To the girl they will call Daniella,
It is windy this morning. I can hear the thrashing and creaking of the ivy as Risings Hall and the wind play tug-of-war with them. It is a merit to your mothers care of this once crumbling manor that the wind will lose. I will try to write this quickly, before the air stills again into one of the winter days that are too warm to be called true winter days. That is all the winter we ever seem to have here, all the winter I have ever known here.
In the domestic lull that exists at times like this, when nature deafens me to all else, I can forget. The noise of such a wild day has a pleasant melancholy edged with just a twinge of fear, like a dulled down echo of the sadness and terror I feel in the darkness. Just intrusive enough to let me free from myself, to speed through realms of thought that are greater then myself, realms in which pain has not the power it has in the sunlight. The wind brings with it a world of dappled light and shadows. A world with the peace of night, but not night's terrible darkness .For I fear the dark nights nearly as much as the bright days. Darkness brings with it a stillness that transforms a world of familiar features into a world that no longer holds the mind in its earthly circle of thought. In the darkness the present is disjointed and we look to the past and to the future, and both intermingle, becoming something perhaps a little akin to hope. Having no hope, I fear any glimpse of the future because I know it to be more unfathomable then any proud, fierce wind.
So, I find relief in at once freeing and binding effect of a blustery day. Because as I said, it is a balance that allows me to forget. Forget that these pathetically warm winter days I hate so much will be the last days I will ever know.
That is why I am writing this letter. So that I might have some comfort to hold onto during these last days of chilled sunlight and nights of infinite darkness. In the hazy moment of bright and dark I'll curl my fingers around the belief that you will have your mother's capacity for guilt and your father's willful pride. Perhaps even your aunt's love of the melo-dramatic. Whatever the reason, I will trust in my darkest moments that years after I'm gone you will honor my final request. But before I ask this of you I will tell you the story of how all this happened. How I came to be a lonely, mentally unstable women, dieing slowly and painfully and writing letters to a girl who has not yet been born.
I grew up in this town. So long ago that it means nothing to me, but not so long ago that the people have forgotten me. I think they will not forget me for many years. I always wanted my own space. So when I left here I started to design it. Houses, so many houses I've lost count. Houses that catered to every changing need I ever imagined myself having. Houses for other peoples needs to. People paid well for my houses.
My houses made me rich. With my money I traveled around the world, living in so many different places, in so many different ways. I had the time of my life. I could tell you the story of a place where the local priest pushed me into the river in the middle of a truly cold, snow-filled winter. Or about six months spent in a village where I only once put on a pair of shoes. I loved the places I discovered and I made many friends among the people I have met. For a while I believed that my own space could be found, not just amongst bricks, mortar and ornate walls but also amongst people.
But my family hated the way I lived. They hated that I traversed around the world for years without settling down. I got so sick of the arguments and hint dropping that I began to call them less and less. When they rang me in Chile to tell me I had to come home because my sister was getting married I don't think they expected me to go. But they never did know me very well. She was my twin and as children we had been very close. The memory of our bond still makes my conscience wince. It was entirely my own anti-social behavior that caused us to grow apart. As a teenager in this distant suburb, I was inclined to be reclusive, quiet and cruelly sarcastic about my sister's charmingly happy-go-lucky attitude to life.
So out of that guilt and perhaps some small hope of reconciliation, I returned. As soon as I met her fiancée I was sure she was marrying someone unworthy of her great character. I did not think that I owed her my blessing, and looking back I suppose I didn't understand that she needed it. I told her she was selling herself short, that she was missing out on all the great experiences in life. She told me that life was measured in more then the cities a person has visited. She married her silent, unobtrusive suitor, and I went back to my travels. I suppose it just goes to show that for all the influence we had always had on each other, we were as identical in our pride and stubburness as in our appearances.
Then two years later I was diagnosed with cancer. I wont go into the details, but understand that I am very seriously ill. Unable to globe trot as I was used to, I returned to my first obssession. The perfect house. By that stage my parents had moved away and my sister lived in the city with her husband, running an upper class restaurant. Whether I chose the town of my childhood as a final spitefull blow, or as a last attempt at making peace with these familiar landscapes, I don't know. I would like to believe that enough of a romantics spirit remained in me to believe that there was some contentment in my childhood worth trying to recapture. I chose the outskirts of the now flourishing outer-suburb for my house.
It is the house of my dreams. The mansion that caters to my every need. It is a house in which I can ride out any mood that comes upon me. It has huge empty rooms that dilute my anger, windows that look out over great valley views that prevents aimlessness becoming fear or depression. It has a huge pillow covered couch in a cluttered room of antiques and random objects that sooths my fear and brings me peace when I am confronted by my mortality.
But for the limbo Risings Heights holds me in there is a price. It is a house that I built specifically to keep me from thinking about my illness. For all the sadness, grief and fear that it holds back it also holds back motivation, laughter and reality. My surroundings allow me the luxury of pretending that not everything is real and they cost me the right of believing that reality has anything left to offer me. The greater the tranquility I am afforded the more I lose the ability to seperate myself from this dimned down existence. You must remember this. Risings Heights brings the mind peace but it takes away the its freedom.
As I got sicker and sicker, I became unable to design houses for other people, the strength to concentrate costing my weakening spirits too much. I offered Risings Hall for sale, on the condition the buyer allowed me to stay on until my death. In the six months that followed the house fell into disrepair, because I was too sick to maintain it. I found no buyer.
I did not think about handing over my house to strangers. I merely lay on my bed and gazed our at the frothy mist that veiled the valley below, describing it to myself in my mind over and over again, letting the search for the right adjectives occupy the hours. I led every one of the few potential buyers through the building with receptionist like politeness and a sneer in my mind. All accept the last visitors, the ones who came fatefully unannounced.
