he played with cuts and bruises
the blood from his trembling hands
dressing the ground in wine red
you said it was pretty
The moment I managed to get the words out, the bedroom was flooded with silence; not even the noisy crickets I shared the space with chirped their nighttime songs. It was as though the universe knew how pivotal this moment was. It couldn’t be clearer how much knowing meant to me.
I watched the green in my father’s eyes darken and the ends of his lips quirk upwards to form the ghost of a smile—one I had never seen him wear. Despite the grimness of the topic, I knew immediately that he was happy to be taken back to that day. The pain present in his glossy gaze was as clear for me to see as the joy pooling in his teary eyes. I saw just how much he loved Olive. I saw how much he missed her.
I saw so much. . .regret.
In those few seconds, I knew I had been replaced in his mind. Now he looked at me the way he would have looked at her. I knew this because he was no longer staring at me with pity. Instead, for those precious seconds I felt loved. And that emotion couldn’t have been what he felt for me.
It was for her. It all was. I had enough self-awarness to not be hurt by that realization. Thoughts of the living could never surpass those of the long dead and I was nothing special to begin with.
“I don’t know,” he answered at last, blinking the tears away as casually as he could.
I didn’t know what I had expected. A yes, probably. A no, maybe? But I certainly didn’t expect that. Is he lying to protect me or does he truly not know? All this time and he never bothered finding out what happened to his daughter? I found it hard to believe.
“Only your mother knows that,” he continued, the love long gone from his gaze. “She never told me what happened that day.”
I shifted my attention to my hands, not wanting to stare into the eyes that resembled mine so much. . . Or was it the other way around?
Only if I could get mine to look as unfeeling. . . Maybe no one would dare laugh at how I looked when we locked gazes. Not one giggle would slip past their lips.
“Okay,” I told him, listless. It didn’t matter how badly curious I was, I couldn’t push further than this. I couldn’t force him to tell me. It was his choice whether or not he wanted to keep me in the dark.
“I can tell you something about your twin,” he said, surprising me. I didn’t expect him to make a compromise for my sake, little as it was. Usually, he would have let the conversation end there then gotten up to leave.
I suppose that process wasn’t possible anymore now that he was already standing. He could leave at any moment. Nothing was keeping him here.
“You deserve to know,” he took a quick glance at the room before his gaze settled on me me once again, leaving me wondering what he had been looking at. “After all, you both were so close.”
“We were?” I asked, so quietly I could barely hear the squeak of my voice. That fact only made me feel worse. Why did I hurt someone I was close to? Hasn’t having someone like that in my life been my wish since forever? Why did I ruin it with my own hands?
He nodded and walked to the photo Kayden had picked up not too long ago. The memory overlapped my vision and for an instant it was Kayden standing there instead of my father, smiling at me.
“Your mother was quite happy when she had you both. It was as though having children changed her for the better,” he said as he traced his thumb over the glass framing the photo and suddenly the image vanished.
I was back in the reality where I had lied to Kayden and left him out in the cold, waiting.
“She hates me now,” I shook my head. Having accepted her attitude towards me, admitting it wasn’t enough to make my voice shake anymore. I was stronger now.
“Don’t say that, Olly,” he shook his head. “She is just. . . in a bad place.”
She has been in a bad place for ten years. I smoothed my hands over the blanket that covered my legs, glad that the pain had reduced considerably already. And so have I.
“You know,” he raised the photo, “this is a recreation of a scene from your sister’s birthday. She was six and so intent on having that blue gown that we had no choice but to toss the pink one we got her in favor of it. If I remember correctly, you wore that gown on your birthday later that year.”
“Her birthday?” I repeated his words slowly, flexing my fingers as I thought things over. “Aren’t we twins?”
“You two were born exactly nine minutes apart. Her birthday is on the first of January while yours is on the thirty-first of December.”
“I was older,” I said with a smile, happy to know anything at all about the sister I no longer had. “But, why did Mother name her first?”
“Yes. You are older.” Dad nodded and set the photo back down. “Your mother was superstitious and she succumbed easily to the pressures of society. Naming Olive first was supposed to give her luck and naming you second would make you protect her.”
“But she named us the same thing, why did it matter?”
Dad laughed and walked back to me. “I asked her the same thing. You won’t believe the answer if I told you.”
I stared at him expectantly and in anticipation. It wasn’t often that my father talked about Mother and laughed at the same time. It had to have been a good memory, one that had been made before everything went downhill.
