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Short Stories

Strawberry Laces

Connie

I was 16 years old when I first saw her. I was half asleep. She was sitting in my wicker chair in the corner of my room. For some reason I checked the time; it was 4.30 in the morning. The thought flashed across my mind that I had never seen my clock read that time before, and how inconsiderate it was that she had chosen to haunt me on a school night. How was I expected to concentrate in double Geography now? I had a test tomorrow and it was finding it hard enough at the best of times. (Mr Richards had moved my desk directly behind Ben on Tuesday and he smells like strawberry laces and Old Spice).

I didn't explain any of that though. I didn't even scream. I sat bolt upright and tried to focus.

She had her legs crossed on the chair in one of those Yoga positions Mums always trying to master. Only difference being she didn't look like she was about to have a hernia. She stared at me. I made one of those 'Do you want a picture?' faces us teenagers were so good at. I wasn't afraid.
She didn't look 'ghostly'. No wafting white gown, no pale complexion. In fact she looked familiar. She looked like me. Exactly like me in fact. She was my sister.  

They say (I never know who ‘they’ are exactly?) that twins have some sort of physic link. That was definitely true of Kate and me. If she was ever upset I knew exactly what was wrong. Mum and Dad had to badger her endlessly to try and get it out of her whereas I just knew. I just knew her. It worked both ways though because when I was ever sad or in trouble she sensed it. It worked for us like an absolute charm until it was actually required. Why didn’t I sense she was in trouble until it was too late? 

Kate

My twin-sister was always a bit of a prude. The first time she caught me kissing Ben (or as her triple-locked diary referred to him; the “love of her life”), her face went the colour of my favourite lippy. (Ruby Rebel if you’re interested). He had his hands up my shirt doing that thing guys do where they grab one of your tits and kind of knead it like dough as if it’s meant to be a turn on. I generally just let him get on with it because it was easier to let him think he knew what he was doing than to have the conversation that would’ve embarrassed him into a tantrum. Apart from being a reasonably good kisser he was breath-takingly boring. He talked about cars and football and all the football matches he’d take me to when his Dad bought him a car. YAWN. I pretended to be interested because I liked that he liked me. Me over her. I liked that he bought me strawberry laces and cigarettes. I didn’t like that he always insisted we eat a strawberry lace together like those dogs eat spaghetti in Lady and the Tramp. It wasn’t cute. In fact it was the kind of thing my sister would find adorable which made it seem more repellent and made me even more inclined to do it just to spite her. (I didn’t say was a nice person. I’m not. Or at least I wasn’t). The fact that I tolerate Connie fannying about by my bed almost every night looking like shit and don’t run away screaming, proves that surely doesn’t it? I let her believe what she wants to because it’s easier. It always has been. Ever since we were little she always believed we had some weird twin-link. It made my skin crawl at the mere thought of it.

Connie

On the morning of the accident I was fighting with her about Ben. I was mad about him. Like, literally MAD. I had become obsessed. She was smitten too but didn’t think I’d caught on. Like I said earlier, I knew her. She was too ‘cool’ for love. She had been texting him about me she said, it wasn’t dodgy she said, and she wasn’t going behind my back, she was trying to tell him all about me so he would at the very least make eye contact with me. You see I was the plain one. We were utterly identical in every way, until we became old enough to pick out our own clothes and sneak Mum’s make-up. Kate loved bright red lipstick and, as she put it “shitloads” of eyeliner. She dyed her hair this brassy blonde and wore push-up bras she’d nicked from BHS. I on the other hand, was still wearing the training bra Mum had bought for me 3years ago and could barely hold a pencil with any grace let alone apply anything resembling make-up. Kate was younger than me by approximately 3minutes however she always made herself look about 5years older. But that night when she turned up in our bedroom bold as brass and pale as a…well, ghost, I wasn’t afraid. I suppose I had almost expected it, after all she always did like to be the centre of attention.