I cannot remember if the day they came was a sunny one, back then it hadn't yet taken on the wealth of signifigance it has now. Barely thirty years old, I was exhausted by the mornings basic cleaning in preperation for my "guest' and leaning heavily on the walking stick I was forced to carry. The women who stood in my doorway was the women I should have been. My features, my long nose, my large gray eyes, my fine jaw line. All with the fullness and colour that had long since left me bony and white.
So that was what I pointed out to my twin as she stood in my doorway. "Nobody would get us mixed up now". She was shocked, I think to see me back in the place I had always seemed to hate. Her husband was with her, as silent and socially inept as I had always perceived him to be. It turned out that they were looking to open a fancy bed and breakfast in what had become an appealing modern town filled with classy little café's and offering numerous stylish winery tours. They had seen Risings Hall in the paper, and thought it perfect, accept for the condition of my residence. So not having been told my name they had come to negotiate with me. I will never forget the spite I heard in my own voice when I assured them that I wasn't likely to live long enough to cause them many problems anyway.
My sister is a better person then I, far more selfless and capable. She agreed to take the house with me in it, and begin the repairs necessary to transform it into a bed and breakfast. She and her husband moved in on the pretense of preparing the house in their spare time, while they were preparing their city restaurant for sale. In reality, they were there to look after me, to keep me happy.
My sister and I, did not communicate much. It was a truce bought about by some shared logic, that I felt led us both to believe that an argument would not have been fair. She would not expect me to face a vibrant life filled version of myself and defend my a life I no longer had a chance of living. And I don't believe we could have talked without arguing for her choice, her husband, now rested between us like a coiled snake and neither of us dared try and creep past it .
The dispute was null and void to my sister because I was dieing and lost to me because she was right. Within a few weeks of living in the same house I came to realize I had been wrong about her husband. His silence was not slowness or rudeness, but just silence in its most human form. He is one of those people who have the great wisdom to say only what needs to be said, at a time when people will actually listen. He has my respect and I believe in different circumstances we could have been great friends. But things rarely change in retrospect and even if a different outlook may alter the colour, shape remains eternal in our memories . So I will say that we were not friends, thought I wish we could have been. But he was proud. As proud as I was stubborn.
So while my sister bubbled around me, full of laughs and loveliness, he adored her, as I know he had always done, smiled kindly at me, and remained utterly unforgiving. He had every right to his dislike me though; do not mistake me on that. Two years before I had tried to convince his fiancée not to marry him I suspect she came very close to doing just that if only in the hope of rebuilding her relationship with me.
So recognize the strength of character of this man, upon the word of one who has no reason to falsely bear testiment to it. He deserves to have meaning to you. He did not seek a reconciliation because I was dieing, and he thought I needed to get it off my counscience . Her understood that such absolution would be cheap and worthless and he was strong enough to know he did not owe it to me. It takes wisdom to understand that death changes very little accept our perception of life.
My sister and her husband live with me still at Risings Hall. Now I begin to feel that they belong to it more then I do, that they belong to this world more then I do. If death is defined by brainwaves, or heart beats then I may live for many months. But I like to believe life is something greater then that, some bond between the earth and the mind. If that is the case then my true life, the life in which my conscious thoughts dwell in this realm is nearly over. Even now I sense that I am drifting between realities. So timed not by a clock but by the roaring wind, I'll make my request of you.
Make sure my sister leaves Risings Hall. The rift between us will never be healed and so I cannot make any request to her, for it is no longer my right. Her husband will realize I think, sooner then she will and understanding he will leave. With or without her. You must make sure that she doesn't stay. This place will destroy her, just as it destroyed me. It feeds on any shock on any grief or sadness or confusion. It was built to capture my imagination, and my sister is not so different to me. These walls imprison me not within them, but within my own mind.
Risings Hall emerses you in its beauty, its imperfections and its idiosyncrasies and makes the rest of the world fade. Perhaps it is an obsession, a place of limbo or an insanity. I don't know. I do know I was dying before I built this house, but in this house I'm dying in misery. It is a haven for the souls deepest fears, and like a drug it offers a terrible escape. I know my sister, despite everything that has passed between us. That is the way of sisters. The way of twins. She is strong and healthy and can exist for many years. But existence in Risings Hall is not life. My sister was born to live, not to dream.
I will give her this letter to give to you. Because she is so good and kind she will be haunted by the gulf that separated us even as she watched me die. She will not know to what extent her presence helped me in these terrible bright, sharp days. She will be ruled by her guilt for some time, and then it will fade to a deep sadness in the swirl of her existence. But because of her guilt she will give you this. Despite the resentment that has never quite gone, despite the disapproval of the way I spent my life and despite the desire to hide from the world the memories that weigh her down. She will give it to you. The rest is your choice.
Let me tell you the final thing. The final grand event of my passing life. My sister is pregnant. Her baby will be born in a few months, but I have a restless feeling and somehow believe that I will never see the child. She had an ultrasound yesterday. I had a moment of complete happiness, when my brother-in-law deemed in his joy to give me a true, equal smile and tell me what it had shown. "It's going to be a girl! Nicolette's going to have a daughter!"
You understand now, don't you Daniella? Why I'm writing this letter to you, making this strange request. Nicollette is my sister, my twin. I already told you that I know her well, that I know her nature. Her nature is to be loyal, even as she as she can be as stubborn as me. When we were children we meant everything to each other, and although we could never return to those years, she has the acceptance to recognize their happiness. She loved me, although she never understood me. In the end love crosses many chasms, chasms that death can never illuminate.
Nicolette will mourn my death and when her daughter is born, she will make her final gesture of remembrance to me. Your mother, Nicollette, will name you after her sister, who bears the name no longer.
My niece will be named after me, and I am Daniella.