by Rosanne Rabinowitz
She is with me as I cross the border, this woman called Annemarie
who I'm supposed to be. Her name is on the document, but its my
picture there showing such a bright smile and smooth light hair. As the
official turns the page, I look out at the dimly lit platform full of
uniforms and passengers waiting to be let on. Its 5:00 AM, dawn
just showing their hunched shapes bearing unwieldy bundles and suitcases
held together with ropes and old belts.
He stamps it with a thunk and hands it back. "We've done it again,
Annemarie!" I say to her. Id like to squeeze her hand but I
Lianne goes to the cemetery at least once a week. Its handy after
work because its over the road from the train station. The cemetery
is the only green spot in a village of cracked pavement and small red
brick houses. Only in the cemetery do the trees grow lush and rustling.
The cemetery flowers grow and bloom much better than those in front of
her house. No dust from the pit gets blown over now. But her mothers
roses behave as if the dust is still there, retreating faded and stunted
among their thorns.
She sits down on the bench opposite the family plot. Benjamin Cairns...
Beloved Husband and Father she can read on the biggest stone. She
used to like following those twisty curlicues in the script with her fingers,
back when they were small enough to sink into the grooves.
Lianne lights a fag and sighs, takes her heels off and substitutes trainers
out of her bag. She empties her mind of the days details. Headlines
for a spread on barbecues, all about Savemart Sizzling Sausages, Savemart
Super-Hunky Steaks and a noxious punch called Savemart Summer Sparkler.
The delights of Pineapple Monster Mousse. She shakes her head to get rid
of them all. When the sun comes out she leans back and closes her eyes,
letting it flicker onto her upturned face.
When she wakes the sun has gone, and though it isnt dark yet the
light is fading. Has she been asleep so long? Again, she thinks about
getting her own place in Leeds, how commuting tires her and shes
beginning to wonder if shell be stuck here for the rest of her life.
Youre all Ive got now, Mum said after her father died.
But that was a long time ago. Lianne stretches, and goes to the tiny grave
next to his.
She reaches over to touch the daisies growing next to the stone, and
sees other flowers were left there. Freshly-cut, lilacs from the front
of the church. Where did they come from? Mum would only bring proper
bouquets from the stall at the train station. Almost covered by the lilacs
is a small booklet. Why didnt she notice all this before? She mustve
been half-asleep before she even sat down. She opens it and sees its
Annemarie. Dead before one year, whoever she was, some bit of life
finished before she could understand what living was. But she's given
me a chance to freedom. I thank her, this Annemarie, poor little dead
baby whose name I found in a government building. Thank you for helping
me stay free and I wonder who she would've been, what she would've done
if she had lived.
Maybe Im doing the living for her. Would she like what Im
doing, be pleased I chose her?
Perhaps it was this wondering that brought her to life. Imagine a
baby crying over a great distance, but I didnt really hear
it. I felt a stirring, a shout for attention without words or voice. I
put it down to seasickness and too much Guinness on the ferry that first
The stamps of the different countries are beautiful, shes never
seen so many in one place. There are strange ones: "Magyar Nepokoztarsasag",
all in pink with designs lightly traced in graduated shadings of orange,
blue and brown. Magyar? Oh, thats Hungary. 20 July 1990.
Lianne flips through other pages. Something in Russian-looking writing.
Poland, Romania, Czechoslovakia. Many renewals. And the final one: Waterloo
June 1998. Mustve come in on the Eurostar.
Ought to give it to the police. Someone lost this, and an odd place to
lose it too. Lianne fans the pages back and forth against her hand. Or
see if its someone from around here, but whod come back after
being away to all those places?
Cairns, Annemarie. It says next to the picture. Cairns.
Common enough. Annemarie. Annemarie Cairns. Same as the
name in simple blocky letters on that stone. Her sisters name. Her
twin sister, the sister that hardly was. It goes round in her head, echoing...
the name repeated so many times over the years. Annemarie, Annemarie
come play with me. Annemarie such a cheerful baby. If only Annemarie
Everything outside gets still, shes down to the sound of her own
breathing in her ears, her heart going fast like shes running but
shes doing nothing except gawping at that picture and that name.
The fluff dancing in the waning light stops drifting, the last birds silent.
Only the passport pages move and shake between her fingers.
Then she hears another train come into the station. The bird songs again,
now scattered and sporadic. And Lianne looks again. The face near her
sisters name is smiling, but that smile is much too big. Like shes
sitting on a stool in the supermarket photobooth making herself do it.
