by Judy Darley
The hotel has stood empty for eight years, or nine. In the humid island air, lichens and moulds bloom along the balustrades. Almost every valuable item, from linens to sinks, has been stripped out by creditors. The carpet remains – squelching under my shoes, and hers. In one en-suite a claw-footed bath still stands. Its curve of porcelain is laced with grime.
My sister Bia leads me to a balcony. The twin lakes show beyond, half-shrouded in cloud. With the sky overcast, the green and blue are harder to see. She tells me the fairytale I’ve heard a thousand times before, of the shepherd and the princess, embracing on the bridge and weeping through their farewells. ‘Her green eyes made the emerald lake, and his blue eyes made the sapphire one,’ she says. ‘He cried more, which is why the blue lake is so much bigger.’
The truth, of course, is that the sapphire lake looks blue because it is bigger; that’s why it reflects the sky when the smaller one shows only its chlorophyll-dense depths.
‘Ssh,’ Bia says, not wanting me to spoil it. Even when I don’t speak she can see the criticism in my eyes.
She wants me to be a naïve child forever.
I like to kayak on the emerald lake with my friends. When we pause to breathe in the quiet, I lean over the water to see the fertiliser-plumped beads of algae spooling like distant asteroid clouds.
I wonder if that’s similar to what Mum can see when she looks up or out. Wherever she might be. No one talks about why she left, but I think she couldn’t stay and not see whatever’s out there. The thrill of the idea got under her skin until she couldn’t be still.
‘What colour were Mum’s eyes?’ I used to ask, when I was small and knew no better.
And Bia would shrug; shake her head. ‘How should I know? It’s too long ago to remember.’
If I’d been older when she went, I know I’d remember.
Dad has brown eyes, like all the islanders.
‘The village boys will bring you here soon,’ Bia warns. ‘They’ll try to win you over with this story, then play the shepherd’s role. Don’t forget, the princess had more to lose. That’s why she cried less. She knew her father was wise to break up their romance.’
I’ve heard this before too. Bia began telling it to me as soon as I got my first bloods. That was more than two years ago and the boys have yet to make their move.
I’m tired of waiting.
“Bia is staring at me, frowning. I think she can see the yearning tickling beneath my skin.”
‘When did they try it with you?’ I ask, imagining how it might have been. I wonder whether the carpets were dry then, if the smell of rot lingered less. I picture the moon full and heavy, the stars glittering bright.
The image in my mind glows.
Bia is staring at me, frowning. I think she can see the yearning tickling beneath my skin.
I match her stare, questioning, remembering. I think back to when my sister was my age, seven years ago, or eight. How I woke in the night to hear her voice thinning the air as she argued with our father.
The moon was already high in the sky, yet she’d only just come home.
From behind our bedroom door, I heard her shout: ‘But we love each other.’
I don’t know for sure, but I like to think that the hotel still had its beds then, decked out in the softest linens.
I match my sister’s stare and wonder how long it took for her to agree that our father acted wisely.
Bia blinks her eyes the colour of two pools of water, and I smile. I look out over the balcony edge and see that the clouds have gone. The sun has broken through, showing the green lake and the blue.
Judy Darley | @JudyDarley
Judy Darley is a fiction writer, poet and journalist whose work appears in magazines and anthologies and in her short story collection Remember Me to the Bees. Her second collection Sky Light Rain will be out from Valley Press in 2019. Judy has shared her stories on BBC radio, as well as in cafés, caves, an artist’s studio and a disused church. Judy blogs about art and other things at skylightrain.com, and tweets @JudyDarley.