I wake up at seven, most mornings, and lie in bed gazing out the skylight, which slants on the gable above my pillow. While I wait for Elspeth to finish her shower—the water pressure at the top of this accursed hill is abysmally managed—I dream of my dads’ bungalow in the suburbs of Yeighvor. I dream of a small creamy bedroom with a pink woollen rug and a pink-eiderdowned bed. Beyond the bed is a large window looking out over the city—a wide and full panorama of the busy sunrise. And on the bed is a girl of about my age.
I cannot see her face, for her silhouette is dark against the rectangle of dawning day, but I know that she has dark hair and blue-tinted eyes, for I know well her Year Seven photograph, which adorns the right side of the mantelpiece.
My own photograph is on the left side, and we wear the same school uniform, for though our two schools are separated by a two-hour train journey and a hundred miles of drought-lathered countryside, they are run by headmistresses who are close sisters, and who run their schools in intimate conjunction, though the two populations only mix for sports. I have never met my sister Bridie on any of these exchanges, for swimming is my only extra-curricular enterprise, and she is a swift sprinter not allied to any other activity as I, my friends tell me. I have strong calves to plough my way through the water, but her figure is sylphlike, and she rides on the wind.
That is only what I have been told. I don’t know my sister. Heaven knows we’re not even sisters! My friends tell me all I know of her, besides that photograph. They see her for six months of every year, I am aware, though I have not seen her since a week after our first birthday.
“What’s her favourite colour?” I ask them, but they shake their heads.
“I don’t know,” says Tally; “I don’t talk to her that much. She hangs out with Lucy and Maya usually.”
So it seems that we are do not even have the same friendship groups. Tally and Hannah are like me: soft-haired and frivolous. Lucy and Maya are part of a small circle of outcasts, well-brushed and serious. So I can only suppose that my sister Bridie is the same. They are her friends, and those to whom she is naturally attracted in her friendships: what else can I say? She is entitled to her opinion and her personality, of course; she is, nevertheless, dissimilar to I, and that fact unsettles me.
We are parallel, Bridie and I; we share our situation—though always we are in opposite worlds, and never do we meet on the journey—yet her life, secret to me as it is, is so different to mine. She is the sister I have never met; but I know she is there, and she is my sister, and I feel that I share some special bond with her because of that. A bond that could not be drawn to a tauter tension.