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The Dark Place

by TANIKA SMITH WHEATLEY 4 months ago in Fantasy
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by Tanika Smith Wheatley

The Dark Place

By Tanika Smith Wheatley 

Prologue

Donna and The Dark Forest

I have always loved horse riding, usually galloping through the woods, across meadows or along the beach; but today, I found myself pleasantly and slowly riding a horse down a narrow country lane lined with fragrant Camellia which had been one of my grandmother’s favourite plants; she had had several Camellia in her garden, when alive. The sun shone warmly on my face and I turned my face upwards, to enjoy its warmth - I breathed in the flower’s enchanted fragrance deeply - I was so captivated with the pleasant ride that I almost fell from the horse when my grandmother suddenly ran out from between the Camellia plants and grabbing the bridle, abruptly stopped my horse – naturally I was pleased to see her; but I was also perplexed and wanted to say, ‘but…you’re supposed to be dead…’ but I felt afraid that my words might break the spell of her ethereal presence s0 I silently let her lead us down a tiny (and narrowing) path through a darkening forest – no more pretty Camelia plants - until we reached a clearing and I had to blink from the sudden brightness after being in the dark woods before I realized - we were in the middle of a cemetery – still; we continued in silence, until she stopped - and pointed - and I gasped – I had to climb down from my horse to take a closer look to be sure I was seeing correctly – two identical simple white tombstones standing side by side - one with my name on it, and the other blank – but when I turned to question her about this strange phenomenon, she’d vanished…

Book One

CAN’T YOU SEE HER?

Donna’s Story

I always felt as though someone else was constantly with me; as if I had an invisible companion, as if there were two of me - but I learned early not to mention it, and I was told I had an overactive imagination.

So, for the first few years of my life, I learned to ignore the invisible presence, and even believed the adult’s words – that I have an overactive imagination – but deep down, I couldn’t help but wonder…

At first, the ‘other presence’ seemed full of love, and I felt safe with her around – after hearing of Māori (I’m a New Zealand born Polynesian/European) stories of spiritual guardians, I even wondered if she was one of mine – without seeing her; I knew she was a female, I knew she was the same age, and I knew that we looked alike - very, much alike…

I tried talking to her – but this was also discovered by the adults, and I was then accused of having an imaginary friend – so for a while I managed to almost convince myself that ‘she’ did not exist at all – for a while…

Then one night when I was about five years old and lay dosing off to sleep in my bed; I actually saw her – I immediately realized that she was real; and for a moment, my mind recalled when we were as one; babies, safely and securely huddled closely, somewhere together – but I had left her behind – my young mind couldn’t fathom the details exactly, but I knew this other me felt that I had somehow betrayed her - this girl, who looked so much like me – she was wearing a pretty dress (I didn’t care how I looked, nor did I care about nice clothes) and she was slowly ascending from above – almost as if walking down some invisible stairs – gracefully, I noticed (I would have ran down, probably even skipped and hopped, two stairs at a time) - but there are no stairs in my room, ours was a one story house – at first she smiled at me – as she approached and daintily sat on the edge of my bed, elegantly clasping her hands together – I had mixed emotions – a part of me was happy to see her, to finally, actually see my other self, at last - but another part of me felt scared – if she was my guardian, why should I fear her, but I did - I was very afraid…

Then suddenly her pretty, smiling face changed – distorted – I can feel the intense hatred this other me, felt for me – I froze – I was too shocked to move…

“Who are you, and what do you want?” I managed to ask her.

“You know who I am,” ‘she’ hissed back, “and you left me – YOU LEFT ME BEHIND!”

“NO!!!!”

Mum came running into my room, switching the light on – I pointed, but mum had no idea what I was pointing at, what I was seeing.

“Can’t you see her? Can’t you see her?” I screamed at my mother.

The girl looked at my mother so sadly, so longingly, that I stopped being afraid, and felt sorry for her – then she started fading, and slowly disappeared – after telling my mother what had happened, and although she told me I’d just had a bad nightmare, and to go back to sleep, somehow I could tell by her eyes, her expression, that she believed me - and later, much later, she would inform me that I was supposed to have been twins, but my twin, had not survived the birth.

******

I loved school – concentrating on learning kept my mind focused on other things other than the presence of the girl that looks like me seemingly forever nearby and sometimes briefly appears momentarily, mostly whilst dozing off to sleep or during those first disoriented moments when waking up.

Both my parents liked going to the cinema and because they had different tastes, (mum liked everything except war and westerns, and my dad only liked war and westerns) but they did not like going alone, so I became their movie companion – getting lost in these large screen mysteries and adventures soon made it bearable to live with my own seemingly unique situation and eventually, I almost forgot she ever existed – almost…

Once I experienced some kind of momentary ‘black out’ while at school and when I came to, apparently I had painted a very accurate painting of my home – complete with eaves (which my six year old self had never even noticed before), drainpipes and electrical wires - the other children didn’t appreciate it, but the teachers thought it was ‘beyond my years’ – so evidently, I could paint – not surprisingly though I suppose, since my father was a good artist and used to discuss what he was doing while painting. So I accepted that as yet another of my many talents, inherited from my talented parents (they were both artists, singers, dancers, and even had a magician’s act); however, the next time I ‘blacked out’ at school, I’d written a book including illustrations and this time I felt disturbed because I had written about things that I did not even know existed – it was titled ‘The Dead Planet’ and it was about an astronaut group, who had fled a dying planet, and had to search for and learn to live on another planet– the book went into great detail about their having to adapt, and overcome problems, which seemed to impress the adults the most; however, I didn’t even know about space, or planets at the age of seven, let alone astronauts and spaceships; and in fact, I was only just starting to learn how to read and write - but one thing I never forgot of this experience, is that the teachers believed that I had an amazing imagination…which at that time had me suspecting that I really was truly imagining the ‘other me’…

However; the third time I ‘blacked out’; I’d written a play and had presented it to the class to put it on for the teachers and parents, as part of the coming end of year celebrations – by the time I’d ‘come to’, the teacher and my classmates were so enthusiastic, that they’d involved the parents - our mothers were making costumes, and our fathers, stage props - they’d been rehearsing their lines and the hula choreography that I’d apparently taught them, and the show, was a great success – a play about a Māori Prince who liked a girl, but had been told by his father to visit other tribes in search of a more suitable Princess bride, and if he failed, then he would allow his son to marry the girl that he wanted – he agreed, but didn’t try very hard to find one that he liked enough to marry, he was so impatient to return home to the girl of his own choice, that he decided to take a shortcut through enemy territory - but he and his band of warrior guards were caught by the enemy – but it was the enemy Princess who actually caught him, his heart, and the fathers agreed that perhaps a marriage between the two enemy tribes might be the best way to stop the endless war between them, at last. I suppose this was also not too surprising since I was part Māori, but at the end, when the other children insisted I take a special ‘bow’ on my own because they insisted that it was all my idea, while I did an over-dramatic curtsy and grinning from ear to ear for the benefit of the cheering and clapping teachers, parents and rest of the school children, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I was a fraud – for even though I was part Māori of Aotearoa (now known as New Zealand), at eight years old, I knew nothing of Polynesia and the Pacific Islands, nor was I interested in their romantic legends...at that age - later, I would learn to love and feel very proud of my Pacific heritage…

I suspected ‘she’ had something to do with those ‘black-outs’, and I also suspected I always let her (us) down – that I was happy to simply be me, that I wasn’t ambitious, that it wasn’t important for me to be an artist, writer, actor, or dancer, or in the Olympics as some teachers mentioned – in fact teachers arguing over what I should be during my schooling (writer, artist, singer, dancer, runner, high and or long jumper, including the western roll, athlete, gymnast, baseball player), confused me – it was all too overwhelming - especially when my only ambition was to be a wife and mother and have a nice husband, house and children – HUH!?! Years later, I would realize that ‘she’ had been right, all along - I should have concentrated on a career and avoided marriage like the plague - but I digress…

******

It was obvious my father had hoped for his first-born to be a son (he introduced me to things like guns and bows and arrows) – it was he that shaped my early life and likes – when I was seven, he brought a horse home for me -a Stallion, in fact; deep down I was scared at first, but I didn’t dare show it – it was a magnificent gift from my father, so it was important to me that my father be proud of me; I did everything he said, like holding on with my thighs, and turning the horse by gently pulling its head by its hair to either left or right, which then soon after made using a saddle and bridle seem so much easier, and under his tuition, my beautiful horse and I were soon winning races and ribbons at gymkhanas and when we weren’t competing, my horse and I were actually happier just to gallop together through the woods and forests, jumping over fallen branches and ducking others, that surrounded our village and to this day, those are still among my most precious memories – but was it really because I knew ‘she’ wasn’t interested and so they were among the only times that I knew that ‘she’ wasn’t there, that during those times, I was really alone? Just me, and my beautiful horse…

A few years later, Dad thought that I was too small and skinny so for self-defense purposes, he introduced me to Judo lessons and to my delight, ‘she’ was certainly not interested in that either - so by the time I was an adult I was learning Karate and weapons, and martial arts became a large part of my life; simply because it was another time when I could truly be me, alone, by myself, without her presence…

Judo wasn’t easy at first; for the boys at the male dominated Dojo (training area) in those days resented a girl being among them and used to make it difficult for me, in the hope that I would run home crying, and never return – but after always turning up for regular training (I never missed a class) despite a couple of broken fingers and a dislocated shoulder (the boys would stay away for weeks while they healed), they realized that I was there to stay - so not only did I earn their respect; they became my protectors as well (I felt as though I was the club Mascot), especially when competing against other clubs - so I spent much of my teenage and adult life doing demonstrations and teaching self-defence techniques knowing; that this time, I was not fraudulent, knowing; that this really was me, living my own life, with my very own achievements, not ‘hers’...

Another interest in my teens was ‘speed skating’, again, it was thrilling, but most importantly, ‘she’, was not with me – I suspected if I chose ‘figure skating instead, ‘she’, may have been…

And much later, I met a car rally racing driver who was in need of a navigator and asked if I’d like to give it a go – but I was more interested in what he was doing, so as I watched my parents as a child (they both loved speeding), I watched what he was doing and one day when he pulled out at the last minute due to sickness, I told the promoters that I could do it, and as they didn’t have any other choice, they knew that as the navigator, I knew the route, so I did it – the first female ever to be in that race, and I came fourth…

******

Back to my childhood. Nearing the age of fourteen, (this was in the era where young ladies were expected to have deportment and etiquette lessons) my mother had an attempt of making a lady out of me and bought my first pair of high heels.

“I’m never wearing those hideous things,” I retorted ungratefully.

My mother blamed my father – she must have made him feel guilty as he went out and bought my first lipstick. The shade did suit me, he did have an artist’s eye for detail, after all, and that was the first time in my life that I felt pretty, so I accepted both the lipstick, and high heels.

But my mother didn’t stop there. “You are a young lady now, and must start looking and acting like one,” she said, and involved me in fashion modeling (she had a few friends in the industry and my very first assignment was presenting the local Beauty Queen with a bouquet of flowers at a rather lavish pageant) – that was the start of the change – as mentioned, I wasn’t interested at first, but it wasn’t long before I became a typical teenage girl, and took an interest in make-up, hair-styling, and fashion at last, and even worshiped those hideous, high heeled shoes – the high-heels that I once swore that I’d never wear. The only trouble was, ‘she’ loved all those things, and returned and by the time I was fifteen, it felt as though I was leading a paradoxically, double life – the wild speed loving martial artist, and graceful fashion model.

And at seventeen, it seemed as though I had everything that I had ever wanted, the perfect life - a husband (my first Karate teacher), house, baby boy, which had always been my ultimate goal, and a life of martial arts achievements. The only ambition I ever had. To be a housewife and mother. But a couple of years later, our second child, a daughter, dies just days after birth; due to a premature birth caused after I found out that ours was an open marriage which I hadn’t known about, I wish I had, as I had had many opportunities to be unfaithful, but I thought that I was lucky, I thought that I had the perfect life, the perfect husband, the perfect house, and son, all of which I certainly wasn’t going to jeopardise losing – so I felt betrayed, and I also felt humiliated when I believed that the whole town knew and I probably had been ridiculed behind my back – of course now, upon reflection, I know that people are all trying to cope with their own problems and wouldn’t have given a damn about me, but back then, it seemed as though everyone had known, except me. Being emotionally devasted, bought on the premature birth. Soon after my daughter dies, my father dies, in a car accident. So, before I turned twenty, I lost my daughter, my father, and my marriage. The marriage which I had believed was my perfect ‘dream life’. I was devastated. The husband had treated me well in every other way, we had so much in common, we both lived for martial arts, we both loved dancing (we were winning trophies for Latin American Dancing), we both loved music (he played bass guitar, and I was the lead singer in a band, as most young adults were doing back then in the late sixties), we both loved cooking (both my parents were good cooks, and he came from a family of Professional Chefs - he even won a cake baking competition), and we both loved camping, and boating on the nearby lakes. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t sexually satisfy him.