Shes got dark eyes, but blonde hair.
Annemarie Cairns. The twin sister who hardly was. The dead sister wholl
always be a baby. But shes no baby in that picture. She went away.
Shes living. Somewhere.
Shes here. Those flowers are fresh, with drops of water
trembling between light purple petals. Theyve just been washed.
She mustve have gone to the loo in the church to do that. Then put
the flowers on the grave, just in front of Lianne while she slept.
Lianne slings her bag over her shoulder and runs, clutching the passport
to her stomach. Maybe Annemaries still in the cemetery. Maybe shes
walking on the streets. Maybe shes in the pub or the miners
club. Or getting on a train. The world jars again and again with the fall
of her feet on the pavement, her eyes tear with the smoky insides of places
where she searches. Last shes back at the station, gazing at a platform
empty except for a guard strutting, waving his torch and whistling.
Jimmy, how can you be whistling when my sisters come back and maybe
shes just gone on the last train? But its not Jimmys
fault. Hed think her mad if she asked him that. Everyone knows she
doesnt have a sister. Maybe she is mad. But shes got that
passport in her hand. The passport with Annemaries name and
their birthday typed in front. When Jimmy looks up she waves
at him, then sets off home.
When Lianne opens the door she hears laughter. Mums at the kitchen
table with Gertie from the next village over, theyve got a small
bottle of Bells out.
"Alright Lianne? Gerties here, shes come to watch Buffy
on video. Want some whisky, love?"
Mums cheeks are flushed pink, her smile broad. One look at her,
Lianne decides she wont tell mum about the passport, not now when
she hasnt a clue herself where it came from. Whats the point
of troubling her with it? Mums happy now. Happy with the satellite
telly, her best mate who shares her passion for the X-Files and
Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Plus a good tipple at the Bells.
"No thanks, Im knackered, Ill just find something to
eat and get an early night." Lianne rummages in the fridge and takes
out some salad, puts a veggie burger on the grill. Theres no crap
from Savemart to be found in that fridge, ever.
Upstairs in her room she lays the passport open, next to a photo of her
and Annemarie. Not identical, the eyes are different and Annemarie was
smaller. Sometimes shes quick to spot that, others she has to remember
that she wears the yellow, Annemaries in pink. On the back written
in smudged old ink: Annemarie and Lianne, two for the price of one!
Back and forth Lianne looks, then spreads the photos out on the second
bed. "For your friends stopping over." That never happened,
but the extra bed got used for laying her clothes out for school.
Next to the pictures she arranges her clothes for work.
In Amsterdam I stayed with an old friend but didn't see her. She lived
in a house where everyone was English and worked all the time. The Dutch
people gave me money raised from a benefit, so I didnt have to find
work straight away. Instead, I spent the days sitting in the house with
its many rooms and corridors, the sun coming in the huge kitchen windows
warming the remains of many hurried breakfasts.
Or I'd walk through the streets, visit the markets, sit in cafes.
I wrote letters that I couldnt post and knocked back mugs of rich
and strong coffee. Theres no coffee half that good in England, but
then I didnt find proper Guinness in Amsterdam either. I imagined
my friends down the pub drinking it after defence campaign meetings. Id
take out my passport and think of Annemarie. Would she like Guinness too
if shed grown up?
I daydreamed of adventure, discovering places I never thought Id
see. In my sleep I found them too, but they werent what I expected.
My unfocused wobbling gaze took in white white blurred faces pulsing in
and out of view. There was a priest. A priest? My family are all atheistic
Lianne is eager to go to work for the first time in months. She puts
the two pictures in her bag with her office shoes. Instead of reading
the paper on the train, she looks at the passport. Annemarie, whats
it like being alive when people think youre dead?
But of course shes dead. Less than a year old, some fever going
round. Everyone says, everyone knows. Lianne had that fever too. When
did she realise shed been there at that moment of death, lying beside
her sister in the twin-sized cot? The heartbeat that echoed hers in the
womb stopped, the breathing she always heard next to her gone.
She didnt remember any of these things, but she also never forgot.
St Catherines House at the Aldwych housed huge dusty volumes,
records of births and deaths. If I was a Catholic maybe Id be giving
thanks to St Catherine, whos got to be the patron saint of fugitives
The building was filled with the hush of a library or a church.
