A Not So Little Girl
Keira means 'dark', nice choice of name for your little girl. It gets better though. Mallory means 'unfortunate'. I asked my mum once if she knew what both names meant. She said yes, but Mallory was grandma’s fault, as she was the one who married a Mallory.
But Keira? My parents thought a name that means 'dark unfortunate' was quite "unfortunate." She started laughing, and then crying, so I went upstairs. Don't worry, she's not a complete psycho. She was crying because my father passed away when I was six years old. Whoa! I know, bombshell, I don’t mind talking about it though. I can barely remember him, save for a few holidays, and he took me to a park once. And he really loved me. I know that.
It’s always difficult when somebody who has not lost a parent talks about their family as a tight, secure unit. Almost every day I ask myself “what would have it been like if he was alive?” or “how would I have dealt with that situation if he was still around?”
I cannot help but look at all situations and wonder if it would have been different, especially now. Would his love have made up for my mum’s complete rejection of me? Or would he have simply nodded whenever she spat out a spiteful comment and then winked at me as if to suggest I wasn’t alone, but he sure as hell wasn’t going to stand up for me against my mother?
There are some pictures of him in my mum’s room and I used to look at them sometimes when I felt alone. Mum always says she can see him in me. I think she hates that.
Oh yeah, and I have a twin sister, Cara. Her name means ‘beloved’.
I used to believe that we are born, then we live, then we die, and that’s all there really was to life. I guess you could say I was proved wrong, but we will get to that later.
My life wasn't that hard. I had a mum who had her moments, lots of them. She doted on my sister like a princess and treated me as if I were just a guest who had outstayed her welcome. Cara was Captain of the Netball team but also made brief appearances for the Rounder’s team when they were short. She played piano, grade five, and violin, grade six, and generally got ‘A’ grades. She had long chestnut brown hair and these huge amber eyes that would draw people in, regardless of what she was saying. In contrast, I had been given up on by the entire PE staff due to my refusal to do anything but use the cycle machine, and even that was a rare event. I had dull brown eyes and could never get my hair to shine the ways Cara’s did. It just hung limply around my face, regardless of how many hours I spent trying to curl it or hairspray the roots in a pathetic attempt to get volume. She was good at Maths and Science and Spanish... well, you get the picture. The only subject in which I excelled and she did not was Art. What my mother liked to call “the subject for people who are useless at everything else”, and said it was simply a reflection of my apathetic attitude towards life.
This view of the world was hardly my fault. I had some friends, but I went largely unnoticed in school and, like practically every child nowadays, I was bullied. Not sure how many of them had their hair set on fire at eight years old, though. I had a home, but I was lonely. There was once a time when Cara and I were inseparable, we would go everywhere together, dress the same way, and share all the same friends. But our mum managed to drive us apart as soon as she realised Cara was ‘going places.’ It became clear that she was proud of Cara, showing off to the family about every top grade she got in every test, regardless of whether it was important or not, and simply changing the subject when it came to me. I was hardly failing, I was working at a consistent ‘B’ grade level, and when I did get an ‘A’ mum would brush it aside saying, “Art isn’t a real subject though, is it, Keira?” and “I hardly think Drama should be much of a concern to you, considering that ‘B’ you got in English.” It was like nothing I could do was good enough for her.
If, like me, you don't believe in the afterlife or in some sort of higher power, then you are wrong. Sorry. I still don’t know if there is a great higher being or not, but I do know there is something after death, and I am existing in it.
We stay on earth. Well, what happens is you die, but you are still on earth, a sort of sunless, darker world, the sort of thing you would expect from some sort of post-apocalyptic themed graphic novel. The buildings appear to be glazed over in the kind of sepia tones you can use on your phone to hide your imperfections and your terrible photography skills. Oh, and the sky is grey all the time, no matter if it is night or day, all you see when you look up is grey.
