I watched her relaxing amongst the warmth of translucent bath water, tanned legs and elfin feet angled upwards to rest gracefully on the white lip of the bath. Nestled in her nightly routine, small glistening beads of sweat formed over her forehead, and her pale face glowed. The sun kissed skin of her body languished beneath the depth of water and her closed eyelids, flickered ever so slightly. Her closed butterfly like eyelids made it easy to thoroughly and watchfully examine the map of her face; a dusting of faded freckles covered her cheeks and nose, laughter lines alongside her mouth and softly etched lines neighbouring her eyes hint to her having lived a spirited life. She opens her eyes and gracefully removes herself from the bath, wrapping herself in a white bath sheet, proceeds to towel herself dry and with the caress of her hand, she uses a round makeup pad to remove the final traces of sweat, and the day’s worries from her mask and face. She slides into her bed releasing herself from mundanity, into the world of dreams.
A late Saturday night party in the distance and the stifling warmth of the summer night keep her tossing in her usually comfortable cocoon of bed. There are moments where she wakes and I contemplate if she is alert to my presence. Once morning gently rises through her eastern window, she arouses from sleep. Motionless I continue watching. The morning noise of dogs barking, amongst the summer cicada symphony is layered with the warbled chorus of sulphur crested cockatoos, noisy black koels, colourful rosellas, kookaburras and lorikeets. In the distance the din and whirr of traffic and noisy leaf blowers escalates. An early morning shower of rain exemplifies the ethereality of majestic trees that fringe her room-the huge Blackbutt, Turpentine trees and a single gnarly Red gum tree rise above her nook in suburbia. It is her haven and home to herself and a vast colourful array of birdlife who are delighting in the freshness of moisture and the new day.
Time and its void had slipped between and beyond us. As she opens her almond coloured brown eyes to face the day, I smile. Her smile I notice embodies and is a reflection of my own. She swings her legs to the floor, rises with morning tiredness and pads her feet across the yellow tongue and groove pine floor. Carefully, I slip out of her way. You might think I am her lover, admirer or a voyeur. I do love her, admire her and at times, I come, listen and watch.
The darkened shadows and stillness of night is when I usually decide to emerge. I observe the routines of the woman who is a personification of myself. She is alive, candid and her life has been lived. She has made mistakes and errors in her life yet has also loved ferociously and for the same reason lost much; she is a warrior mother and yearns to be loved passionately as the dreams that besiege her. Her facial lines platform a loss of youth and her subtle ageing narrates the wounds of her soul. She has recounted thousands of stories in her life and unlike me, she chats endlessly, excitedly interjecting, and altering the direction of many conversations. Her smile warms my imperturbable soul. Recollections of a unique visit together, where we shared French champagne, stood side by side on wide steps of majestic buildings, and posed for photos captured on 35mm film that were rush developed at a two-hour photo laboratory, and now buried in boxes on dusty bookshelves, suffuse my essence. Chances long ago allowed us the shortened pleasures in an English summer. Watching Wimbledon is the quintessence of English summer spectator sport, it is when England is lush and green, strawberries and cream are delectably devoured, and the scent of lavender wafts into the air as you wander with delight around the numerous outside grass courts. When I whiff lavender in the space of time between us, I feel tears drop into the air. However, they are never my tears, as I cease to cry.
One day, I suspected she would seek to find me. That day happened in 2003 when she wrote a letter seeking information and the whereabouts of her birth mother.
Pregnant with my first child, my sister boarded a plane and travelled to London to meet me. Twelve months of penned sisterhood in our thirty-something years of our own lives was how our relationship began. Biologically we were sisters but had grown up in different families on opposite sides of the world. I had grown up with our parents in London and she with her adoptive family in Sydney.
