I woke up groggily, one of my legs hanging on the edge of my bed. A stain from dried drool was on my blue pillow. I pulled up my black leggings to my waist. I glanced at an open book on the wooden floor, with a flattened, dry marigold on one of its pages.
“Ah,” I mumbled to myself with a hint of dread in my voice. “It’s the 21st of March…”
I closed the book, making sure the marigold wasn’t bent, and put it on my empty desk. I drowsily lifted myself off the mattress, taking off my saggy, panda-patterned pajamas and slipping on a black dress. I ambled out of my room and down the stairs, briefly combing through my long, smooth hair.
The staircase was lit with an unexpectedly cheerful sunlight. The skies outside were a vivid blue, and it perplexed me why the weather was so beautiful on a day for mourning. My mother was waiting for me, and she was also all dressed in black. She wore a trenchcoat over a suit, and a bouquet of red roses with in her right hand.
With melancholy, she gave a smile. “Are you ready to go?” she asked.
An unnerving sobriety hung in the air.
I nodded solemnly. “Yes.”
My mother gently set down the bouquet on the soft, green grass in front of a tombstone. Her eyes distantly stared at the sky, as if she was in an entirely different world. My mother clasped her wrinkled hands together, and I expected tears to flow in cascades from her tired eyes.
She did not cry. In an elegantly sorrowful voice, she spoke to the person that was probably resting in a coffin under her feet.
“How’re you doing down there, my dear daughter?” she asked to the tombstone. Her voice wavered like ripples in what was almost a completely still pond.
I averted my gaze from the ground, staring at the desolate fields of tombstones. Everything felt so lonely and depressing at the graveyard. I glanced at the tombstone once again. On the granite, there was her name engraved: Iris Lee.
Iris, my sister had told me. Do you know what that means? She gave a cunning smile as she crouched down to meet my eyes. A flower guide was held in her hand and a poem book in the other.
What does it mean? I asked, curious. I was much younger nine years ago, and I was five years old. She was eight, but she had an aura of wisdom and maturity, unlike myself. I was the person who was always clumsy and stumbled over my own shoes.
It means promise, she answered. She ruffled my hair. And I promise to always be here for you, okay?
My eyes were warm and wet with tears. I sniffled quietly, and my mother glanced at me worriedly. She took my hand.
“What’s wrong, Daisy?” my mother inquired, her eyebrows furrowed.
“Nothing,” I replied, wiping my eyes. “I’m gonna walk around. Is that fine with you?”
She gave a slight nod. “If it makes you feel better, then yes.”
Promise? I thought as I walked aimlessly. I rose my head to see blue skies. Promises are never kept. My friends, my teachers, everyone, they always “promised” things. “I promise I’ll buy you your favorite candy.” “I promise I will change the grade on that assignment.” Promise, promise, promise.
Was this word just a strategy of appeasement?
I was lost in my labyrinth of thoughts, unable to find the exit. I felt like I was trapped in an enigma. I found myself to be in a field of yellow roses, and my attention was brought to the vibrant flowers. Wait… I’ve been here before. My stressful thoughts materialized into nothing in the blink of an eye, and I noticed a bee on one of the flowers.
I staggered back in alarm. “It’s… it’s a bee!” I shouted to particularly no one, panicking and trying to slowly walk away from the insect. I then tripped over a stem and expected to fall into a pillow of flowers.
Instead, I toppled onto the chest of a human body.
Corpse?! I thought from instinct, a shiver running down my back. I frantically got up to find a person buried in roses. I regained my balance then poked at the person’s white polo shirt. They did not move. Did someone dump a body here…? I thought, terrified. I was about to run for it when the person suddenly grabbed my arm. I yelped loudly and smacked her hand off my wrist.
“Calm down,” a gracious voice soothed.
I froze and turned around. The person had her head out of the flowers. She was patting dirt off her white polo shirt. The girl, around the same age as me, neatened her bangs which hung right above her eyebrows. “I’m not a monster or anything, you know?”
I bowed quickly. “I’m sorry,” I apologized in a monotone voice, awfully humiliated for mistaking a completely harmless person as a corpse. What was even worse was that this person had such an extravagant, sophisticated flair that I didn’t have.
“It’s alright,” she reassured me. “It’s not your fault.”
“I’m really sorry,” I apologized again.
“Well, we’re near a graveyard. I bet lots of people imagine about horror movie scenarios here quite often.” She winked. “Right?”
“Wait. We aren’t at the graveyard?”
“Technically, this place isn’t considered to be part of it.” The girl glanced at the scenery almost nostalgically. “This is behind my home’s backyard.”
