“This is over the top! Actually, no, it’s just plain weird.”
“Come on Annabelle. There’s nothing we can do but go through with it – it’s what she wanted.”
My sister was alternating between distraught and furious, tears streaming down her face. We stood, side by side, on the grey stone steps in front of the church’s heavy wooden doors.
A sea of whispers and exclamations erupted behind us, punctuated by the odd sniffle and one forlorn howl. I expected the howler was dad. I turned a fraction, hoping he was close enough that I could reach out and touch his arm. He was just a step behind me. My fingers flexed, seeking him out, and were enveloped in his hands. His grip was tight and needy, but his hands clammy. I loosened his hold slightly and tickled his palm with my fingertips, just like I had when I was small.
Our mum, his wife, died from breast cancer 10 days ago. Dad and I had watched her body wither and crumple over a year, or nine treatment cycles. Since that day, when the three of us has sat clutching each other in the oncologist’s neat office, my life had become a whirl of timed medications, green organic smoothies and nausea (hers, not mine). Two months ago she stopped treatment.
Still annoyed at mum for “giving up” before she was able to say goodbye, Annabelle had arrived from Perth last night, after being in transit for weeks. I’d contacted her at the orphanage in Bali, telling her to get home. Mum had told me “feeling alive, for however long I have, is better than having these poisonous cocktails finish me off”.
Annabelle organised caretakers for the orphanage and its 400-odd occupants within hours. After throwing an assortment of clothes in a bag she started the long trek out of the Balinese mountains and back to civilisation. But her journey was hampered by landslips and fallen trees so she was forced to wait out the monsoon in stages, zig-zagging from village to village down the mountain as roads became passable again. Her red-rimmed eyes sank under dark circles, her voice hoarse and shoulders drooping. I squeezed her hand. Fresh tears started.
“Why do we have to make such a fuss about getting into the church?” Annabelle muttered.
“Because mum wanted an event, a celebration of her life, not a sombre service. She told me to ask everyone to bring their dancing shoes,” I said, squeezing her hand again.
“Let’s get this party started,” I tried to call out, but choked on the words.
Walking in unison, Annabelle and I took the last two steps up, hand in hand. Cool, rigid metal made my skin prickle as dad pressed mum’s sewing scissors into my other palm. Shaking, I moved the scissors across my body to our clasped hands. My older sister and I opened the blades and cut through the thick purple velvet ribbon guarding the doors.
Photo by Sarah Wolfe on Unsplash