• Vol. 08
  • Chapter 10

Summer Siblings

Elise was quieter than the rest of us – thoughtful, measured in her responses. With our childish brains, we put that down to her having to sift through two languages to find the right ones. We knew, of course, that our language was the ‘right’ one. My face glows the scarlet of pencil number 103 as I relive our arrogance.

All of the pencils in Elise’s trousse had a number. She never named their colour. She said that colours couldn’t be described in words that would fit onto a pencil. Not in any language. ‘I’m going to put some 128 in here,’ she’d say, picking up a vivid green, the colour of a well-tended lawn after just enough summer rain. Then she’d apply some 297 to the sky, sketching in the pewter-grey clouds, particular to an August afternoon in the North-West of England.

We’d spend six weeks together every summer; James and I lit our grandparent's house with our easy cacophony, while Elise sat and drew. She drew everywhere and on anything. One summer – James and I must have been about fifteen – Grandma gave her an old roll of wallpaper to draw on. I slowly unfurl it now, push my heavy sixty-five-year-old body back from the table and wipe a grubby sleeve across my eyes. Here a study of delphiniums – 149, if I remember rightly; there, a detail of our Grandma’s favourite necklace – 119, pearlescent creamy-pink. An overflowing bowl of strawberries – there’s that 103 again.

And, at the end of the roll, a drawing Elise would never let us see – James and I, standing at either end of a rainbow, with Elise sitting cross-legged beneath, bathing in the sparkling coloured droplets falling from the rainbow. The joy, the love and the colours flood through me. I put on my spectacles and examine the drawing more closely.


Summer Siblings

Beneath the drawing of James, in Elise’s tiny, perfect, French handwriting, ‘174. My brother, James, the colour of a summer orange, just before it reaches its ripeness.’ And next to my image, ‘135. My sister, Sarah, the colour of dawn in May, in the cool moments before the sun burns away the Spring dew.’ Then to Elise. ‘100. Blank, nothing, white – but where all colours meet.’

I scroll the paper tightly and pick up the phone. The familiar international ring tone hums. ‘Allô?’

‘Ça va, ma sœur?’