“How nice it must be,” I complimented, “to live near such a beautiful place.”
“I don’t live here though,” she replied. “I visit here every few years or so.” She held out her hand. “My name is Eleanor. What’s yours?”
In the past, I had met someone here before.
It was a year after my sister had died, and my mother and I wanted to pay our respects. My childish heart, weak and easily punctured, felt as heavy as a burdening weight. I couldn't stand to even glance at the tombstone, which was a reminder to myself: Your sister is dead. Your sister is dead. Repeating over and over again in my mind almost cynically.
I wanted to escape the grief that had enveloped me like a unending blizzard. A beautiful, flower filled spring, I thought to myself, could I ever find it again?
During that day, I had met a girl.
She had asked me what my name was.
“Ah, so your name is Daisy?” she replied gently. “What a beautiful name.”
I had always been inferior to my older sister, who excelled in everything. “Is that so?”
The girl gave a kind smile. “Well, why would it not be?”
It was the first time someone had complimented me and only myself. Everyone always told me, Since your sister is so intelligent, you should be too. But my skills would never equate to Iris’s. I held my envy down as much as possible, and strived to be a “good sibling” just like her. However, at that moment, I thought to myself: It was sometimes really tiring.
I was about to ask the girl what her name was also, but my mother then hurriedly grabbed me by the arm. She almost looked like she was about to cry.
“I don't want you to meet the same fate your sister did,” my mother told me desperately, her voice cracking. “I was so scared. And I’m so sorry about what… what I’ve done to you.”
“Oh…” I mumbled, taken aback at how worried she sounded. Her tremor in her tone was usually only saved for Iris.
As my mother led me back to the desolate graveyard, the girl called out, “I promise to meet you again!”
Her voice, cheerful and free, always rang in my ears even now. She was a ray of hope in a despairing, nebulous world. It was a promise I knew would be kept, and I trusted her words more than my sister's.
Eleanor’s long eyelashes were a light chocolatey color in the sun. Her hair, which reached to the nape of her neck, was a golden hue in the light. We headed into a forest with tall, lush trees making large shadows on the ground. Our shoes rustled through the layer of decaying, fallen autumn leaves, and we soon stopped at a house, the blue paint faded to be a pastel color. It was two stories tall, and had big windows. I peeked into one of them, and saw a corgi sleeping on a soft, white pillow on the windowsill.
She opened the white door of the house, and everything was still in her home. Our shoes creaked on the aged, wooden floor. I sat at the wooden table in her kitchen around curiously. There was a door to outside from the kitchen, and I could see birds chirping on the branches of trees outside.
“Do you want milk tea?” she asked, looking into the white cabinets of the kitchen.
“Yes,” I answered politely.
She took out two packets from the cabinet, slowly closed it, and took out two white mugs. She emptied each packet of milk two powder into each mug, and walked over to a hot water dispensing machine. She clicked the button, and steaming water poured into the mugs.
She set the mugs onto the table and sat down next to me. I took the beverage and blew on it slowly, then sipped a bit.
Eleanor gave an anticipating smile.
“How is it?” she asked.
“It’s good,” I exclaimed, drinking more of it.
“Isn’t it?” Eleanor also drank from her mug, cupping her hands around it. We both sipped our beverages silently, but it wasn’t awkward at all. It was so serenely quiet that I could hear the slight breeze outside. As I stated at the window, I wondered, Why did she even bring me here?
Such a beautiful person, I couldn't even imagine someone like her acknowledging my existence. As I observed the walls of the house, I then saw a framed photo faded of color.
I stood up to see it closely, and saw two girls in a field of yellow roses, holding each other's hands tightly. One was slightly older than the other, maybe around nine, while the other was six. I could recognize the girl in the white dress and short pigtails as Eleanor. The other girl on the left had a long ponytail, and was wearing a matching, gray sundress.
My heart froze. That girl on the left, it was Iris.
“What’re you looking at?” she asked, then walked up to me to see me staring at the photo. Eleanor’s steps faltered, and she was silent.
“Is this why you brought me here?” I muttered, pointing at the picture of two happy girls.
“... Yes,” Eleanor answered, giving a smile filled with nostalgia. “Your sister… you know what she wanted me to tell you?”
My sister? “I don't want to hear it,” I burst out, turning around and heading towards the door, biting my lip.
“Why?” Eleanor asked desperately.
“You wouldn't understand!” I cried, dashing towards the graveyard.
A day before Iris died, my mother was screaming at me.
