The sun rested on the bright auburn hair of a fox, grooming him with peace and serenity. He was curled in a ball, snuggled in the bosom of late afternoon. I’d never seen tranquillity quite like this. Birds sang and the quiet wind blew, and there he slept, a tired fox.
I had to get a picture.
There was a fox sleeping in my garden!
I snapped one through my murky kitchen window, but I had to get a closer shot.
With my baby playing happily in the lounge, I turned the key in our back door, slow, steady. I slipped my sandals on. Leaning gently on the handle, I silently opened the door and crept outside.
I’d barely got one foot on the patio when through the gap in my baby’s green slide, eyes as sharp as a thorn and as vulnerable as a rose stared right through me.
His ears pointed fiercely.
I was petrified, for myself, for him.
Not one second longer, he shot as quickly as a bullet from a hunter’s gun down the garden, through the prickly bush, scraping back and forth, back and forth, and as I stood and watched in pure fascination, he clambered up the fence and bolted right over it, never to be seen again.
And all I’ve got to remember him by is a lousy picture through my murky kitchen window.
It’s going to be okay. Just breathe. Keep drinking your tea. You will be okay. They are only your in-laws. They are not rabid dogs. Yes. I’ll be fine. The house is a little warm though. I’ll just open the window and let some fresh air in. The sunlight streams through the window onto the dining table, which is set for three. Miriam, the snob. Derek, the leery. And me. I don’t know why Harry set this up. He had a last minute paint job in the village apparently. Yeah, right. He poked his head in, handed me a cream cake stand, and said, “the folks are dropping by, Mum loves cupcakes”, winked and drove off. I mean, talk about husband of the year. The cake stand is placed in the middle of the table, a perfect barrier between the in-laws and myself. The cupcakes are perched on the two tiers, lemon, sprinkled with rainbow sugar strands. They look like children have made them, but I don’t have time to try and emulate a Mary Berry recipe.
I slurp my tea, hearing Miriam’s thorny voice in my head, you sound like an unmannered lout. I place my tea down on the wood kitchen counter and check the quiche in the fridge, just incase a goat has climbed through the window and savaged it while my back was turned. Still there.
The clock ticks on the wall.
I pick up my tea, and just as I take another sip, the heavy knocker on the door thuds, and my hand jolts, spilling the tea down my shirt. No! It’s splashed all down my chest. Ah, great. The knocker bangs again. This is just great.
“Coming!” I grab a sheet of kitchen roll and dab myself, running to the door.
“My, my.” Derek’s eyes pop out at my stained lilac shirt.
“I had an accident.” I force a strained laugh. “You see…”
“Leaking nipple juice?” Derek chuckles, leaning in toward me.
“Derek, please,” Miriam cautions, her grey, fishy-coloured hair combed into a high bun. “Now, may we come in, or are we to dawdle out here all afternoon?”
“Yes, come in,” I say through gritted teeth.
We walk into the open kitchen-dining area in silence.
Miriam stares at the cupcakes, then at my wet shirt, and narrows her eyes.
Pearl pink and pale yellow reflected in her wet eyes with every step she took. The salty smell of fish and chips and seawater drifted around like the boats on the still water. It was just the three of them. Sister. Brother. Mother. Like it had been for seven years. The colours in the sky were mixing, changing. A new member was to join.
He watched as the plane left a crisp white path on the blue banner. They were to welcome a strange face. Strange eyes. Strange hands. Adults though they were, inside, small children shrunk.
Seven years echoed in her thoughts. Seven. Now a new love had washed into her life, into her children’s life. It was time to open the door to him. She had told her children this tonight, and as the afternoon fell away, they sat staring silently at the shimmering, rolling waves.
Pearl pink and pale yellow reflected in her wet eyes. Couldn’t these colours stay like this forever?
“In five minutes our baby girl would be turning eighteen,” Jeff said, and then frowned at his wife, “goodness, she’d be an adult.”
