Yesterday, my family held a surprise party for my Mum’s sister, Josy. It is her 70th birthday, so we all decided a party was in order. Mum was one of ten children—seven girls and three boys—and I’ve heard so many stories about their childhood. Although their parents had very little money, in many ways I would have loved to be one of them. They were always (and still are) very close, and their childhood sounds like it was idyllic. Josy is the second-youngest, but my dear Auntie Gwenda (who was the youngest) died in 2008, so Josy is the youngest living. She’s had a hard life, all in all, but she’s the most generous and giving person I’ve ever met. She genuinely would give you her very last pound if you asked her for it. She’s just a lovely lady.
The story I want to share today is based only very loosely on reality. It’s the kernel of an event, taken and changed into a short story. I’ve changed the names of all the sisters, but I can tell you that, in this story, Henrietta is Josy. I hope you enjoy it. (In the photo, Josy is second from the left. Mum is the one in the wheelchair at the front.
“Henrietta Joyce, outside. Now!” Edie grabbed her sister’s wrist and yanked her from the chair. The rest of the siblings trotted behind.
“What have I done now?” Henrietta asked, huffing as she struggled to keep up.
Ten children tumbled outside, and were met with a thick blanket of humidity. This whole summer had been hot and sticky. Hannah and Cherry lay a blanket on the grass, whilst Gillian produced the boxing gloves; the Carmichael children’s most revered playthings.
“Seriously? The gloves? What am I supposed to have done?” Henrietta looked from sister to sister, none of them meeting her eyes.
“You took my floral jacket without asking and left it at the dance hall. Now, I challenge you to a fight.”
Henrietta shifted feet. “Come on, Edie. You never wear it now you’re going steady with Charlie. You only have eyes for the leather jacket he bought you. I think it’s because you love hi—”
“Shut up, Henrietta! I do not love him. What do you know about love, anyway? You’re nothing but a silly, little girl.”
Henrietta sighed. “Hannah, hand me the gloves.”
“Ha! I knew I’d get you.” Edie beamed as she stretched in preparation. “Best of three. Loser carries the other’s school books every day for a month. They do all their chores, and that includes Little Gran’s shopping.”
“I hope you’ve got a free calendar, Edie.” Henrietta turned to her sisters and whispered those words that were a red rag to a bull: “She’s too chicken to do this.”
Edie flew at Henrietta, but the younger sister was more nimble. She ducked and dodged Edie’s gloves, finally delivering a sucker punch that knocked her sister to the floor. Pauline counted to five, and the first round was over.
Henrietta bounced from side to side; throwing fake punches. “Round Two,” said Pauline, throwing her arms dramatically in the air.
As the two girls fought over the floral jacket they all knew Edie didn’t even want, the rest of the sisters knew better than to pick sides. Seven neatly-ribboned heads watched the punches fall.
There was never any question who the winner would be. Bespectacled Edie was at a disadvantage the second her glasses fell to the floor. Cherry leaned over to Hannah and whispered in her ear, “Edie’s crazy, I swear. She was never going to beat Hetty, was she?”
“I know,” Hannah replied. “But that doesn’t matter. Edie had to fight as a point of honour. You know how it works, Cherry.”
Shaking her head, she sat back in time to see her older sibling crumple to the floor. Caroline (always the saviour!) rushed a glass of water to her side.
Peering through narrowed eyes, Edie glared at her sister. “I hate you, Hetty. Why are you so good at this?”
“I’m not good. You’re rubbish.” Henrietta laughed and skipped back inside.
“I hate her,” said Edie to the rest of her sisters as she felt in the grass for her broken spectacles.