Abby knew she would never, ever have that same impact. She got through the rest of the day as best she could and left early the next morning. As she sat on the train home, she realized she hadn’t sorted the dinner date with Ellie.


PDF | Download

Thank you!

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments © 2018 | Descargar Libros Gratis | Kitap İndir |
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x