After sitting together in the front pew, not touching, not talking, not comforting. After hosting the drinks and sandwiches in the Function Room at The Crown. After our aunts, uncles, and Mum’s friends had murmured their condolences and left. After all of that, it was just the two of us, our wine glasses empty, not looking at each other, not wanting to talk. But we had to talk. There were things that needed to be done.
‘I’m happy to do it. If you want to get back,’ I said.
‘Happy? Don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone describe clearing out their recently deceased mother’s home as a happy event.’
‘You know what I mean. Don’t be difficult.’
‘These are difficult times,’ she said.
‘I’ll go over and make a start on Sunday, OK?’ I said.
‘No, we’ll do it together. We should do it together,’ she said.
So, here we are: me in the kitchen, going through the cupboards, and Jenny upstairs in the spare room. Mum thought one of us would take that room when we moved into this house as young teenagers but we’d grown up sharing a bedroom and didn’t want to be parted. Inevitably, that room became a dumping ground for broken toys, bent tennis rackets, obsolete radios and cassette players and wobbly furniture. I’m finding it really hard handling Mum’s collection of battered old pots and pans, struggling to even think of throwing them away. I wonder how Jenny is getting on upstairs and which, of the two us, has got the easier task. I could take her a cup of tea but I’m not sure of the reception I’d get. She’s been at best businesslike, at worst cold, ever since I rang to tell her Mum had passed away. I reach for the kettle; it’s worth a try.
‘Sally, come and look at this.’ I hear her shout.
‘What?’ I yell back, and thirty-five years melt away. We could be teenagers again, bellowing up and down the stairs, too lazy to walk up or down to ask a question. I hear Mum’s voice in my head telling me, ‘It’s not what, it’s pardon.' I so desperately want my Mum back. And I want my sister back too.
‘Coming,’ I call, as I climb the stairs.
She’s sitting on the floor of the spare room in front of an ancient TV/VCR set I remember from the eighties.
‘Watch this,’ she says, reaching to press the rewind button. The tape whines and the screen flickers, scenes rushing backwards.
‘What? What have you found?’
‘Shush, it’s around here somewhere.’ She’s leaning forwards, concentrating on the skittering action, her finger poised.
‘There!’ she shouts and presses Stop, then Play. ‘There. Look, it’s you with…’
‘There, in the red coat, over by the wall.’
I sit on the floor beside her, just like we did as girls watching Blue Peter after school.
‘That’s not me, that’s you,’ I tell her as we watch a woman in a scarlet coat and man with dark hair, clasped together in a passionate embrace.
‘It’s definitely you,’ she says.
‘So who’s the bloke?’
‘It’s Roger, of course.’
We watch in silence for a few moments.
‘I loved that coat,’ she says.
‘Me too,’ I say.
‘I loved Roger as well,’ she sighs.
‘Me too,’ I sigh. Then she starts to laugh.
‘It’s not funny,’ I tell her.
‘It is so,’ she says. ‘It’s absurd and ridiculous, and it’s all been such a bloody stupid waste of time.’
The tape continues to play and we watch, spellbound, as the couple pulls apart. Her face is clearly visible but he still has his back to the camera.
‘You were beautiful,’ my sister says.
‘Yes, you were,’ I tell her.
‘That’s not me, it’s you,’ she says.
We were so close growing up. We were best friends as much as we were sisters. Until Roger.
Fast-forward two decades and here we are: two fifty-year-old divorcees, arguing over who was snogging whose husband, or lover, in a churchyard at a long forgotten family wedding.
‘Do you think we still look alike?’ I ask.
‘What sort of question is that? We’re still identical twins aren’t we?’
‘And are we still friends?’ I ask, even though I’m afraid of her answer.
‘Still friends,’ she smiles. ‘Always friends.’