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under a sea of clouds i fight

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1995

 

 

 

 

 

 

She dreams of a face which mirrors her own, of motions halting and jerky, of hair pale and lank, swallowed up in a large, inky blackness.

 

Sarah raises her hand, and the other girl does the same. She crouches, because who wouldn’t, and again the other girl does the same. That part of her that's never steered her wrong does not scream run or fight, and so she takes a step forward, watches the other girl do the same, and then Sarah wakes with a start. 

 

The feeling is disorienting, as if she's fallen, and she sits up. As she opens her mouth, breathes in and then out slowly, seeking air, she presses her hands to her forehand, stares into the darkness of her room as if the answer lies somewhere far over next to the wardrobe or in the heap of dirty clothes by the door. She sleeps dreamlessly, most nights. But lately, they've all been the same. 

 

The room is oppressively silent, and Sarah lets herself fall back down onto her bed, bounces a bit with the force of it, and closes her eyes, tries not to fall right back into the dream and succeeds, she guesses, because she wakes up the next morning to Felix sticking his head in her room, sing-sing voice warning her she's going to be late. 

 

"Remember what I said," Mrs. S says over breakfast, and Sarah has been with her long enough not to flinch away from the hand on her shoulder, the kiss Mrs. S presses to the top of her head. 

 

"I can't think of anything," Sarah says truthfully, because there's nothing that she really wants for her birthday even though Mrs. S had said she'd get her anything she'd like, within reason. The whole thing is overshadowed, really. Her twelfth birthday is next month, and shortly after that they’re moving. 

 

It makes for an interesting birthday in the end, and she hardly minds the lack of celebration—she’s used to it, after bouncing from one home to the next—the actual day squished in amidst planning and preparations, Mrs. S grumpier than usual.

 

In between, she sees her face at night, no answers to be gotten from it.

 

 

-

 

 

It’s the night before they’re due to leave and she's awake again, too excited to sleep despite having technically gone to bed what feels like hours ago.

 

When the front door opens and then closes, Sarah slips out of bed, cracks open her door and can hear down the hall that someone is in the kitchen—just barely discernible, Mrs. S and someone else speaking in low, quiet voices. 

 

Taking a step out of her room is as far as she dares go. The hallway is too open and she'd be seen, and in any case the visit is a short one. There's the sound of a chair's feet scraping against the tile floor and Sarah darts back into her room, listens as two sets of footsteps go down the hall, and Sarah lies back down, shuts her eyes, pretends to sleep so perfectly that she does, in fact, fall asleep.

 

The next morning, they’re quite fairly rushed out of the house, two of Mrs. S’s friends herding her and Felix and the baggage into the car, and it’s only at the airport, Mrs. S walking quite fast and urging them to keep up, that someone else walks up them just before they join the line of people waiting to go through the metal detector, that the cagey-looking woman urges someone forward, and that everyone leaves and it’s only her and Mrs. S and Felix and a skinnier, paler version of herself left standing together.

 

Felix is, for once, as stunned as she is, and says nothing, but Mrs. S has a hand on each of their shoulders, and she sweeps everyone through the lines and toward the gate to board.

 

 

-

 

 

“I trust,” Mrs. S starts sternly, once they’re a good ten minutes into the flight and the women in uniforms have stopped walking up and down the aisle, and Sarah puts on a dazzling, shit-eating smile, nudges Felix besides her who’s fiddling with his seatbelt. “That you’ll both make Helena feel welcomed.”

 

It’s difficult to make someone welcome when she doesn’t even really speak English though, and after several aborted attempts at conversation, Felix falls asleep and Mrs. S tries to entertain Helena by reading to her from her novel, and with nothing more to do Sarah reaches into her backpack, puts on her headphones, hits the play button on her Walkman, and closes her eyes.

 

 

-

 

 

She is plagued no more by faces—save for Helena's sneaking into her room at night, asking her ceaseless questions about Canada as if she's a bloody expert on the country or something—until their second year in the house on Morse street.

 

Sarah wakes, mouth thick from sleep, and finds Helena lying curled at the foot of her bed. Helena has her own bed in her own room, and it had been more difficult to get her to stay there when she had been younger. The visits are not longer as common, and Sarah tries to gather her thoughts, fights through the haze of sleepiness until she's awake enough to process what Helena says. 

