The grandfather clock’s arthritic and age-spotted hands indicated, by inscrutable conventions set ages ago at the first watchmaker’s council, that it was 8 o’clock—rather ironic seeing as though the clock had stopped discharging its duties for months now and was presently correct, but only by chance. A house waking. The usual hullabaloo. Spears of latticed light escaping from the blinds and tattooing themselves on the heliotropic parquetry. Everyone had assembled in the kitchen, except for my sister, whose irrepressibly golden hair, having probably just been coerced into a tidy chignon, seemed to demand the same undying attention that daylilies, for want of a fresh face, sought from morning sunbursts.
I sat on the wobbly stool and the irregular rat-a-tat of its helter-skelter rocking seemed to annoy everyone. Though it was reasonable to expect that all chairs were blind at birth, this one gave the sonic impression of a white-tipped cane continuously probing unfamiliar surroundings. Unperturbed and still somewhat mystified by the opium of sleep, I jotted down the raised eyebrows and disapproving faces and slipped the notepad and pen into my knapsack to avoid detection.
“Where’s your sister, Mandy?” asked my mother, as she surveyed my clothes for starry specks of lint, an improvident crease, or the slightest hint of imperfection.
“I don’t know.” I turned to my father and said, “I hope she ran away.” And with the palliative glow of a sudden revelation, I understood that whereas a hypnotist might repeatedly incant some subliminal mantra, I enunciated my prosaic observation too frequently, and it seemed to me then a grave strategic error since the constancy of the utterance was more likely to blunt its meaning than to tunnel itself into my father’s cerebral cortex, and as though to prove the point, the honey-lipped giant ate his butter and Manuka toast, payed no attention to my soliloquy, and all the while ruffled noisily the pages of his newspaper. “In case anyone is wondering, I saw her in front of the hall mirror.” He paused, took a sip of black coffee and added, “Why do we have so many mirrors in this house?”
“You have two daughters, that’s why,” said my mother in a disconsolate tone of voice.
I sat warming my hands on a bowl of oatmeal. “Are you daydreaming?” asked my mother, flitting around the table like a bee chancing upon a blossomy field of buckwheat.
I noticed a few strands of previously undetected silver-gray hairs on my mother’s temples. “Do you have to go to work?” I asked with solemn desperation. My mother’s mauve skirt, clear complexion, slightly turned up nose, coiffed hair, and eight-handed approach to kitchen duties were incontrovertible evidence that this morning, like so many before, was a thrall to modern domestic efficiency. She finally stopped for a moment and pulled up a chair next to me. “I already explained it to you, my darling. I have to. And I’ll see you tonight. A little later than usual. Okay?”
The reasonableness of her words hung heavily like a leaden sky. “I want you to listen in school, Amanda. No more making up excuses for not doing your homework. And no more stories. Do you hear me? No more Ana.” She touched my hair as a small child might touch an angel’s wings. “You know what Mrs Handly said, having an imaginary sister was not healthy. And that you have to learn to live outside of the world of fiction. Wasn’t that what she said at the meeting?”
“Yes, mother.” I lowered my head and stared at the frothy milk and porridge that was, it seemed to me, making gossamer clouds.