As I mentioned, my father died soon after my daughter died, I never told him that my little girl died because I was emotionally affected by finding out that my life was not the dream life that I had believed it to be, so he never knew that I divorced an unfaithful man, he never knew that me, the daughter that he had devoted his life to, shaped, influenced, guided, fiercely protected into adulthood, and saw me seemingly luckily marrying into an influential and notorious family in the town, actually ended up a devastated, emotional mess…

Life goes on, my mother says the best way to get over heartbreak is to keep busy, and suggests that I return to work, that she will look after my son while at work, so I return to my career in the fashion world and take an opportunity in ladies wear in a department store in the city. One day I overhear the boss discussing with the buyer which model agency to use for our fashion parades. I mentioned that we have some pretty girls working on the ground floor in cosmetics, that I could train them, and we can have our own instore models, saving agency fees – at first I suspect that it was ‘her’ (my other presence) suggestion, but I didn’t have time to wonder about it, for the boss, who is ultimately continually looking for ways to save money, immediately has me organizing our models, and the fashion parades. Also, with my (or should I say ‘her’) feminine and artistic flair, I’d recommend to the buyer which garments to buy, and my choices were selling even as we were hanging them on the racks so when the buyer decides to retire, I am given her job, and I became the head of the whole first floor. I used to win the departmental display competitions as well, so even the display department asked my advice on the store displays, including the window ones (I suspect the boss asked them to utilise my talents), so thanks to ‘her’, life looks promising, once more…

But I am still a young woman with needs and I let myself get too close to a young man who was supposed to have been a ‘one night stand’ (I didn’t want another broken heart), but he comes back for more (the very next night) and he seemed so cute standing in the doorway, casually leaning against the wall, that I don’t refuse even though ‘she’ is advising me to, and a second relationship ends with a second son and me now being a solo parent of two – actually, what was meant to initially be just sex turned into something more serious, but my fear of betrayal has me sabotage that relationship, simply by not being nice, until he can’t put up with my nastiness anymore and leaves - but, for the rest of my life, I will wonder if I probably, and stupidly, ‘let the good one get away’...

Anyway, my mother again suggests she and the family look after my sons (in Polynesia children are the responsibility of the whole tribe, not just the biological parents) so I can continue working (there was no such thing as solo parents pension back then, at that time) and for a while, I am earning good money in the fashion industry, my mother also introduces me to the boss of a Polynesian Hula Dance Troupe, mum is their lead singer, and I soon became their lead dancer. I worked in hospitality as well simply because I lived near a hotel/motel that were always booked out by touring Americans and I knew that the Americans tipped – very well - so I walked in and asked the owner if I could waitress the breakfast shift there, saying I already had a ‘day’ job, and although he wasn’t looking for new staff, he was impressed with my initiative of just going in and asking without even attempting to first make an appointment with him, so he agreed. So, I’d start the day there (and have my own breakfast as well, as all the staff did), then go to the Department store where I oversaw the first floor, and some evenings were spent doing either fashion parades or dancing floorshows. The owner of the hotel was impressed with the service I gave (I was always given the most tips) and suggested I Hostess on Friday evenings instead, when they are their busiest, and I made more money on that one evening than I did when I had previously been working five mornings a week on the breakfast shift. I loved hostessing, it was like throwing a party and being paid for it. And afterwards, the boss and staff would continue partying in the bar to celebrate, along with any guests who were in no hurry to retire to their rooms. I love my jobs, my life, I have a nice little place in the city, I visit my family in the country on weekends, I have two lovely sons, I am living on the American tips and saving all my earnings, keeping busy keeps me from thinking of past tragedies like the death of a daughter and father, the end of a marriage and another relationship, and both ‘she’ and I are feeling content, and again life looks perfect, once more…

Still, I don’t forget my ambition to someday have it all; as if it’s a driving force beyond my control, as if it’s unnatural for people not to be married, or maybe subconsciously I was wanting the love and family that my own parents had had, or, maybe, ‘tradition’ was simply so deeply instilled in us humans; whatever, but I still think that I need a husband, house, and my family altogether, under one roof, and deep down somewhere within my soul, I know that I need to be a full time mother to my sons and to ‘her’ (my other presence) exasperation, before I am 25 years old, I make the same mistake all over again – but this husband is always jealous of nothing; for example, once when we needed some milk I went to the corner shop which was right next door to where we lived, I took my sons with me, we weren’t even away for more than two minutes but upon our return, I was accused of meeting a lover – I told him that we were away for less than two minutes, I told him that I had my sons with me, I even told him that if I wanted to have lovers, I would never have married, but he was convinced I had a lover and he always accused me of always having several lovers, I felt as though I was always accused, placed on trial, found guilty, and punished – but I never wanted the single playgirl life, my ultimate goal in life was to have a committed marriage and family life – anyway, after years of being treated as though I was forever cheating, I even told my sister in law (my brother’s wife) that I might as well do it, I might as well deserve the treatment; still, it would be years later before I finally built up the courage to do so and guess what, when I told my husband, he didn’t believe me?!?! He said that I wasn’t that kind of a woman!?!? When I reminded him that he had always thought that I was cheating, he said that if he treated me as though I was, I would be too scared to actually do so, because I knew how I’d be punished – an explanation that is even now, beyond my comprehension, I told him how I actually wanted to be married, not single, but decided that I might as well deserve the treatment that I was given, that I might as well deserve the punishment – he looked as perplexed at my way of thinking, as I was of his way of thinking, so both of us knew that we could not fix the damage and so this time when the nightmare (this time it was never a dream life, one cannot be happy when continually being punished for doing something that I wasn’t doing) falls apart, this husband disappears not only with all my earnings which he’d suggested we put into his account to go towards our dream home someday, but also with our two children (my youngest children, a daughter and son) and nearing 40 years of age (yes, I stayed for years, I kept hoping that one day he’d learn to love and believe me instead of hate and punish me and also, having already gone through one divorce, I was reluctant to admit that I’d made yet another mistake), I’m convinced that my life really is over, this time…

This time, I have to start all over again, broke – broken and moneyless, no longer young, and without the encouraging, supportive mother – I think that she was hoping that at least one of her children would be successful and as I was glad that my father had died soon after the premature death of a child from my first marriage without knowing that I’d failed, I am glad that my mother had also, passed away about the same time of a premature birth of a child from the second marriage (again, finding out that this husband was sexually involved with someone else, his office assistant – I found a pornographic video in his office television and she had laughed at me, saying how much she loved her private meetings with my husband – apparently, it was permitted for him to cheat, but not me, and this revelation bought on another premature birth – for a couple of weeks the baby and I both fought for our lives, but the baby son stays in hospital for almost two months, still, this baby survives) so my mum passed away (cancer) without knowing that I was a total failure at life - a disappointment for my parent’s hopes and aspirations for me, their first born, stupid child - and to this day, I still wonder how a male’s orgasm is stronger for a husband than the healthy welfare of their pregnant wives and babies – for when a woman is pregnant; it is paramount that she feel secure and protected – heartbreak does so much emotional damage during that time that it harmfully affects the physical body so much so that it brings on premature birth that can be fatal to both mother and child – but that is of no consequence to husbands, compared to a husband’s need of an orgasm with anyone else and for a long time after the end of this marriage, I would wonder if men were actually even worth having around…

Even so, it still just doesn’t seem natural to be alone and a fourth attempt (at this stage I’m starting to believe that I just never learn and still believe that there just might be some nice men out there) at a relationship did not seem to be going anywhere, for this latest boyfriend, understandably, was not sure that I was emotionally stable enough to be in a relationship and dealing with my demons (when a vase breaks, even if glued back together, it is never ever the same as it was), is coming between us and any hope of a normal future together seems dubious - SO ‘SHE’ RETURNS WITH A VENGEANCE – AND I DON’T BLAME HER…

******

It’s unbearable not knowing what’s happened to my youngest children – unbearable not even knowing how they are, or if they’re even alive – this deep depression over my missing children puts me into a trance-like state– as if I’m in some kind of limbo existence, which ironically, makes me miss out on so much of my other, older children’s lives as well – and this is exactly, just what SHE’S BEEN WAITING FOR…

I’m in bed feeling sorry for myself, with a couple of empty alcohol bottles on the bedside table – in my groggy state I notice the light is on in the lounge – I’m sure I’ve turned out all the lights for the night – I’m one of those ‘double checkers’, that make sure everything’s turned off and locked – I manage to stumble towards the light when I notice that it’s not actually the loungeroom light that’s on, it’s some kind of unearthly ethereal light, source unknown – and even though I’ve always known of ‘her’ presence, the sight I saw still shocked me. She was standing in front of the stereo, she had seemingly (I say seemingly because in the unworldly world, things are not always as they seem) managed to put my favorite hula floorshow music on, she had her back to me, she was wearing only a silky sleek, black shimmering Pareu (Polynesian Sarong) with no tasselly or flowery trimmings that hula dancers usually wear to emphasize the seductive hip, bottom and belly movements, and she was dancing – I gasped – I thought I was a good dancer – I thought my mother had been a good dancer – I thought my grandmother had been a good dancer – but I had never seen such a beautiful, graceful, elegant, controlled dancer, as her – I always suspected she was better than me at everything, but now I knew for sure – she was…

She noticed me watching, and laughed at me over her shoulder – I was so weakened by recent events and so enthralled at her beauty, elegance and grace, that I did not even try to stop her – my next memory was of huddling fetus-like, in a dark, but soothing place - akin to being surrounded by a dark but very lightweight quilt, for I did not feel it, which I found strangely comforting – and I was content to stay there, where I didn’t have to feel, or worry about life, and it’s tragedies, and where I didn’t have to think of mortal things, like the fate of my children…

Then one day; well, I didn’t know if it was day or night, I stirred; stretched, got up, and looked around - when I had first arrived there, I thought that the place was small and in complete darkness - as if I were cocooned. But this place of my sister’s soul seems to go on forever; seems to - and it was not in complete darkness, it varied in dark shadows akin to dawn and twilight, but it can never be described as having a daytime appearance - nor, did I expect it to. This soul place is not a part of sunny Earth. Various shades of blue, violet, and green, mostly dark shades, with foliage - tropical-like leaves with some unusual flowers, flowers that gave the appearance of being vivid, iridescent, but they also, were quite dark. It was pretty, in a calming, restful way, albeit, devoid of many colours. Although there were plants, I never saw any animal life. I’d wander around a little, not curiously exploring, just to see if one could move around in that place, and I do - if not actually walking as such, but I think of a direction that I decide to go, and there I go - the feeling is that of ‘astral travelling’ and I suppose that is exactly what I am doing. After all, I’m in my soul form now. But I wasn’t expecting to come across what could only be described as a spiral of smoke rising between the trees - then I was curious, and approached, seemingly parting the leaves before me (even ‘touch’ does not feel as though I’m touching, but somehow, I manage to part the leaves without actually feeling them) - and what I saw took my breath away - a man - or male soul, I supposed - sitting in front of a little dark bamboo and palm fronds shelter, beside what seemed to be a white fire in a circle of white rocks – which seemed out of place in this dark world. except that the fire was not bright and fiery, and it spiralled a single, soft, glowing white plume that I suspected was not giving much warmth, and the man was wearing a dark Māori feather cloak with a similar feather in his long hair which was tied back at the base of his neck. His face bore the tattoo of a Māori warrior, and I suspected his body did also.

“Come,” he said to me, and pointed to a rock beside the fire opposite him. He looked like something from the distance past, so I was surprised that he spoke in English to me. I supposed he wanted me to sit there, so I did. I didn’t feel it, and I knew that my bottom wasn’t going to get sore from sitting too long on a rock, but there we were, both of us, sitting on rocks that weren’t hard, around a fire that gave no heat, in a place that was not hot or cold, or light or dark…

We sat there for a while, supposedly, warming ourselves in front of a fire that we did not actually feel. A decoration. Or representation of his preferred lifestyle.

“I thought I was alone up here,” I started.

“You are,” he answered simply without expression, apart from a slight lift of an eyebrow.

More moments ticked by. I watched him; he watched the fire. Closer, and in the firelight, I noticed that he was strikingly handsome. A chiseled face. Not unlike my brothers. Or sons.

“You don’t have much to say,” I attempted to pursue a conversation, “like, why don’t you tell me about this place? Or - is this the place of the dead? And if so, where are all the other souls? I mean, I always thought that I’d be with past family, where are my parents?”

“This is an in-between zone. No-one stays here. Well; no-one’s supposed to…”

Silence again.

“And you are…?”

He looked at me as if he were surprised that I did not know. “I am family. I am your ancestor, to be precise...Kahu…”

I gasped. My grandmother had told me the romantic story about a young Chief named Kahu marrying a Princess of an enemy tribe. The fathers agreed the union might finally stop the great war between them that had been raging on for decades, which ironically started, because a former Chief saved the life of a Princess who tried to sacrifice herself to stop a volcano that threatened to destroy them all. Much of their old land was destroyed, by that volcano, so the great migration to the new land started earlier than planned, the large Catamaran with shelters type ocean-faring boats opposed to their slow small fishing boats or fast narrow war canoes had just been completed, the couple were blamed for the catastrophe, and war raged on in the new land as well, for generations, until Kahu fell in love with an enemy Princess, another ironic story – he wanted to marry a woman who was not of royal blood – his father told him to visit all the other tribes, and if he didn’t find a high born daughter of a Chief, he would let him marry the woman of his choosing. During his travels, Kahu found no-one he wanted to marry and in his haste to return home to the woman he thought he actually wanted, he decided to take a short-cut through enemy territory – as fate would have it, he and his bodyguard band of warriors were captured – but it was the enemy Princess who actually captured him, his heart – and both fathers agreed that a wedding between the two tribes should surely end the endless war between them, at last…

“I’d…” I’d wanted to tell him how I (‘she’ actually) had written a play about him at school.

