When I think back, it seems odd how clearly I recall the morning after I learned that my sister Darya had breast cancer. Odd because I’d hardly slept. Odd because my mind was less a blur than a glass shattered on a granite floor, beyond recognition or repair.

I visited my aunt at her deli in London, where I live, to tell her. Even now as I write I can feel the saliva pooling in my mouth and how I wrestled each of my facial muscles into co-operation, forming the still-alien words that were a proxy for an unnameable horror: ‘Darya has breast cancer.’ They were barely rendered, but they were said.

That sensation is relentlessly dreary and familiar to me now, sometimes an in-between hum, at others acute and urgent. Its acrid bile is detonated by words that are often clinical, the human excised: biopsy, mastectomy, hormone-receptor positive, aromatase inhibitor. Metastases. Liver failure. Palliative. Occasionally, when I speak them I muster a tone you might almost call flippant, as though my cavalier posture will force the cancer back inside its box. But it outwits me; it wins that game, too.

And then came these: ‘Darya died.’ ‘What should we say in the obituary?’ ‘My sister’s funeral is on Sunday.’

They are the words of researchers and doctors. They are the words of someone else’s sister, surely? Surely not my sister; that Darya not this one, the one I never knew not the one I adored.

But yes. Christmas became the first Christmas; Spring, the first Spring. March 24th the first birthday she did not celebrate.

Today is the day she died, but in another year. Today is the day she died. It is the first November 16th in the year 0001 A.D. and I am wordless, except for these.

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