You can meet others, but only if you want to. You can’t see other dead people wandering down the street, scaring a few kids on Halloween or popping into Tesco’s. They are there, it’s just we can’t see each other unless we choose to. Too complicated, you see. No, we aren’t ‘ghosts’ as people have so kindly called us; we have simply left our empty vessels. No, to meet each other we must change the way we see things, you close your eyes and then you just hang in the air, in the human world, but our minds are not there, they are in this other place that’s like an internet chat room, except you can see each other and you just wander aimlessly until you meet others like you, or people you know. I haven't found my father or Cara yet, but I haven't been dead very long so that could change.
No, death is difficult. You are condemned to spend the rest of time watching the consequences of your actions play out. So I have to watch my mother’s life play out, childless, alone, empty. But you don’t just watch it, you can feel everything they feel, all the sadness, all the hurt, everything. The way that their heart feels as though it is going to tear in half, the way their lungs struggle to fill with breath.
After that fateful night, I became the main focus of her attention. All my life I wanted her to notice me, wanted to impress her, and now she was paying attention, only it wasn’t the way I wanted. Let me tell you what happened on the night of July 29th 2012. That night changed my life.
Where I live, a boring Inner London suburb, the roads are very quiet at night. Houses hide in tree lined avenues. There is little street lighting so, as you're driving along at night, it can be difficult to see a pedestrian on the pavement.
It is 12:15am and a warm summer’s night. We – that is to say Cara, Natalie, Tom and I – have just been to a party. A lot of people who go to my school live around my area, including all of the above; the sum total of the friends I have made during my thirteen years at school. Of course we only got invited to the party because of Cara. This summer we are not going back to school though, we are leaving for university. I am staying in London, and so is Cara. We aren’t going to the same University but we are considering moving out of mum’s and finding a place of our own.
We have dropped behind the others, caught up in our own world as we stumble home on heels that are way too high to be walking in when this drunk. Cara says it should be made illegal to make fabulous grown women such as ourselves walk home in such a state, and that the government should hire overtly muscular and attractive men that you can call when you need to be walked, or even carried, home.
I laugh and it echoes down the street, Cara puts her hand over my mouth and whispers, “Don’t wake up the neighbourhood watch!”
We both burst out laughing even more. The idea of moving out makes me smile. Although we don’t wear the same clothes anymore and don’t have all the same friends, Cara and I are as close as we have always been, despite mum’s protests. As we go to cross the road, I drop my phone, and I stop walking to reach down to pick it up.
And a car is speeding towards Cara.
They say that in the moment before impact everything slows down. I don't think it did for Cara, and I don't think it did for the car. But there, as I looked up, a passive observer, everything slowed down.
I am looking directly at the car and I can see it, pelting down the road, I imagine trees whipping past the window, how it looks from inside the car. And I can hear it; I think it is the loudest sound I have ever heard. And then I look at Cara. And I know. I know before it happens that the car is going to smash into her, it seems that minutes are going by but it can’t have been more than a second. I can see it, I know it. And I do nothing, I don't call her name, yell "STOP", I don't even blink.
I watch as the car slams into her legs and she is flung to her side and over the car, her arms blocking her face from the impact, her fingers flexing. I can't hear anything now. She slides over the car, and for a second I think she is looking at me, asking me, "Why? Why didn't you shout, why didn't you tell me about the car?" Her head flings back and she lands on the ground, smashing into it, her arms and legs being pulled along with force until she stops. And then there is no more movement.
The car screeches to a stop and the sudden noise reminds me that I am alive. I don’t think I am breathing. The car door opens. But I am not looking at the car. I am looking at the body of my sister. Suddenly I hear my name.
“KEIRA! Oh God, what the fuck? Keira, do something! Don’t just stand there! Keira, PLEASE!”
Why is Tom shouting at me? I am still looking at Cara. I can’t even move. What does he want me to do?
“Keira? Keira, can you hear me?” Natalie is at my side. Tom has run over to the driver, dragging him out the car. Shouting profanities while begging for her life, “You son of bitch, you fucking, FUCK! Just bring her back, man, please, just FUCK, what have you fucking done, have you any idea…”
I realize Natalie is still talking to me. But I can’t really hear her. It’s as if there is a soft humming over all her words. And I can’t take my eyes off my twin in some vain hope that if I stare long enough, she will move. I am willing her to move.
