We are sisters. We are born on the side of a green hill. We run wild. We yell and scream. We hide in cupboards and spy on people. We help our father dig up new potatoes. He wears his Hawaiian shirt and sings ‘Goodnight Irene’ and ‘Mac the Knife’. We climb trees. We tell lies. We chase sheep in the park then run home madly. We go to the library and get out books. Our mother is in the Good Food League. She feeds us carrot sticks, brown bread and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice but she drinks sherry. We are sisters. We run wild on the slopes of a green hill. Pink tea roses climb in the window of the wooden house and purple wisteria drapes over the garden wall. We are the four daughters of Robert William and Irene Ethel but we are not given middle names so we make them up. Robin becomes Robin Pansy Primrose Violet Lowry. Judith adds Lucy. Brigid takes a fancy to Gloria while Vanya’s pseudonyms are Aurelia Atom Bomb and Bohemia Cutaway. At party time we grate wax on the wooden dance floor and pull each other round on sacks. It is as smooth as glass. Oh the shark, babe, has such teeth, babe, but he keeps them out of sight. At dinner time we sit together on an old sofa while our father rages at the kitchen table. There is stew all over the wall and a plate flies out the window. We hide our faces and our feelings. We go to Epsom Girls Grammar School in pleated gym frocks and squashed panama hats. We do Latin, French, English, Bio, History, Art and Drama. Our father plays Mac the Knife over and over again. He brings people home for dinner but he does not pay the bills. Our mother hides behind a door smoking a cigarette and crying. She uses Ponds Skin Cream. In her dressing table drawer there are chunky bracelets, white lace hankies and a red lipstick that she never uses. We are sisters. Judy buys a motor scooter. Vanya goes to art school. Robin falls in love. Brigid climbs the plum tree and falls down into the compost heap. In the wild garden we plant freesias, violets and snowdrops but in the house the anger bruises our soft skin. On a cold, still day we go to our father’s funeral. His suicide note is written on our hearts forever. Forgive me, he asks, but this is easier said than done. We head off into our lives and have lovers, babies, breakdowns. Our mother says I hope you know what you are doing. She drives around in her little blue car helping the less fortunate. She is always there for us but then she dies. We are the four daughters of Irene Ethel and Robert William. At the funeral we carry our mother’s coffin. A man says, can I help you but we say no, we know what we are doing. We blunder red-eyed back to our lives. We buy things at jumble sales. We make apple crumble and Irish stew. Our mother has taught us to make a little go a long way. Three of us have chunky legs but Judy has a decent pair. We marry a variety of men but it never quite works out. We give birth to five daughters and six sons between us and we give each one a middle name. We feed them carrot sticks and brown bread and squeeze grapefruit to make juice. We read them stories and we hold them tight. We agonise about our weight. We say to each other, do you think I should wear this? We say, that haircut really suits you, it makes you look younger. We say, you can have this if it fits you. Something is dreadfully wrong. Robin has gone from slightly odd to very ill. The doctors say she has a tumour wrapped around her spine. We do not know what to do. We visit her with bunches of roses, with books, with packets of biscuits and pasted-on smiles, but she dies. Goodbye, Robin Pansy Primrose Violet. We drink wine. We smoke a joint. We learn to meditate. We see a therapist. We know that every loss triggers the old losses. Sometimes we live in the city, sometimes we live in the town, sometimes we take a great notion, to jump into the river and drown. We are sisters. We paint. We write. We sew. We wrap things in brown paper. We hesitate at the lip of the sherry bottle. We love to swim. We love to dance. We love rivers, music, flowers. We give each other books for Christmas. We like to sit together on Sunday afternoons eating bran muffins and drinking tea and saying to each other do you remember when?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brigid Lowry has recently returned to New Zealand after 27 interesting years in Australia. She writes poetry and short fiction, and her fifth novel for young adults, With Lots of Love From Georgia, will be published by Allen & Unwin in February 2005.