It all started with the photograph. I was lovingly clearing my mother’s worldly goods away after her death. I never really knew my father – he had left us when I was little. My mother had been the strong one. She could easily have been bitter about my father, but she wasn’t and I will always remember her strength.
On the bottom shelf right at the back, I found the box. Just bigger than a cigar box with an unusual but exquisite silver flower coiled on top. The stem of the flower flowed around the box to form part of the lock. The unusual mechanism was dusty and gave a little with my prodding but wouldn’t open. I resigned to open it later. If I knew what it contained I would have ripped it open right there.
Finished. I gazed at the small pile of boxes that held the last of my mother’s life and the tears flowed again. Her family was small but cherished and my chest felt tight with loss. The nurse kindly agreed to donate her things to charity. It’s amazing that I could feel such inherent loss and yet know that I had already accepted her death.
That evening my son forced the box open for me – careful not to cause too much damage.
The box smelled musty and exciting. Some dried yellow roses, her favourite were on top, they were so frail that they crumbled when touched. An ancient photo was next, letters and more knickknacks. Then another photo, black and white yet not as old as the others. I recognised my mother and father. I realised with a smile that I was also in the photo – I was a little girl, standing next to a mirror. Wait – what! I looked closer. It couldn’t be. The image in the mirror wasn’t wearing a blue sash. So how were there 2 of me?
Confused – I handed the photo to my son. He grinned at my confusion and took the photo. His brow creased. “Mom? he peered closer “Who is she?” I shook my head and took the photo back. She was me. Shock flowed through me. “Is she my twin? Or my sister”. We were exactly alike. Why would I find this just days after my mother’s passing?
I called in at my Aunt Elizabeth, my mother’s younger sister and my namesake. They had been close. She smiled and the deep cracks in her face were like brackets cradling her smiling eyes. “I knew this day would come” she said kindly. “Elizabeth, she is your twin sister. Your mother never wanted to tell you – it was too hard for her I think”.
“Where is she?”
“When you were little – you had kidney problems remember?” I nodded. I remembered feeling sick a lot and having pain. Her name was Emma. Emma gave you her kidney so that you could live.” Her eyes filled up and as gently as she could, she said “She died from an infection 2 days after giving you the gift of life”. I stared at her not wanting to believe it. I was devastated. I had killed my own twin sister. I sobbed all the way home.
My son came running when I pulled in the drive, I guess my Aunt had called him. He put his arms around me tenderly and walked me inside. I sat in the lounge and cried. I guess I must have fallen asleep as I woke up with a blanket on and he was gone.
Life can be cruel. I desperately wanted a sibling. I cried most of the next day and went to bed early. I dreamed I was at a river. There was a little girl on the other side, it was Emma. She looked like me and had on a white dress with no sash, holding the silver box. I called to her, but she just stared. I tried to say I was sorry, but I knew she couldn’t hear me. Running along the bank – I searched for a bridge to get across to her. I woke and my pillow was wet with tears.
Idly I picked up the box running my hands over the lovely textures in the lid. I remembered Emma holding this in my dream and thought about the letters and who had written them. They were held together with an old-fashioned, silky ribbon which made a soft “sssss” sound when I pulled it open.
I quickly realised that these letters were a diary of my illness. I took a difficult walk through them enjoying my mother’s perfect English, feeling her pain and concern and Emma’s love. The last letter ripped my heart out and I had to stop several times to catch my breath. It read:
“Emma is worse today. Her health is deteriorating, and the doctors struggle to control her pain. The only time she settles is when Elizabeth is near her. We cannot allow her too close for too long as they both tire and we fear infection transfer. It breaks my heart to see their love, knowing that little Emma is so close to death.
The girl’s father sent yellow roses today. I wish he had brought them. They made Emma smile and I am glad. She doesn’t smile much anymore.”
The last paragraph read:
“Sweet Emma woke briefly today. I was elated but the doctors say it’s a bad sign. Sometimes patients get worse before they get better. I pray that this is not true. My heart is shattered.
Emma has a message for little Elizabeth and says I must write it word for word.
“My sister. I love you. You are me and I am you. You carry a part of me in you. There is an angel here waiting. I guess I have to go with her. She is beautiful like you. My pain is much less now, but know I am not getting better. I will miss you every day. Please don’t be sad that I am going. I would have given you my heart if it meant you would live and I know you would do the same for me. Remember I am always with you. I love you. Always.”
The next entry only had 3 words…
Emma died today.”
I could see dried teardrops on the letter. Curling into a ball I held the letter tight and cried myself to sleep. This time the dream was different. Lighter somehow. We walked on opposite sides of the bank together until we found a charming, pebble bridge. We ran across flying into each other’s arms. I hugged her so tight.
“Don’t cry Lizzy” she smiled. “I was put on earth to save you – God told me. I am waiting for you and will hold you again after many years. I am always with you.”
“My Emma” I sobbed holding her tight for the longest time. She shared my tears. Light shone from her angelic eyes and I could feel her love for me.
When I woke I knew I would be okay. Every day from then on – when I saw my reflection in a mirror – I smiled. I knew Emma was smiling back at me.