He nodded, as if he’d read my mind. “Yea, I know…”

I smiled. We had enacted a play about an actual ancestor. And now I am sitting across his fire, in front of him. “I guess she spent a lot of time with you, while here?”

“Not really, she was more interested in you…”

My smile vanished. “So - why are you here?” I asked him.

He cleared his throat, the way Māori do before speaking, to let others know that they are about to say something long and drawn out, but he didn’t. He simply replied, “looking out for you - and your sister…”

Then it dawned on me. “You’ve come to take us to - the next realm? Where all our relatives are?”

“Yes…well, not you,” he cleared his throat again, “her…”

“Then – why is she – why are you – why are you both…”

He shrugged. “She doesn’t want to go…”

I blinked. “Because of me…”

“Yes. She doesn’t want to leave you; she doesn’t want to go without you...” he returned his eyes to his fire and sighed. “But actually, when she noticed that you…”

I swallowed. “Were making such a mess of my life, she wanted a chance at…”

He nodded. “A mortal life on Earth.”

I also, turned my eyes downwards to look at the fire. “So – you agree with her, that I was just wasting my mortal opportunity? And you think she will do better than I did?”

He frowned. “Actually, I’d hoped she’d realize she had no right to take your body, and…give up…”

I gulped. *Sorry.” Then another thought crossed my mind. “So, it’s not mandatory? We can choose not to go…with you?”

“Yes - no! Not really. We’re supposed to return when it’s…” he shook his head. “It’s complicated. Some choose to hang around awhile and some helpers, like me,” he shook his head in frustration, “let them. I have always been too soft when it comes to females…”

I grinned up at him. “So, you’re - the Grim Reaper?”

He almost laughed. “I suppose, if the helper of spirits to the next realm is referred to as such, but only one of many - it’s usually loved ones like ancestors who help the next generations make the cross over because it can be a lot to get used to, a bit of a shock to the system. It’s…not what humans think it is, and it is presumed that they’ll feel safer with a relative who has been there before and understands what they’re going through…”

He was obviously aware of the Grim Reaper term.

He knew what I was thinking. “We become aware of everything, eventually, when immortal…”

I sigh. “You can take me, if you want…”

“It’s…” he seemed to be searching for the right words.

I look up at him. “Not my time?”

He blinked at me and simply agreed, “it’s not your time…”

Then a long-forgotten memory flashed through my mind. When I was a young child, I don’t remember the exact age, but still a toddler, about three years old I think, I ended up in hospital with bronchial pneumonia, pleurisy and collapsed lungs – I remember the doctor telling my parents and grandmother, my mother’s mother, who was visiting with us at that time, that I wouldn’t last the night – I was too young to understand, but I remember accepting the fact that I was going to go away – nor, at that young age, was I even curious of where I was going to go – without any experience, children have a way of accepting the inevitable, but while I was lying in the hospital bed, I noticed a large bird watching me through the window – I didn’t know much about birds either, at that age, but I remember what it looked like, it was the largest bird that I had ever seen, it had white fiery flames that seemed to shimmer as they moved, instead of feathers, not hot, much like the little fire that I was at this very moment sitting next to, and I remember pointing to it – the bird - with my very sore throat I didn’t have a voice, so I just pointed – my mother and grandmother also saw it, but my father didn’t. My mother told me that the bird had come to take me away, and I accepted that, too, but my grandmother told my mother to take me to the local Tohunga (Māori Doctor) – my mother had become a Christian and had been wrongfully (a form of controlling people) informed that Māori spiritual beliefs were evil, of the devil, so she did not want to take me to a Māori doctor. My father, an atheist, however, thought that if I wasn’t going to last the night anyway, he was willing to try anything, and to the horror and rejections of the doctor and nurses, he picked me up and walked out of the hospital, my mother and grandmother following, trying to keep up.

I remember my mother and grandmother arguing about it all the way to the Tohunga’s place, and I remember watching the bird flying above us, following us. I do not remember everything the Tohunga did, I only remember watching the bird watching us through the Tohunga’s window. I don’t know how long it took, but after awhile I also remember the Tohunga putting his face in front of mine, blocking the sight of the bird in his window, and I remember him saying, that I won’t be needing that bird for a very long time now, and when the Tohunga moved his head away, the bird had gone…

How ironic I thought to myself now, after all these years, how much simpler would it have been for me and my now hopeless life if they’d just let me fly away with that bird, back then – then my sister could have had my mortal body, and done something amazing with the mortal opportunity which I had wasted, over, and over again…

“So,” I continued with Kahu, “I can’t go to the next realm now, even if I wanted to?”

“You can, but…” he shook his head as if annoyed at all my questions, “you should be grateful that you can be mortal at all - for many, that chance is brief - for others, they are still waiting - and hoping…”

“Hoping?”

“That they get that chance - before…”

“Before?”

He shrugged. “Before it’s too late - the mortal life on that planet – well, let’s just say that; nothing is forever…”

I sighed. “You got that right…”

******

I’m back – I feel refreshed, as if I have slept for several years and indeed, I may have – things are a lot clearer to a rejuvenated mind and I realize I have wasted enough time mourning over my lost youngest children and hopeless past and return to the life that ‘she’ created for me, with renewed vim and vigour. ‘She’, being grateful for living a mortal life for a few years, didn’t argue that the mortal body belonged to me, and even thanked me for her mortal chance as we swapped places – or should I say, realms…

My oldest children are adults now and my oldest has children of his own. The years seem to have vanished which I suppose for me, did, in that twilight zone kind of realm, however; due to their various work commitments, they and the rest of my family have moved and there are now hundreds of miles between us all, but we do try to be with each other as often as possible...

One of the first things that ‘she’ had done, while mortal, was visit my family in New Zealand. I’m not sure what happened there when she did, but I can feel that there is some tension between some of my family members and me, now. There are photos of her being an actress, and others of her being the Beauty Queen on Santa’s float in a Christmas Parade, so I wonder if perhaps there was some jealousy, although I’d never known my family to be that way inclined, they all have their own amazing talents, more so than my own, they are all better singers, better writers, better looking, for example, perhaps they instinctively knew ‘she’ was not me, but I don’t think so, having travelled extensively when I was younger, and now living in another country, they would have just presumed that I’d changed, they would also have believed that I was now tougher and colder, from life’s tragic experiences, or, and this is the possibility that I like the most, perhaps the seemingly perfect ‘she’, was not so perfect, after all…

Still, ‘she’ has managed to accomplish a significant Curriculum Vitae (Employment Resume) in my absence; even without formal qualifications - I have apparently been a Mercantile Investigator, and in finances, including one of the largest financial institutions in the world, including a Government financial department – how did I – she – we - get from a fashion sales assistant and model, waitress and hostess, dancer, wife, and mother, to this impressive resume?!? I always suspected she was superior to me, and I gulped – she truly was, in every way…

Also, amazingly, she managed to keep the relationship going with my boyfriend, my fourth relationship, Paul – she even succeeded at a relationship, when she believed I should have avoided relationships like the plague, and which I had continuously failed at. Was my determination to have that husband house and family the reason for my failure? Did I obsessively try too hard? For she had never felt the need to have a relationship, and her non-committal attitude towards men and dedication to her own career life had somehow captured the heart and devotion of a man. My man. I wondered if she was better in bed than me as well, but if she was, Paul never commented on any sudden changes between the sheets.

She has a few feminine lacy and frilly things in our house though; but for some reason, as if I have finally accepted the fact that she exists, I felt closer to her with her things in the place, so I decide to keep them and had to admit, her feminine belongings certainly made the place feel more homely – my taste is simpler, more minimalist, modern...

Before my time in the Dark Place, Paul asked me to move in with him, and although it was nice between us to have a house in the suburbs (his) and an apartment in the city (mine), we agreed that paying for two lots of power and rates was extravagant, and although I had a mezzanine penthouse with a large balcony overlooking the parklands, river and city views which was stunning at night, with the city lights reflecting in the winding dark river below, he had a large house, with large yard, complete with shed and garage (I had a parking space), and men have to have their sheds and garages don’t they? So, I moved into his home.

Soon after, Paul’s mother dies (his father passed soon after I met Paul) and we inherit her Maltese dog Sammy – I didn’t like dogs; I was attacked when a small child - and as an adult, all my friend’s dogs smelled and all their things smelled like dogs as well – their cars, when I’d had to drive with them, I had to put the window at my passenger side down no matter what the weather was doing, and my head hanging half out, and their houses, I never knew where to sit, for all the dog hair, and I couldn’t stay long because of the smell, not to mention fleas, as well, but this dog doesn’t smell, or have fleas – apparently, they’re like people - they only smell and have fleas if not washed enough, but Sammy goes to a groomer regularly, and I kept taking him. No doggy smells. No fleas. No hair all over the furnishings either, he’s a Maltese and most small breeds do not shed. He did not like me either at first and would growl at me - we managed to ignore each other – but one day as I was sitting on the couch reading a magazine, he must have decided that since we lived together, we should be friends, and sat near my feet - I ignored him and every now and then, he’d sigh. After a while I looked at him, and he cocked his head to one side and looked up at me as if to say, ‘finally, you notice I’m sitting here,’ which amused me, and I coaxed him up to sit on my lap and before I knew it, he’d melted my heart; thus, I became a ‘dog person’.

Sammy had aged in my absence, and my beautiful partner has aged as well – Paul is of English descent but had looked like a Golden Greek God when I first met him; muscular, golden tanned, golden curls, cleft in masculine brow and jaw, and a strong white flashy teethy smile, with dimples – he’d been through cancer and chemo in my absence; and apparently, he was near death after his operation, and so thanks to ‘her’’ who he believed was me; somehow managed to keep him here, to keep him alive – do her skills have no end? How am I ever going to live up to something like that?!? I don’t know what she did exactly, but I noticed that in my absence she had acquired a library of Apothecary plants and their usage and had a large plot in the back garden of various herbs, and so I presumed she had used witchcraft; actually, I don’t like that term, because it conjures up (haha) visions of evil curses when in actual fact my ancestors, like all peoples of the Pacific, possess vast knowledge of healing plants but were accused of using witchcraft, because of it. I have no idea why having knowledge of plants and their health uses is considered evil, I can only assume, that it must be yet another way of modern man using fear tactics to control people.

Anyway, some of my Māori relatives have been thought of as witches, in this modern day world, but apart from suggesting certain plants for certain aliments to a few friends, it never occurred to me to take it seriously – but after what ‘she’ supposedly did for my partner, I teach myself more about healing plants, and decided to keep my ‘her’ garden with as many of them that I could find, both from my own Māori knowledge of healing plants that my grandmother had taught me, and ‘her’ collection of books; thanks to her, and her astonishing feat. And as if that simple act itself attracted a positive wave of possibilities, soon after, I met a similarly skilful lady who took me to a coven of forgotten ancient knowledge – mostly but not uniquely Wiccan, a general place for the spiritual from all backgrounds, albeit it is known as the largest coven in the world, with its own large circular temple, library, craft rooms, apothecary garden, a tranquil park, and even quite a large serene circle of stones that ancient cultures used for meditative centring akin to positive faith and prayer – I knew a lot of what they were doing, and the origins, but they were so much more knowledgeable than me, that I felt like a novice, a young apprentice – but all this changed, with time, and although I still have a lot to learn, I feel like I might know almost as much as ‘she’ does, now…

It took me awhile to get used to being called Tanika, but I never returned to using the name Donna, mainly because everyone now knew me as Tanika, but also, deep down, I had always preferred my Māori name, but I didn’t think that anyone would remember it - it had never occurred to me to use a shortened version of it – ‘she’ obviously needed to have her own identity and using the name Donna, would always remind her that she was a fake. Not real, a body snatcher…

But one thing I am unhappy about, is I can no longer do martial arts, or run very far – well, not as good as I used to. How I used to love dancing – and fighting. I can still do some, and others think I’m a great dancer and martial artist, but I know that there are certain things, like shimmying along the floor in a squatting position, for both dancing and martial arts, upon which I’d always get a standing ovation, that I can no longer do – oh, how I used to love doing movements that not many people in the world could do – and how I loved running too - I’d spent almost every weekend running over mountains – I was super fit in my forties, now in my fifties, I can barely walk the length of the shopping mall – evidently; ‘she’d’ come home after work one evening, Paul, my partner, had something on the stove steaming (he’s an excellent cook), but was at that time talking on the phone down in his home office at the other end of the house (and apparently forgot that he had a pot on the stove), and ‘she’ decided to inspect what he was cooking – but while doing so, the pot burst into flames and rushing in, Paul found ‘she’ standing in the middle of the kitchen, in a ring of fire, the dog Sammy, barking anxiously around the flames – he managed to put out the fire, by pushing the garden hose through the kitchen window, ring for an ambulance, and put ‘her’ into a cold bath while waiting for the ambulance to arrive – I suppose I should be grateful I could still walk, enough – but hardly an evening goes by without my feet swelling, reddening and throbbing – so the amazing sister was not completely, perfectly invulnerable, she had had an accident whilst in my mortal body, except it is me, who now has to live with it – I must admit though, I was on the brink of retiring from teaching and performing martial arts demonstrations, and teaching and dancing floor-shows, but it’s not entertaining that I miss, it’s running over mountains, dangerously slipping and sliding, the exhilaration experienced while leaping across precarious boulders and ravines - that, is what I miss the most...

