Mary typed away at her nonsensical novel. She glanced at a small calendar. In one week’s time was going to be the 2nd of March 1889, Peter’s 19th birthday. He was born on the second floor of the dingy house, tiny and frail. Mary was the first child, and Peter came about 7 years later. She looked after him more than her parents did, or else he might have died. She didn’t mind. She loved Peter.
He was an adorable little baby, with chubby cheeks, fair hair and big blue eyes. He didn’t cry as much as he roared, making funny grunts and whines when he didn’t like something. Other times it sounded like he was singing, high-pitched shrills. When he saw Mary in the morning, despite being drowsy and perhaps not fully awake, he would smile wide, crinkling his little button nose and giggled, so excited to see her.
She got into the habit of taking her baby brother out on walks, wrapped in an old tattered blanket. Mary did it mostly because she did not want to be around her parents. She would walk Peter all the way out of the East End, on the edges of the cleaner neighbourhoods, rocking him on her knees and watching the carriages go by.
One day, when Peter was 1 year old, when she was upset, which she was most days, she went all the way to Hyde Park. It was such a beautiful place! It was huge! It was June, a hot and sunny day, and flowers were blooming everywhere. It was so full of green and so many, many flowers!
Mary sat down on the grass and played with her brother all day, letting him touch the grass and leaves and flowers. She found a patch of wild daisies by the trees, pink-tipped white flowers that danced on the wind. She made Peter a daisy crown while trying to stop Peter from eating one. He was teething, the poor thing, and tried to chew on everything like a puppy. In some parts of the flower bed there were fairy circles, perfect circles with tiny daisies and mushrooms growing around the circumference.
She put the crown on Peter’s head, but it was too big and it fell around his neck. Peter blinked and made wide eyes. Mary laughed, and then felt herself becoming upset again. She wished Peter had better parents. She wished he would live a happier life. She’d leave him on the steps of a rich family, like in story books, if she knew for sure they’d take him in. She took the crown off Peter and got ready to take their leave. Mary wondered what to do with the crown, looked at the fairy circle again and placed it over it. Her crown was not a perfect circle, but it was close enough to overlap.
That night, she was woken up by a noise at their window. The latch was broken and if the wind was strong enough, it would push it open. Their neighbourhood was a bad one, but she thought the window was too high for someone to climb in, so she at least had that safety.
She opened her eyes and jumped when she saw a stranger in her house, looming over Peter’s crib. They were a woman, long blonde hair reaching the floor and dragging like a train. At first she thought she was naked, but she wore a translucent dress. It looked as though it was part of her skin.
Mary did not understand what was going on. Something was wrong with her, not just the fact she was in her room in the middle of the night. One of her arms was holding something to her bare chest. She reached her hand into the crib. Mary tried to run to save her brother, but fell on the hard wooden floor, smacking her knees. Her parents weren’t waking up. The woman scooped up Peter in her palm. Her other hand held a baby. It was green and scary, like a badly-made clay figure. She put it in Peter’s place and then jumped out the open window, as lightly as a deer.
Mary scrambled to run to the window, but all she could see was the darkness of the city. Her hands gripped the window-sill and she felt she was going to die of panic. At 26, as an adult, she sat shaking with her head in her hands, the dread repeating itself as she remembered that night. She looked down at the crib and saw Peter. He was peacefully asleep, the same as always, chubby cheeks and fair hair. Mary stared at him, trembling and mind reeling.
In the morning he woke up and giggled upon seeing her, reaching his little arms to be picked up. She fed him, washed him and played with him as she always did. Everything was the same. Perhaps it was all a nightmare.
Peter grew up to be a cheerful and handsome boy. They didn’t look related, Mary brown-haired and with heavy bags always under her eyes. They left their old home and did their best to survive on their own. She loved her brother. She loved him. She did. She desperately tried to forget the nightmare from that night.
Another summer day, when Mary was 12 years old and Peter was 5, they went to visit Hyde Park again. She tried to find the patch of daisies again, but it was too late. The arrangement of the trees was changed too. She saw a gardener and supposed the wild daisies must have been long gone. It’s been years. She felt stupid. Mary stared at Peter, studying his face as she has been obsessively doing for the last four years, until Peter looked back with a smile.
“Peter?” His sister asked.
“Yes?” He said.
“What are you?” She asked.
Peter stared back for a moment, always smiling. “I’m your brother!” He said.
Mary didn’t say anything.
She heard movement in the building’s stairwell and could safely guess it was Peter. She got up from her desk and went to the kitchen to pour herself cold water. The shock of it helped her wake up from spiralling thoughts.
Mary took up writing and publishing her stories, in any newspaper and magazine that would take them. It was just enough to keep the two of them afloat. Peter helped her write and finish the chapbooks sometimes. It resulted in clashing storylines and inconsistent characterisations, but she did not care about the craft. She just wanted a pay-check and for the two of them to eat.
“I’m back!” Peter said, opening their door.
“How was school?” She asked him.
“It was alright! Sorry I was late! I went to the shops and got us some bread. And candy!”
“Don’t spend money willy-nilly.”
The two of them sat down for dinner. She looked at him as he ate and pet his blonde hair off his forehead.
“Who are you again?” She asked.
“Your brother!” He said, grinning at their inside joke.
Mary didn’t say anything and smiled back. Her brother was doing well. That was all that mattered.