As Talli Reamer stubbed out the embers of her cigarette into a cheap glass ashtray, those around her exploded into celebration. She watched nonchalantly as the sky erupted with gunpowder; blossomed with the majestic red and gold crackles of light. Talli raised an eyebrow as her inebriated family and their friends toasted, to a bright New Year, with far too much gusto for her liking.
Downing the last of her red wine, Talli slid the large glass on to the plastic table, and, only half listening to the people around her, watched with bemusement as her sister frolicked jovially between family members.
Evelyn stood erect on the opposite side of the garden, hands with perfectly varnished nails tucked neatly into each other behind her back; her posture was straight and proud. Occasionally she’d run one of her pristine hands through her long naturally light brown hair.
Evelyn was her twin. Talli believed thoroughly that this was where the comparisons ended.
‘She’s so…’ Jayce Michaels paused as he looked for the right word, ‘happy.’ Jayce, pint in one hand, fag in the other didn’t seem to notice the celebrations, or the blistering winter winds for that matter. Dressed in just a Queen t-shirt and three quarter length combat shorts, he was either too full of residual Christmas spirit or he had, at some point during the evening, adorned his beer jacket. Talli assumed it was the latter. Jayce was the kind of guy that could philosophise about anything, providing he had a pint in his hand. Right now, his flavour of choice was a strong Cornish Scrumpy. ‘How do you put up with her?’
Talli glanced at him, raised her eyebrows; smiled but said nothing.
‘What’s so wrong with being happy?’ Other than Jayce, Talli didn’t invite any friends, but he had bought with him Kaydee Rydal, his new girlfriend. Kaydee had never met Evelyn, so Talli excused her ignorance.
‘You mean what’s wrong with being so happy all the time?’ Jayce corrected her. He changed his stance, spread his legs further apart and placed half a pint on the plastic-white patio table. He was poised for debate, ‘people that are happy all the time seem like they have something to hide. No one is happy all the time.’
‘I think it is quite sweet how different you both are. You are identical aren’t you?’ Kaydee said. Talli gave a quick laugh and ran a finger nail-bitten hand through a wave of pillar-box red hair.
‘Scientifically speaking, yeah…’
‘Well I think it’s sweet. Your mum has a bit of variety in her life,’ Kaydee smiled. ‘She got the best of both worlds.
‘Or the worst of both,’ Jayce sniggered.
Pulling a small, crumpled box from the inside pocket of her leather jacket, Talli carefully plucked another cigarette from its golden foil as if she were delving inside a treasure chest. Sealing it tightly between pursed lips, she lit up. She slouched in her chair and mindlessly chewed at her jaundiced nails in between inhalations, as another reel of fireworks shredded the night sky of its darkness. Talli followed their rusty orange trails, higher and higher until…
‘What are you doing?’ The words half snapped Talli out of her daydream. Barely attentive, she glanced up to see the prim-and-proper silhouette of her sister’s perfect posture, standing before the security light. Talli squinted and raised her spare hand to shield her eyes. In the shadows, she could make out the slight curves of Evelyn’s curt smile, and her fingers locked together in front of her.
‘I mean, what are you doing?’ Evelyn’s sugar-sweet smile sharply twisted into a disdainful frown. Talli shrugged. ‘You’re smoking.’
Talli’s eyes widened as she looked at the white stick held precariously between her fingers, ‘Holy mother fucking shit on a frog. So I am!’ She leant forward in her chair and rested an arm on the table, her head balanced in the palm of her hand. She shook her head slightly and smiled up at Evelyn. ‘What would I do without you sis?’
Jayce burst into a loud and drunken laughter, but Talli’s face remained immobile in an expression of mock admiration. Jayce stopped abruptly as Evelyn shot him a look.
‘Why are you being like this Natalie?’ Evelyn shifted uneasily. Talli winced at the use of her full name.
‘What do you mean? All I’m saying is, that it’s a good job one of us is observant.’
‘You’re supposed to be giving up. It’s supposed to be your New Year’s Resolution.’
‘That wasn’t my resolution, Evie. That was yours, for me.’ Talli yawned.
‘It’s only because I care about you Natalie.’
‘I don’t understand this New Year’s resolution bollocks anyway,’ Jayce stepped forwards, swinging an arm dramatically and nearly covering the twin’s Great Aunt Muriel with his golden beverage. He glanced behind him and raised an eyebrow, ‘pardon my French. If you want to change something about yourself, why wait until the end of the year?’
‘It’s a tradition,’ Evie protested. ‘It’s a new beginning. Sometimes change is good.’
‘It is. That is if youwantto change.’ Talli said.
‘Youneed to change.’
‘I think I am fine exactly how I am, thanks.’
‘That shows just how deluded you are.’
