Angie was slow my mother used to say. She told me she was ‘out of it’, and needed Adderall to help her focus. I was the younger daughter, by five years, so this gave me an internal feeling of superiority. I used to get called bright in comparison. I was naturally focused, but Angie didn’t seem to envy me, so she resisted the prescriptions my mother pushed for.
When we were kids I would be talking to her and she would get this despondent look in her eyes, so I would know she was present somewhere, but not in this moment. She would look behind me, but never at me. I could tell she wanted to listen, and was trying, yet she was projecting her thoughts elsewhere. When I got older I used to push my luck and spout endless lies and insults in order to see how attentive she was. I told her the cat had died, and she merely nodded, feigning listening whilst crooning, ‘Mmm, yes.’
My father used to say she had blinkers on, like horses in case they got spooked. At all times she carried up to three pencils in her pockets, so he was always roaring about her letting them go in the washing machine. I would hear him through the walls seething, ‘It’s snapped in the bloody mechanism!’. He once spent an entire day walking around with half of one caught in the crotch of his freshly washed jeans, but we were too scared to tell him ourselves.
During school I never saw Angie, as she often hung out in the art room with the older kids. She used to tell me to come and meet her friends at lunchtimes but I was too scared to walk in there. I was small and weedy; they were far cooler than me. On the bus home she’d saunter upstairs, whilst I’d sit at the bottom near the front, clutching my rucksack. I didn’t want to miss my stop. Once the school day was over we’d watch TV or chat about the mundane. She’d tell me stories about people at school I couldn’t believe and didn’t understand. But I’d listen.
I took it for granted, her being at school with me. When I was thirteen she left to go to college in London to study anthropology, chopped her hair short and dyed it black. My mother said it looked ‘too severe’. I thought it looked hilarious. When I went to visit her we’d sit in her living room with her housemates and eat Chinese takeaway. I always resented her for ordering Chinese when she knew I preferred pizza. But it was her house, and I was the younger sister. There was a yellow, tussled lamp in one corner, which I assumed was from a charity shop, and a pile of books on the floor which contained more dog ears than flat pages.
During term time, I’d send her long, handwritten letters about what was going on at home and asking about her ventures. But she was so busy she’d always send me the same text reply, ‘Lovely letter! Thanks, Ang x’. It was never disheartening, only frustrating. I knew she was a good writer.
After college, Angie spent five years intermittently drifting between renting flats with friends and occasionally moving back home for a few months, before she’d get cabin sick and insist she’d prefer to rent a room the size of a box in London again. She worked as a pizza delivery girl, but got fired for crashing the tiny company car when she wasn’t paying attention to the roads. She got a job as a secretary at a law firm, I’m still unsure how though, as she’d turn up in formal attire complete with a slicked-back hairdo; but wear trainers over her tights ‘because when she was sat down they couldn’t see her feet’. She left after nine months because she never did any of the data entries she was told to, only wrote long, winding word documents on the company computer. She did writing retreats, all of which she described as ‘Dire.’, went travelling for inspiration, burnt through money like wildfire and at the end of the day would tell me ‘I’m just finding my feet.’
‘You’ve been finding your feet for six years.’ I’d say. She’d growl.
Four years ago she got offered a job in Edinburgh, after she flew out to see a friend from college, who knew someone she thought she may get along with. Her name was Basil, and she owned a small publishing house in the city, which printed books, ran two magazines and a journal. Angie met them both for dinner, and crashed on her friend’s sofa: something I’d assumed would have been frowned upon in the professional world.
I don’t know what happened on that trip to Edinburgh, but when she returned home, she seemed reanimated by this new route. I hadn’t seen her this excited since we were young, and she’d cause my mother a small heart-attack for winning hide-and-seek so extremely that we couldn’t find her for hours. Angie was skilled at finding places to hide.
She returned home for a week to pack up her belongings and move away. With her flight booked, she spent the whole week humming to herself whilst I heard her aggressively peeling brown tape for the boxes. ‘I’m going to be a writer.’ She told our parents. My mother and father seemed perplexed by the whole ordeal rather than pleased, as though they had accepted her oscillation between menial jobs and living at home into her thirties.
The first time I went to visit her in Edinburgh, she had been living there for two years already. Five years ahead of me, she had never acted like it until then. At this point I had graduated from Cardiff and accepted a job in advertising near home. When I told my mother on the phone I heard her scoff to my father, ‘You hear that? I always told you she was bright!’
I perused her small flat with a deep envy, the type I suppose little sisters are meant to feel. Angie wore purple lipstick and her black hair was grown out into a shoulder-length crop. Dressed in a red turtle neck and black pencil skirt; she finally appeared adult to me. I had felt unnerved until I observed she was still wearing white trainers over her tights.
Since being in Edinburgh I knew she had written for magazines, spoken at events and now, on the table before me was this little yellow book, a deal she got with her publishers for a collection of essay-like memoirs. I looked at the angular hardback, it appeared clinical and clean. She clearly had not read her own work, as I thought back to the dog-eared copies of literature she kept in college. I imagined holding it in my hands, reading her words: the inside of her chaotic head. Perhaps it would finally give me the replies to the letters I never received.
She told me to sit down on the lime green sofa as she made us coffee. She drank coffee now? The metallic clang of the teaspoon stirring the granules echoed in the square space. The Scottish sky outside was a milky grey. She placed two cups in front of us, appearing satisfied. She possessed an innate calmness I had never witnessed within her before; steady and concise. I wrapped my hands around the mug, steaming hot. I knew I had to be the one to break the silence.
‘What’s it like, being a writer?’ I asked. She turned, paused and said pensively, ‘Well, I suppose it’s like I’m being allowed to daydream.’ all the while, looking at the space behind my left ear.
– Emily Black