“She said,” he began, “aren’t they just as cute as the olives in the Martini I just had? I just looked at her like she was crazy. Not one drop of alcohol had slipped passed her lips while she carried you two. She had to have been lying. I told—”
“She lied,” I said immediately then had the urge to hit myself when his smile vanish. I looked down at my hands to distract myself from what I had done.
Why did I interrupt him? Mother always said that adults were not meant to be interrupted. When someone spoke to me I wasn’t meant to open my fat mouth and—
I looked up at him. “Yes Dad.”
“Did your mother tell you something?”
“She named us Olive because she wanted to make peace with you and we were the olive branches,” I rushed through my words, eager to get it over with. I hoped that somehow my confession would set things right again. Maybe knowing that Mother had lied when she said that she had never loved him would make him leave Stephanie and stay.
“I can’t believe it,” he sat down next to my legs. He seemed to be lost in memories I had no knowledge of. Maybe he was thinking about how this knowledge would have changed things back then. Maybe if he had stayed home for a couple years, Olive’s tragedy could have been averted and I would have a sister who shared my name.
We would go to school together and Mother would love us both and never got us even if we were being unbelievably naughty. Olive would wear blue dresses and I might wear pink if it made her happy. She would be the sort of friend Arleen couldn’t be, because she would be family—the sibling I never knew I needed until now.
“Dad,” I reached out towards him but pulled back when he turned to me. “How old was Olive when she died?”
At first, he looked taken aback back by the question but to my relief, he answered. “Just a day short of seven.”
That can’t be possible. I shook my head after doing some calculations. “I remember way past my seventh birthday, so why can’t I remember her?”
“Olly,” he put both hands on my shoulders, his voice sombre. “This isn’t the time or place to discuss that. We’ll talk about it later, okay? What you need now is rest. You look really tired. I’ll tell you more next Saturday.”
“What if you never come back?” I pulled away from him, suddenly agitated by his patronizing tone. “Like last time. What if Stephanie doesn’t want me? Are you just going to put me in a house and forget all about me while you go and start a new family? Are you going to only be coming by on Saturdays again?”
“Hey. Hey,” his hands shifted to cup my face, forcing our gazes to meet.
I let him, marvelling at the feeling of his callouses on the skin of my cheeks. He had never held me like this before. The sensation was enough to distract me from the endless stream of questions my mind had been churning out.
I waited and took in a breath, ready to let him say what he wanted without interrupting.
“I’ve made mistakes and I’ve regretted and I’ll never make them again. I assure you,” he said, his voice sure and determined. “You are going to be put first from now on.”
“But,” my face burned beneath his palms as several emotions coursed through me. The most familiar was pain but I recognized one of them as anger.
Yes, I was angry. Why was he only taking me away now? Why did he insist on caring now when I didn’t need to be tucked into bed anymore? Why had he missed being part of everything that had mattered to me? Why didn’t he put me first in the first place?
These questions, I didn’t ask. I couldn’t. I was too scared that he wouldn’t want me anymore. It was good enough that he had ignored my earlier outburst and was holding me like this.
Control yourself, Olly, before he changes his mind, a voice whispered in my ears. This is your chance to have a new life, away from the pink walls of this bedroom. Take it.
I listened, and smiled. I wiped the tears clinging to my lashes before they fell. My smile grew because I forced it to. I was an expert at faking them by now. I doubted he would be able to see through the one propped on my lips right now for it was very wide. So wide that I almost believed that I was happy for a moment.
How great would it be if I could actually believe him? How great would it have been if he had taken me home ten years ago?
“I’d be glad if you took me with you,” I told him, ignoring the way my cheeks were beginning to hurt. “But I want to finish school first. I just have some weeks till graduation, I don’t want to have to move yet.”
I watched disappointment flood his gaze. Guilt snaked its way up my chest and wrapped around my tongue so tightly that I wasn’t sure if I would be able to say the next words I had planned. I needed to though.
This moment was as pivotal as the first.
“Okay, Olly,” he took his hands off me and stood. “After school then.”
I stretched my smile wider, hoping it made him feel better. After all, it wasn’t his fault that I didn’t trust him. It was mine.
“I love you, Dad,” I chose to tell him as he stepped out of the bedroom.
“Love you too, Olly,” he replied with a loving smile to match, but I couldn’t see the words in his eyes. I didn’t feel the slightest hint of care his words implied.
I was sure then that the Olive he loved had never been me. Mother had been right.
They only kept me around to replace her.