My neighbours appear and my mum is running out. The crash must have been so loud. And I realise I have witnessed it all. I feel sick. I am shaking now, my mum runs over to Cara’s body. She screams and falls. A woman goes to comfort her, somebody else is calling the police. All I want is my mum. Eighteen years of awkward conversations and skirting around each other, and all I want is my mum to give me a hug and tell me it’s all going to be okay.
The questions have started, and I know they will turn to me.
“Keira? What happened?”
"Keira what did you see?”
I can’t stop looking…
“Keira, was this man driving the car?”
I can’t stop looking at her…
“Keira? Why didn’t you stop her?”
And there it is. That moment of doubt. My mother’s voice rings the clearest in my ears.
“Keira? Why didn’t you stop her?”
Why didn’t I? I have no idea. I have no answers. All I know if that my twin is dead and I am not.
The man from the car is crying, and is visibly drunk. My mother turns to the diver who is sobbing, while being restrained by a neighbour.
“That’s my daughter, right there, that girl is my daughter, and you… you have stolen her life.”
The tears start to roll down my face.
“You’ve stolen my baby, you’ve stolen my daughter, my life…”
She breaks down, and friend hugs her.
I feel Natalie grab my arm and she says, “Keira let’s get you inside now.” I have thrown up all down my front, I don’t remember being sick. Natalie guides me back to my house.
I remember when I was small I was sick in school one day, and my dad came to pick me up. He took me home and sat me on the edge of the bath and washed the vomit of my face and out of my hair. Now Natalie does this for me. She grabs some old clothes from my room and helps me into them. Then she takes me to my bed.
“I’m so sorry Keira. I know you loved her.” Not true, I didn’t ‘love’ her past tense, I still do, I always will. Natalie leaves and I lie down, but I know I won’t get any sleep yet.
I hear my mum come into the house. She is crying and she has some friends with her. I am not sure if I want to go downstairs or not, but my feet take me to the door. I am nervous now.
The police have arrived and are taking the driver away. He is protesting his innocence, saying Cara stepped out. Regardless of this he is arrested for murder and I am the only witness. The police want to speak to me but on seeing me pulling at the long sleeves of the jumper I have thrown on they tell me they will take a quick statement and come back the next day. The police ask me questions, what did I see, how fast did I think he was going, if it there were any other factors. My answers are short. I am in shock and don’t feel like talking.
I walk into the house and put the kettle on. My mum looks upset, but on hearing me her mouth curls into a scowl.
“Do you want a tea, mum?”
“Keira, I need you to be honest with me, did you see what happened?”
“Yeah, mum, she stepped out to cross the road. I’m so sorry, mum…”
“Why didn’t you cross the road, Keira?”
“I… I dropped my phone.”
“Is it broken?”
“God only knows why you didn’t try and stop her, for heaven’s sake, Keira, you were supposed to be her sister.”
“I’m so sorry mum.” I can’t stop the tears, I can’t even breathe.
“If you weren’t so useless, Kiera, then maybe… Well, maybe it should have been you…”
“Mum, please, I’m sorry.”
She looks at me, sighs deeply, and walks upstairs.
“She was my sister and I loved her too!” I scream after her.
I put my head in my hands and lean on the kitchen counter. I concentrate on my breathing. I am trying to stop crying. Why does my mum think it was my fault? Was it my fault? Should I have stopped her? I have no idea how long I stay like that, but eventually I walk upstairs and crawl into bed. I know I should sleep, but I don't want to. I don't want to do anything at all but lie there. I don’t know what else to do. I keep seeing it happen over and over in my head, except each time I find a way to stop her crossing the road. I save her.
I wake up and it is the next morning, thinking it was all a dream, but then I open my curtains and there is police tape and officers outside. I go downstairs and I can hear my mum on the phone. She is telling someone the story of last night.
"No, Keira was with her but she’s okay, a bit shaken... Yeah I’m still trying to take it all in... I don't know how it happened... Oh, yeah, she's still sleeping now."
