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Sula reached for her black Mary Jane shoes and slipped them on. She stood up and took a long look at herself in the mirror. Her flat, mousy brown hair dangled in front of her. She brushed it back behind her ears to reveal a dull expressionless face. Her eyes were small and narrow; the ashy gray color surely didn’t impress anyone. Her lips were not full and plump like her mother’s, they were actually quite thin. Her black shirt and pants only made her boring, rectangular body become scrawnier and plain. Even though she was seventeen, her body looked as if she were still a little girl. She looked down at her chest and her skin was pallid. Sula never went outside into the sun. Ironically, her Icelandic name meant sun.
“Sula, sweetie, we are leaving in five minutes,” Janice the housekeeper, said. “You look pretty.”
“Oh, thanks, Janice.” Sula smiled, only the word liar was running through her mind.
Sula clutched her handbag and slowly walked down the stairs into her mother’s room. She could hear her mother talking to herself in Icelandic, her native language. Sula never was taught how to speak it; her sister on the other hand, was fluent. Her mothers name was Svana, meaning swan. Big blue eyes, faultless skin, hourglass body, long mocha colored hair, all of these things defined Svana. Sula knew her mother resented her. She was not attractive, not like her sister Lilija, who could have had a modeling career at the age of nine.
“Are you ready to go?” Sula nervously asked.
“Oh,” Svana was surprised, “I thought we would go separately.”
Sula didn’t understand. Weren’t families supposed to attend funerals together?
“I just need some time by myself,” Svana continued. “You should understand that.”
“But, we’re family, it would be nice to have some company on the way over.”
“Sula,” her mother sneered, “I am in pain and need to be alone, why can’t you respect me?”
“Fine,” Sula sighed. “See you there.”
Sula arrived at the funeral by herself. She saw her stepfather, or ex-stepfather. People surrounded him. The same four words slipped out of each mouth, “Sorry for your loss.” He was emotionless. Standing there, shaking hands, he was completely blank.
Sula slid past guests unnoticed. The smell of lilies consumed the air. She closed her eyes and could easily imagine a soft meadow. She was alone there, escaping life, escaping her mother. This didn’t last long, soon enough the church was full to capacity with grievers paying their respects. Sula sat in the reserved section for the family; next to her grandmother who barley spoke English.
Svana made a grand entrance. She wore clothes more appropriate for a runway show in Paris, then a funeral. People threw themselves at her trying to give comfort. She strutted down the isle to her front row chair.
The funeral started and, a preacher walked up to the podium. His voice was commanding, like a preacher’s voice was supposed to be. His eyes bounced around the mass of people, as he took a deep breath.
“I just want to start by thanking you all for attending today,” he began. “I know it is never easy to lose somebody, especially someone as young as Lilija Svanadottir.”
Sula’s gaze drifted from the preacher to the oversized picture of her sister. Lilija always had the perfect smile, hair, body and eyes. Her deep chocolate brown hair matched the color of her coffin. The effervescent aqua eyes locked with Sulas. She couldn’t stand to see her sister; the whole church however, was overflowing with Lilija’s flawless face. Sula’s mind began to dance with memories of the night Lilija died. How Lilija’s face looked then, empty. She cringed with the thought.
“Hello everyone, and thank you for coming,” Svana announced.
Sula snapped out of her trance by the sound of her mother’s voice. She didn’t know her mother was going to be giving a speech.
“My daughter Lilija was everything a mother could ask for,” Svana began. “Smart, talented, beautiful, loving, and kind. We were truly best friends.” Svana paused and looked up at the super sized photo of Lilija. “Her laugh, well, her laugh was contagious. Every morning I wake up wishing to hear it just one more time.” A knot formed in her throat. “My life isn’t complete without her in it. It doesn’t make sense that she would be taken so young and so full of life. She was so ambitious. Her life would have been full of accomplishment.” Tears began to form in her eyes. “ Lilija was the one and only thing I loved more then existence itself.”
“I am still here! What about me? Why don’t you love me like you loved her?” Sula didn’t realize she spoke until she noticed everyone was staring at her, including her mother.
Sula’s heart sank into her stomach. She picked up her handbag and ran out of the church. Once outside she broke down. She didn’t know what hurt her most that her mother didn’t love her, or that nobody cared enough to follow her outside.
Once she caught her breathe, she decided to leave. Her hands started to shake when she held the keys to her car. The sound of the engine sent a jolt up her spine. She took a hard gulp and slid the car into drive.
She didn’t want to go home just yet; instead she drove twenty miles out of town. The sky was filled with darkness; she could barely see the cream colored cross perched on the side of the highway. Her foot pushed down on the brake as she pulled over. The frosty damp ground chilled her knees as she knelt in front of the cross. Her fingers traced its edges, memorizing every detail.
“It’s my entire fault,” Sula whispered, “Why couldn’t I have just been more careful?”
The moonlight beamed down upon her face. Her cheeks were now burning red; she could feel the tears welling in her eyes. Guilt fell on her shoulders, as she thought about the fatal night Lilija died.
It was a dreary night. The pale moon hung high in the sky. Dark clouds were blocking the moonbeams from touching the earth. Sula’s phone went of for the third time, Lilija kept calling.
“What now?” Sula asked.
“Are you almost here?”
“Yeah, I am here.”
“What? Where? Oh I see your headlights!”