Kate

I hated being a twin. I hated her. I wanted to destroy everything we shared. As soon as we were old enough I changed everything about my looks. I dressed completely unlike her and tried to slowly faze her out of my social life. The only thing we still had in common was our parents. Oh and Ben obviously. Although that was really just me being a selfish cow. I didn’t really want him; I just didn’t want her to have him. The weird thing about that was that Ben and Connie actually had more in common than Ben and I ever would. I didn’t love him. I was too young to know what love was. I hated everything about ‘romance’. The night of his 18th birthday I’d found out I was pregnant with his child. I was devastated. We’d only done it the once and it was terrible. Plus he did that tit-grabbing thing for a solid 20mins before it and I had to wear a sports bra for about a week afterwards. He’d found my pregnancy testing kit in my bag and wasn’t angry and terrified like I’d expected. He was happy. HAPPY?! We were kids! He wanted to take me for a drive and “talk about our future”. I didn’t want a future with him, and certainly not with his baby. I told Connie to come along. I told her Ben and I hadn’t been getting along and I didn’t want to be alone with him. Obviously being head over heels with him she agreed immediately. She didn’t even seem to care how embarrassing it would be being such a massive gooseberry.

Ben picked me us up and I saw his face fall as Connie trailed behind me. He just gave me a ‘WTF?’ look and grunted at her as she clambered into the backseat. He talked about the car and how much horsepower or something it had, what type of engine it had etc, and I thought fleetingly about how suicide would be a more viable option that listening to 5more minutes of that garbage. Connie on the other hand looked utterly entranced. He could’ve been talking about committing mass genocide and she would’ve still have been making doe eyes at him.

I didn’t want her to know about the baby. Ugh I didn’t even want to call it a ‘baby’ – it wasn’t, not yet. It was a massive mistake. Besides she would tell Mum and Dad and then I’d be screwed. Even worse than I had been by Ben. He wanted to shout it from the rooftops, he wanted to get married and make an honest woman of me. I wasn’t a woman and I certainly wasn’t honest. I was 16 years old and knocked up by a boy my twin sister was (not so secretly) in love with. A boy I wasn’t even sure I liked, let alone loved. It was a fucking nightmare.

Connie

I wanted her to know I wasn’t scared of anything anymore. It had been terrifying enough being in that car with her and Ben that last night I saw her. She looked beautiful that night. She was trying to impress him with some new dress she’d bought (stolen) and he was trying to impress her with the car his Dad had gifted him for his 18th. I’m not an idiot; I knew he was clearly seriously unimpressed she’d brought me along for the ride. In-between telling us all about his new car I heard him whispering to Kate angrily about me all the way down the drive. He was muttering some idle threats about “telling your Mum” and “we needed to talk alone”. I wanted to cry out of sheer embarrassment, but I also secretly liked the fact that they were at one another’s throats. Maybe he would finish with her tonight! If so he’d need a friendly shoulder to cry on and I was definitely prepared for that. Plus I’d been reading Mum’s Marie Claire sex-tips so I knew I’d be totally fine when the time came. He drove us through the country on the outskirts of our village. I thought how striking it was, and how I’d had no idea so much beauty was mere minutes’ away from where I’d lived all my life. Ben was opening my eyes to a new world just outside my doorstep and Connie seemed more interested in picking the nail polish off her nails. Ben was muttering to her under his breath, quiet enough so I couldn’t make out any actual words. She was blatantly ignoring him and it was making me so angry. How dare she take him for granted? He could do so much better than her. I didn’t want to think like this about my own sister, because we used to be so close, but the more time I spent around Ben the more I realised him and I were meant to be.

He began to get more animated; I was getting a bit anxious by now because I didn’t think he was properly paying attention to the road. I wasn’t sure if I should mention the speed because I didn’t want to look frightened or uncool.  He was shouting now, I couldn’t make most of it out above the noise of the traffic but Kate certainly seemed to know what he was talking about. She was gesturing for him to keep his voice down and this was just making him more irate. Then I heard it; “…you and our baby...” She was pregnant? But that means her and Ben… No... NO, this wasn’t happening. I wanted to scream and cry and punch her all at once, but I didn’t have time to so much as think about any of that because Kate had grabbed the steering wheel and was swerving all over the road.