Anyone who coughed or cleared their throat looked around expecting to
be scolded. Me, I was so nervous I farted. But then I found Annemarie
Cairns in the 1966 book of deaths with a nice fat zero next to her.
Annemarie. Enough like my own name, Anna. Now find the date of birth and
youll be sorted...
I held the heavy book full of so many lives. Could they be in there
buzzing and bumping against those thick covers, trying to get out? Of
course, theyre probably on microfilm or CD Rom now. With so many
of them condensed, their buzz must be high and squeaky.
Kevin the designer nods at Lianne. He starts telling her about his new
man, but Lianne goes immediately to the sheaf of papers in her tray. Her
barbecue headline "Im a fire-starter" had been changed
to "Cmon barbie light my fire". Oh well. Kev suggested
her clever headline might be dated by a few years, but he didnt
realise Dee would insist on something from the sixties instead! Sighing,
she summons the page up on screen and whips through the corrections. Later,
Dee gives her a new lay-out to sub. Without much cutting to do, she deals
with it quickly.
Kevin leans on the top of Liannes Mac and waves his hands in front
of her screen to get her attention. "Im going for a sandwich.
Want me to bring something back for you?" She gives him an order,
then asks if the scanner will be free for a while.
"Yeah, sure. What for? Tarting up some rude pictures?"
"Get your mind out of the gutter, you!" But her laugh is forced,
not up for office banter.
The state of art scanner whirs and groans, but the pictures are soon
done. On the screen Lianne tries to make Annemarie get older. That always
looks so easy on telly. Watch those blobby baby features grow and sharpen.
The eyes change from blue to brown like hers, like her mums. Watch
the nose get longer and bones emerge from behind round cheeks. Lianne
has high cheekbones so her sister should too. And the woman in the passport?
Damn it. It goes all wobbly and takes too long. The curves keep turning
into angles. Shes a sub after all, not a graphics person.
"Good try, but you wont do that just with Photoshop. Youd
need a multi-media programme, I reckon." Kevin stands behind her,
peering over her shoulder.
Ive never been in a real sleeping car before. Always I hitched
or took the National Express on bogus student reductions. Here a sleeping
car is only a couple quid, cheap like everything else for Westerners.
The other day I saw two Germans buy a Polish farm out of their dole money.
The mattress is thick and soft, the sheets crisp and white, the blanket
pulled in deep folds around me. But I can't sleep. Strange to be snug
in this comfy bed, while hurtling to an unknown destination. Hearing whistles,
other trains rushing by; scraps of shouts in foreign languages and the
grind of brakes as stations come and go. All names on a map that is part
of a past, the source of stories that died with my grandmothers. Can I
find them buried under highrise housing blocks and toppled monuments to
I ask Annemarie if she knows these stories, though her past isnt
mine. Instead Im drifting into her world. Into a room where I stare
at legs under a table. Something moist and warm under me, turning cool.
A baby girl, small and round like me, gazes down from someones lap.
Lianne dumps her failed attempts, then leans back and starts on her sandwich.
"You continue to amaze me, Lianne. Melted mozarella with pesto!"
Kevin teases her again. "Didnt know you eat that stuff up here!
And what was it yesterday, sun-dried tomatoes?"
Lianne chews slowly, then pronounces: "Eee by gum, I do like me
sun-dried tomatoes, with mushy peas, chips and black pudding. Tomorrow
Ill be bringing flat cap and ferret twork too!"
"I thought you already brought the ferret. Isnt it called
While Lianne chokes on her mozarella, Kev turns to the subjects of boyfriend,
clubs and drugs. "Ah, but youre such a law-abiding citizen.
What do you do for kicks?" He giggles.
"Hmmm, Ill tell you what my mum does for kicks. Kicks policemen
and hits em over the head with her handbag. Almost got sent down
for it. 84-85." Its her turn to laugh watching the shock pass
over his face, then his attempts to cover it. And he obviously doesnt
know what happened in "84-85" and wont admit it either.
Then she stops laughing when she realises that she hasnt answered
his question. Not at all.
"Do these when you can, please Lianne?" She swivels her chair
round to see Dee putting new pages into her tray. Lianne nods, but every
internal organ deflates when she sees theyre cookery pages. Titchy,
fiddly little things, details of dishes she wouldnt feed her mums
"Ugh, look at this." Lianne says to Kevin as she types the
first one into the computer. "Fruit cocktail again. I never figured
out how they turn real fruit into those squishy cubes"
"Who said its real fruit? But I like fruit cocktail recipes.
