Melody’s death marked the day I stopped going to my AA meetings. A distressing day for us all, so you would understand why I needed a damn drink.
Not that I ever owed anyone an explanation. I suspected my family would try to stop me, tell me that one person’s death should not inhibit another’s life, but they were buried chin-deep in their own grief to care. Melody wasn’t someone people moved on from so easily.
So I started my days with plain vodka and ended it with exactly the same. Disgusting, liberating, but boring after a while. Soon, I switched it up for vodka with something more: Bloody Mary, fresh out of a large jug. Something to fill the gaping, Melody-sized hole in my heart.
It helped me forget. Melody and I – as different as we were – had a bond like no other, one no knife could penetrate. Some sisters fight, some pull each other’s hair, some grow up together only to leave the nest and never speak again.
Not me and Melody.
I was her biggest cheerleader, and everyone knew it.
The day she died is etched in my skull for eternity.
When the ambulance had arrived at the scene, the blue flashing lights dizzying atop the neon box of a vehicle, reality hit me like the waves pelting the sharp edged cliff where I stood, Melody’s body impaled fifty-feet below.
The police showed up, beckoned me away from the cliff’s edge and bombarded me with questions.
What were you doing here?
How did she fall?
I suspected my cheeks bore streaks of black, because mascara burned my eyes. “We were having a photoshoot,” I said. “She’s a photography student, I’m her model.”
That’s right. Melody was a natural in life, a natural behind the camera. A natural in front of the camera too, more so than me. Not that her physical beauty outshone mine. She just had that glow, a light within her that radiated. Full of promise, Melody was. I’m not a religious person, but Melody’s existence was enough proof of god’s greatest creations.
“She was showing me how to pose for the shot,” I said, my voice thick with tears. “And then she…slipped.”
“On a loose rock.”
The officer studied me, and I let my tears fall. “Oh my god.” My hands flew to my face, as if the thought had just occurred to me. “She’s gone.”
My knees buckled and I fell to the ground. Dirt nestled beneath my nails. The turbulent ocean drowned out my screams.
But still, they took me in for questioning.
“It’s procedure,” the officer said. He looked at me with sympathy, but he also had a responsibility to be indifferent. “I understand your pain, but you were the only witness. We have to cover all bases just in case.”
Just in case you killed her.
I wiped my nose on my shirt-sleeve, staggered as I pushed myself upright. “I understand.”
But I didn’t understand at all. Melody was in my life one moment, and then she wasn’t. Humans are brave, pouring their love into another human when the world can be so reckless as to snatch them away. I was brave to love my sister, and the world laughed in my face. The cliffside tantalised me with its beauty then blindsided me with its ugliness.
Sweet Melody, gone but never forgotten.
“Describe to me exactly what happened,” the detective said in the cold, bland room. She folded her arms on the table between us and waited patiently for me to respond. I imagined an obnoxious group of mind-readers watching me from the other side of the wall, but this wasn’t like television. The whole experience was underwhelming. Except for the piercing grief, of course.
“We had planned a day drip to Devon,” I said with a pained smile. I bit my lip to stop the tears from falling. “Like I told the officer earlier, she’s a photography student and wanted to get some pictures by the cliff’s edge.”
“Pictures of you?”
“Yet she was the one by the edge.”
“She was showing me how to pose.”
“You don’t know how to pose?”
I looked up at her in disbelief. “I know how to pose,” I said. “But artists have a vision, you know? They want it done a specific way.”
The detective stared at me, unflinching.
“She had raised her arms up,” I said. “And then it happened so fast. She probably raised them too fast, lost balance and stumbled back onto a loose rock. And then she was just…” The pain was gutting. I choked on my own saliva, coughed until I was red in the face. “She just…” I attempted again, but the detective stopped me.
“I know,” she said, not unkindly. She balanced her clipboard on her knee, then said, “Why did you choose to go out on a day like this?”
Sure, it would have been far more comfortable going out when the sun was out, sky was blue. When the wind wasn’t prone to whip our faces with malice. When the sea wasn’t pummelling the shore.
“Art,” I said again. My ‘quintessential beauty painted against mother nature’s capacity for ugliness’, as she had put it. “I was just following orders.”
In the end, there was nothing they could do. The camera had fallen with Melody, and even if they’d tried to retrieve it from the depths of the ocean, it would have been damaged beyond repair. Useless evidence.
So they sent me home to cry in my mother’s arms.
“Oh baby,” she said, then buried her wet face in my hair. Her cries filled the house for days. Only days.
My father had been in New York for work at the time. He flew back that night, arrived the next morning. He wore grief on his face, sunken cheeks and bloodshot eyes, a man of many words suddenly incapable of uttering a single one.
It was a strange, seeing my parents this way. Not that I expected anything less, but grief changes a person, reveals a side to them you never knew. Whoever determined the four or five or however many stages of grief there are have yet to meet my parents.
