"Her Smile" is one of the July Writing Challenge entries that was chosen to be a featured story.
Photo by Cassoday Harder
Photo by Cassoday Harder

I felt the hay against my feet and legs. I was lying with my neck on a thick wooden beam that separated the different sections of the stable. It wasn’t the most comfortable position, but for the first time in three months I felt slightly content. The sunlight was softly shining on my face, and from where I sat I could hear the breathing of the horses who also stood in the stable, the rustling from the leaves outside, the chirping of the birds.

They were all peaceful sounds, and although I was used to most of them, they had a miraculous effect on me today. For the first time I could think clearly, about my twin sister and the verdict that changed my life forever. Me and my twin looked exactly alike, but in personality we couldn’t be more different. I was always the quiet one, the one who loved living in a small town where everyone knew each other. I had my whole life planned out: having a loving boyfriend, becoming a doctor, and living in that beautiful house with the porch on the edge of the woods.

My sister wasn’t like me; she was always restless. She wanted to get away from our small hometown as soon as possible. She wanted to explore the world and had it all planned out. Well, not exactly planned. Her entire bedroom wall was covered in post-its, pictures, and stories of the places she one day wanted to see. She was going to see the world, meet new people, and discover new cultures. After high school she would take a bag, her car, and just take off. She didn’t plan where she would go first; she would just see where the wind took her. But she never got to complete that dream.

A little over a year ago came the devastating verdict. My sister was diagnosed with cancer, and it had already spread throughout her body. The doctors gave her six months without treatment, a little longer if she did get treated. She said she didn’t want to spend her last months in a hospital bed; she wanted to live them to the fullest. She set up a bucket list with places she wanted to visit, some still in America and others all over the world: Europe, Australia, even some places in South America and South Africa.

Our parents were against it at first, but I supported her. My sister argued that she wanted to be happy in her final moments, that she wanted to live her dream. Eventually our parents agreed, because making my sister happy and making her smile was the most important.

So we left. I postponed going to college; we took the car and drove off. We took pictures of every place, and my sister was in all of them. With every place she grew more tired, but her smile only got brighter. Even through the circles under her eyes and her pale skin, I could she her shine. In some way she was simply glowing, and I knew that we had made the right choice. The glow in her eyes, her smile, that was all that mattered at the moment. We managed to cover all the places she wanted to see in America. But then suddenly she got even sicker. On the end of her bucket list was her last wish: she wanted to die somewhere she could see the ocean, where she could feel the sun on her skin for the last time. So my parents rented a small cottage near the beach. And there we waited. She spent her last day laying on the beach, soaking up the sun. She held on so she could see the sunset and then she let go, with a soft smile still on her face.

After that I cried almost every night. We weren’t extremely close before, but she was my twin, my other half. During our trip together I finally managed to understand her; I could see the beauty in her dreams. My sister was cremated; I kept some of her ashes in a necklace around my neck. I designed the small sun that now held part of my sister, because the sun was the last thing she ever saw.


Only last week I finally had the courage to step into her room. There I found her wall covered with pictures, post-its, and stories of places she had wanted to visit. In the corner next to her bed I found the bucket list. In that second it felt like my whole life fell apart around me. I couldn’t imagine living my whole life living in this small town anymore, not without her! My sister had such a beautiful dream; she wanted to see so much. She wanted to find beauty all around the world. But she didn’t; she died before she could fulfill her dream. And after my world and my future fell apart completely around me, I could see a new future piece itself together slowly. I would make sure that my sister still got to all those places. Even if it was just a part of her, she would see them all.

Not even ten minutes later, I had already purchased a ticket to Italy. Once I got there in Tuscany, I rented a Vespa and stared driving. That’s how I got here today when I passed the small house and the even smaller stable next to it. I spoke with the owners and they allowed me into the stables. There were only two horses there; the other sections were filled with hay. And as I lay there, I finally felt it. I finally felt warmth of the sunlight, the same warmth I hadn’t felt since my sister passed away during that sunset. It was like she was sitting there right next to me, with that soft beautiful smile on her lips. And I understood, I understood why she felt restless in our small town, I understood why she wanted to see all those places around the world. It wasn’t just so she could see the beauty of them; she simply wanted to find the place where she completely belonged. She was so restless because she hadn’t found the place where she could feel totally peaceful, the same way I felt right at that moment. I started my travels on impulse, but now I had found my reason. It was so I could help her find peace, so I could help her find her smile and make her feel the warmth of the sun. Because she was always the happiest in those moments, and her happiness is still the most important thing in the entire world to me. Together we will discover that happiness. Together we will discover the world.





Jana Mommaerts

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