by Umair Mirxa
Anastasia had never cared for surprises. All she did, everything she owned, had a defined and definite purpose. Every thought, word, and deed was meticulously planned. Nothing was ever wasted. Not a single moment spent in idle existence.
Except, of course, for the twelve minutes after breakfast every Saturday.
One can, therefore, easily imagine her distress, when on the morning we first meet her, there was an unexpected knock on her door. Such curiosity as you and I might feel on similar occasions was alien to Anastasia. She felt instead, deep within her, only a keen anguish.
For Anastasia had taken great pains to orchestrate her life as she desired, composing it so exactly such an event would not occur. An observer, from some distance, might label her life dull and tedious, and be forgiven the assumption. Anastasia, however, would respectfully disagree. If she cared for the effort at all. She had an apartment she loved, and a job she enjoyed. A carefully curated circle of acquaintances, a quiet lifestyle, and smart investments in a diverse portfolio. She had no friends, was never bored nor tired, and rather enjoyed the monotonous routine of all her days. Anastasia truly lived.
For a moment then, upon hearing the knock, she froze and considered if she should feign being away from home. The pretence, however, would eat away at her in the days following, and she cared not for the distraction.
She rose, therefore, graceful as ever, from the chair in front of her desk, walked across her living room, and opened the door.
In a daze she stood there, for what she felt certain was an eternity, struggling with emotions she had thought long buried. She tried, desperately, and yet failed to understand the sight before her.
It transpired her sister, Margarita, three years younger and four towns removed, had decided to invite herself over for a surprise visit. A huge, inexplicable grin painted across her face, she stood next to her suitcase in the corridor. She announced her intention to stay for a few days, and then chattered away excitedly about things Anastasia neither cared for nor truly understood, for reasons she could not begin to fathom.
The tempest raging inside her mind rendered Anastasia deaf to all her sister’s words. She heard only her own thoughts, in turmoil as they hadn’t been for years, and it still made no sense.
Why would she do such a thing? She who knew her best. She who, of all the miserable, degenerate sods on Earth, should have known better. She for whom, alone in all the wide world, Anastasia harboured in her heart the closest thing she knew to love. How could she not realize what she had done?
“I was, just now, writing my weekly letter to you,” she said, regaining a measure of control.
“Oh, I suppose there’s no need for it now,” said Margarita, grinning as she carried her suitcase inside. “You can just tell me everything you were going to write.”
“Yes, quite. If you are not too tired from your journey, perhaps we could take a walk in the park?”
“What a lovely idea. I’m not tired at all, and it’s the perfect day for a walk, too!”
“Excellent,” said Anastasia, eerily calm now as she gave her sister a rare and sudden smile. “Let me grab my coat, and we’ll go.”
It was not how Anastasia had planned to spend her Saturday. She was careful, however, not to let her feelings show as they walked out of her apartment building. Instead, she smiled politely at all the gossip her sister shared. When Margarita complained about her boyfriend, she expressed her horror at all the appropriate moments.
It was not how she would ever plan to spend any day.
“You know, Ana,” said Margarita as they approached the park. “You should smile more often. It suits you. Might even help you find someone.”
“I do not dance where there is no music, sister. Please do not call me Ana again.”
Time and again, people insisted on repeating their mistakes. It was a trait Anastasia had never understood.
“Alright, jeez. Lighten up, won’t you? Have you at least given any thought to what I said in my last letter?”
“Which part, exactly?”
Margarita was wont to ramble in her letters quite as much as she did in real conversations. How she managed to put together so many words, so often, and yet say nothing at all was another mystery Anastasia had yet to solve.
“The part where I asked if you were seeing someone. Isn’t it time you considered settling down? I am to marry within the year, and I couldn’t be happier. You could be happy too.”
They were walking across the park now, on paths still wet from the recently cleared snow. Gently, Anastasia steered her sister north, toward the lake she visited for picnic breakfasts every Sunday.
“I have shared my thoughts on the matter with you. I am happy. My life is perfect. All you do is complain incessantly about your boyfriend. Why would I want the same?”
“You don’t want a boyfriend or any friends at all. I do believe you’re not happy with my visit either. So, what is it you do want?”
Anastasia moved ahead, and then turned to face her exasperated sister as they reached the lake’s shore.
“I want to be free, sister,” she said, baring her fangs now as they lengthened, and moved closer to Margarita. “I want to bury you where I buried our parents. Please do not scream. No one will hear you.”
Saturday morning, Anastasia woke to her alarm, brushed her teeth, and enjoyed a cheese-and-spinach omelette for breakfast. For the first time in a long while, and with no annoying sister expecting a letter from her, she had no idea what she would do with the next twelve minutes of her life.
Umair Mirxa lives and writes in Karachi, Pakistan. He is the Creator/Editor-in-Chief of Paper Djinn Press, and has had his stories accepted for publication in several international anthologies.
He is a massive J.R.R. Tolkien fan, loves everything to do with mythology, fantasy, and history, and wishes with all his heart that dragons were real. When he’s not writing, he enjoys reading novels and comic books, playing video games, listening to music, and watching movies, TV shows, and football as an Arsenal FC fan.