Looking down at us from the granite gatepost, she said she’d throw herself down if we didn’t give it to her. Although her voice was firm, her eyes were wild with fear. Her mop of hair shook as she spoke, her face reddened and her knuckles showed white. She was my big sister.
My older brother sneered, holding her feather headdress she had worn to her birthday party the day before high above his head. Looking up, the clouds sped across the deep blue behind it, I felt the ground shift beneath my feet, not sure which was moving. He shouted “go on then, jump – we’ll scrape up your remains!”. I wanted this to stop so I said “Will ya stop, give it back to her”, “Shut you little whippersnap before I carry you up there and throw you down with her”. I looked at her standing there on the granite gatepost defiant, frightened, stubborn. I turned away from my brother and as I did so whacked my knee off the bottom of the post. I yelped with pain and looked up at Su to see if she saw what happened me. We always knew how each other felt. But behind her the sky was racing. Her forehead was crumpled and I knew she would do it – I knew that she was preparing to fling her six year old body down to the gravel - that she somehow now had to. I bent down to examine the wound which was sending a speedy rivulet of blood to my bare foot.
Now it feels a bit like recalling a dream – somewhat disjointed and I’m unsure what the connector between events was, but I have my pajamas, a teddy and a toothbrush against my chest and she has some of her valuables. We are walking along the country road our house is on (in the mountains outside Dublin). There are big granite dry stone walls on one side and we are going to our granny’s house. Although its 15 miles away in the city, we are going to tell her that our daddy has been bad, and we are walking there. We are going to tell on him to his mum because our mum is always crying and doors are always banging around the house and he’s always shouting. The evening was coming in, dark clouds rolling in above the valley, the first drops of rain beginning to spit. We had turned left out the gate – a direction we never went in – we always went right: in mum’s car to school, or to the supermarket, or to our friends. Left was my father’s direction and the way we knew we went when we were being brought to his mother. Left went uphill and disappeared into a corner quickly. That evening we went left in his direction. We walked and we cried as we walked in the rain and although we held onto each other, we could not turn and go home. Then a big noise came and we were pushed onto the grass and he was there shouting at us to get into the car and I do not remember what else happened that day. Its gone.
Lately, my sister came home to Ireland from her life on the other side of the world. She found a trove of photos in a chest belonging to my mother. It was with a warm and unconflicted nostalgia that she shuffled through them and we shared some moments looking at them. We spoke about how idyllic our childhood was, even though our dad was absent in various ways for much of it, but how our dear mum had minded us and how we played amongst the ferns on the hillside, and basically how incredibly lucky we were. Our conversation was not full of shadows, there was something determined about it, now I reflect on it. I know I did not want to put shadows onto the images we were looking at for her because she would have to carry them all the way back to New Zealand, and I reckon she has spent long enough erasing the bad bits. For me, they exist in my memory with the character of dreams or partially remembered intense conversations - I have a quiet wonder and appreciation of something that seems to have happened in some 'over there'.
In the pile of photos she found I saw a few photos of her in the squaw costume she wore for her 6th birthday party – one in polaroid colour, the others in black and white. I saw her forehead and her smile and her eyes. She recalled her party and even some of the people who were there. I do not remember her party clearly (I was 4 and a half), but I remember the day after on the granite gate post. I remember the hugeness of the sky and the vastness of the moment that I feared she would jump and could only look at the blood flowing from my knee.