Its fun making the little bits go different colours on the lay-out."
What kind of colours could she ever see writing stuff like "Give
summer garden parties gusto with a refreshing fruity fungus?" Fungus?
Oh no, she didnt mean to put that. She highlighted "fungus"
and typed in "freeze".
And then I was in bed, in a white room with the blurry faces
my family though I didn't know who they all were and the priest.
I knew what people were saying though Id never spoken. I was dying.
"Fascists! Fascists!" The alarm rings with the shouts and the dream
"Oh shit, not again!" I grumble as I pull on clothes, lace up boots.
Im 24 years old , a tall woman with short blonde hair instead of
long black hair. Living in a squat in East Berlin. I'm called Annemarie
though I'm really Anna. I hear the thump of the front door barricade
going up, people running to the windows as I climb up the little winding
staircase to my position on the roof.
Theres someone at the top, beckoning for me to follow. Ive
never seen her before, though she looks like any other Berlin autonome
with her ripped leather jacket, Palestinian scarf, black jeans and DMs.
The old iron stairway wobbles as I climb and Im glad to have company.
When I get to the roof no ones there. Annemarie? Are you there?
I call though I dont know why. I shrug like it doesnt matter
when no one answers. Then stand ready at the stacks of bricks, bags of
sand and boxes of bottles, peering over the parapet.
Its only when Liannes eyes start watering and her stomach
goes queasy that she remembers to take a break from the screen.
They never tell you staring at a computer too long can make you puke
as well as go blind.
"Glad I only have a girl. My kid wont be going down the
pit." Mum always declared, for all her efforts to keep that pit
open fourteen years ago. So no black lung for the likes of Lianne. Or
hands red and cracked from cleaning jobs, or a bad back and support hose
for varicose veins from standing all day. Some undiscovered computer disease
will get her instead.
She looks around, wishing she could just flex and stretch her eyes like
muscles. When she closes them, she sees Savemart fruit cocktail cubes
against her lids. And drifting over them, semi-transparent, the stamps
on Annemaries passport.
Annemaries expression keeps changing. Mornings, the eyebrows are
raised, asking a question. When Lianne gets ready for work, she ponders
the question. On the train shell check the passport again. At work
Annemaries bored and impatient, a frown between those brows as if
she knows exactly what Liannes doing.
Looking closer, she sees little whisps surrounding the neat hair in a
fuzzy halo. Like its been cut and slicked into place, but still
it tries to escape. That hairs not really hers any more than
the smile is. Ill have another go with the scanner, Lianne decides.
See what Annemarie looks like with wavy dark hair like mine. You can do
that in Photoshop.
"Whereve you been all this time? Who are you?" Lianne
asks. "What would you be doing? What are you doing?"
She keeps interrogating the moody blonde girl. It must be bleached, that
hair. Look at those dark eyes. "Did you love reading, did you fall
in love with words and go to University to study them? Would you be living
with your mum at 32, spotting typos and writing about hunky-chunky steaks
and festive fruit fungi?"
Of course not. Annemarie has gone beyond all those things, to places
Lianne cant even imagine. Not all nice ones, holiday-in-the-sun
places, but places she wants to know.
In the drizzle the piazza in Timisoara isnt crowded, like it
was on telly last winter during the revolution. Only a few groups of teenagers
stay put on the benches outside the cathedral.
Someone calls to me. A dark-skinned woman with long black hair stands
near a stall draped in black velvet. She wears a brown leather jacket
over a bright red, green and magenta dress. Its the first leather
jacket Ive seen in this country except for mine.
Want candle? she asks. for revolution. Ceausescu..."
She draws a finger across her throat, then makes a rat-a-tat-tat machine
gun gesture. But many we dead too." She crosses herself and
hands me a candle. "Two deutchmark. she concludes. I have only
Hungarian forints. I give her a few. I dont need the candle she
offers me, so she lights it herself. But I stay watching its flame sputter
on the pavement spotted with drops of rain, surrounded by lumpy pools
of melted wax gone solid.
Great-aunt Nina lived here when she was a kid. When I was thirteen
she taught me how to say "youre a dickhead" in Romanian.
Yesta pula. Two of the teenagers come over. I hope I wont
need that phrase now,
The boys hair is bleached platinum and he wears one earing,
unusual here. "You from England?" he asks. "You like Sex Pistols?
May I kiss you?" His girlfriend hangs on to his arm and smiles shyly.
