Abigail stared at the array of curries and grilled meats dotting the tired old dining table. Above her, the clock ticked ostentatiously. She had known the question was coming. She was surprised it wasn’t posed the very day she met her niece at the hospital. But the knowledge it was coming didn’t help.
“When are you having a baby?”
Her whole life. When? When? When? Always the same question. When are you going to accomplish this thing your sister has achieved? You must do it faster, better, prettier. From report cards to university entrance scores, salary levels, wedding dresses, you name it. Everything was a competition. Abigail continued to help herself to the biriyani while the creature that moves into her chest each family visit tightened its grip.
In the lead up to Abigail’s wedding, her mother had something to say about how every little detail didn’t quite measure up to her sister Rebekah’s wedding, from the flowers to the entertainment. When would it end? Abigail could just imagine what she’d be like with grandchildren. Would they be doomed to a life of competing with cousins?
She took a deep breath. Her mother chuckled nervously as she piled Ryan’s plate with chicken drumsticks, glancing around the table looking for allies. Clearly, she felt it was perfectly harmless, a bit of fun. Abigail had let this go on for too long. She would tell her mother it wasn’t her business. Tell her to stop pitting her against her sister in order to try and control her. She would stand up for herself - for once.
“Mum, that is completely unfair!” cried Rebekah. She’d beaten her to it again. She gave Abigail a look. A flick of the eyebrows. It said you’re welcome. I got you. But Abigail knew her support was temporary and self-serving: Rebekah loved playing the hero. Soon she would be the competition again. The clock ticked on, drawing her attention to the quote emblazoned on its face. Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
The rest of the meal passed in the usual fashion. Rebekah rattling off her latest achievements which were actually her daughter’s achievements. She can sit up. She can clap. She went a whole day without spitting up. Then there was weather talk which of course Rebekah used as an opportunity to show off. Her veggie garden had yielded a bumper crop of zucchinis this year. Abigail pointed out that zucchinis were for amateurs and Rebekah ought to try growing asparagus. Was this how they always conversed? Abigail supposed it was. How they performed for their parents even now. She couldn’t remember the last time either of them had said anything real, anything that hinted that their lives weren’t perfect.
The party moved to the lounge for tea and easter eggs. The room was dominated by a glass cabinet mounted to the wall housing an assortment of plaques and trophies. Abigail paused in front of it, ostensibly to examine her reflection.
“Admiring your trinkets?” Rebekah sneered.
Abigail rolled her eyes, helping herself to an easter egg. It was true. There were far more Abigails than Rebekahs. Abigail had been the reason they got the cabinet in the first place. Though Rebekah did well at school, she won few awards. She was good but rarely best. The sisters looked at them all. Once they’d seemed so important. Abigail felt a sliver of satisfaction looking at just how many of them had her name engraved upon their surface. She remembered her mum urging her to take them with her when she first got married. She’d declined of course. Perhaps it was time.
As Abigail stepped out of her childhood home with Ryan, box of trophies in hand, she inhaled the fresh air and felt the creature in her chest loosen its grip a little. A little was okay. Rebekah had taken her stuff too. While packing Abigail could feel Rebekah’s eyes drilling into her with suspicion. But now it was done and it felt good. No more scoreboard. Mum hadn’t even asked what they were going to do with them. It had all been surprisingly easy.
In the car, Abigail squirmed. She wanted to be rid of the box as soon as possible. She imagined tossing it away and letting go of all that resentment, all that pressure. She spotted a strip of takeaway restaurants and begged Ryan to pull into the carpark behind them. Before she had a chance to change her mind, she jumped out of the car and placed the box in a dumpster. Her Junior Australian Maths Competition trophy jutted out awkwardly.
She’d won it for scoring in the top one per cent of her age group. The test was to take place after recess and she’d forgotten her calculator that day. None of her friends, in fact, no-one in her year group could lend her one so she had to trudge up to where her sister hung out by the basketball courts and beg to borrow hers. Rebekah had handed it over with such a sour look on her face. Abigail snatched it.
“It’s just a calculator, you don’t have to be a cow about it.”
“The seniors have their test at the same time, dingbat!” called one of Rebekah’s friends. She knew it was the truth from the look on their faces. She knew she should have given it back and just accepted the consequences. But she was the star maths student, not Rebekah. On some level, Rebekah must have known that or she would have said no. They never spoke of it, even after the results came out. Abigail remembered Rebekah’s eyes as she silently took the scolding from their parents, brows flicked slightly. I got you.
Abigail climbed back into the car holding a single mountain-shaped trophy.
“I knew it! You’re keeping one! A little reminder of your glory days?” Ryan teased.
“It is a reminder,” she admitted, “But not of glory.”
Melanie Hobbs @melahobbs is a writer, artist, teacher and parent. Her work has been published in Blue Bottle, Bloom and the anthology Remapping Wonderland: Classic Fairytales Retold By People of Colour. She lives in the hills of sunny Perth, Western Australia.