They both breathed out, the hot air of their lungs evaporating as it hit the cold winter night, spreading out and creating an icy silence under the sky of vibrant explosions. Talli took another drag of her cigarette. Evie glared at her.
‘So what is it you’re doing at university Evelyn?’ Kaydee broke the silence. Talli and Jayce shot a bemused glance at each other.
‘I’m sorry?’ Evie seemed just as shocked as Talli by the sudden question. ‘I mean, I’m working at the British museum on a year out – saving up for tuition fees on a gap year before I go.’
‘Oh, right. Are you taking history or something?’
‘No. Archaeology.’ Evie regarded Kaydee with disdain.
Pushing the plastic white chair backwards over the patio slabs, Talli stood with her empty glass and cigarette, indicated to Jayce that she wasn’t staying to listen to this conversation and meandered brashly through the drunken swarms. Dazed, Jayce followed.
The inside of the house was full of tacky decorations and distant relatives, most of whom Talli couldn’t name. The fallout of Christmas still lingered at the edges of the house in the shape of discarded wrapping paper, unwanted presents, a montage of cheap musical cards, the smell of stale cinnamon and a Christmas tree that loitered uneasily behind a second hand leather sofa.
When she reached the kitchen, Talli poured herself another large glass of red wine, almost full to the brim. She offered Jayce another bottle of cider. She took a sip and savoured the taste on her tongue, the smell in her lungs, and the feeling of the rolling red liquid washing through her mouth. She focussed carefully on the sensation of her fingertips running over her scalp as she brushed a hand through the top of her short crimson hair.
‘The world’s a beautiful place, don’t you think, Tal? Jayce sipped from his freshly poured cider, it was chilled and sweet. He narrowed his eyes slightly and followed Talli’s gaze. She sighed and continued to follow the trails of fireworks as they disappeared from view above the kitchen windows that looked out into the back garden. The house shuddered as they flooded the sky with light, just above the house.
‘Happy New Year, Jayce.’
‘Happy New Year, Talli.’
‘Hopefully this one will be better than the last, eh?’
‘Ah, I don’t think the last one was so bad,’ he smiled and put a friendly arm around her. She leant into his comforting hold.
‘I just can’t handle living with her anymore.’ Talli nodded out towards the direction in which they came. She swigged from her glass, and rubbed the ache from her face with long piano-fingers.
‘I know, but you watch, she’ll be gone in no time at all.’
‘September,’ Talli frowned. ‘That’s another nine months of hell. It’s like being pregnant and you know how I feel about that.’
Jayce laughed, ‘it’ll go quick. You’ll hardly ever have to see her. She’s at work during the day and you’re at the studio at night.’ He half-smiled, half-frowned, ‘you wouldn’t want that though, would you? You love her really, in spite of her faults.’
‘Jayce, right now, I couldn’t care less if I never saw her again.’
The doorbell rang, barely audible under the dribs and drabs of drunken sound that reverberated through the house. Latecomers, Talli thought, come to join the party here after being somewhere else for the countdown.
Jayce indicated to Talli that he must’ve broken the seal, ‘the problem with cider is that you can never have enough of it, but it has to go somewhere,’ he told her. Talli moved, sloth-like, to answer it, but Evie, full of her infinite supply of energy was already there.
As Evie opened the door, nobody stood on the other side. She looked around the corners and down the street, but clearly couldn’t see anyone. Confusion crawled over her face in a web of creases. Talli watched from the corner of the room as Evie looked around once more.
At her feet, on the welcome mat, Evie found a package. The box was a matt black with a plain white label on top. She picked it up slowly, and read the address on the lid. Evie seemed slightly taken back. She opened it and from white tissue paper retrieved the contents with some noticeable hesitation.
Talli could see a red, round object. It looked like a disc. In the centre a hole was punched through it. Evie placed the box down on the telephone stand and held the disc in her hands, closely examining it. Her fingers ran along the edges, feeling the strange grooves and patterns that were etched into its surface. It appeared ornate. It looked like some kind of ancient artefact. Why would someone be sending Evie an ancient artefact, Talli wondered, were they from the museum?
For a moment, Talli was sure she noticed the strange red disc swirl with a glow of colour. As if she had seen someone, still holding the stone disc in both her hands, Evie stepped out of the front door, suddenly compelled to cross out into the dark street lit only by the half-light of street lamps.
Talli’s frown deepened. She headed for the door, wondering what could have possibly made her sister walk out into the street.
Outside, Talli was met with darkness. The streetlights flickered and buzzed haphazardly. The porch light followed suit. The strobe effect became dizzying and unbalancing. She saw shadows that couldn’t have been there, great white smiles painted in their dark depths. She heard a splintering, something like glass; something like wood. Car alarms exploded into action and their safety windows shattered into a spider web of cracks. She smelt the gunpowder as it fell into the streets; gasoline from some unknown place. More sobering still was that there was no one there. There was no one. Not even Evie.