My Perfect Sister by Penny Batchelor
English | 2020 | Mystery & Thriller | ePUB | 2.8 MB
Annie is five when her sister Gemma leaves for school one day and never returns. The family’s lives are changed forever with Gemma’s disappearance and Annie feels neglected and unloved. When she is just sixteen, she decides she can no longer live in the shadow of her perfect but absent sister and she leaves home, falling in and out of jobs and relationships, her resentment for Gemma always there, bubbling under the surface.Many years later she reluctantly returns home to care for her mother, ill with cancer. Her anger only grows when she sees Gemma’s room still kept as a shrine while hers is now her mother’s sewing room, but as she cares for her mum she begins to soften and egged on by her best friend Priti she realises she has to uncover what happened to Gemma, for all their sakes.Her research puts her in danger but with the help of a fabulous cast of characters and a satisfying twist in the tale, she finally discovers the truth – but can she ever accept it?
I close the bedroom door quietly and walk to the stairs. The old swirly red and green stair carpet has gone, replaced by a dark beige industrial one, the practical kind that won’t show up the dirt. I remember as a young girl sitting on the stair third from top, rubbing my face against the carpet, half-closing my eyes and watching the red and green dance together millimetres from my eyelashes whilst a policewoman spoke to my parents in voices muted by the closed kitchen door. Every ten seconds or so loud sobs punctuated the mumbling. ‘Stay upstairs until I say so,’ my father had said, ushering me into my bedroom. Time passed, was it minutes or hours? A minute can feel like millennia to a young child.
I’d ventured as far as the stairs but no further, as if there was an invisible barrier holding me back, fixing my eyes on the carpet pattern. There I’d stayed until Father came to get me and told me I had to have an early night. You see, that’s what I remember from my childhood, not picnics, birthday parties or trips to the park but the police coming round when my sister didn’t return home and the pervading shadow it cast everywhere. Except that shadow, that gloom, that tiptoeing around death never left. I did instead.
When I walked out of the red front door for the last time I may have lived on this planet for a month longer than Gemma ever did. I left at soon as the bell had rung on my final day at school and didn’t come back, ever, to this house.
I returned from Leeds over a decade later to see my father in hospital after his stroke, and although she had left the message on my mobile to let me know which hospital he was in I hovered in the darkest recess of the corridor until my mother had left. A dying man’s bedside isn’t the place for a row, or more likely the silent treatment. My mother is more passive-aggressive than the dramatic argumentative type.
The smell of the disinfectant stuck with me, pinning itself to my recollection of the day. Whenever there’s that scent in the air I think of my decaying father. He couldn’t talk well but squeezed my hand and a tear ran down his cheek; he then pulled on my arm, gesturing that he wanted to tell me something. I bent down to his level, so close that I could feel his shallow breaths on my ear.
‘Forgive your mum,’ he said. Thirty seconds passed whilst he drew upon some more energy to speak his final words to me. ‘She loves you, she just couldn’t show it. Look after her when I’m gone. Please.’
I smiled at him, a wide smile that didn’t stretch to my eyes, and nodded – a panacea for the dying. Like hell I’d keep my fake promise. His last words to me were about her, not some words of love and wisdom for me. He’d been the buffer between me and her, but even on his deathbed he took her side. What about me, I wanted to scream. What about me?
Nine days later I went to the church funeral but skipped the pub buffet and reminiscences about what a decent bloke he was by old colleagues, neighbours and those who wanted a free lunch. Instead I went home, got drunk and remembered Father in my own way as the quiet, smallish man who tried, but never quite hard enough. Did I love him? I think so. But I can’t say that his passing made much of a difference to my life, it now being so far removed from the bad old days.