I had humiliated my mother by accidentally dropping a glass trophy of my sister’s the day earlier. It was during the award ceremony of our Chinese school, and my sister had received a special award for being an outstanding student. While I had held it for her, I had tripped on someone’s foot and dropped it, and it had shattered in front of everyone.
“And I thought you were already stupid enough!” my mother shouted at me, kicking me in the stomach with her left foot.
I laid on the ground, unable to stand. My long hair was sprawled all over my face, and I didn't dare to look up. It's fine, I thought to myself. Everything will be fine later.
“Why do you always disappoint me?” my mother told me, standing still. I could sense her ominous mood.
I remember that day, when my mother was screaming at me at the kitchen, Iris didn't do anything. She just stood the rest, at the entrance, watching silently. If she thought I deserved it, she was probably right. I had destroyed an object that was probably extremely important to her.
And this always happened multiple times in my life, when my mother would snap. Her mood was like a light switch. She could become merciless in an instant. But she never got angry at Iris, because she never made any mistakes. She was a flawless human being, and I was not.
“I promise to always be here for you?” It's not true, I thought to myself on that day. After my mother was finished kicking and shouting at me, I ambled up the stairs to my room while limping. I had laid on my bed for what seemed hours, and I wished for Iris to console me. It was out of my own greediness, but I entreated her empathy secretly. However, she had never experienced what I had before. What a silly wish I dreamed of.
Iris didn’t even utter a word to me that day. I could sense her presence, silently listening, but she never approached me. Why? Can’t you talk to me? I pleaded silently while on my bed.. Are you mad at me? Please, let me apologize! She was so close, yet so far away. Her words and emotions were so distant.
“Let’s talk another time,” she always told me as she studied at her desk. Books were always piled on the floor of her room, and her space was lit dimly by only a bright desk lamp. As a young child, I always pleaded for her attention. She always gently pushed me away.
Am I a hindrance to you?
The following day, when she went to the library with her friends downtown, she was hit by a car. During her funeral, everything seemed meaningless. The skies were a depressing, desolate gray, and it was pouring. The guests’ black dress shoes walked on the wet pavement, and our black umbrellas shielded us from the rain. However, I felt like I was being soaked in regret.
Eleanor swiftly grabbed my arm, and my steps haltered. Giving a backwards glance, I wiped my eyes which were brimming with tears. She swiftly took my arm and enveloped me in a tight hug. My sniffles faltered, and I looked up at her.
“She told me that she wanted to say sorry.” Eleanor whispered.
I blinked my tears away. “Really?”
“I was with her the day she died.”
My throat felt dry. “Y-you?” I stuttered in disbelief.
“We had gone to the library, and she was acting really strange at first. She was very… how do I explain this… airy. It was as if she was absentminded around her surroundings. She had changed so drastically, and all she told me was that she wanted to apologize to you. I didn’t know why. But I then realized why she was acting this way, right before she died.”
“Iris herself had voluntarily jumped onto the busy road when the light turned green.”
“She committed suicide?” My heart thumped crazily with dread. No way, no way, no way. This couldn’t have happened,
Eleanor’s eyes were dry, but looked incredibly strained. “Yes. As I rushed to her side, there was a note in the pocket of her gray sweater. And it said: I am a burden on Daisy’s life. If I don’t exist anymore, then maybe her life will improve greatly.”
“She had killed herself for me?” All this time, I had thought of her to be an uncompassionate person. But I was so, so wrong. My words were choked up, and I couldn’t speak. It was all my fault that she died.
“Don’t deem yourself culpable, though,” she reassured, as if she read my mind. “I don’t think it was because of you. It was because of her daily life, where she was always perceived to be the best in everything. She had always told me about how she felt so pressured and sobbed even if she got a 99 on an assignment.” She was looking downwards. “But it was her wish to be released from such a life. I think she was happiest this way.”
Iris had definitely kept her promise. I started crying again, because I wished so badly that I could speak to Iris again. “It’s too late,” I sobbed.
“No, it isn’t. She wants you to live a happy life different from hers.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, This is what she wishes even now.”
“Then, maybe I will.” I wiped my eyes. “Thank you.”
“For telling me about this. Now, everything seems crystal clear because of you.”
She slapped my back hard, and I almost choked to death. Eleanor grinned. “You should return soon,” she told me.
“But I don’t want to leave you!” I cried.
“Don’t worry.” Eleanor patted my shoulder. “I promise that I’ll meet you again!”
Now, all promises seemed to be something I could put my faith in.
“I promise that to you also," I exclaimed, giving a smile.