I surprise myself by nodding yes and he kisses me on the cheek. So does
Lianne watches the X-Files with her mother. Mum is already solving
the case, exclaiming over the handsomeness of David Duchovny. Shed
do a better job than that Agent Scully. Especially seeing that she appreciates
Mr. Muldur a lot better.
Lianne laughs, and thinks she wants to tell about the passport. Maybe
she had it all wrong to think her mother would be upset. Instead her eyes
would light up and shed be pleased that shes got an x-file
of her own to solve.
Shes about to reach into her bag and come out with it, but she
cant. Because its got to be their secret. Sisters always
have secrets from the parents, things about boyfriends or smoking or bunking
off school. She and Annemarie never did, so this would be their first.
I cross in the afternoon, down a dusty road from one part of the Tatras
to another. Under the straps of my rucksack Im sweating. I approach
the border control station that looks like a toll booth. The guy in there
hardly looks at the passport.
The first time Ive crossed in the day, on foot. On the other
side it looks exactly the same. One minute I stood in Poland, now Im
in Czechoslavakia. Perhaps that tree over there stands in both countries
at the same time.
Walking along to find the stop for a bus to Prague, Im talking
to her. "Annemarie, people used to get ten years in prison when they
tried to cross this border. Now they just pop over because Czech beer
is tastier and the bars close later. Maybe things are better now... maybe?"
The passport is lost, and so is Lianne. She searches everywhere. Could
it be in back of the sofa, nestling in the easy chairs or hidden in the
breadbin? Shes terrified her mother will find it. The secret revealed:
dog-ends under the bed, diaphragm lurking among M&S knickers, used
condom in the little pink-flowered bin under the desk. Current passport
for long-dead sister, found who knows where?
Somethings taken from her again. Like a sudden empty space next
to her, a stop to soft breathing in her ear. Its only a passport.
But where the hell is it?
She cares less about Savemart baked beans, or even Savemart lemon cheesecake.
She doesnt give a shit about Savemart anything. Theres nothing
I meet people I like and sometimes sleep with them. They come and
go, but shes always there. In my dreams I see through new-born eyes,
other times shes grown up. I speak to her as I move from country
to country. She talks my own language while I learn the new ones. She
encourages me while I teach others my language wherever I go. Its
a living. The grown-up version of Annemarie has long brown hair that curls
a little and shes quite thin but not skinny. And yes, Im sure
she likes Guinness.
Its 1998, time to go back. Theyve stopped looking for
you. But Annemarie has no answers to the other questions I
ask. And no one else does either.
Before I left England I found her town on the map. I will go there,
I thought, if I ever return home.
A page comes back with only one correction. Fuck those luscious lambchops.
"Fuck" is circled in red. Lianne stares. She doesnt even
remember writing "fuck". Shed surely meant to write "love".
She corrects the "fuck", then writes a letter of resignation.
She hopes to slip it into Dees tray quietly. But Dee looks up. "Oh
Lianne, I wanted to speak to you."
It doesnt matter, Lianne thinks. Im leaving anyway.
"The cleaner found this on the floor, near the scanner. It might
have something to do with you." Dee takes the passport from out of
her drawer. "Is that a relative? She doesnt look like you much."
As I walk through the village, I wonder how it looked to someone small,
bouncing in a pram. I walk past the two pubs, the little shop, the social
club. I go past the council houses and private houses on the outskirts.
Her parents might still be here, a whole family and I imagine everyone
I see to be those people.
Her grave is in back of the cemetery, just as I thought. Wild flowers
grow around it, just as I imagined. A young woman in smart clothes is
sitting on a bench nearby. I nod at her but realise shes asleep.
I put the lilacs on the grave and leave the passport too. I dont
need it anymore.
I glance at the sleeping woman, wondering if I should wake her before
I leave. Someone could bother her, nick her bag or something. But she
looks so peaceful. I decide not to disturb her.
On the train Lianne wakes from fuzzy half-sleep, confused by the foreign
landscape speeding by. Watery dawn sunlight is strengthening into a band
of warmth over her face and the arm closest to the window.
There are two of them in her bag, along with a months wages in
travellers cheques and some addresses from Kev. Lianne is careful
to give the right passport to the guard. When hes gone she opens
the other, the real one that brought her on this journey. She draws a
finger over each strange stamp. She doesnt know what shell
do in those places. But shell find out.
Im travelling further, she thinks, further even than Annemarie.
But shell be with me when I cross the border.
Top of page