And she let my body put on weight – probably because of the fire accident and so not being able to do as much anymore, but I also know that although she was a lovely dancer, she wasn’t interested in other sports, like running - not much weight, but – how will I get rid of it now that I can no longer run?

I am amazed I can do her job – actually; I suspect that she is forever guiding me, and I feel a pang of guilt – not once when I was lying in the darkness, enveloped in my own ‘self-pity’, did it occur to me to watch her, the way she watches me, while in that dark place – or as ‘she’ likes to refer to it, our twilight zone. So, although I can no longer run over mountains, I found myself in a dream job, with a dream man, and a dream dog, in a dream house, and driving a dream car - but like my previous pattern in life; we are once again on the brink of yet another disastrous change, when my own crazy past finally catches up with us…

When noticing how others were finding long lost relatives on Facebook, I decided to try to find my youngest children – after all; they would be young adults by now, and the younger generations love the application. So, I opened an account, and with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation, I searched – and found – my daughter. She was only five years old when her father disappeared with her and her younger brother, my youngest son, was two, at that time. And through her profile, I found him as well and for a while, the three of us were getting to know each other all over again, through the computer application. But like any emotional mother, I wanted to see them, and hold them in my arms again – to prevent the risk of encountering the controlling father who, I discovered through them, now lives in Bavaria – so did my son, not with their father, but in the same vicinity - and as my daughter lived and worked in North Italy, we decided to meet at a tourist spot not far from the tourist spot where she worked – I did a lot of travelling in the area when I was young, and calculated that it would only be a few hours’ drive for my son to get to her, and not that long for her to get to me. I presumed that he’d go to her, and then they would come to me together. So I excitedly booked a flight and hotel on-line – but while I was packing my suitcase, I had a strange feeling of foreboding and decided to check my messages on Facebook and I was right – my daughter seemed distressed and advised it might be best for me not to come – but as it was too late to cancel (I would forfeit most of what I had paid) I advised I was going anyway, and hoped she and her brother would be able to call in sometime while I was there, even if just for a brief visit.

That night, while still half asleep, I realized I needed to go to the bathroom (this rarely happens, I do not have a weak bladder) but when it does, I have trained myself to not let myself wake up properly; otherwise, I would have difficulties going back to sleep. Neither do I bother putting on any lights either, for the same reason, that could wake me up completely – but afterwards, while I was washing my hands at the basin, even in the dark and in my dozing state, I noticed a dark shadow above my own dark reflection in the dark mirror in the dark room and realized too late – ‘she’ was there.

I quickly flicked on the light, but she must have ‘slid in’ just as I did so, but before I had a chance to be ‘pushed out’ - I was momentarily stunned, firstly, because I had no idea that two souls could inhabit the same body at the same time, and secondly, because it was her reflection that looked back at me – blinked back at me - I was shocked – I think we both were - I’d never noticed it before, but her eyes were lighter (mine used to be, a light yellowy brown, but now they are very dark, probably due to my love of alcohol) and her hair is darker and straighter (mine is curly and brown with golden highlights although I’ve dyed it various shades (mostly dark brown) throughout my lifetime, because when people pay to see a hula or belly (yes, I do that too, and flamenco and other dances) dancer, they expect to see an exotic girl with lots of long dark hair - her skin is pale (mine is olive and sun-tanned) hers is also flawless (mine has tiny wrinkles already, sunspots and reddened cheeks; probably from the love of too much sun and alcohol) she’s a beauty (I was known as pretty when I was young, not beautiful like my mother had been, but fairly attractive, but not anymore), and in my anger at realizing the staggering differences between us, I decided not to leave my body – I know she was only trying to prevent me from more heartache and depression, and although I learned to live with her amazing aptitude; her glorious beauty compared to my too much time in the sun skin, love of too much alcohol damage, and love of martial arts mutilations (old broken bones that were now turning into old arthritic knobby joints, and weapon’s scars), made me jealously mad and in my fury, and with all my strength, as if grabbing a long top and pulling it off over my head, to my surprise, I managed to pull her out - and I shouted at her perplexed expression in her bewildered reflection above mine, “NO!!!”

I hadn’t realized the physical body could physically change, even minutely, while occupied by another soul; but then, I suppose it would - I didn’t realize we; who were twins, didn’t look exactly alike – I’m sure we looked very similar as little girls – I supposed it must be because I’ve been exposed to more sun, weather, and stress, experiences, accidents and alcohol, than she has been although, the burnt feet were done while she occupied my body, and that has been the worst injury than any sporting or dancing injuries that I had ever incurred myself.

When I returned to bed, now wide awake, my partner Paul was sitting up, about to come out to see if I was alright, that he’d heard me call out – I searched his face and wondered if he preferred ‘her’ – and felt astonished he’d never mentioned the differences like ‘you’re wearing your hair differently’ – but I suppose he wouldn’t – he hardly noticed that I no longer wear as much makeup as I used to, as I no longer need to, because I am no longer modelling, or performing…

******

I knew they (my children) were not going to turn up even before the plane landed in North Italy – but I had to try, I could not just give up on ever seeing my youngest children. So, in a daze-like state, I went to my hotel and room, which was several floors high, but I hardly noticed the impressive mountains and lake views. I unpacked. I sat. I waited. I cried.

The next day, I informed reception I was expecting a call and went through the motions of waiting for my youngest children in the reception lounge anyway. Every day. I was too afraid to leave the hotel, for fear of missing them.

Every now and then the reception staff would look over at me; their sympathetic expressions humiliating, unbearable – one even suggested I spend some time at the lovely nearby lake, but I remained in reception, waiting - day, after painful day…

One day, a naughty little boy almost broke one of the beautiful large Ming Vases in reception. After what seemed like a lifetime of martial arts training and teaching, with lightning speed I slumped down and slid across the floor (in squatting position which I had thought I could no longer do) then at the last split-second spread out my legs in front of me and caught the vase between my legs as it fell and before it hit the floor and I was able to replace it still in one piece, on its stand. I surprised myself, perhaps my feet were healing better than the doctors had expected, for that was a sudden swift slide (just as well the reception lounge was not carpeted), across the polished floor, something that I’d believed that I can no longer do. The manager happened to be in reception at the time, noticed, and gratefully smiled at me. I shrugged, as if I had no idea that I could do such a thing. But that was not the first time (nor last) in my life that I was glad my father had introduced me to martial arts...

So from that moment on, while waiting in reception, I kept myself busy looking after and amusing the children guests when their parents were attending to their bookings at the reception counter – I was also glad that my parents had been entertainers – for one day, a busload of German people arrived, and while confirming their bookings, a child started singing a popular German song. I joined her, and her father decided to sit at and play the piano and before I knew it, almost everyone in the reception area were happily singing.

The next day, Italy won the World Soccer Cup and while celebrating and partying, the Italian guests were having an awkward attempt at Salsa dancing – so I stood in front of them and they were copying my steps like a type of Salsa Line Dance and they were laughing and having the best time – others decided to join in and the place was so crowded that the manager took a huge speaker outside and within minutes the large front hotel plaza was filled with laughing, dancing people – others joined in from off the street – and they were all thirsty guests at the hotel bar afterwards – this, and the ability to make myself understood in German (most of their clients were German tourists), impressed the manager so much that he offered me a job – Lounge Manager of Entertainment - I heard ‘her’ hiss “take it!” in my ear – but no-one noticed that through my singing and dancing I never laughed along with everyone else, or even smiled – all it did was give me something to do while waiting for nothing, and all I wanted was to return to my partner’s loving, supportive arms…so I did.

******

Within a couple of weeks of lying depressed in our bed though; I knew I was not going to get better, nor did I want to, and hoped she’d take over again – I wasn’t sure she would now, after I wrathfully hurled her from me a few weeks earlier – strange; I thought to myself as I lay in my sick-bed, how I used to be so terrified of ‘her’, how I used to scream to my mother, ‘can’t you see her?’ Now I am comforted by her watchful presence – now I feel comforted that my partner will not be left alone – now I feel comforted that my children and the rest of my family will think they still have a ‘me’ – loving mother, sister, aunt, grandmother…

I had made a mess of my mortal opportunity. I was ready to go to that dark in-between place again, and beyond, forever - it was her turn now…

Book Two

I AM HERE

Tanika’s Story

In the womb, I believed we had had a bond - I loved her, and thought that she loved me – but she did not love me – and she was stronger - and shoving me aside, she made sure that she was born first – but when she was being born, she decided to linger – and linger - long enough for me to weaken…

But whether she wanted it or not, whether or not we wanted it or not, we do have a bond – and at first I didn’t mind watching, intrigued, as we grew – her a living mortal, and me – I didn’t know what I was at first, but I knew I was not a figment of her imagination – but after a while I began wondering why I was a part of her life at all – what was my role exactly? She didn’t seem to need me; she didn’t even want to accept the fact that I existed – and a suspicion started forming - should I be someplace else? Is this bond of love (and hate) that strong? Can it be broken? I knew that I hovered closely, albeit unseen, I knew that I watched, from some kind of ethereal, dark place, as if we had an invisible elastic cord between us, an immortal umbilical cord - but I suspected that I should be elsewhere, someplace else, another realm, why do I have these suspicions? Where would I go if I managed to break the hold between us, where would I go if it broke itself? I knew that I was clever, knowledgeable, compared to her, but did I really want the answers? No, I knew, I didn’t want the hold between us to be broken, I didn’t want to leave her, in fact, I WANT TO BE HER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Watching her being fussed over by our parents (who were unaware of my presence) made me both joyous and jealous – I’m not sure when my love started turning to hatred, but witnessing her being spoiled - sung to by our mother, played with by our father – began a hopeless envy – because I was not held, I was not read to at night, I was not kissed goodnight – no-one else was even aware of my presence – my lonely existence – I should be loved also – I should be there as well – but as though there were two different dimensions; no matter what I did, no-one knew I existed – except her – and it’s her fault, that I’m not with my family…

Then one night as I watched her going to sleep, I noticed her looking at me – she could see me, at last – I think she’d always felt my presence, but she had never actually seen me, before - at first I was happy that she finally saw that I really did exist, and I approached her, sat on her bed – her lovely, soft bed – I couldn’t feel it exactly, back then, I was unaware of the sense of touch; still, somehow I knew without feeling, that it was lovely, and that’s when I realized - I didn’t have a bed, a room, a teddy bear to hug, like hers, or the two ‘walky-talky’ dolls, a gift from her – I mean; from our grandmother – that’s when I felt angry - so angry at her – she had a life, a family, books and toys – I had nothing – I existed, but I had nothing – I don’t even know where the pretty dress I wore came from – it was almost as if I conjured up my clothes from nothing – as if an imagined dress (unlike her, I like pretty girly things), or any clothing, could become reality, if I simply willed it, strongly enough, to be so – I’m not sure that I can conjure up other things, I am too obsessed with her, with her life, to try to find out my full potential in my own realm…

So now I know that during the ‘dosing off’ time between being fully awake and going to sleep, it is momentarily possible for mortal humans to see me. Or should I say, some mortal humans, to get a glimpse of me. As if drifting between the conscious and sub-conscious and before the deep sleep form, a sneak peek between realms was possible. Our mother did not see me though, but I am sure she sensed my presence – I smiled at her, and cried, ‘I am here; I am here!’ But she did not see me, she did not hear me – my sister also, started blinking as I started fading from her sight, as if she was struggling to keep seeing me – or struggling to understand – as if she really did not remember – she must be experiencing some kind of denial – for I refuse to believe; even though she has gone through the mortal baby and toddler stage, that she has completely forgotten about us, and the time we spent entwined in the warmness of our mother’s womb together – because I remember – and I will do all in my power to make her remember – and to regret what she did to separate us…

******

Like her, I loved school – she albeit, more for the sports and athletics, and I was more academic and artistic - although nobody knew I was there, I was learning right beside my mortal sister and I took it upon myself to be better than her – which wasn’t easy, she was an ‘A’ grade student, and popular (well, it was obvious to me that ‘clique’ group members weren’t genuinely interested in each other, she must have known that also, but she would always accept those invites, even later on in the workforce, which, I found myself doing so later as well, finally understanding the mortal’s importance, of self-promotional uses, to do so), and she was also every teacher’s favourite, which gave me more reasons to resent her.