Sometimes I’d look at them going about their lives and think Ah, acceptance. Bit too soon for that.
Then, on a bleak, uneventful Tuesday, my mother stepped into the room Melody and I shared and her eyes welled with tears.
“You’re sleeping in her bed,” she said.
“I want to be close to her,” I said.
The tears fell.
That night, I lay cocooned in the duvet, the Melody-scented cotton clenched in my fists. They say lavender soothes the mind, puts it to sleep. Melody’s immortal scent was my lavender. Except my eyes dried out before sleep washed over me, slow and steady, like longshore drift.
My father grieved by working ten times harder than he already did. He was back on a flight to New York the day after the funeral.
“Someone has to keep the family together,” he’d said to us. “Work is a distraction.”
My mother stared at him. “A distraction? She’s our daughter, we need to allow ourselves time to grieve, not distract ourselves from it.”
There was only some conviction in her words, because that was her therapist talking. My mother had started seeing Rowena again, but it only lasted a couple of months. Then, she stopped for the same reason she’d stopped the first time.
“Rowena is expensive.”
“She’s our daughter,” my father had retorted, over the phone.
“I don’t want to be grieving money too.”
A cheap joke. It hurt, to be frank. On Melody’s behalf.
But I let it slide. I was a changed person.
Melody had always been the good one, the respectable one, the daughter who made choices any parent would be proud of.
Me? I was the one in AA, remember? My biggest achievement in twenty years of life was attaining my one-year chip. Then breaking that streak on day 392.
It helped me tolerate the few messages that came through from people who wanted to make her death about them.
She was the best biology partner.
She lent me a pen once and I still use it.
She will be missed.
No. None of these people knew pain like I did. Biology partners can be replaced. Anyone who can remember the origin of any pen they own is a liar. And ‘I will miss you’ is a far more personal way of saying it, Benjamin.
Six months and eight days after her death, we celebrated my birthday.
It was a big day, an important day, the first time since the tragedy where we were celebrating life instead of mourning death.
“I want to tell you something,” my mother said. She took the hair straightener from my hands and placed it on my dresser. Then, she took my hands in hers. “Don’t tell anyone I said this.”
Her breath reeked of spirit.
Her eyes were glazed.
It was a strange feeling, this intimacy between us, one I thought I would have grown used to by now. Melody had always been closer to our mother.
“What is it?” I said.
Downstairs, chatter filled the halls, music pounded the walls. I’d always hated parties, but Melody loved them. This was for her.
“I know you miss your twin,” my mother said. “Especially today.”
Right, because twins have a connection greater than just sisters. Twins share a womb, after all. But I never called Melody my twin. It was like calling a spade a spade.
“I know you see her everyday when you look in the mirror,” my mother said, her hot, alcohol-breath painting my cheeks. “And I know you’ve been struggling, losing yourself a little bit.”
I lost myself more than she knew. I’ve always hated the pretentious connotations the word ‘journey’ holds, but my grief was a just that. In losing Melody, I lost myself. But I’m relearning, rediscovering who I can be. Who I am meant to be without her.
“Yeah,” I said, with a weighted exhale. “But I’ve slowed down on the drinking, I promise.”
“Good, good.” My mother gave me warm smile. Her grip tightened round my wrist as she swayed. “I just want you to know, I’m glad we still have you. You’ve always been the driven one, the one with your head screwed on, and I just…I love you, my sweet, sweet Melody.”
All I heard was: You were a disappointment, and I’m glad you died instead.
But I didn’t. Though in a way, I guess I killed myself.
Living life in Melody’s shadow, watching her bathe in the spotlight while I blended into the murky shadows, seeing her move forward in life while I struggled to play catch-up – it was all too much. You’d think I’d get praise for the incredible photos I took of her, but no. No one cares about the person behind the camera. “Photography isn’t even a real subject,” my parents had said far too many times to handle. “Oh, but Melody, you should model for real.”
Right. Because apparently the pictures I took were a bloody hoax.
I was made to be a fool, and there was only one solution.
So when I pushed Melody off that cliff, I vowed to live her life to its fullest. But I knew I’d have to perform. Grieve. Quit AA, because Melody had never been an alcoholic. But I allowed her to drink. We both needed it, after all.
Melody was perfect. By drinking, I gave her some flaws. I humanised her.
It was no easy task. Attending your own funeral, seeing your family not cry enough, not cry at all. Counting the days it takes for your parents to move on. Realising there’s no going back. Knowing you’ll be hiding in plain sight forever.
Murder is gruelling work, and sometimes I just needed to forget. I loved my sister, but we would never be equals. Same face, same family, but she was always the better half.
I couldn’t die, because I wanted to live.
I wanted to live they way she had lived, without the burden of my past.
Be the Sweet Melody everyone adored.