Smoke and Diamonds

He was smoke. She was a diamond.

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2. First

The time when the cold leaves a permanent chill buried in your bones and the rain is loud enough to silence your thoughts is the time when Amanda likes to visit me. She knows it’s when I’m most vulnerable, when she has a chance of getting through to me.

 

“She’s been gone for three years now,” she reminds me, her voice as fierce as the thunder outside. “Cameron, it’s time you moved on!”

 

That’s what she refuses to understand: I will never move on from our dead sister. That’s why I compare myself and Amanda to smoke and diamonds.

 

Amanda is bright, appealing to the eye and seemingly superior to everyone around her. Everyone has… different views towards her. She has a cantankerous attitude and shows dishevelled acts of defiance towards our society that could captivate people from the moment they meet her. She’s the star of her classes, Daddy’s not-so-little-anymore princess. She is a diamond, the crown jewel, and she knows it.

 

Yet, there was one thing that I allow myself to respect Amanda for. It is how information is her stock and manipulation and deception are her assets.

 

I am unnoticeable, often ignored and desperate for an escape: I can’t just fade away without a trace. I didn’t like attempting to reconcile any form of relationships with the few people I might have once been friends with. I somehow enjoy wallowing in a contorted, yet harmonious, blend of the world that my mind had summoned and I refuse to leave. In some ways, it was kind of nice in there.

 

“We’re moving to a new house soon: me, you and Mum. Dad is going abroad for work,” she speaks matter-of-factly but she looks like a ravaging princess, pacing around in her tower. She’s trying to convince herself that a new home will fix her older brother. She wants to believe that it can feel like a home without our sister.

 

***

 

The next morning, I force myself awake as the late autumn sun begins to rise, suffocated by a thick blanket of mist. Dressing quickly, I walk downstairs – skipping over the creaky step – and slip out of the back door.

 

As I jog at a steady pace, I think about our sister. Claire… the sound of her name is still painful to hear.

 

My memory of her death still burns as bright as the fire that tore her away from life.

 

***

 

“Cam? CAM!”

 

Awakened by Claire’s screeching, I sit up and begin to retch dryly onto the floor. Smoke conquers every corner of the room and Amanda, my roommate at the time, is screaming.

 

I don’t even begin to process the events that are happening. Amanda has clambered onto my back and we are running across the upstairs hallway, fingers of smoke wrapping around our ankles. A floorboard smoulders and breaks in a deafening crack, almost drowned out by Amanda’s screams. The fire is down there and the crackling of the flames is a deafening roar. Only a couple of metres away is the front door, flung open as if someone exited before us in a frantic hurry.

 

That someone didn’t even ask if we were okay.

 

Even now, I can’t forgive myself from grabbing Amanda instead of running to save Claire. When I tried to run back into the building, Amanda grabbed the ties on my dressing gown and dragged me back. She didn’t want me to save Claire: it was dangerous and she wanted me to save only her. She refused to be the sister who I put second.

 

I won’t forget the image of her distraught face, pressed against her bedroom window and crying out for me through the smoke and flames, when Amanda and I collapsed on the grass on the grass outside of the house – safe. She was a pale silhouette, illuminated by the moon. Tendrils of smoke turned everything around her black and I saw her gagging, falling away from the window. I almost screamed because I couldn’t run and comfort my baby sister.

 

I can’t believe that neither of my parents made any attempt to rescue any of their children.

 

***

 

When I arrive at the graveyard half an hour later, I instinctively sink onto one of the gnarled wooden benches and watch as smoke from the chimney of a nearby house curls around the building. I wonder if I could leave as simply as the smoke did.

 

In the space around me, birds chirp their morning symphonies and dew reflects the sunlight. The sky is a painting of pastel pinks and blues, wisps of white clouds scattered on the canvas. A cold breeze sends an array of decaying leaves dancing around my feet. Shrivelled pink petals nodding reluctantly to silent music, a lonely flower guards a weatherworn grave. An endless sea of gravestones stand as if they are soldiers approaching a battle. The scenery is identical to how it was when I came here yesterday.

 

After minutes of waiting, I drop to my knees in front of a grave and brush a stray leaf from the headstone.

 

CLAIRE STROKE

November 15, 2005 – November 27, 2011

Age 6

 

There is no message to commemorate her: the only memories left are in our minds.

 

“Hey, Claire,” I whisper, my hands playing with the empty vase, half-buried in the ground in front of me. “How are you today?”

 

Piece by piece, I tell her everything. I tell her how much Amanda thinks she is a diamond compared to me. I tell her how inferior and worthless I feel when I wake up in the morning. I tell her how the house is strangling me, choking me every day. I tell her how it feels as if I’m suffocating without her arms being ready to hug my broken pieces back together.

 

I tell her everything until I have one thing left to say as a parting message when I place the near-dead pink flower in her vase.

 

“You’re nine today. Happy birthday, Claire.”

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