It’s Christmas Day. She loved Christmas. She would squeal with delight as she opened her presents. He can see her standing next to him smiling with happiness as they share their presents. He remembers that his uncle told her that she had won the award for the most excited that year that Christmas was at his house. Now, they are at his uncle’s house and she had only been here once.
It is a windy wet Christmas Day and his aunt has brought floating candles shaped like lotus flowers. She has brought a number of different colours and he watches as she gently opens the paper petals and places the tea candles inside. He helps her place them on the table. She tells him that she had wanted to float them in the swimming pool but it is too windy. She had also wanted to wait until evening but his grandparents would be leaving soon and she wanted them to be part of the ceremony.
It is a ceremony of sorts. He remembers the first Christmas without her. He went to his aunt’s house with his family. It was also a cold wet day. They all sat inside quietly, solemnly, hardly speaking a word. She had only been gone three months. His uncle gave them pink pieces of paper to write to her and make boats. For some reason, he was very good at making the complicated boats and he made them for almost everyone. They took them to the pond at the cemetery and floated them for her. She would have liked the pink boats, he thinks.
He asks his aunt if he can help light the candles. They all stand and stare at the lotus flower candles. No one says much. What is there to say? She is missing. She will always be missing.
His aunt tells him that they will try to float the candles in the pool later. They blow out the candles to wait for later and his grandparents go home.
Now? he asks his aunt. Can we float the candles now? Yes, she says, let’s try.
They all wander to the pool and try to light the candles and float them. One catches on fire and the boy’s brother rescues it. One cousin falls in because he is so intent on his candle. But the boy and his brother try desperately to make their candles float. They gently hold the paper lotus flowers and place the tea candles inside. Concentrating hard, they slowly push the candles into the pool. They watch and watch through the darkness although everyone else has gone back into the house. He turns to look and catches the eye of his aunt who has been watching him.
His aunt has lost her only daughter. For most of his life, she was his only female cousin on this side of the family. He is only 18 months older than her. They spent weekly visits together at their grandparent’s house. She was the sister he didn’t have in a family of boys. He has lost his cousin.
His aunt knows he cries for her daughter just as she cries for her daughter and for him and for all they have lost. He knows that.
No more will he call out for Clea Maya.
“Being a witness to death or almost death … would perhaps reveal the occasional truth not available in ordinary life.” Murray Bail, The Pages.