Kate

I was absentmindedly picking at the skin around my nails when I suddenly realised he was talking directly to me. Loudly, in fact he was shouting at me. “Will you listen to me for once?! You are so selfish! I brought you here to talk and you bring your sister along? This is a joke, we are a joke! I’d do anything for you and our baby and you don’t even seem interested!!” Then I heard it from the backseat, “BABY?!” Why did I think bringing Connie would distract him? He wanted people to know! And now everyone would. I didn’t want this, I wanted to go out dancing and get laid, maybe even go to University and drink and laugh and have a LIFE, not be saddled with a baby and a loveless marriage! Now I suddenly saw all of that staring me in the face. I was 16 years old for Christ sake! I grabbed the wheel and turned the car into the middle of the road, I could see another car coming, I could hear Connie screaming and Ben grabbing at my hands but I was frozen. Frozen in panic and desperation. The car was swerving all over the road and horns were beeping from every angle. Cars were veering off to avoid us, sliding across lanes. Connie was unfastened now and pulling at my arms from the backseat. Ben was slamming his foot on the brake pedal but it wouldn’t stop. We were helpless now, we’d lost control of the car, and as we slammed into the back of a lorry I shut my eyes and grabbed my stomach.

Connie

What was she playing at?! At first I thought this was typical of her, attention seeking, trying to distract him. But then I saw a flash of her face in the mirror, this weird cold stare. It scared me more than almost crashing into every car on the road. Ben was grabbing at her and trying to pull her off the wheel to get some control but her hands were stuck on it like bony vices. I was properly, properly scared now, I think I was screaming but I couldn’t hear anything, everything was moving in slow motion and silent. Everything except the car. I unfastened my seatbelt and tried to pull at my sister over the seat. She wasn’t moving and I was being flung side to side across the backseat. Ben was screaming now but again I could just see his mouth moving but nothing was coming out. My hands were gripped onto Kate’s arm so tightly that I noticed my nails had broken her skin, and as the car flew into the back of a lorry I thought ‘she is going to be so angry about that tomorrow if I’ve left a mark’.

Kate

When I eventually came to I was in the hospital. One eye was taped shut; apparently I’d banged it on the dashboard when we crashed. In all I’d cracked 3 ribs, broken my left arm and badly bruised my hip. I’d also lost my baby, if you could call it that, it was just a collection of cells in my opinion. I was told an abundance of times by various faces in scrubs that it “could’ve been much worse”. I wasn’t happy, like I’d expected to be if I’d suddenly found myself baby-less a few hours ago. I was utterly distraught. This was all my fault and I knew I was going to pay for it. My parents were nowhere to be seen. The police interviewed me and I told them everything. Save for the pregnancy. The nurse had said it was confidential and she couldn’t tell anyone but that I should at the very least tell my parents. I’d need the support. I intended to, just not right now. I wanted to see Connie and apologise to her first. I’d been such an idiot. I even wanted to apologise to Ben. I’d screwed with his head, no doubt totalled his precious birthday present and killed his child. For the first time in my life I actually felt something akin to remorse; I’d been a selfish idiot and wanted to make amends. I’d asked the policeman how Connie and Ben were but he said he’d leave me to talk with Mum and Dad for now. Apart from the pain of my injuries, I felt strangely empty. I just figured it was the loss of the baby but it seemed too soon to have been affected by that. I felt a cold wave of nausea sweep over me and took another squeeze of the morphine drip.  

