• Vol. 03
  • Chapter 04
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Family Portrait

Kathy's scrolling through photos of Jem and me. My daughter Sal sent them from her iPhone after her recent 'duty' visit. Kathy points at an unsmiling one of us standing outside the house. Jem's holding his pitchfork like a trident.

'I'd delete that one,' she says, although I haven't asked her which pictures she thinks should go. 'Is he trying to look even more like the Devil?'

'He'd been putting fresh straw in the sty ready for the new pigs,' I say. 'He was probably longing to get back to work.'

'Jem's rearing more pigs?' Kathy looks incredulous although she knows very well it's his retirement hobby. 'I don't know how you can stand it when they go to the abattoir.'

Jem calls my sister ''the rabid vegetarian” – says even the mention of his pigs makes her foam at the mouth. Sometimes I wish they'd get on but you can't expect anything of families.

'Pigs are extremely sensitive animals,' she continues. 'Their brains are more like ours than any other creatures, apart from chimpanzees.' She carries on looking through Sal's photos. 'There isn't one of these where you don't look as if you've swallowed vinegar – bitter. What was Sal thinking?'

I reach for the leaflet I'd been reading earlier about Kathy's new gadget – the Nutribullet. She blended us some spinach, seaweed, blueberries, melon and chia seeds it in earlier for our midday meal. Not my idea of a liquid lunch.


Family Portrait

“As we say in Nutriblast World, the more bitter, the better!” I quote. The illustration shows a grinning elderly man giving his slim and jolly wife a piggy-back. 'They look insane.'

Kathy frowns, her mouth is a tight line. 'I'm only suggesting you smile a bit sometimes. You look lovely then.'

I glance at the happy-looking Christmas portrait of us with our parents that Kathy keeps on her dresser.

'Smiling can cover up a great deal,' I say.

She follows my gaze. 'It wasn't that bad, was it?' she says, eventually.

In my house, I've hidden all the pictures from our childhood in a drawer, some of them I've torn to shreds and burned in the fire.

'I'll make us a nice hot drink,' Kathy says and I excuse myself to go to the toilet while she brews up. In the bathroom, I take a few swigs from the bottle in my handbag and check myself in the mirror. Bright sun streaming through the window shows the liverish bags under my eyes and I wonder if my lips are drooping at the corners like my mother's did when she was older.

Kathy makes me me a cappuccino just how I like it – creamy with sprinkles of chocolate on top and says nothing when I spoon in three sugars.

Before I go, she gives me a bag of vegetables and a bunch of flowers from her garden. At the door, we don't smile, but we hug for a long time.