 

“You have seen her, too,” Helena asks, although it's not really a question—because where Sarah goes Helena goes, and what Sarah feels Helena feels—and Sarah nods, reaches up and runs her fingers through her hair in thought.

 

“Yeah,” she breathes. “Yeah.”

 

Helena sits up, slight frame lost in the baggy T-shirt she wears as pajamas, and Sarah feels her heart swish suddenly as something clicks, like she’s missed the last step on the stairs, because the last time she saw a face like hers there was a face like hers. Except this face evades her, flicks in and out of the dark, half-hidden behind a hood drawn down.

 

“It’s just twin shite, innit?” Sarah asks. 

 

It’s been long enough that Helena’s brittle, bleached hair has grown out, pared away slowly and neatly in loving haircuts here and there, dark brown curls grown out, and there is almost nothing to set them apart now—at least to unassuming strangers—except the lilt of her words and her face, splashed white.

 

“The sovereign lord is coming in power, and he will rule with a powerful arm,” Helena says woodenly, and it’s too fucking late for this shit and Sarah groans, reaches behind herself and yanks her pillow out from behind herself, holds it up and postures to cover the chill that runs up her neck.

 

“Oh, shove it, Helena!”

 

“He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart, he gently leads those that have young,” Helena whispers, and she bleats once like a lamb and then laughs as the pillow catches her in the shoulder, and a struggle to shut her up has them wrestling on the ground and then Mrs. S knocking on her door, whispering harslhly that it’s past their bedtime and there is school tomorrow, for Christs’s sake.

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

She wakes up with a burning need to know more, and apparently so does Helena. Over breakfast the next morning Sarah keeps her dream to herself, manages to snort only a little as Helena passes her the orange juice, baas softly.

 

She weasles out of school just after lunch, Helena with her—they're two problem kids and there are only two periods left, and no one’s eager to make a fuss and track them down. She's done it before.

 

It’s easy enough to walk home from school, to slip into the house, Mrs. S away on errands just like she’d said she would be as she saw them out of the house and off to school that morning, and Sarah shuts the door behind them both, locks it and shrugs off her jacket.

 

Helena is the one who creeps up the stairs, wiser and quieter than Sarah could ever hope to be, and Sarah follows.

 

Mrs. S’s room is neither off-limits nor welcoming—it’s lost the hallowed privacy it held as children, yet Sarah feels a thrill go through her as they slip in, as Helena roots through the wardrobe and around in the drawers, finding nothing, and then as Sarah links her fingers together and boosts Helena up enough to swipe her hand over the top of the wardrobe.

 

Mrs. S still has tricks to teach them, Sarah can concede grudgingly, because it is purely by accident that Helena loses her balance on the way down, that Sarah tries to catch her and instead only breaks her fall, that they land wrong in a heap of limbs and sharp elbows and out of the corner of her eye Sarah sees the end of a floorboard shift under their weight, jump almost imperceptibly.

 

She notes which floorboard it is, eyes it in relation to the bed and the wardrobe to come back to if needed later, and then eases Helena off of her, scrabbles over on hands and knees and fits fingernails into the crack between it and the next old wooden plank, digs in and lifts it up enough for Helena to shove her hand under and help her work it up.

 

There is only a slim folder in a sliver beneath the floorboards, a birth certificate for Felix in a folder along with one for herself (falsified, she knows) and one for Helena in some other language (likely also falsified). And there are names: a short, concise list that means nothing to either of them, and surely must mean nothing to anyone except Mrs. S because Mrs. S is not stupid enough to go around leaving lists of important names where others can find them, Sarah realizes, stumped.

 

Anne. Susan. Connie. Yvonne.

 

She puts the folder back the way it was, lets the floorboard fall back into place, and uses her hand to sweep at the top of it, to leave it looking like it hasn’t been disturbed.

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

Like clockwork later that night Helena appears in her room, offers a joking bleat as she settles at the foot of her bed, just as curious as she is.

 

"Which name do you like the best?" Sarah whispers, to decide on who they'll try to find first, and Helena thinks for a moment, bites her lip and chews it methodically. 

 

"Anne," Helena finally announces, and repeats the name several times, apparently liking the feel of it, and Sarah nods judiciously, because if Helena feels like it's right then she agrees.

 

If they're going to find anyone else they've got to start somewhere, and Anne, as of now as meaningless to them as the others, seems to be as good a place to start as any.