You see the universe decided our life together, was never meant to be. It would always only be lived through thoughts, imaginings and longings. Sometimes wants, wishes and desires do not align with what we hope to determine. The universal network of providence, allowed serendipitous moments in time and a short-lived reunification with my sister, however, for a second time destiny determined that we eternally be kept apart. Cancer was the ruin of our newly kindled relationship as sisters. I am a mother but no longer exist. I was a wife and no longer am. My earthly roles of, mother, daughter, sister, wife, friend, and niece were extinguished by my inability to beat the insidiousness that invaded my blood. The bone marrow transplant I endured although successful was not lifesaving. My body decided it had battled enough and could no longer combat infection. With the ventilator fatally disconnected, my life ended, relationships ceased, hopes vanished and dreams became merely mortal.
As I transcend to visit my sister, I sense she is aware of my energy; her fleeting memories of our moments together, are what draw me near. I am infinite and non-existent yet I am present at least in thoughts. The affection she exudes as she contemplates, a once shared conversation, our visit to the majestic Brighton Palace, lunch in a quirky English pub in the historic Laines or our last extended and celebratory family dinner together permeates and radiates over me. It is this albeit, that aids my soul to live on. I visit when she least expects. I grace those that I loved. I am the aroma that lingers in a memory and the sensation of a presence when the hair on your arms stands on end. You rationalise that I do not exist but I am within your heart and mind, I am the energy that helps you live. I am not palpable; my soul subsists despite my body succumbing to leukaemia. I left to this world a son who now is in high school. I visit to watch him too. He was nine months old, when my worn out body yielded to the obliteration of cancer. I do not want my dying to define his life. He does not remember me but I am his semblance, witness to his hopes and dreams. As the unknown, the intangible and unmatter, you cannot visualise me, however, your sixth sense and your gut expresses to you that I am possible and here.
My curtailed life was unexpected; the woman in the bath, my sister, chose to seek something, she felt missing. Her connection to something else, greater than her adopted family, triggered her quest to find other family members that she knew somehow, somewhere existed. The little girl within that woman long ago, trusted a feeling in her soul, she in some unique unfathomable manner sensed other family, and perhaps a sister somewhere and vowed one day she would find them. Thankfully her wilfulness, courage and tenacity, time wise, was fortuitous and life gratifying.
Life in all its glory- fate, destiny or the determination of events, allowed a window of opportunity for us to meet. The woman in the bath opened Pandora’s Box, with voluminous good things resulting but also many a far-reaching emotional consequence erupted. She is the survivor, not me and the thoughts, feelings and vibes in the depths of her soul are her illumination. Her energy is contagious. She is the one who makes you feel at ease, the one you want in your corner. Her days are lived and she breathes and I am glad that she sought to find me. I am Hannah’s spirit, I hover in time amongst the great mythical goddesses of the Milky Way.
As she sleeps, I view photographs, that line the cream hand worn walls; the assorted images of children smile happily, the nieces and nephew, I never encountered and yearned to know. I reflect that her eldest daughter is an altered and modern image of myself, my doppelganger. The two dimensional images depict my lost family, screening eerie family resemblances and inherited connections of both blue and almond brown eyes, fair skin and mousey brown hair. The rhythm of ballerina feet in my sister and her daughters and the mannerisms they exhibit in their daily feats is hauntingly beautiful. Surreal. The essence of my manifested self is encapsulated in amongst the fragrance of white lilies and lavender that scent the front garden.
Sisters carry whether they know it or not an uncanny, timeless, unique and universal bond that transcends hemispheres, time and life. She, that woman in the bath is part my bones, part my soul and my attachment to earthly life. She understands what I unwittingly, cruelly, under duress and infortune suffered. That priceless memories of anticipated motherhood were never to be lived. She is the magic of my vanished life. My sister, our mother’s first daughter, was the first granddaughter, the tragedy being no one ever knew of her existence. Both sets of our grandparents went to their graves oblivious, just as all the related ancestral family are naïve to her existence. The determination she afforded in finding me, transpired in the most exceptional of reunions for my family. She found a sliver, a spell of time, a sliding door into our English world and those of us, who had longed to meet her, were blessed by that moment of serendipity. As orange and pink hued sunsets magnificently cast beauty over the western mountain range and days fade away, I hope she appreciates and recognises that what she rightly senses in her soul is worth trusting.