I try to breathe out and realise my heart is racing, I feel like I'm choking. I close my eyes and sit on the stairs. Silent tears roll down my face. I calm down, my breaths are slow.
Guilt is a funny thing; it comes in waves, letting you think that everything is okay. But there it is, in the background, creeping up on you until it is all you can think about, nagging away in your mind, throbbing like a headache. You can do nothing but sit at its mercy and tell yourself you are not in the wrong, that anyone would have done the same thing. And just when you think it is gone and you have overcome it, there it is again, lurking in the shadows.
That’s how it was for me. I had another interview with the police the next day, explaining what happened, and they told me that the driver would go to jail, but they would still need to hear my statement in court. I dreaded having to read it out in front of people. If my own mother was under the impression that I could have stopped the crash what would they all think me?
Suddenly, I started to become possessive of Cara, she was my sister and I couldn’t accept that she was anyone else’s friend. Natalie and Tom started to question my actions that night. They were supposed to be my friends, and even they couldn’t understand why I, in their words, “let her cross the road without me.”
Then we had an assembly at our old school to remember her. Almost the whole year turned up, yet no-one even spoke to me. They gathered in groups to point and whisper and shake their heads in my direction. It was not just my mother who accused me of not stopping Cara, or the car itself, but people who barely knew me.
The funeral was difficult. We often joked about the song we would play at our funeral. Mine was ‘I Feel Fine’ and her choice was ‘Highway to Hell’. Of course that was a joke, and wasn't actually played. What eighteen year-old would tell their parents what music they wanted played at their funeral? Instead, mum chose a handful of hymns and ‘Over the Rainbow,’ her favourite song.
Everything was so raw for me and for my mum. We had barely spoken a word to each other for three weeks. We lived around each other, had dinner separately, went out if the other was home. The only interaction we had since the night Cara died was when I broke a vase of roses in the living room and she had hissed at me, “You have a habit of killing the things I love, don’t you, Keira?”
Why did my mum need someone else to blame? She had the driver; he was in jail with no chance of bail. I wasn't in the car, I didn't push her. Was it not enough that I blamed myself? No. I should have grabbed her arm, I should have shouted out, I should have warned the driver, I should have done something, and not just remain crouched down as I watched my twin sister die.
Do you ever walk through a cold patch, maybe in a hallway or in a bedroom, and you shiver, but you forget it? Well, that’s us, the dead I mean, suspended in the air. When we don’t want to face the harsh, and frankly tedious, task of following whoever around, we just close our eyes and try and find people who we may know; people who left us behind. Anyway, there we are, hanging in mid-air. And you just walk through us; that’s what gives you that shiver. Some people keep their eyes closed for so long that the spots at which they linger become a regular visiting site for avid ghost hunters. But we are not ghosts; we are the souls of those who no longer have a place in the real world.
For weeks after it happened, I would go silent for minutes at a time, while I watched it play back in my mind. I wouldn't leave the house, and the sound of tyres screeching to a halt would cause me to spiral into a panic attack.
I wanted to feel normal again, but I was fast realising there was no chance of that. It had been two months since the crash, there were still flowers being placed outside the house. Everything reminded me of the differences between us. There were photos of us in the living room which I had never paid much attention to before. But it was clear how different we were. There she was, with her sleek brown hair, framing her perfect face and her prize-winning smile. Next to her was a plain looking girl with almost translucent skin and a bored look on her face. I could see now why people were so drawn to her rather than me, why even my own mother chose her over me.
On the wall sat framed certificates for various musical and sporting events, her grades from GCSE and A-Level and, right at the end, a letter to say my art work was being featured in a show at Borough Market. My one achievement, versus the seven of hers that were on the wall. Mum had more in the hallway, all Cara’s. It was clear that she outshone me in all departments, and obvious that I should have been the one to die. Being alive was beginning to feel like a form of torture. These feelings were killing me, and I didn't know how to deal with to them.
