Aunt Jo and I sat in her kitchen for two hours today drinking raspberry frappes. At one stage a bee fell into my tall tumbler, drawn by the fruity scent, buzzing with panic as the ice weighed it down and it couldn’t escape. I plunged my fingers into the red ice. ‘Don’t,’ cried Aunt Jo. ‘It’ll sting you.’ ‘I don’t care,’ I replied. ‘I am despondent.’
I gathered the ice, the pulverised fruit, and the bee, clutching them, a blood-filled trophy, crimson juice gathering at my elbow, great globules of ice staining Aunt Jo’s brand new granite benchtops. The bee climbed atop a piece of ice, an insect climbing Mount Everest, shook his wings and was gone.
Aunt Jo mopped up the spill and made me another frappe. ‘I’m despondent too,’ she said. ‘I didn’t think she’d take him back.’ It’s a rotten day, there’s no better way to describe it. My sister has taken her ex back. She kissed a frog and he didn’t turn into a prince but she’s prepared to wait for him to change. Aunt Jo and I think it’ll be a long wait. ‘I think I’ll go and smack him in the gob while I’m waiting,’ said Aunt Jo. ‘Or cut his break cables.’ Aunt Jo and I amused ourselves for over half an hour devising imaginary methods of revenge.
‘I’m fed up with Millie.’ Aunt Jo is smoking. It’s the first cigarette she’s had in five years. The smoke is exhaled in angry puffs as if she is visualising spitting in ex-man’s face. ‘Why can’t she see him for what he is? How bad will it have to get before she runs for the hills for good?’
I am worried. My sister has laid down the law but not in the direction it should be laid. Aunt Jo and I have been given our marching orders. A very firm’ thanks but no thanks.’ We are each putting on a brave face but internally we are falling to pieces. How can she take back a man she is so fearful of? What has he said to her to change her mind so definitively?
‘He just told her he loved her,’ said Aunt Jo wryly. ‘That was all he had to do. He can be quite charming for the ten minutes a day he’s sober. Millie would cling to those ten minutes as a measure of his true character, as a sign that he is capable of changing. It’s all a load of bloody bollocks.’
I have a headache from the ice or maybe from the fear that my sister could end up in the emergency room at the hands of the man who tells her he loves her. There is nothing I can do about it. She is manic depressive but not non compos mentis. In this case, it is a desire for love that is impairing her judgement, not a mental illness. Aunt Jo and I discuss harsh methods of punishment, withdrawing our support, not being there to pick up the fragments of her heart every single time it breaks at his hands. But it is hard to do. How can you send someone you love out on a tightrope without a safety net? But how can I continue to watch as the colour of hope disappears from my sister’s eyes?
Aunt Jo slices a baguette with gusto. ‘We are being forced to wait for more violence to occur and I hate it,’ she said. ‘It’s like waiting for the end of the world and being denied the chance to do anything about it.’ She waves her knife in the air, whirling it around her head like a broadsword. This is what Lara Croft would be like as a pensioner. ‘One foot wrong, that’s all he has to make, and I’ll turn him from a rooster to a hen with one slice.’
As I drive home the streets grow dark. A black cat runs across the road, edged with purple shadow. I cannot tell in which direction it runs, so swift is its flight. I put on the windscreen wipers but realise it is not raining. I am crying, my dreams for Millie’s new life screwed up like scrap paper. I try not to think about her but she appears like a ghost in the headlights. I feel like stopping the car in the middle of the road and screaming until I am skinless but all I can do is keep going and watch for signs of trouble. The realisation lodges, sharp as glass in my throat. I know it will be a while before I can swallow it down.