The Sunshine Dress

27 Feb

sunshine1Holly stood back and looked at her reflection. The bright yellow cotton smelled like mothballs now, but the dress fit perfectly. With the same light hair and slender figures, Amy and Holly looked almost like twins. Even now, it was as though her sister was smiling back at her.

She had never worn the garment, and hadn’t seen it since the day that Amy truly became dead to her. It was still the same ludicrous, exaggerated yellow – loud and happy, just like Amy.

The dress was the only memento she had kept. Guiltily tucked away in a box marked “old linen”, it was hidden in a place that Scott would never bother to look.

Now, on the weekend before their wedding, the old sadness had returned. Despite Scott, despite everything, she missed her sister and wanted to feel close to her. The dress was all she had.

She had no pictures, no sentimental childhood teddy bears, none of the books Amy had given her over 25 shared Christmases and birthdays.

Holly had gotten rid of everything exactly two years ago. Packed up all that was Amy’s, and took it far, far away. She only kept the dress.

Before that day, the flat they used to share was still theirs. Amy was still everywhere, and Holly liked it so. It was easy to pretend that her sister was still alive with her bed still unmade the way it was the morning of the accident, pillows on the floor and make-up strewn across the dresser. It was easy to pretend that nothing had changed.

Two years and one day ago, exactly, Scott asked Holly to marry him. Two years ago, exactly, Holly woke up to find that Scott was not next to her. She found him in Amy’s room, clutching the yellow dress and sobbing quietly. He did not see her, but she knew then that he was still in love with Amy. She was but the conciliation prize – the second best almost lookalike who reminded him of the woman he used to adore.

He did not say anything when he came back the next day and found Amy’s memory gone. Nor did he say anything when the thumbed and faded picture of her disappeared from its hiding place behind his credit card. He could still see the golden flecks of her green eyes when Holly looked up at him; he could still hear her giggle when he gave Holly a good tickle.

Holly would have to be enough. She was all he had left of Amy.

And he did love her. In his way, and perhaps for all the wrong reasons, he loved Amy’s little sister.

In the beginning, he loved her for not getting rid of Amy – for not leaving her in the little box of ashes that everyone had reduced her to. He loved her for pretending with him. For sitting in Amy’s room surrounded by Amy’s things and reading Amy’s book inscriptions out loud.

Mourning together had changed them both and brought them closer. They read those inscriptions as if Amy was talking to them.

Dear Holly,

I blame you for not getting a night of wild smooching last night. I had a gorgeous guy in our apartment and had to spend the time sifting flour.

But hey – tradition is tradition and I have never missed baking your birthday cake.

Sorry about the icing – I don’t think he’s ever iced a cake before.

Happy birthday, sis.



PS – You’re meeting Mr Cake Boss tonight. I invited him to join for drinks so he can see that I can be normal, too.

That was one of Scott’s favourites. He was the guy, of course. He remembered the day well. Amy was wearing the yellow dress. They had both attended a company fun day at Gold Reef City amusement park – ridiculous thing to arrange for a bunch of adults, but better than spending another day at the office. He saw her standing in line for the Anaconda rollercoaster, absentmindedly licking an oversized lollipop. It was a refreshing sight – the rest of the staff was buried in their smartphones; they brought the office with.

“If you can finish that lollipop before the ride starts, I’ll give you my car.”

It was a lame pick-up line, but he didn’t know what else to say.

She smiled. “Who says I’d want your car?”

“You’re right – it’s pretty crappy. I’d have to offer a better prize.”

“Be my date for the day? I’m new here, and no-one has even said hello. And here you are, offering me your car.”

That explained why he hadn’t seen her before – she was new.

By the end of the day, he no longer thought a fun day at an amusement park was ridiculous. It was one of the best days of his life. Amy had a childlike excitement about things that he had long forgotten in years of corporate drudgery. At first, she dragged him to the rides. Later, they were both running.

They were the last people allowed on the Big Wheel just as the sun was setting. Both out of breath and laughing hysterically, the ride attendant just smiled and let them on, making the wheel turn one more time than usual that day.

It was just the two of them and the burny orange of the Joburg skyline.

He noticed the golden flecks in her eyes then, and kissed her as they got to the top of the wheel.

He knew then. Knew that she was the girl he had been waiting for.

Amy in the sunshine dress, kissing him in the sunset.

“You want to help me bake a birthday cake tonight?”

Saying yes was the best decision he ever made.

Her death, three years later, nearly destroyed him. She had worn that same dress the day she drowned. She fell asleep wearing it on the boat. He had left her alone – she looked so peaceful. An hour later, screams were heard as a girl noticed her lifeless body in the water. He still did not understand how it could happen.

Holly was the only reason he was still alive; the only reason he could smile again. And for that, he did love her.

It was the weekend before the wedding now, and he had decided to go see Holly. He had to convince himself that he was doing the right thing. Knocking on the door – so many knocks on that door, so many memories – he heard her shuffling about inside.

The door opened.

Holly was wearing the dress. He gasped, but quickly regained composure. She knew, of course. She knew what that dress meant to him; how he still loved her sister even in death.

“Heya, Cake Boss! Amy will be out in a second.”

She hadn’t called him that since before Amy died.

“Why do you look like so confused, dude?”

Her voice sounded like it used to when it was still a little sister voice. Like it was before it became grave and serious in mourning. She shrugged her shoulders and turned back into the flat.

“A-myyyy! Hurry up! You know Scott and I have nothing to say to each other.”

He failed to see the joke. She did not seem drunk – it was only when very drunk, and only once, that she had ever dared to even allude to the fact that he still loved Amy.

He didn’t know what to say.

“Holly… I… Why are you doing this?”

She looked puzzled.

“Whatever, dude. Some beer?”

After Amy’s death, Holly had to help him stop drinking. Were it not for her, he would have killed himself doing it.


She walked towards the kitchen, popping her head into Amy’s old room.

“I’m using your old sunshine dress tonight, o-kayyy?”

“Any dress but that one! Please, sis – you know I’m superstitious about it.”

It was Amy’s voice.

“Hey, Love.” She walked to the door kissed him casually on the cheek. “I’ll be ready in a minute. Come in!”

He didn’t know what was real. He would wake up. He would wake up and be back to his sorrowful reality.

Holly gave him an amused smile. Her sister was being ridiculous.

“I’m serious, Holly. When I fell asleep wearing it, I had a terribly realistic nightmare that I drowned and that you ended up marrying Scott. It was horrible. Just put it back in my closet, okay? It’s cursed. I don’t think we should wear it – that nightmare just felt too damn real.”

He remembered then.

They had visited the park’s so-called fortune teller that first day, both openly amused and struggling to look serious. The woman had a way of speaking in wannabe Shakespearean riddles, and was rumoured to be a witch. They thought her laughable. Amy was tugging at his arm to get to the big wheel on time.

The woman was visibly annoyed.

“Sleep in sunshine cloth and to hastened death they shall awaken.
Return once more to life – unchanged – when flesh of blood the cloth doth touch.”

Until Holly had put on the sunshine dress, releasing them, they were living in Amy’s nightmare.


2 Responses to “The Sunshine Dress”

  1. countingducks February 27, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    Excellent. I got thrown when he came to the door, and then you made it all clear. Of course that situation, marrying second choice for a reason, does happen, the price is always an interesting thing to explore

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