• Vol. 02
  • Chapter 08
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It was a game we often played, especially during that caravan summer. It seemed to rain endlessly from the day school broke up until that inevitably sunny morning when we pulled on our newly pressed uniforms and faced the first day in a new classroom. Spillikins, jigsaws, ludo, snakes and ladders.

You were much older than me then. That sounds silly when I think about it. Of course, you’ll always be four years older, nothing will ever change that. But when you’re eight years old, twelve sounds so old, so mature. And then there was the fact that you’d gone up to big school the previous September. You seldom stopped reminding me that I was still at the primary school, with its bright green fence and its hopscotch patterns painted in red and yellow across the yard.

When the rain stopped, we tumbled outside, running to the park in an effort to beat the other kids to the play area. We had a head start, our caravan being nearer to the shortcut through the scrubby rhododendrons which grew around its borders. The branches caught our faces, our arms, leaving criss-crosses of scratches. They healed into a brick-red hatching against our freckled skin.

There was a roundabout, some swings, a rusty old climbing frame with shredded bark underneath in case we fell. We swung from the bars, our fingers slipping against the still-wet metal, hollering like monkeys. We stayed until Mum called us in for tea; sometimes she let us go out again and if the rain held off we’d play cards in the grass and watch the sun set behind the framework.



That summer was the last we spent at Benllech. Dad had a new baby by Christmas, and said he couldn’t pay the fees any more. You’d started swimming with the club by then anyway, ploughing your way between the yellow lane-ropes. Every weekend Mum and I cheered on from the gallery. Sometimes we’d take Spillikins or cards with us to the galas and play between the races, but soon you only wanted to chat to the girls, seal-sleek in their black costumes.

The years mattered, then they didn’t for a while. Those years when I worked in the lab and you worked on the scaffolding team. And when we both married and had kids, we were the same age: thirty-somethings, middle-aged, newly retired. But now I can see you heading off again, leaving me behind.

I spill the slender sticks across the table and watch as you try to steady your hand. I pretend not to notice the shift in the pile, the tumbling sticks. I praise your skill and dexterity. It is a conceit and be both know it.

In the evening light I can see the neural pathways breaking down. You can see the bars closing in.