Connie

When I awoke I was alone. I don’t know entirely what I’d expected but from watching Casualty it almost seemed there should be a swarm of friends and family around you screaming and crying and waiting to embrace you when you wake from an accident. I felt frozen to the bed. I assumed they had me on some super strong painkillers because I couldn’t move my arms or legs. Weird sensation but I didn’t feel any pain. That morphine must be some serious stuff! I looked around the room and could see my parents outside the door. They were crying. Oh no. I suddenly remembered why I was here; Connie! Ben! I shouted out; “Mum! Dad” “I’m awake!” they were walking away. Why couldn’t they hear me? The nurse came in just then and I tried to motion to her to call my parents back but my arms felt like lead. I shouted “Nurse, could you get my parents? Could you tell me if my sister is ok?” she looked right past me as if she hadn’t even heard, glanced at the clock and slowly placed a sheet over my face.

Kate

When Mum and Dad eventually came to see me they stood at the door. They didn’t so much as hug me. I’d figured they would be angry but seriously? Dad asked how I was feeling and as I started to answer he punched the wall and I watched a single tear drop down his cheek. In fact Mum’s eyes were bloodshot too. He put his hand across his face and she ushered him out of the room and sat on the side of my bed. I put my one good arm out to hold her hand and she pulled away. She started crying then. She pushed her head onto my pillow and sobbed, full heaving sobs. I was terrified now. “Mum. Mum what’s the matter? I’m ok!” she sat upright and wiped her face, she stood up and flattened down her dress. She looked so smart that I fleetingly wondered if she and Dad had been out to dinner that night. She walked to the door and said “Your sister is dead Kate, that’s ‘what’s the matter’”

Connie

I could not wait to get home. These people were so weird. No one spoke to me in there! I kept thinking at some point Mum and Dad were coming to see me but they didn’t show. I worried about Kate. Maybe she was in another hospital and that’s why she hadn’t been across to see me. I was panicking that something awful had happened, or that maybe Mum and Dad were angry at me. Maybe I was partly responsible for the crash? It was all a blur now. I needed to get home, to see everyone and apologise. I shouldn’t have tried to steal my sisters’ boyfriend! Who did I think I was?! I stood up and walked out. No one so much as approached me. I was frightened, but I had to get home. I walked outside, it was snowing. I stepped into the snow and suddenly realised I had bare feet. I didn’t feel a thing.

Kate

I’d been allowed home a few days later. Mum and Dad came to pick me up and it was the first time they’d come near me since Mum told me about Connie. I’d cried for around 24 hours solid after that. Ben came to see me. He was in a wheelchair. He’d be in a wheelchair for life now as he had severely damaged his spine. Or as he put it I’D severely damaged his spine. He was so angry. He cried, and raged and shouted obscenities at me over and over and I let him get it out of his system. I said sorry but it sounded so utterly meaningless. He told me he never wanted to see me again and I’m ashamed to say I was pleased. I didn’t want him and I certainly didn’t want to be reminded of my stupidity on a daily basis. At home the house seemed so strange. So quiet, so cold. The room I’d shared with Connie suddenly seemed immense and Mum and Dad just cried all day every day by her empty bed. They would barely look at me let alone talk to me. I wanted them to scream and shout like Ben had, because I needed to be punished. Then I realised it wouldn’t be them that would punish me; it was Connie. Because that first night she walked into our room in her hospital gown, skin pale blue and covered in dried blood, I knew I’d be living with what I’d done for the rest of my life, at the end of hers. I didn’t even scream. She was dead and didn’t even know it. I tried to touch her face and my hand felt only air. She smiled and crawled into bed. I let her believe she was ok because it seemed easier.

Connie

Kate seemed surprised to see me. When I’d walked in I peered into the living room and saw Mum and Dad holding one another and sobbing. I thought the worst. I ran into the bedroom and saw Kate sitting in my wicker chair. I was oddly relieved. It was a comfort to have her there, even if only in spirit. I crawled into bed and studied her face. She walked silently towards me and touched my face. I didn’t feel it. How strange. I figured I should get some sleep because I had double Geography tomorrow and I’d never be able to concentrate without a good 6 hours. Plus Ben would be there and he smells delicious, likes strawberry laces. I can remember how that smells.

Kathleen NichollsComment