When we were younger dad would treat us both equally. It was evident that I wasn’t sporty, so he used to take me to art galleries and print out certificates from the internet to give to me for drawings I had done at home or at school. He would pretend they had come from my teachers, but I always knew it was him. To him, it did not matter who was more intelligent, or who ran faster, he just wanted us to be happy with who we were. Dad had taught me that there was more to life than achievements. But now I was wary of receiving too much attention, I lived in constant fear of local people recognising me or asking me about what had happened. My reaction to everything seemed to be “cool”, “okay”, “sure”.
It is now late September and there is still no date for the trial. The council put some speed bumps on our road to prevent drivers speeding and causing more deaths.
But it is no use now, Cara has already gone, the worst has already happened. I feel as if I have a hole burning inside of my chest, I think it is going to kill me. I can't sleep, I can't eat, I can't breathe. Life is getting harder and harder. I wish I were five years old and my life could be full of fairies and princesses. But I am not a little girl anymore.
What if I had not gone to the party that night, maybe Cara would have kept up with the others, or maybe she wouldn’t have even gone at all. It’s now November 6th, nine days before I kill myself.
Days pass and I am falling apart. The sound of traffic panics me, I have no friends at University, I’m quiet and never go out, and now people have stopped asking.
My mum is growing increasing resentful of me; we have gone from not talking to her constantly berating me. Every time I walk past her she hisses some hateful comment about how tatty I look, how I should be trying harder with my studies, how I allowed my sister to die.
She doesn’t realise what I’m feeling. Having a twin is like finding your soul mate, except they’ve been by your side all your life. Cara has gone and I have been ripped in half.
I had always liked walking at night, normally just around the local area, but for some reason on this night, the 15th of November, I dragged myself out of bed for the first time in three days and walked away from my home and towards the river.
Before I left I went into the kitchen and wrote on a post-it note, “Mum, I’ve gone out for a bit. Please know I loved Cara and I’m sorry.”
Thinking back I must have known what I was going to do. But I can honestly say that I didn’t leave the house that night planning on killing myself.
To my mind suicide had always been a ridiculous notion. I didn’t understand it then, but now I know it isn’t something you plan. It isn’t something you think about for days on end before committing to it. You just make the decision and then do it. There is nothing more.
There are lots of us here. We are all intrinsically connected, we have all shared the same fate and no-one is happy. It’s difficult, people kill themselves because it hurts them too much to keep on living, but the irony is that in killing themselves they end up here instead. They are the same person, with the same thoughts, but now they have to watch the lives of those they left behind.
It’s been almost a year now since she died. I still haven't cried since that night. I don’t know why, I just can't bring myself to do it. At the time it was because tears made it real, tears made it so she really wasn't ever coming back, but now, now it’s been too long. I feel that if I cry now I will bring it all back to life, and I think that would be almost worse.
Back to that night.
I stand there at the top of the bridge, and a cool breeze hits me.
I stand there, just looking out over our town.
I stand there and I think about what will happen if I stay alive and go to court.
A couple walk past me and smile, I smile back. A few days later they do an interview in which the man says he wished he could have saved me, his wife says if only she had stopped and spoken to me, stopped me from doing it, but they didn’t. Just as I failed to stop Cara crossing the road.
I look down at the river again, then climb up on the bars and sit on them, my feet dangling over the edge.
I lean my head back and remember the time dad took me, Cara and mum to the Lake District and how he and I sat on the edge of a boat with our feet in the water. He wanted me to go swimming with him but I was terrified of the water, so he told me to close my eyes and just drop myself in. And I did, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I could hear the sound of mum and Cara clapping and I could feel the warm waves on my skin. It was almost the happiest I had ever been.
I smile and close my eyes and edge myself off the railings. When I was watching Cara die, everything slowed down, but now I know how she must have seen things. It is terrifying, and fast; nothing slows down. And then it is over. In just a few seconds it is all over. All the pain and the guilt and heartbreak, it is over. I can only hope that I have not caused as much pain to others as I inflicted on myself.
That morning my mum opens the door to the police, she is holding the note I left for her. She screams and falls. The same way she did when she found Cara. Funny, that.