Younger Siblings

The conversation continued like a river, energetically rolling on before slamming into rocks and getting redirected.

A digital illustration of the Archibald Fountain in Hyde Park, with a smiling sun, a pathway, a tree

The conversation continued like a river, energetically rolling on before slamming into rocks and getting redirected. The kind after a storm, full, sinuous, and rowdy, not the strained trickle that drips from the rock edge on the precipice of a drought.

Hyde Park was painted green. Large fig trees cast splotchy shapes on the concrete path, which was covered in half-opened fruits; a tangerine-coloured blanket, sturdy from the press of loafers and high heels. Groups of people picnicked on plaid woollen rugs. A man in a suit crouched on the edge of a group, awkwardly attempting to enter the conversation. Two women shared sushi and concern over the happenings at work. We walked for hours that day, conversing in circles, but in the kind of way that was refreshing, rather than exhausting. I didn’t feel that way very often.

The sunlight washed over us. He spoke about his brother, Daniel, who was twenty-five and in a long-term relationship with a twenty-nine-year-old woman, Kathy. They ran a climate activism group together. In return, I exchanged facts about Laura. Her love for marathon running and mountains, her job at Credit Suisse, and her highly-strung but loveable presence. I joked that Laura and Daniel would have been very well-suited together if they weren’t already in committed relationships. He laughed, in the light tone he always did: bubbly, low, addictive. Maybe, because we grew up beside them, like rocks carved by similar tidal waves, we would be good together, I thought.

We ventured further into the park. The sun defiantly jumped through gaps in the trees and formed dapples on my skin. “This will probably sound stupid,” he said. He kept his eyes fixed on the path and stretched out his hand into the open air. “But I always feel small beside Daniel.” He dropped his hand limply back to his side.

“I feel that way sometimes with Laura,” I said. I did. I knew that feeling like I did my sister. But there was something about the tone I said it in, or the fact that I was prompted by him, that made it sound like an empty empathy. He returned my gaze with a half-smile.

“It’s funny,” I said. “I just can’t really picture you as the younger sibling. Like all outshined.” The words flung out of me like unwanted spit and hung heavy in mid-air.

“That’s because you haven’t met Daniel.” He laughed; it was a kind of self-deprecating scoff. “You’d get it if you met him.”

I shook my head in disbelief. We arrived at the fountain that stood tall in the centre of the park, and I stopped because it felt right. Bronze turtles spurted high-pressure water in semicircles. I got close enough to let the mist settle on my nose and breathed it in. Then we walked on, diffident and directionless. We didn’t seem to care exactly where we were headed on that day, nor how long it would take us.

“Growing up,” I said, “I kind of just did everything Laura wasn’t good at to differentiate myself.” My voice pierced through the tranquil ambience of the park. I had never liked it all that much. “She liked sport, so I took up sewing. She was great at Maths, so I was good at English. I guess I sort of just assembled myself, like a collage of disjoined images, from the remains of her half cut-out magazines. Then just stuck it all together with glue.”

The shroud of trees that blanketed our bodies ended; uncertain steps thrust us beneath a stark white glare. “I guess, sometimes, it just makes me question...” I said. “How much of my identity was formed by just finding the spaces she wasn’t good at and wedging myself in those?”

I kicked a fallen fig along the concrete, anxious that I had rambled too long. Then I looked up at him. There was something in his eyes, the softness in the greenish tint and the brown edge lining the iris.

“I get that,” he said.

I believed he did get it, and with such conviction too. I would have sworn an oath in a court that he had got it, and with that, he had gotten me.


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