Dear Isabel | A tender short story from our archives

Dear Isabel letter

by Lydia Jones

So often, things are easier to say in a letter …

Dear Isabel,

I can’t remember when I last wrote an actual letter. My life overflows with emails and texts, but I guess they’re no good in your neck of the woods. You always were our pioneer. Anyway, I just had this overwhelming urge to write to you.

Thomas is ajoy. It seems impossible that we ever lived without him. He’s so like you: all blond hair and blue eyes.

When he smiles, I am transported to that long-ago school production when you were the Snow Fairy: golden hair crested by shining tiara; spotlights diamond-pricking your tutu.

From my seat in the stalls you seemed an angel beamed onto stage.

“You must be so proud,” a woman said to Mum as we collected coats and squashed towards the stage door.

“Oh, yes.” Her eyes glistened.

I remember wondering why she looked as if she was going to cry when she was so happy.

“And this little one?” the woman said. “Will she follow her sister?”

Mum tried to hide it. I saw the cheerful eye-screen slide into place.

“No.” She smiled down at square­ shaped me. “I don’t think ballet will be Becky’s thing.”

That’s the first time I remember feeling a flash of now familiar fury at the uneven way family genes had been distributed. In those days, you seemed to have bagged all the best ones.

You’re not at all like Isabel

Thomas’s teachers tell me he is doing well and excels in sport. You never mentioned his father, but at school you were always an amazing all-rounder.

“Oh, dear,” our teachers would tut, reinforcing my status as second best sister. “You’re not at all like Isabel.”

How could I not resent it? Unable to bear being dazzled by you I skulked in school corners; my dyed-black hair and piercings all part of the painful process of not being you. I made myself  a target.

I don’t think I ever thanked you for the Ferguson  twins, did I?

“It was getting boring,” you said. “They were boasting about bullying my sister. I had to sort it.”

It was a blemish on the brilliance of your life: eradicated like dirt by stain remover. I will be forever grateful.

I want to thank you, too, for the time you lied to Mum and Dad about how I had a bug, when you knew it was a hangover. Because you said it, they believed me.

There weren’t many moments of sisterly solidarity, but I cherish them all the more because of what came afterwards.

It was your destiny to collect hearts like confetti

Male admiration was so natural for you; you couldn’t have understood what it was like when Martin loved me.

Did you even like him?

For years I harboured hatred at the theft of my first love. But I know now that nobody can be stolen without their consent. You couldn’t help yourself: it was your destiny to collect hearts like confetti.

When you went to Australia, I was glad. How bad is that?

No longer obliterated by your brilliance, I found a way to be myself without being a reverse image of you.

I was happy, but I missed  you.

You’ll never know how many times I checked your Facebook pictures: golden-haired you on golden beaches. Impossible to see the hurt you were hiding.

I’m so grateful you wrote at last. Otherwise we’d never have shared those last few months;precious time to build the bridge that still connects us.

You mustn’t worry about Thomas. I’ll teach him that all that glitters isn’t gold; that base metal can be more enduring.

But it is sparkly moments that lift our lives.

The doctors say he hasn’t inherited the poisonous genes you kept secret for so long. He is safe.

To me you will always be the Snow Fairy. I’ll make sure Thomas remembers you that way, too. I’ve started a scrap­ book for him: stuff from our childhood; postcards; photos from your last stay with us.

When I look up at the night sky and see you there, sparkling still, it’s somehow easy to say what was hard in life: I love you.


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Karen Byrom

My coffee mug says "professional bookworm" which sums me up really! As commissioning fiction editor on the magazine, I love sharing my reading experience of the latest books, debut authors and more with you all, and would like to hear from you about your favourite books and authors! Email me