But perhaps because I was an immortal, I seemed to be more aware and instantly understood and/or remembered the infinity of our world/s and history of the universe – more in fact, than the teachers were even aware of. But the spoiled little brat did not appreciate the opportunities that school presented – didn’t care that she was clever - she wasted her time being the school champion runner and jumper, and base-ball player (she’d hit the ball so far that she’d run around the bases twice, or walk around them yawning and acting bored, to the amusement of her fans), and after school, going to the skating rink, and spending weekends winning ribbons at horse-racing gymkhanas. And later, in the city, a speed skating champion, and during her lifetime, she would have a collection of several different coloured belts from several different martial art styles. I found it frustrating that she had a talent for music, but wasn’t interested – well, she didn’t pursue music, the way our younger siblings did, and was content just to ‘vamp’ play the piano party style, just for fun – still, how she managed to be top in the music class is beyond me – not really, I suppose it was possible to have an ear for music without being brilliant at it – our mother (who had been a talented Soprano singer) teaches music, and she is the first to admit that she is not good at it – apparently knowing and doing are two different things - how my twin sister had a talent for art also, but didn’t care – one day in art class I was so mad that while she was gazing out the window wishing she was running outside or riding her horse through the woods, I tried to take over her body and to my surprise, it worked – BLISS – I took her paintbrushes and remembering everything our father said (don’t forget, I watch her, and her life), while he painted, I painted a picture of our house, like the teacher asked us to – but mine, unlike the other children’s typical paintings of sky above, ground below, windows that would be too high to look out of, and doors that you’d have to crawl through to get into the house, mine, was complete with eaves, power and phone wires, dad’s rose garden with the wooden archway, matching bridges and trellis, and mum’s beloved Irises around the gold fish pond, and the lake with pine mountains and mist in the background – the ignorant children laughed because they said that my sky touched the ground and although I told them to look out the window, can’t they see the horizon where the sky seemingly meets the ground – none of them could - but the teacher was quite speechless, and showed the painting to the other teachers and they discussed the little genius they thought the stupid Donna was - which made me so mad that she got the credit for something that I did, that I left her body – she was so stupid she hadn’t even realized that she had temporarily been in my ‘nothing, dark’ domain – didn’t even notice when we slipped past each other – she was like she had been in a deep trance – couldn’t remember being in my twilight zone, couldn’t remember how we momentarily touched as we changed places, couldn’t remember painting – well, me painting, actually - or later, writing a book, during another episode where she was gazing out the window wishing she was out there, I slipped in, swapped places with her - I was enjoying writing so much, that I was showing off that I knew so much about our universe, I wrote a book about a group leaving another planet, complete with illustrations, and called it ‘The Dead Planet’, a story of an original planet that we’d destroyed and so had to find this other, not perfect enough for us, but the closest albeit, we had to create mortal bodies of this place to ‘house’ us so we can experience living on a planet again momentarily while continually searching for one where we don’t have to do that, a planet perfect for us without having to make bodies from the ‘dust’ of it so to speak, for us to use – no matter how large, lovely or homely we can make space-craft, they are ultimately, still, just vehicles – I even painted a planet among stars in dark space for the cover page - the teacher was amazed, read it out to the class, showed the other teachers, whereby the headmaster promptly had it placed on display in the school reception area among other older student’s certificates and trophies.

Then a little later the stupid girl took credit for my end of year pantomime play that I wrote about Kahu the ancestor who sits beside his fire in my dark place – she, who at that time wasn’t interested in her Polynesian heritage (she would later, after our grandmother told her about the Great Polynesian migration to the bounteous new land south west of the setting sun, and all the heroes and heroines involved) - I wanted to rip her heart out when I watched her take her ‘bow’ – everyone thinks she is so clever and talented – everyone – the other children, the teaches, the parents, and our parents – I am the academic one! I am the cultured one! I try to tell them – I’M THE CLEVER ONE! I wrote that play, I scream, but no-one hears…

I have to be content that I have found a way to sometimes get opportunities to be temporarily mortal, and utilize my skills – it’s not easy though, Donna’s so energetic it’s not often I catch her in such a relaxed state that I can take over – at one stage I almost got her interested in ballet; after all, she loves moving – but she wasn’t all that perturbed when the only ballet teacher in the area left town for the city – there are not many such opportunities in country towns – then I tried to channel her love of sports into games like Chess, but the silly girl preferred Drafts even boasting Chess was too slow?!?! Teachers believed she could be in the Olympics - but again, these pastimes were not a priority, when training interfered with her preference of running over hills, galloping horses through the woods or her latest pastime, speed skating – not the beautiful figure skating, like I would do, just tearing around the race arena area and yes, she would later became a champion at that too – she did like to run, but not along a racetrack, which had rules, she did that to please our parents (well, dad) and teachers and trainers, she preferred the forests, and hills, wild and free, ‘exhilarating’, I once heard her gasp, in breathless delight…

Because she was the mortal one, she was physically stronger and I found myself giving up on her, on us – perhaps I should be content to, and let her be what she wants to be – but I weep (well, close to it, weeping is a mortal thing) at the waste – what I would have done if I had had the mortal chance – how I would live life to its fullest, an academic, yes, an Olympian maybe, as the teachers believed, but more likely, an artist, or writer, or both - if I could only have had the chance – if only I was the one who had been born - what a waste of a mortal life my sister was living…

And she is like a boy; it’s probably dad’s fault, but can’t she at least think like a girl? She dresses like a boy, and always has her hair pulled back into a pony-tail – no creative ideas at all, regarding her hair, clothes, or appearance – what a waste of having a female body existence – how I would have embraced it...

When a young teenager, our mother bought a pair of high-heels for the stupid girl and where I would have been ecstatic, Donna screwed up her face and declared she would never wear such hideous things – mum blamed dad and yelling at him, scolded him for making a ‘tom-boy’ out of their lovely little girl – which made him feel guilty – guilty enough to go out and buy her very first lipstick – to please him, she put it on and had to admit the shade (he had an artist’s eye for detail, after all) did suit her and for the first time in her life; she felt pretty, and realized that perhaps being ‘girly’ may not be as bad as she’d imagined – and not long after that, she wore the high-heels that had horrified her as well – perhaps there’s some hope for the silly girl, yet…

But I was wrong – just as she seemed to start taking an interest in her appearance (as our mother told her, ‘you’re a young lady now, and you have to start looking and acting like one’), the silly girl finds a new hobby, Judo (well – dad’s to blame for that, also) – I don’t mind women having some knowledge of self-defense, and how to protect themselves, but even though she comes home with black eyes and other injuries, she’s addicted – and after a while she comes home with less and less bruising – I presume it’s because she’s getting good at it – little do I know it’s because she knows that I don’t care for the sport and has devoted herself to things that I’m not interested in so she dedicates herself to as much of the various martial arts styles as she can – I hardly watch her when she’s doing things that I’m not interested in, but once, when she was an adult in her thirties, when I decided to watch her fighting, I saw her put her large, heavy, older male teacher on his back, on the floor – he seemed dazed as he looked up at the skinny female who had managed to do that to him, the expert, the large male, and muttered up at her while on his back on the floor, ‘you’ve been practising’, to which she replied, ‘no, watching Van Damme,’ his expression was ‘impossible’ but she watched all the martial arts movies and would successfully use reactive moves that the stars made, for the rest of her life – our parents won dance competitions without ever having lessons, our family must have what is termed photographic memories – even I, most of my paintings are my very own creations but sometimes, I would see a picture I liked and would later, when in her body, copy the scene that I’d kept in my head – no, not ‘copy’ exactly, use it as an inspiration and change it to how I’d prefer it to be – making what I thought were improvements, or rather, making it ‘my own’ creation…

Another thing she loved as a young teenager was wielding dad’s horsewhips (he didn’t have them to use on the horses that he loved so much, he just loved skilfully whipping them all around himself – he had told her not to touch them, that they were dangerous, but she would practice when he was out – he must have noticed the welts across her cheeks or calves, but he never scolded her, or bade her to stop – he was proud of his determined, ‘tomboy’ daughter…

Same with driving. She used to watch what our parents did when they drove, and she was only eleven (she had long legs) when she decided to give it a go. Without their knowledge, or so she thought. Just one street, and back. Whenever she drove, she’d add another street and soon, she was driving confidently all over town. One day, when she was thirteen, when our parents were discussing who should go and pick up the older half-sister from work (Donna was the oldest Smith, our mother had a son and daughter from a previous relationship), Donna offered to, and dad threw the keys at her. That’s when she realized that they had known all along, but also knew that she was capable and at that particular time, (mum was baking and dad was painting), were not in the mood to stop what they were doing to go and pick up the sister. She was eighteen when she finally decided she’d better get a driver’s license, and the officer that was testing her, told her that she was a good driver, to which she replied, she should be, she’s been driving for seven years…and later, with her love of speed and thrills, she would come fourth in a car racing rally, and the only female ever, to participate in that race…

Being a ‘tomboy’ doesn’t keep her from advances from the opposite sex though, and she marries her first Karate teacher – so before she’s even old enough to legally drink, she thinks she has it all – the nice husband, the nice house, the nice baby, and the martial arts world that they all enjoy, including their little son – they had other things in common too, they were winning medals for Latin American dancing, he was a base guitarist in a band (a ‘pop’ band yuk!!!) and she was the lead singer, as lots of young people did in that era, and they both loved camping and boating on the nearby lakes – so it was a surprise to all, and her most of all, when it all fell apart, and that’s when she learned, when things seemed perfect, they weren’t – and would be suspicious for the rest of her life and sometimes when things seemed too perfect, she’d be tempted to escape, before it all came crashing down around her…

In her self-pity there were times when I wanted to scold her for wasting her life, the precious mortal experience that I had been denied – but after all the years of envy and hatred, I now felt sorry for her, and couldn’t be angry – would I have done any better? Would being clever and cultured have been enough? Would I have succumbed to love and marriage also? Is the instinct and tradition to marry and have children that strong in mortals? I sigh - I guess I will never know…

What surprised me; was that after years of resentment, I was quite saddened at her plight – albeit; it seems as though that bond that twins have is still there – hate; yes, envy; yes, but also love – everlasting love, regardless…

Then the silly girl goes and does it all over again!?! Why doesn’t she learn?!? Now I am determined to take over the mortal body and never let her back in – can I? Do I dare? She is wasting her mortal opportunity! She does not deserve it! I DO!!!

I come in close; one night, as she’s going to sleep - so close, I hear her (and her new husband) breathing, and wait until hers commences an even rhythm – then I try to get in – but it’s no longer as easy as when we were young – her soul does not as easily slip out like it used to when we were children at school – I try to pull her out – she feels heavy – I am not in properly, yet I can feel – a little, while in this sort of half-way existence – not really in a mortal body, not really out – and I savor the moment, however briefly - but I failed - and for a while, she sat up and looked around, terrified – although I was disappointed, her reaction made me laugh – she had never been that scared of me before – she’s not the sort that scares easy - this is just one of my few attempts that she notices and momentarily, remembers I exist. Momentarily…

This husband decides to go into business with a friend and they set up an office and hire an office girl to run it – he convinces Donna to give all her earnings (she still models and dances) to him, for their dream home one day, and the stupid girl does. So, still earning, and parenting, and housework – has being busy made her forget that I exist? Well; this realization only makes me even more determined…

Soon after that unsuccessful attempt at taking over her body, our mum visits her and I overhear Donna telling our mother how she was sure that someone had tried to overtake her body a few nights earlier, when our mum sighs, and finally admits to Donna that I truly existed, and explained how she had been told that she was expecting twins, but only Donna had survived the birth, the other baby had died, and perhaps Donna should be blessed by a priest to get rid of the ghost. I found myself torn by conflicting emotions – first elation, that our mum had always known about me after all – second disappointment, she’d chosen to explain me as; some kind of horror, some kind of a haunting and even adding that perhaps Donna should be blessed by a Priest to get rid of it – to get rid of me (when our mum was young, to the horror of her Māori mother, she became and was a practicing Christian, she also broke her betrothal to a Māori Chief so she could marry our dad, yes, she was quite the rebel) – but was I truly that abominable? I’d never considered our situation as being repulsive to my mum and sister before; after all, I am their daughter, and sister, and I was somewhat glad when Donna refused - after learning about Māori/Polynesian culture from her (our) grandmother, she didn’t agree with a lot of the Christian ways, because the conquering Europeans told all the Polynesians of the Pacific that their ways were evil and of the devil – after managing to live quite well their own way for thousands of years?!?! Still, most no longer practiced the ways that saved Donna’s life as a toddler when on the advice of our grandmother, our dad took her to a Māori doctor, instead of leaving her to die in the European hospital, Donna knew that if something was evil, it wasn’t Māori knowledge of healing and saving lives when the European doctors had said that she wouldn’t last the night, it was our mother’s decision to let Donna die because she believed that it was evil to take her to a Māori doctor - that, was the evil instead, instilling fear into humans to make them all behave in a way that they thought everyone should behave, that, is the evil, and I agree – Donna actually investigated many Christian churches, because she, like most Polynesians, is spiritual, and if they are no longer allowed to worship the Polynesian way, she tried to find a Christian way, but all the churches she went to used the very same fear tactics in an effort to convert and keep their members – something that Donna found atrocious and could not understand their success – if one has to use fear tactics to convert people, it obviously isn’t right, it obviously isn’t true - the masses that so easily and readily believed the real evil and to this day, she’s glad that she had a Māori grandmother to teach her otherwise, and a father that was willing to try Māori medicine and saved her life, and I was also hurt to be thought of something so evil that they had to have a priest to banish me from my own family – and I was so happy to find that Donna was not willing to do that – had I underestimated her? Was she as bonded to me as I was to her? Was I truly so rare that mortals could not believe that souls existed? Don’t they know that their bodies are merely Earthly replicas created to house the real them, so the real us, our souls, could live on Earth for a while? Then it occurred to me; why do I exist at all? So close to her, my sister, yet so far apart? Obviously, I exist, immortal souls exist, so – and my reaction surprised me – me, who I’d always believed was the clever one, why don’t I know? Where are the other souls? Am I lost? Is there some other place that I am supposed to be? And if so; why am I here? Why can’t I break this bond, this cursed invisible umbilical cord, and free myself of the mother who she thinks I’m evil, and the sister who fears me, once and for all? So many questions, with no-one to give me any answers – well; there is another person nearby, in my ‘dark place’, a man, a relative, an ancestor, but I have been so engrossed with my sister and her life, and my lost mortal life, that I haven’t given my own current twilight zone existence that much thought – perhaps I should speak with him, but I haven’t spoken with him since I was a small child, when he told me who he was, and about his time on Earth, and I wrote that school play about him – I suspect he’s here to take me home – home? Or - elsewhere – and I am not ready to leave. No, he’s been patient with me, but he will have to be patient with me for a while longer. Donna and I are sisters. We have always been, and will always be, together. WE ARE TWINS!!!

