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|The Snow Mouse and the Hawk|
I lie awake, back against the wall, hand clutched to my heart. A white mouse comes in to my room from a crack in the wall and stares up at me dubiously, its little tail whipping about like an earthworm in the sun. It sniffs the air around me, which smells of decay and my musky perfume. On the floor are shattered jars and crockery, snapped necklaces with the beads strewn across the crinkled rug, evidence of my struggle. My heart contorts again, stinging as if a rusty iron spike was shoved in and twisted to mar the flesh. I can taste metallic blood at the back of my throat and my head begins to throb. The white mouse squeaks at me, baring its teeth, as if to urge me to pull through the pain. But it is too much. It has built up over my life, dammed against my skin, a frightening amount of water; and I ignored the signs all throughout my time, hoping the feelings would go away. And now they have come up, surging like some tempestuous wave, all at once to cause me pain far worse than at any singular moment. I suppose this is regret.
Loud footsteps come from behind the door and the white mouse scurries back into its hole as Lo enters fretfully. She jumps over my body and starts wiping my sweaty face with a towel, softly slapping my cheeks to make me open my eyes some more.
"Lo?" I say, quivering to speak.
"Yes, Li, I'm here."
"How did you know what was happening?"
"I just had a hunch. I knew something bad was happening," my sister replies, her thin pink lips smiling to cause more wrinkles on her ancient face. "Last night was green, and Ember Island myths say when the sky is green, it means you have a special connection with someone far off somewhere."
We both look like elderly tortoises, flabby skin, crow's feet – but Lo had never looked so beautiful then at this moment. My heart surged again, this time not with pain but with raw emotion that had been locked away for quite some time. My mouth opened and I purged my soul unto her, crystal tears streaming down my jowls.
"Lo, I just want you to know," I spluttered. "I'm so sorry for everything. Having my way with your first lover – I only did this because I was bored. Hozon made me feel dull, and I was afraid I was becoming like mother. And I'm sorry for taking you with me to the mainland. It's my fault Tosha broke and my fault mother killed herself. But I needed you to come with me. I would have died otherwise. I couldn't bear the thought of being separated from you."
Lo smiled, hoping the grin would keep her tears in their place at the front of her eyes.
"It's alright, Li."
"No," I interject, flinching from a twinge in my heart before continuing. "It's not alright. I ruined everything. And we're sisters, twins, Lo. When you told me you never wanted to speak to me again, that crushed me."
Lo's eyes flash with that dark memory – one that was long ago but forever on her mind.
"Did you mean it, when you said you never wanted to talk again?"
Lo looks down at my stiff body and takes my wrinkly hand in hers similar.
"Of course not," she says, sniffing up a tear. "I loved you when we were children. It was pure. And that love has not changed, not even through adulthood to our old age."
She wiped her eyes, her voice deep with overpowering passion.
"Sure, I looked at that love differently, but I will always love you the same. Always and forever. You'll always be my sister to me."
I start to breathe acutely as my heart begins to take its final, jagged knocks. Knowing my time is coming, Lo leans over me and stares into my eyes, hers wide open as if looking into deep water for something she dropped.
"You'll tell mother I love her?" she asks, her voice desperate and croaking from sadness.
I grin up at her, my mind flashing with visions of my mother's petite face, her stare. And I think I finally understand her. I can see the ocean.
"I'll tell her we love her."
"We love her," Lo repeats, laughing happily as if the words had unified the family somehow.
I take some more breaths, my body chilling and hardening from my toes, and take one last look at my darling sister.
I can see it now.
Lo standing on the northern head, the cottage ablaze behind her. She lifts my urn up and empties me out into the sea, a hawk flying into the rising sun. My remains float down to the waves and Lo stands on the edge, looking down at the rocks below. She'll think it's her salvation, death, and a tear will roll down her eye as she realises she can endure it. She has endured all her life, and worse things too. Like iron nothing can weather her away, she was smooth from birth, and smooth till death, and she'll step back, turn around and make for the bracken on the cleft of the beach and spread her old body in a bed of wildflowers.
A spectre, with jagged fingers, slices a cord and a weightlessness will wash over my sister like a powerful wave as she forgives me for my mistakes. And for time everlasting, and since memory had splashed out of the brook into our mother's lap, we are each other's' greatest love, unaffected by the pangs of time, heartbreak, neglect and sorrow. We see something similar in each other, something that is our mother's too, or something that runs in our heredity. Forever we will be a symbol to each other, I hers and hers mine – my imago.
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