“Heralding Hope” is one of the outstanding stories of the first biannual International Short Story Contest 2018 written by R. Abhinaya, Global Indian International School, East Coast, Singapore.
She stalked down the icy streets, her midnight black hair forming a curtain to hide her face. Her tall boots clacked on the pavement, drowned out by sounds of merry-making around her. After all, who would’ve thought that anyone could be miserable on Christmas day?
Yes, Isabelle Evans looked very out of place in the white landscape, in her black coat and iron jewellery. A raven amongst the snow. None of the party-goers spared her a second glance, too preoccupied with their own amusement to take notice of a moody teenage loner. Yet Isabelle had not always been like this. Flashes of memories still haunted her-glimpses of a warm fire-lit house, mistletoe hanging from the ceiling, her father twirling her mother around and around in the icy pallor of the city square. But all that was long gone; the only thing she had left were lonely alleyways and a deserted home, a mother too miserable to do anything but go about her daily chores mechanically, like a robot.
Isabelle scowled to herself as another group of children shoved past her. “Curse Christmas!” she muttered under her breath, “Can’t get a moment’s peace with all these infuriatingly happy people lounging around!” She kicked a pile of hardened snow, hoping the pain in her toes would drive out the force that was clenching her heart so hard, it hurt.
She wandered into one of those back alleys, somewhere that she knew would be desolate. So, imagine her surprise when she heard a discreet cough. Whisking her head back, she asked sharply, “Who’s there?”
Her first idea was that the girl looked a lot like a typical French Belle, “Blonde, blue-eyed, not a brain cell to speak-of”; then she stepped fully out into the warm glow of the street light, and Isabelle let out a stifled gasp. The last time she’d seen that face was over six years ago-the rosy-cheeked, curly haired girl from her memories now more defined, more beautiful with experience rather than innocence shining in her eyes. But it was definitely still the same face, the same hard determined set of her chin that took Isabelle back in time to the days they’d spent haggling over which toys belonged to whom-how silly it all seemed now! For a moment, Isabelle’s eyes softened and lit up with a child-like wonder at her friend of years past, standing in front of her like they’d met just yesterday.
But the sky darkened, with the darkness bringing back the memories of that fateful day, the day that changed everything, the day that she tried so hard not to remember-her father, hooked up to a dozen different machines, looking pale and haggard on the crisp white sheets of the hospital bed. The day that sealed the rest of her life, the day that drove her mother into a shell that she would never emerge out of, the day, that beyond all else, marked the moment she withdrew the heart she had worn so proudly on her sleeve, never disclosing more than she could help, never opening herself up to anyone.
She drew back now, turning away from the girl she had once poured her soul into. “What do you want Eadlyn? Why have you come?” Her voice came out soft and helpless, indicating an unspoken plea to the other girl to just leave. Eadlyn didn’t go away. She didn’t open her mouth to speak either. She simply walked to Isabelle, and wrapped her arms around her, like she had done so many times before, rubbing soothing circles on the rigid girl’s back. After a few minutes passed, Eadlyn spoke up.
“What happened to the Isabelle I remember?” Eadlyn murmered, “Do you remember Isa, the games we used to play in your old house. That attic your…” her voice broke, “…your father helped us make into a makeshift fort? The secrets you whispered to me on our sleepovers? The bracelets we gave to each other that we swore we’d never remove? What happened to the girl who trusted me as a sister?”
With each word, Isabelle’s scowl melted, replaced by a sweet, wistful smile, “I can’t…” she choked on the next few words, “I couldn’t bear to talk to anyone I knew after… after Daddy died. I convinced my mom to move here, to this drab dingy apartment…” tears glimmered in her eyes, “I never got back to what I was before. How could I, without you? My other half?”
Isabelle lifted up the sleeve of her coat to reveal a braided bracelet, woven from bright gold cloth that had faded with age, “I never removed it; I never broke the promise.”
Eadlyn gasped, “After all this time…”
And then Isabelle broke down. Broke down and sobbed. Sobbed for the first time in six years. Shed all the tears she’d never let fall. Let out all the horrible memories that surfaced as nightmares as she slept. A hammer tore down the walls she had built up around her heart. A hammer in the shape of Eadlyn Rayne, the girl who’d never given up on her, even when she’d given up on herself. In an hour, Isabelle had let out all the pent up emotion that had built up inside her in the past years, releasing all her worry, fear and trepidation. All the while, Eadlyn held her.
Curled up inside a dimly lit alleyway that was never frequented by visitors, two girls spent their Christmas day. Two best friends who’d been reunited after six years. Two girls torn apart by the death of a loved one; two girls-one for whom a thin ray of light had penetrated the gloom of half a decade. Two girls… just two-Isabelle and Eadlyn.