Still, for the first time, for I had been focusing on her life, I look around me, half expecting to see other immortal souls – like our parents – well, our dad, and grandmother – I no longer want to meet the mother who so easily accepted that Donna should not be taken to a so-called evil Māori doctor, and thinks that they needed a priest to get rid of me, the unwanted twin - but I do not approach the ancestor in the distance, as always, sitting beside his little fire. He has a lot of patience, but I cannot acknowledge his existence, I cannot leave. But other than that, I am surrounded by a murky, gloomy forest of darkness – well, not complete darkness, but dark - not like the brightness of beautiful Earth in the daytime - I try to move; to leave her and her life, to explore my own surrounds - I make several attempts, but as if we’re connected by an unseen elastic string, I am continuously bounced back to her - well that’s what I keep telling myself - I have a feeling that I really can leave, if I tried hard enough – explore this place, if I really wanted to - but I believe that we are destined to be together, and there’s nothing anything that she, or I, could, or would, do about it - the nearby ancestor could, I’m sure, but I’m staying away from him. No, I am not ready to go on, I’m not ready even to just explore this unearthly place of mine…

I consider the times she has pursued pastimes I’m not interested in, like horse riding, running, baseball, skating and martial arts, and wonder what had I done during those times? I realize I have curled up and executed a version of mortal sleeping – but it’s not really the way mortals do, with restlessness, snoring and dreaming, it’s more like being in a trance, or unconscious – the immortal version of a ‘black out’, or perhaps coma, a deep, deep sleep - but one that we could rouse ourselves from, if, or when, desired…

But I never sleep for long, I like to be close, I need to know what she’s up to, I want to know as much of mortality and the Earth that I have been denied, as I possibly can - it appears as though she is able to leave me; albeit for short periods of time, she is able to stretch the invisible elastic-like cord between us more than I can, but I am reluctant to leave her – am I destined to exist like this – alone in a dark place - until - until she dies? How cruel that I must witness her mortal existence and not experience it for myself – yet I myself am not ready to ‘cut that cord’ yet - my determination to take over and not have that life of hers wasted increases – I have to concentrate – I have to focus – I must not miss any opportunity – I have to be ready at her most vulnerable times – I cannot feel sorry for her - she is a failure at life – and our separate fates have been so very, very unfair – then one day, opportunity finally presents itself…

Donna is in a drunken stupor – she has lost her youngest children – she had finally attempted to leave her second husband, but he disappeared with his children, and her earnings. I believe she likes yet another man, even moves in with him, as if she needs his comforting arms - but what she’s been through holds her back from taking another commitment seriously - I smile – I ascend – I am elated – so much so that I felt like dancing – so I do – I dance – it makes me feel jubilant – it makes me feel powerful – nothing’s going to stop me while in this euphoric, and triumphant state of mind…

My elation is such that I feel as though I can do anything - I even manage to put her hula dancing music on, not physically, just by ‘willing’ it to work, in her lounge, which is next to her bedroom (he’s working in his home office at the other end of the house) – somehow (again just by ‘willing’ it) I am in the loveliest sleekest flowing Polynesian style ‘Pareu Mo-o’ Sarong gown - how? I’m not sure, my ability to somehow imagine clothing that becomes a reality on me is a mystery, but I don’t care, I suspect I just somehow ‘will’ it to be so – or perhaps as if like magic, I can make it appear so to others, as if I have the ability to hypnotize her - and as if in a trance-like state, she emerges from the bedroom and watches me – I know I’m lovelier than her, I know I’m a better dancer, and for a moment, I was happy - so happy that I flipped my head back over my shoulder, my long hair flying around me, and laughed at her – she was drunk and unsure - she was both mesmerized and in shock - perfect…

I’m enjoying myself so much, that I let the moment linger - I’m aware she has arisen and is watching me dance from her bedroom doorway – watching me, for a change – this is the most powerful feeling I have ever experienced – I felt as though I was in control at last – I’m watching her through my hair – her expression is of acute envy – at last – although she may have had the mortal life, I was the superior of us both – I knew it, and she knew it - I was the better dancer - and I knew I was going to succeed, in this newfound strength and power, compared to her weakened condition - I knew – yes, I knew that - IT WAS FINALLY MY TURN!!!

******

At last, I have the mortal body that I’d always craved, but I cringe whenever I am called Donna, so I decide to use Donna’s Māori name – in New Zealand, it was preferred (by the European New Zealanders who run the place), that the Māori use English Christian names however, and understandably, the Māori wanted to use Māori names because they were usually named for reasons, sometimes, after ancestors, but often, after something happening during the birth, such as, when Donna was born, our mother was watching a hawk and loved the patterns in the feathers so she named the first born of us, Donna (the Christian name, but also after our dad’s nickname Don), Te Kahu Taniko; Te (the) Kahu (Hawk) Taniko (patterns) so it became common practice for the Māori to give their babies both a Christian name and a Māori name – and often, except at school, and in jobs, the Māori name was used – Donna however, never used her Māori name, even when others thought that she should, especially when dancing Polynesian floorshows, because she thought that it was too long for non-Polynesian people to remember. And Donna was right, non-Polynesian people did have difficulties remembering the full name, even more so in other countries, so I decided to use a shortened version of it, Tanika. I even changed the ‘o’ at the end to an ‘a’ to make it really my own and, as if a ‘final statement’, I also had it legally changed – proof to myself, psychologically, I needed to know that I was here, not Donna. And luckily for me, the family simply accepted that Donna had finally decided to use her (albeit shortened and slightly modified) Māori name, at last.

So ecstatic was I at being alive, and enjoying a full life (I took over her teaching at the model agency, and dancing floorshows through the entertaining agency), that it was the boyfriend who reminded me that I had a family in New Zealand which I’d been neglecting – little did he know I did this on purpose for fear of being found out that I was not Donna - this was to be the true test – it was easy fooling a man in love, but would my family notice I was not the mother, aunt and sister that they all knew?

Our mother died soon after the birth of Donna’s youngest son and before the end of that second marriage and I knew our mother would not have been fooled, but I need not have worried about my siblings, and Donna’s oldest children who were young adults, now.

Perhaps because they hadn’t seen much of Donna since her travelling and living overseas, I think my siblings and other relatives did not detect any differences and if they did, I supposed that they presumed that everyone changes, through time and experiences, and I found it wonderful that I could finally hug my siblings now (my parents had a further three girls and another boy after our ‘her’ birth), it was lovely being able to talk with them, laugh with them, and hold them close…

And perhaps because we were twin sisters, not just sisters, it was so easy to love her children (her first two, the younger two had disappeared with their father) as if they really were my very own…

So while in New Zealand, I was enjoying my family so much that I decided to stay awhile but to do that, I’d need to earn some wages and I got the first job that I applied for, because of my ‘her’ fashion past, I became the assistant to the manager in a clothing factory; however, the manager also belonged to an acting club so she got me into acting, where I was seen by the Christmas Pageant Manager, who made sure that I’d win the beauty pageant that put me on Santa’s float, so for the few months that I was visiting family, I realized, that I loved my life, I loved being a mortal, and I may never give this body back to Donna…

However, the boyfriend must have thought that I was spending too much time in New Zealand and decided to pop over to remind me that our home was in Australia; just as well, because the owner of this business decides his fashions might do a lot better in the capital city instead, so Paul and I returned to the neighbouring large continent island Australia - but as far as I was concerned, I was alive; I had a family, a relationship, and the mortal existence was everything I knew it could be, and more.

******

Within months I had a successful career, and to my surprise I liked having a nice man friend for company, we were acting like teenagers, always out on the town, and hardly ever home. Now, I can see why Donna tried so hard to succeed with a relationship, perhaps it was better than being alone, after all...

The fashion model agency had closed while I was in New Zealand though (fashion agencies now worked out of Sydney and Melbourne), but I was still dancing, and I was approached to teach hula choreography at a calisthenics club which won Nationally, so I was asked what other dancing I did, when I mentioned, belly, they won the following year as well.

I was still performing floorshows, and teaching dancing; however, being me, I decided to approach one of the community centres where I taught dancing, about teaching art classes, and I started doing that as well, and I was loving every single moment of being alive, of being mortal.

But, I also knew that I was not young, and being dubious of how long I could continue dancing, I remembered Donna’s education was in Commerce, which she chose at the time only to be with her friends who chose to do so, so she never actually used that knowledge, preferring to be in hospitality, fashion (our mum’s idea, but it would prove to be the highest paying job, so Donna kept involved with it), teaching self-defence, and dancing; but now that I have the mortal body, and realizing I (the mortal body) was getting older, using Donna’s Commercial education, I applied for and got a job in administration for a Business Reporting company in the building industry. Soon after, when the salesman called in ill, as I had been working on the Tenders and Contracts, I was asked to go to the salesman’s appointment. I tried saying that I was not a salesperson, but the boss said that I was the only one who knew anything about the Tenders and Contracts that I had been working on, so I was the only one who could go to represent us.

I remember feeling afraid as I was driving to the appointment, apparently all the managers were going to be there from all the different states of Australia, but when I arrived, they were all acting like naughty little boys, so I decided to treat them as such and after my presentation, I passed them all contracts saying that all I needed then was their signatures and when they started stalling, as psychologically no-one likes being ‘sold’, like a mother growling naughty little boys, I told them sternly that I wasn’t going to say it twice, and they all looked for pens, and signed all the contracts. When I got back to the office, with a handful of contracts from all the states, not just ours, my impressed boss asked what sales skills did I use to manage that, to which I answered none, I told you that I wasn’t a salesman, I used parental skills, and she said that she was going to keep me in sales and within eighteen months, except for one, I sold all our competitor’s clients over to us – our competitor offered me a job, but I refused, saying that I could not then go back to all the clients and tell them that they all now had to go back to the competitor again, as I still had loyalty and integrity back then, however looking back, after years in the business world of bullshit, I realise that I should have. Even some of my clients offered me jobs, but as I mentioned, I was naive back then, and thought that I had to be loyal to my employer, so I refused. Some, even tried to get me to at least train their salespeople, but I refused that also because I didn’t think that salespeople would believe that all I did was take control like a parent, and not take ‘no’ for an answer, nothing to do with any sales skills, at all, I used parental skills.