“Why won’t it stay straight?” Sarah snagged the safety pin from the paper with her race number on it, and fished another one out of Jeff’s rucksack. “Why do we even need numbers anyway?”
“To keep everything in order. There are thousands of people to organise.” Jeff cast a concerned glance over his wife. “Are you sure you’re okay? You don’t have to do this, you know. If you don’t feel up…”
Sarah shot him a warning look. “Up to it?”
“Well, I mean…” he searched for the right words but his wife’s stare was always his downfall. “Here, have a banana for the energy.”
“I don’t want a banana, I want this pathetic piece of paper to stick to my chest.”
“Don’t you think you should attach it to your stomach?”
She jabbed the safety pin at her blue running top and winced.
Jeff sighed, dropped the banana and the course information he’d remembered to bring, and took the pin from his wife’s hand.
“I can do it,” she muttered.
“No, you can’t. Let me.”
After he had fixed her race number, she looked up with fragile eyes, the same bright blue as her top.
Jeff kissed her forehead. “It’s alright.”
“Why wasn’t it me, Jay?” She covered her mouth like she was trying to stop a belting cry from escaping her. “She was seventeen, she was so young.”
He said nothing. Her. Their daughter. Why did it have to be either of them?
“She’d be proud of you today,” he said. “She knew how much you hated exercise. Jogging in particular.”
“I’ll be running,” she said.
“You might even be swimming if this rain doesn’t hold off.”
They shared a smile.
“Now, we’ve just got to attach this monster of a thing to the back of you, and you’ll be on your way,” Jeff said, staring at the inflatable boob costume.
Sarah kissed Jeff on the lips. “Our baby girl would be turning eighteen today, and also a very bright shade of red if she could see me now.”
My brother, George, never had many friends. He wasn’t shy, he was just direct, a straight-talker. He knew when to speak and when to observe. He raised his hand in class when he knew the answer, but if a teacher ever picked on him at random, he’d say, ‘obviously I don’t know the answer or I’d have raised my hand’. Teachers didn’t like that. They said he had an attitude. Anyone under the age of eighteen who says things how they are has an attitude.
Because George never had many friends, he held onto Zippy, a treasured pal he received for his first birthday. We all befriended Zippy. He was a bit like a pet in the family.
Until one day, George met Joshua.
‘Is that your sister’s?’ he scoffed.
‘No, it’s mine,’ George said, unaffected.
‘But it’s babyish.’
Joshua shrugged. ‘It just is.’
‘He’s my friend,’ George said.
Joshua picked Zippy up and turned it over in his hand. ‘I’m your friend.’
‘Why can’t I have two?’
Joshua dropped Zippy on the sofa. ‘That’s just a toy.’
George and Joshua were the same, they just came from different sides of the table. They were both direct, and definitely not shy enough to hold back their opinions. Something changed in George that day. It’s like he saw Zippy in a different light. Saggy, sad, a sorry sight. A toy. Zippy had been there for George when he needed him. Now, he had someone else, someone who would challenge him and engage with him, someone who could call him a friend.
Like the meaning of its name, rugby was my stronghold, my fortress. It was rugby that gave me escape when my Dad called again to say his business trip was going to be extended by another week. His whole life was a business trip. It was rugby that transported me to another world when Mum accidentally knocked the cork out of the wine bottle and accidentally slugged the contents down. And it was rugby that took my mind off my whimpering little sister that wanted her daddy and mummy back.
The game gave me protection, hope. It let me blow off steam, talk to people who’s only problem was where to go and party that night, remind me that I had a life of my own, that I was good at something other than being a doormat to my parents.
But then I was made captain of our team. I never asked for more responsibility! I couldn’t cope with people looking to me for advice, depending on me for pep talks. It always felt like my fault when we lost. Suddenly winning and losing was more important. If we lost, it was because I didn’t encourage the guys enough, didn’t meet the expectations of a captain correctly. I just wanted to play, to escape, to have some fun for a change.
I tore my band off and threw it on the ground.
I couldn’t be the captain anymore.
It was time someone was the captain of me.