Home > One Italian Summer

One Italian Summer
Author: Keris Stainton

1


‘Do you want to dip your finger in Dad?’ my older sister, Elyse, asks, holding out the small clay pot containing her share of our father’s ashes.

‘God, Elyse!’ I shriek, jumping backwards.

‘Elyse, no one wants to do that apart from you,’ my younger sister, Leonie, says. She’s got the same expression on her face as I imagine is on mine. ‘It’s sick and wrong,’ she adds.

Elyse shrugs, screws the lid back on and puts the pot back on her bookshelf. ‘I thought it might help.’

‘Help how?’ I ask.

‘I don’t know. It just makes me feel better and since you’re all worked up about the flight …’

‘I’m not “worked up” about it,’ I say, as I look along Elyse’s shelves for a book to take with me, but I can’t see anything that’s not about fashion or design. Partly for her degree – she’s in her second year – but mostly because she’s obsessed with it. ‘I’m just not looking forward to it.’

‘You didn’t used to be bothered about flying,’ Leonie says. She’s sitting on the floor next to Elyse’s bed and painting her toenails black.

Now it’s my turn to shrug. ‘It’s not the flying. It’s everything. It’s just … different this time.’

‘First time without Dad,’ Elyse says.

I nod. ‘It’s going to be weird.’

‘We could take a photo of him and put it on the seat,’ Leonie suggests.

‘And that wouldn’t be weird at all,’ Elyse says.

‘From the girl who sticks her finger in his ashes for luck?’ I say.

‘Do you think I’ll be able to draw on these with chalk?’ Leonie asks, wiggling her toes in the air.

‘Maybe,’ Elyse says.

‘But why would you want to?’ I ask.

Leonie shrugs and then lies flat on the floor with her feet still up on Elyse’s bed. ‘I can’t believe it’s tomorrow. It’s come round so fast.’

‘I can’t believe Robbie’s not coming,’ Elyse says, throwing herself back against her huge pile of pillows. She sleeps practically sitting up.

I stand with my back to the bookshelves, my hands behind my back with one hand holding onto one of the shelves. I look at my sisters: Elyse on the bed, Leonie on the floor, both of them staring up at the ceiling, which I know without looking features a constellation of glow-in-the-dark stars.

‘I think it’s better that Robbie’s not coming,’ I say, knowing full well Elyse will strenuously disagree. ‘I think it’s nice that it’s just going to be family.’

Also Robbie gets on my nerves, but I know better than to say that to Elyse.

‘And Luke,’ Leonie says and tips her head right back so she’s looking at me upside down. She waggles her eyebrows; it looks extremely weird. Luke. Our cousin Toby’s best friend, who’s out there working with Toby for the summer.

‘Oh, yeah,’ I say. As if I’d forgotten.

‘As if you’d forgotten,’ Elyse says and laughs. ‘Fine for you if my boyfriend stays at home. Meanwhile you’ll be all heart-eyes at Luke.’

I roll my (non-heart) eyes. ‘Yeah, okay, I made a total arse of myself over Luke. Can we all get over it?’

‘You didn’t make a total arse of yourself,’ Elyse says.

‘Just a bit of an arse,’ Leonie finishes, swinging her legs down and clambering up on the bed next to Elyse.

‘Well, I won’t be doing it again so we don’t need to think about it any more,’ I say.

And they don’t know the half of it. I head for the door, but out of the corner of my eye I catch my sisters exchanging a glance.

‘What?’ I say, stopping with my hand on the door handle. ‘Why are you looking like that?’

‘We’re just a bit worried …’ Elyse starts. She stops and looks at Leonie.

‘About Mum?’ I ask, twisting the door handle in my hand.

‘Well, yeah, obviously,’ Elyse says.

‘But about you too,’ Leonie adds.

‘Me? Why?’

‘You’re not yourself,’ Leonie says. She’s all tucked up with her chin on her knees and she looks closer to six than sixteen.

I sigh. ‘I know. I know I’ve changed. But we’ve all changed. Since Dad …’ I don’t finish the sentence.

‘We have,’ Elyse says, nodding. ‘Of course we have. It’s just that you don’t seem to be doing so well.’

‘I’m fine,’ I say.

They’re both looking at me with the exact same expression of concern. They’ve each got the little line between their eyebrows just like Dad used to get. Most of the time they don’t look that much alike – Elyse’s face is round and her blonde hair is long and wavy, while Leonie’s face is more angular and her dyed red hair is short and blunt – but they do when they frown.

‘But you’ve stopped singing,’ Leonie says.

I feel a clench in my belly. This again? ‘I haven’t stopped,’ I say. ‘I still sing. You’ve heard me sing.’

‘Yes, but you quit the band and now apparently you’re not going up to Liverpool …’

‘I haven’t decided that yet,’ I say. ‘Just because I haven’t sent the acceptance back doesn’t mean I’m not going.’

‘Mum said you got a prospectus for UWL,’ Leonie says.

‘I did. But I haven’t decided anything yet. I’m just being practical. Things are different now.’

‘They don’t have to be,’ Elyse says. ‘Not that different, anyway.’

‘Do we have to talk about this now?’ I say. ‘It’s my turn to make dinner.’

They look at each other again and then Elyse says, ‘Fine. But we will talk about this again.’ She takes her phone out and holds it right up to her face because she’s not wearing her glasses.

‘Are you setting a reminder?’ I ask, appalled.

Elyse laughs. ‘No, you stupid cow. I got a text from Robbie.’

‘You’re done then?’ I ask. ‘I can go and do dinner?’

‘Yeah, go on,’ Leonie says. ‘I’m starved.’

‘Good,’ I say. ‘And I am fine. Really.’

 

 

2


Mum’s on lates this week at work – she’s a doctor – and so we have a rota for making dinner: one night each for the three of us and then we can go out or get a takeaway. It works pretty well, even though we don’t have that big a range. Elyse got a Jamie Oliver book out of the library so we can try to expand our repertoire a bit, but I’m sticking with turkey chilli for tonight. I can’t face trying something new.

I’ve got the recipe stuck to the fridge with the letter magnets we’ve had for as long as I can remember. Dad used to leave messages for us with them. Sometimes just ‘LOVE U’, sometimes something daft that only we’d find funny. Mum doesn’t do it. She occasionally leaves us notes on the fridge, but not with the magnets and not usually jokey. She’s all practical these days.

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