There was one client albeit, who tried to be loyal to our competitor though, and would never accept an appointment with me - but I wanted to ‘clean up’ completely, or ‘finish’ my job properly, (once I start something, I always finish it), so I just walked into his office, told the receptionist that I was Mrs Smith (he had the same surname), and asked if his office was still in the same place, to which the receptionist answered yes, just down there and pointed – I walked in, sat opposite him at his desk, in the meantime the receptionist must have realized that I wasn’t the wife that she’d met at an office Christmas party or something, and rang him to ask ‘who is that woman’, and a smile spread across his face as he answered, ‘like she said, Mrs Smith, has finally arrived’ – he was so impressed with the lengths that I was prepared to go to for his contract, that without me even uttering a word, he signed it – before I left, still, without uttering a word, he told me that he’d refused all my attempts at making an appointment with him previously because word had got around in the industry that no-one can say ‘no’ to me – I cocked my head to one side as if wondering why would they, and as I was leaving through his door, I finally said, ‘but I don’t say much at all, I just expect them all to do as they’re told,” and he replied with a grin, “yea, they all said that too…”

As I was leaving and passing through reception, the receptionist gave me a thumbs up and told me that he was a hard business man to deal with, to which I replied, ‘but they’re the best sort, I like a challenge…’ so that was it, for me at that job, ‘done and dusted’ within eighteen months (I’d given myself a deadline of twenty months) but then, I was to have my first lesson learned in the business world – our competitor went bankrupt (and I did feel guilty, but ‘loyalty and integrity’ was important to me, in the early days of my commerce experience. After my getting all the clients in the city (along with some national deals as well), we just had to make sure that our clients received their products but without enough new clients opening up for business, there were now no new clients to sign up, so there was no money coming in, so the boss sold the company to a couple of IT kids who decided that the tenders and contracts reports should be online and now that there wasn’t a competitor to supply them with manual reports, all our clients were now expected to now spend more money on a computer application and as these young men were the only ones who knew about their computer application, they represented themselves, and I was put back into admin however, no businesses had computers back then (they were just starting to get into businesses), so the IT boy’s dream of further cashing in on our existing clients, failed – bankrupt – there’s not much point being online when no-one else was – after my job in New Zealand moved to the city (which made sense, cities are more fashion driven than any country towns are), now, my second job closed down due to no new clients opening up in the building industry in our town – which was a city, the main city, in our state, still, it is really just a large country town – so I went through a change that would change my mind about my sister, and our lives…

Relationships may not be forever, but neither were jobs - that’s when I realized that perhaps I’d been too hard on Donna, when I accused her of wasting this mortal opportunity – she went from man to man, and I went from job to job…

So once again, I found myself looking for another job and with some guilt, thought of how I blamed Donna for putting all her energies into failed marriages when she should have dedicated her life to a career. Well, I started realizing, jobs are not forever either. Thanks to Donna’s Commerce/Business education, and my first success in my (our) Resume, I found another office job for a Mercantile Investigation company and after a few months, a similar thing happened to me as my first job – our Bailiff called in ill, and as I was the one who had been working on the Affidavits of Service, I was asked to go out to do his job (in those days the company had the license which covered all employees; later, all field agents would have to have their own license as well) and again, I always ‘caught’ my criminals and I was asked to continue working as an investigator only this time I considered any other job offer that came my way, before the companies ‘ran out of clients’ so to speak, and within three years I cleaned up all the criminals for three different Mercantile companies until once again, the companies were closing down but at least this time I had several years’ experience behind me now, by moving to other companies before we had no more work to do, instead of just a few months in admin and eighteen months in sales, at my first job. But that’s all I needed – with those two impressive experiences on my Resume, I was ‘head hunted’ and ended up in the Head Office of one of the State’s main banks in Loans, Settlements and Securities in charge of the vault (only two people had keys to the vault, the Manager and me) but by then, computers were starting to be in all businesses so with figures moving around electronically, actual money and gold was no longer kept in the vaults, just the security packets and safe deposit boxes – as a part of Donna’s Commerce education, she was also taught how to type and of course, she loved speed and I loved accuracy so as a result, another of my duties was printing out cheques, and walking around town with hundreds of thousands along with Security Packets in a bag to places like the Lands Titles Office and other banks (until it became law for all banks to use armoured vehicles which ironically, were regularly held up – no-one ever suspected that a little middle aged lady would be walking around the CBD (Central Business District) with so much money in her bag – I was fast and accurate which did not go unnoticed, and another of my duties became what they referred to in banks as ‘voucher punching’, which was balancing the figures at the end of each day and all the staff were glad when I was doing that, because it meant that we all went home early – no-one ever left the banks until the figures were balanced which meant that we could be up for half the night, otherwise. But the next lesson learned in the business world, was that like marriage, nothing is forever – it was decided that our Loans, Settlements and Securities department would now be handled at the Head Office in Sydney, and again, unless I wanted to move to Sydney, which I didn’t, I had a life here, and that was when I realised that I had fallen in love with Paul, and I loved our little fur-baby Sammy, so once more, I would have to start looking for another job…

That’s when I burned my feet. Soon before our department moved to Sydney, I came home after work, inspected what Paul was cooking, the pot exploded into flames, and I ended up in hospital. After skin graft operations, and wearing casts, one part of my right foot seemed as though it was not healing, and even amputation of my right foot was seriously considered. Thankfully, one day after checking how it was healing, the doctor decided that perhaps amputation wasn’t necessary after all, that they’d send me home, and have a nurse inspect that foot daily for a while, but I should get a wheelchair, crutches, and wear sensible shoes. I remember nodding when they mentioned a nurse inspecting daily, a wheelchair and crutches, but when they mentioned sensible shoes, I gasped, ‘never!’ ‘Yes’, continued the doctor, adding, ‘you have to hang up your dancing shoes’, he didn’t know that I was a dancer, he thought he was making a joke, attempting to tell me something serious in as unimportant and flippant a tone as possible, to avoid too much stress, but I had been considering retiring from dancing anyway, so I nodded at that also, but I couldn’t accept the thought of wearing sensible shoes (don’t forget this is me, not Donna, she would have rejoiced) and the first thing that I did upon leaving hospital and before going home was have Paul drive me to the mall, and I bought two pairs of the most ridiculously highest stiletto heels that I could find – even the shop assistant looked at me and my crutches uncertainly and asked if I was sure, but I had never been more sure about anything in my life and to this day, even though I could only wear them briefly to and from a venue from being dropped off from the car at the main entrance, and not for long, they are still my most precious possession because they represent rebellion – and they represent me – I was the one who had always loved lovely shoes, not Donna. Recently, Paul wondered why don’t I get rid of them, but I won’t – they helped me psychologically – I learned that it was important that I knew that I had them, it was not important that I can wear such things anymore, it was important that I simply had them – a symbol of what was – a symbol of a lifetime of wearing the high-heels that Donna had at first thought hideous – a symbol of in my mother’s words, ‘I’m a lady now’, a symbol of womanhood as if it’s a girl’s right, that only other women could possibly understand – and monthly, I take them out of the wardrobe, and polish the precious things, a symbol of my past, a symbol of my former, feminine life…

While recuperating, my department was now in Sydney but, the person who had been my boss at that bank, informed me of an opportunity at the Southern Hemisphere’s branch of one of the world’s largest financial institutions and as such, I was hesitant at first, but if my boss had that much confidence in me, I decided that I had nothing to lose, and landed an interview – now I still couldn’t walk properly, nor had I driven since the accident, but I managed to drive to the place, I parked as close to the entrance as possible, left my crutches in the car because if the job came down to a choice between myself and one other, I didn’t want to give the impression that I was not healthy enough to work, and managed to walk in – in excruciating pain, mind you, but I walked - the receptionist showed me where to sit and wait – there was a staircase in the foyer, and I hoped that I wouldn’t have to ascend them, but when the interviewers (there were two) appeared, luckily, they showed me into an interview room just off the foyer. I forced myself to walk like the fashion model that Donna had been, with a smile on my face, ignoring the pain in my feet. Two weeks later, I received a phone call informing me that my interview had been a success, and that I would commence work in a couple of weeks’ time. I asked if I’d be working upstairs, and I was told yes. So, for the next couple of weeks, I practiced walking up and down the only few stairs we had, in our front garden, without the crutches…

And how I loved that job also. The CEO (Chief Executive Officer) of the Bank I worked for previously was also now the CEO of this financial institution’s southern hemisphere division and while visiting from Interstate, she sought me out, to enquire about my burned feet, and my recovery – she’d sent me flowers while I was in hospital, but it was a nice surprise to have her speak with me at my desk and word went around work that the CEO and I were friends and I had a little laugh to myself about that, but soon after, I’m invited to join the ‘in group’ at work and although at my age it seemed a bit like a ‘high school clique’, I accepted and just like at school, we were a both popular and envied group, some of which, would remain lifelong friends. But, as fate would have it, and as I was quite used to nothing being forever now, a few years later, as it was happening to many companies nowadays, it was decided that our jobs would be outsourced overseas…

I didn’t have time to be concerned about that though, because at the same time, Paul was diagnosed with cancer – perhaps caring for Paul took my mind off the loss of a great job…

After the operation, he was not breathing properly, and had a feverish temperature. A nurse seemed concerned and was telling the doctor but besides her obvious agitation and frustration, he would not listen, saying that the operation went well, and left. The nurse, throwing her hands in the air, and shaking her head, also left. I was sitting beside Paul’s bed and had planned to leave; however, after what I had just witnessed, and following my instincts, I decided to stay the night, to keep watch, the nurse’s bell clutched tightly in my hand. And I am so glad that I did. Perhaps because I had spent most of my existence in the ‘soul’ state, I saw Paul’s soul starting to rise out of his body. But I had been a mortal long enough to have some instincts of staying in the mortal body for as long as possible and I threw my arms around him - around his mortal body and looking up at his leaving soul I sobbed and cried and begged him not to go - not to leave me - somehow during this I realized that I loved him more than I had realized - he seemed intent on going though, and it was his immortal face that looked down on me, his immortal mouth that answered that he had to go, but I hung on even tighter, and begged and cried - and finally, I felt him slowly succumb, and slipping back into his body. I watched as his body bumped and slumped from the impact of the returning soul - I watched as he took a deep breath, as if he had not breathed for a while - I watched as his fever quickly subsided (the coldness of a soulless body for a moment may have been the reason), and his normal breathing returned - and I watched his handsome face as he then slept calmly, soundly…

“I’ve bought something for his fever,” the nurse had returned during all that, and now fearfully whispered to me.

I shook my head. “He won’t be needing that, now…”

She looked relieved, and nodded, but backed away from me somewhat apprehensively, and almost ran out of the room - she had witnessed what had happened, and was afraid of me – one of many mysteries I would encounter while mortal – although they discuss souls as if they believe it, humans really don’t believe it, and are scared when they find out that mortals actually do house souls…weird…

I needn’t have been concerned about losing the job though, as I ended up staying on to fix up all the mistakes that the new overseas staff were making; still, after doing this for a few weeks, I realized how stupid I was being, for helping a company that had wanted to get rid of me, and left – they hadn’t worried about my future, so their future should also, be none of my concern - yes, I had learned integrity and loyalty was not rewarded in business, and accepted (with my resume I was continually head-hunted now) an even better job, still in finances, but with almost triple the wages.

During all this, I hoped the boyfriend didn’t notice I was not Donna, and although he mentioned some changes, such as my sudden different preferences for music, décor and clothing (she’s modern, I’m old fashioned), I’m sure he didn’t – he was too pleased to find that I was seemingly finally coping with my (her) situation, and focusing on being a successful career woman, instead of the failure that ‘she’d’ been at marriage and families.

Nor did he notice I had lost interest in martial arts, horse-riding (she’d kept a horse at a friend’s nearby farm – we live in the hills), and running over mountains, that were such great passions of Donna’s – perhaps he presumed I was aging and now felt too old to play such silly games.

As I mentioned earlier, relationships may not be forever, but neither were jobs – life has a way of humbling us, no matter how clever, hardworking, and successful we may be…

So, now I know that we cannot control our destinies, I decided to try to speak with Donna (for Donna never watched me, as I used to her) and apologize to her for thinking that she had wasted her mortal opportunity and now I am aware that no matter how cleverly we think that we organize our lives, unfair ‘things’ do happen, to ruin it all…

Besides, Paul was improving, he survived cancer and chemo, I have another great job that I love, and life really does seem perfect at last. I now feel content, to have known what it was like to be mortal, I feel proud to have been the successful career woman that I’d yearned to be, and to have fixed our ‘her’ life - to see if now that our ‘her’ relationship and career were finally sorted out, were perfect, she might like to return…

******

Later, when he was home, and healing well, I returned to seeking out Donna. While pondering on how to contact her from this side of the mortal domain (for I couldn’t see her), I remembered it was easier when the mortal starts going to sleep so one night as I attempted sleeping, I concentrated on what I had to do - I discovered that it was a lot simpler than I’d anticipated – while semi-asleep (just dozing off) I tried rising and my soul did rise, leaving my – or should I say, leaving Donna’s body on the bed – I then had a hunch to raise my hand above my head and try pushing upwards, that there must be something between the two realms that only souls could find and to my surprise, like simply pushing open a ceiling hatch, I looked into the darkness therein, and saw her – sitting among the dark leaves and smiling - smiling at me - I gasped - I had never realized how lovely, cosy and relaxing my dark place was - I smiled back…

“Donna, I’m sorry…”

The smile did not leave her face. “Don’t be…”

“But I am. I’m so sorry,” I continued, “I now know from my own experience; that we are not always in control, that terrible things happen to us regardless, to prevent us from being the very best that we possibly could be, and that we’re not to blame…”

“You’re rambling…”

“I think it’s time you continued living your own life, as destined…”

“Really? You think I can?”

“Of course, I think we have to learn to live with the bad, as well as the good…”

She moved closer. “I’m not sure…”

I swallowed. “You must – you never know if one day your youngest daughter and son decide to look for their mother…”

She smiled, and reached out her hand – I took it as we were able to do, in the ‘half-way’ state and as we easily slipped past each other, back into our own domains, I remembered something else and quickly added, “by the way – you’re a cripple now…”

“WHAT?!?”

“Don’t worry, you can still walk a little, you can even still dance a little – but you won’t be able to run over Mountains like you used to…”

******

I still watch her life; but after what happened to me while I was using Donna’s mortal body, I no longer resent, envy, or hate her – I found out by my own experience that no matter how hard we try bad things happen; at no fault of our own, and I no longer blame her for her misfortunes - I no longer think she’s wasting the mortal experience that I had so hopelessly desired.