Lilija hung up the phone and stumbled towards the moving car. Sula slowed her car down and pulled over to let Lilija in. Lilija opened the car door, her eyes were bloodshot and puffy. They sat in silence. Sula stared at her sister, waiting for an explanation.
“Well?” Sula questioned
“What do you think?” Sula reached up above her head to turn the light on. “Why did you need me to drive to the middle of no where to pick you up, your sixteen why can’t you handle your own problems?”
“I, well, you know, needed you.” Lilija slurred “It was James, he was being too pushy again.”
The smell of Vodka trickled out of Lilija’s mouth. The scent filled the car. Sula turned on the ignition and hastily rolled down her window.
“Why do you do this to me?” Sula scorned. “I know you’ve been drinking.”
“Oh, did you tell mom?”
“Not this time, but I am really getting tired of this.”
“Don’t worry, it won’t happen again. Me and James, well we are definitely through.”
“It’s not that Lil, just forget it. Let’s go get some coffee.”
Sula turned onto the highway. Her headlights were dim, and besides the street lamps, there wasn’t much light. Lilija turned the volume on the CD player to full blast. Earsplitting music poured out of the car. The bass was so hard against the car seats, that Sula felt as if her heart was skipping beats.
“This is a great song!” Lilija yelled over the blaring music.
A stoplight ahead turned red, Sula got into the turning lane and waited to go. She reached towards the CD player and turned the music down into a whisper.
“What are you doing?” Lilija shrieked. “That’s a great song”
“I can’t concentrate on the road with music blaring!”
“Whatever.” Lilija held down the volume button until the music was even louder then before.
“Knock it off!”
Sula struggled to turn the ear-shattering music off but Lilija was pushing her hands away, making it impossible to do so.
“Green light!” Lilija screamed.
Sula, startled, immediately turned the wheel and stomped on the gas. Intense yellow lights blinded her as she turned. She looked to her right and saw Lilija looking out the window, staring at an enormous truck speeding towards them. By the time Sula could react the truck had already carved itself into her car. The next thing Sula remembers was opening her eyes and staring at Lilija’s lifeless face.
Tears rolled down Sula’s cheeks as she clung onto the cross. She gasped for air inbetween her cries. All she could think was “what if”. What if she had ignored the music? What if shehad payed closer attention? What if she had refused to pick her sister up that night? She crawled into the backseat of her car and fell asleep.
Sula was awakened by the sound of a road raged horn. The sunlight burned her eyes when she opened them. She reached for her cell phone, expecting countless miss calls from her mother wondering where she was, but there were none. She inched into the front seat of her car, and decided to go home.
Sula silently closed the front door, not wanting anyone to know she was home. Her mother never woke before nine, and it was only seven thirty, so she crept into the kitchen to get breakfest. Suprisingly Svana was slouched over the newspaper, obviously not reading it, and breathing in the steam of her black Columbian coffee.
“Oh, hi mom” Sula said
Svana didn’t respond, instead she flipped the page of the newspaper and took a sip of her coffee.
“Sorry I didn’t come back last night.” Sula managed to say. “I didn’t mean to make you worried.”
Svana kept ignoring her daughter. She flipped the page again, to the obituaries. She let out a shallow breath and stared at her white coffee mug.
“Would you look at me!?” Sula yelled.
Svana shot a cold stare at Sula. She took a hard gulp from her coffee mug and then slammed it down the on the table.
“Excuse me?” Svana sneered
“Your treat me like I am invisible!” Sula said snidely.
“What are you trying to say?”
“What do you think? You hate me because I am not Lilija!”
Svana didn’t move. She sat as if the words Sula just said went into one ear and out the other.
“It should have been you.” Svana mumbled under her breath
“Wha, what was that?” Sula said softly, trying to comprehend what her mother just admitted.
“You were driving, it was your fault Lilija was killed! Lil was everything to me, and now she is gone, when it should be you.” Svana cried out.
Sula’s mouth tightened. Her eyes and nose began to burn, as she was trying to hold back the tears. Her face was red with rage, hatred, and guilt.
“You’re pathetic.” Sula snarled. “You could never accept the fact that I was different then her. I was never good enough for you.” Sula’s voice became sharp as she screamed. “I was never beautiful or talented, I was never you. Lilija was though, and that’s why you loved her and not me!” Sula paused and walked towards her mother, standing inches away from her. “What’s Lilija’s looks going to do for her now, six feet under the ground?”
Svana slapped her daughter across the face. Her cheek burned with the imprint of her mother’s furious hand. They stood without a sound, staring at each other. Their eyes fastened together.
“What’s wrong with you?” Svana said as tears filled her blue eyes.
“You,” Sula whispered, “You’re whats wrong with me.”
Svana was left speechless. Anger left her throat dry. Her hands were shaking furiously, and drops of her coffee started to slip down her mug. She couldn’t manage to find the right words to say. Instead she dropped her coffee mug, letting it shatter across the ceramic tile. She immediately walked away, out of the house, and into her car.
Sula was left standing there, alone. She went to get the paper towels, to clean up the coffee from the kitchen floor. As she walked to the pantry she stopped at a family portrait taken a year ago. Svana was tilting her head towards Lilija with her arm around her. Sula was standing on the other side of her mother leaning in, trying to get close to her, as close as Lilija was. Lilija gave this to Svana for mother’s day. It was framed, with the word daughters engraved along the bottom. Sula smiled as she laid it face down on the shelf. She was finally happy.