My sister was happy for a while; I guess a mother never forgets, and a mother’s children will forever be on their thoughts - but focusing on the career I initiated helped her cope and she felt fortunate that she had a job she enjoyed, the love of a good man, and the adoration of a loving little dog.

Again though, nothing is forever, unsurprisingly, and a few years later, our – or should I say ‘her’ company was informed by head office in the ACT (The Australian Capital Territory) that they were closing operations in all the other states keeping just a skeletal staff in case head office decides to reopen operations in the other states again later – this time we ‘she’ wasn’t too perturbed though, because we ‘she’ was nearing retirement age and I felt that I was privileged to have had the chance to live a mortal life, and I loved all the opportunities that I had experienced, and both of us were proud to admit that we had finally succeeded at both a relationship, and a career.

Then Facebook happened, she found her youngest children, and at first, it looked as though the mother and her youngest children were getting along well and made plans to meet in North Italy, a week after our ‘her’ last week at work before this State’s office closed – but soon before she was to leave, her daughter cancelled the plans to meet, saying only that she thought it best not to meet after all – we can only presume that the father found out about the plans to meet their mother in North Italy and being the controlling bully that he is, forbade them to go. They were adults now, but he still knew how to control everyone…

After being informed by her daughter it might be best she does not visit them, she retired so deeply depressed that she immediately fell into a deep sleep before I had a chance to put her into our ‘dark place’ of solace. But luck was on my side. She’s the sort that always relieves herself before going to bed so she hardly ever needs to visit the bathroom during the night - but one night, she did – and I know that to prevent herself from not being able to go back to sleep she doesn’t let herself wake up completely, so I follow her to the bathroom, and while washing her hands, attempt to take over – but I received a nasty shock – she got so infuriated, probably because I hadn’t asked if she’d like to take a rest from yet another heartbreak in her hopeless life, that while shrieking ‘no’, she somehow managed to pull me from herself and I was so flabbergasted by this act that after a faltering hesitation, I promptly retreated to the ‘dark place’, feeling both perplexed and pleased – perplexed for myself, for I miss that mortal life, but also pleased that she may be finally coping with her extensive trials and tribulations…

But she hoped that the curiosity of her youngest children about their mother might be strong enough to want to meet with her anyway; after all, they were adults now, and did not need their father’s permission to do anything, if they wanted it enough. I doubted this was going to happen and deep down I think she did as well; but she boarded the plane none-the-less and went to Europe.

So afraid of missing their visit or possible messages, she did not leave the hotel. Every day was the same – she’d shower and take extra care with her grooming (she wanted to be pretty for her children), then she’d go down to breakfast (which she hardly ate due to the exciting prospect of meeting her children after so long), then she’d go to reception (they knew she was expecting an important call or visit) and she waited nearby, reading magazines to pass the time – she might watch a bit of TV (there was a large plasma in the reception lounge) during the day – she didn’t bother with lunch (she didn’t have much of an appetite anyway) and in the evening, she sat on a stool at the lounge bar, ordered a wine and a snack, like a cheese toasted sandwich, and consumed these before retiring to her room – and stare out the window for hours, across the city lights, towards the dark alps to the northern border, wondering where they were, and if her youngest children were on their way to see her. And finally, long after midnight, she would let herself fall onto the bed and cry herself to sleep.

She found herself babysitting other people’s children while they were either signing in or out at reception – one day she saved a large Ming Vase after being toppled over by a child, and another day, she started singing with a German child and other children started singing the song also - then one of the adults sat at the piano to accompany the singing (it was a popular German song) and within seconds, the reception area was full of singing German people.

On another day, the day the country won the World Cup, the hotel was the local main venue for a Latino Festival and to take her mind off the eminent absence of her children, my sister decided to join in the dancing and as she was the only one there that actually knew how to Salsa, everyone else gathered behind her – she was slightly amazed that her burned feet were doing so well, better than all the other dancer’s efforts, so she ended up leading them all in a Zumba kind of line-dancing after which they all laughed and clapped and called for more – the room was filling with people from other lounging areas of the hotel who wanted to join in the dancing so the manager took a large speaker outside and the dancing continued there – then others joined them from off the street and neighboring houses which ended up in a thirsty throng piling into the hotel’s bar afterwards - these however offered only temporary distractions for the distraught mother; but it helped her get through the long days of waiting, and keep her sanity.

The hotel manager however; had not missed any of this and bought a drink for everyone who had watched the Italians win the Soccer World Cup on the large reception screen and even those who had joined the dancing afterwards - he took hers to her personally and told her that he was so impressed with her linguistic and entertaining abilities, that he’d like to offer her a position in the hotel – to do exactly what she’d been doing, helping with the children, and amusing and entertaining everyone while in the reception area which consisted of the music lounging area, the reading lounging area, reception, and the bar – at first she didn’t take it seriously and replied, and what would my title be; Ming antique protector? They laughed, but he replied, Manager in charge of entertainment. I whispered in her ear, ‘take it!’ But of course, she turned it down; it was draining acting cheerful when she was so distraught underneath; and returned to Australia, crying all the way.

I believe she should have accepted the opportunity to start a whole new life in Italy; because all her despair had turned into a bad cold by the time she got home, and as she lay in her sick bed, not eating, I could tell she was miserably waiting to die…

The dawn – only two weeks after her return from Italy - she wants to swap places – she’s lying on the bed looking upwards, hoping I’d notice, crying to swap places - but after being thrown out after trying to prevent her experiencing more pain, I’m tempted to let her suffer, mortally – strange; I used to think she didn’t deserve the mortal life – now I don’t think she deserves the comfort of nothingness, that is my ‘dark place’…

Why doesn’t she try to lift the hatch between us – why must I always instigate these exchanges – but she knows I will, and I do…

******

I take a deep breath and stretch out in the luxurious King-size bed – I am not ill – which made me suspect her sickness may have been psychological instead of physical – for surely this mortal body could not heal so miraculously fast – but I don’t have time to ponder about it – the boyfriend stirs and looking over, smiles his sexy, dimpled smile. “You’re looking much better today,” he says…

******

EPILOGUE

Tanika and The Dark Sky

One night, as I was sitting in my herb garden under the full moon, as I love to do, I saw Kahu silently coming down towards me – not walking, just descending from above with no obvious mechanisms to do so. He didn’t even place his feet on the ground, he hovered slightly above me, and put out his hand, and waited for me to take it – then I remembered when I stopped Paul’s soul from leaving, and I knew that the cost of that would be my soul leaving earlier than expected – for miracles, there is always a price to pay…

I rose, as if to take his hand, but I stepped back from him instead. “No! I am not ready to go yet!”

To my surprise, he shrugged, withdrew his hand, and answered simply, “OK…”

“I really don’t have to go yet?”

He grinned. “You should, we all should, but…I’ve waited for you girls long enough. You can have a few more years, but you must earn them…”

“What?!?”

“Write!”

“Write?”

“You love writing, you have written books about some of your dreams – now, it’s time to write about…us…”

But before I could ask what he meant, he started ascending again – I sensed, more than suspected, in some kind of an invisible circular beam - an ethereal elevator – I watched until I couldn’t see him anymore, up there in the starry night sky and although he didn’t have wings, I can imagine why some witnesses to such angelic beings would describe them as having wings, because to be able to ascend and descend through the sky, just like birds, they simply must have wings to do so…

Before the dawn started stretching across the sky, I am tempted to attempt to ‘lift the hatch’ so to speak, to talk with my sister, but even before peeking into the Dark Place, I knew Donna was no longer there. She must have left with Kahu.

So, Donna, the girl who loved to race and feel the wind blow through her hair has finally run out of vigour. I wonder, if feeling betrayed by men and having the youngest children taken from her, would I have given up on life as well? I hope I never have to find out…

Donna’s controlling ex, the father of her youngest children warns (me, Tanika) to stay away from their children – she would have cowered, as she always had, by his threats – this time however; he was bewildered by my uncaring response, and this time it is he that cowers by my threats, that even after all this time I could have him arrested for kidnapping - and he realized that he had finally lost the power that he once had over her.

The dog Sammy died – the vet says ‘old age’ - the boyfriend accepts that, and maybe the vet was right - but it was fine when Donna returned from Italy – he was the only one who knew that I was not Donna - the dog learned to love her – and I alone saw the despair in his eyes – both he and I suspected Donna was never going to come back this time, and he was heart-broken.

Donna’s youngest children are still communicating with me via Facebook, and we are slowly building a relationship and soon after, her daughter decides to move to Australia with her own young son – Paul and I presumed they were coming to be with us, but they went to another state, so it was obvious that she still didn’t want to be too close, yet – still, it’s a start, and I have to be grateful for the times we can be together at family events – like Donna, she has an easy laugh, and is lots of fun to be around…

Donna’s second son is reluctant to be a part of her life – her first sons were treated cruelly by her second husband, the father of her youngest children – the older one was strong enough to survive the treatment, but the younger one never forgave his mother for bringing that monster into their lives – I understand that and accept it – Donna couldn’t.

I wanted to be loved the way the little white Maltese loved Donna, so I bring a new puppy home; a black Moodle (Maltese/Poodle) - the boyfriend delightedly picks him up and promptly names him Leroy.

Donna’s oldest son and his wife visits – soon after, we attend a family wedding – and soon after that, another trip to New Zealand to catch up with relatives is followed by a Christmas family reunion.

After retirement, for a while I felt like I was suddenly a nobody – apparently our jobs are our identification, for the first question asked when meeting people is ‘what do you do?’ And I couldn’t get used to replying, ‘nothing’ – so when a friend was having trouble finding someone to look after her dog when she went on holiday, I told her to bring him to us, he could be a playmate for our Leroy, and that’s how we started looking after other people’s dogs, and I felt as though I had an identity again, and proudly answers the ‘what do you do?’ question, with, ‘I’m a dog minder’…

Soon after that we get another dog, a Cavoodle, which I call Minka, and she lovingly looks after all the dogs that we look after, so she is soon nicknamed ‘Mama Minka’.

After being together for three decades, Paul and I decide that after all this time, it surely must be safe enough to get married.

A couple of years after that, while I was out shopping, I get a call from Paul in distress. I need to get home as fast as possible and remembered how the ‘speed driven’ Donna had participated in car rally races.

Tanika knows Donna is no longer in the Dark Place. She has left for the next realm with Kahu.

Still, I cry, “Oh Donna, you must help me now!”

I had always been the confident, and competent one, but only at things that I’m familiar with. And there was no ethereal help from my twin now that Donna and Kahu had left the Dark Place. I knew I had to concentrate. I was the one who had watched Donna, not so much when Donna was involved with pastimes that I wasn’t interested in, like running, speed skating, etc. etc., but in the back of my mind, I remembered watching Donna winning 4th place in a car racing rally. What did Donna Do? Concentrate, Tanika, she told herself, what would Donna do?

Then, as if Donna was speaking, I heard her say, ‘just like riding a horse, you and the horse must become as one, to win a race, and the same with driving, you and the car had to merge, to become as one. No longer a person and a machine, you had to melt into the machine…

I took a deep breath and relaxed into the seat in an effort to merge with the machine. Then, surprisingly, I heard myself telling myself, just like sales, at which I’d succeeded, as well as merging, I had to take control. And like in sales, if I doubted, the car would be in control, and I would lose. So, although machine and human worked together, and I was now a machine, I had to still be the parent, in control, or the child, the car, would be.

So, I started the car. “We can do this,” I gasped out loud confidently, and it all came to me, bit by bit, like; ‘don’t lose any revs,’ ‘don’t brake until absolutely necessary’, ‘press on the gas again long before you have completed a bend’ not afterwards, like careful drivers, simply ignore all the things that other normal drivers would overthink and do, and do all the things that they wouldn’t do, and I got home within five minutes, which would normally have taken about fifteen-twenty. I knew Donna would not have heard, still, I whispered with relief, ‘thank you Donna,’ as I raced inside. Paul survived this little but scary episode but refused to be taken to the hospital or doctor, perhaps a mini stroke, said her neighbour who was one of her very best friends, and a nurse, but I had finally discovered the thrill of speed, and loved it, just as Donna had. I also expected to have clocked up a couple of speeding tickets on my way home, but luckily, I hadn’t. Because of Donna’s wild experiences, and my sensible ones, I realised, that the twins Donna and Tanika, made quite a formidable team.

And soon after that, I complete the final version of ‘The Dark Place’, the story about ‘us’, as suggested by Kahu. I think he meant that I should write about our ancestors, our family history, that the play that I wrote at school was just the beginning, but once I started this story, it seemed to write itself…but his story is something that I do hope to complete one day as well.

In the meantime, at night, I still love to sit in my herb garden and breathe deeply of its aromatic fragrance - I turn my face towards the glow of the brilliant moon and stars above and marvel at the wonder of it all – I know that I will not see Kahu descending again, but I watch for hours anyway.

“I wrote our story,” I whisper in the darkness, but there is no reply – not that I expected any, he and Donna, have long gone...

Fantasy

About the author

TANIKA SMITH WHEATLEY

When I was a young child, I would wake up in the night screaming because of nightmares. As time went on, I realized that I was looking forward to my dreams. They were much more exciting than my real life. So now, I write about my dreams...

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