The youngest fancies boys already, she is Emily, six years old. One of her cousins is handsome, so she has a thing for him, but none of the subtlety to go with it. Amongst the family it is already accepted that she may well grow up to be a rock star, for she has that uncontrollable spirit.
Her eyes are brown and bright, her hair a rich fawn and always a tangle of mischief. At age five she got her first hairstyle and cried getting it done. By the end she was beaming at her new bob. Cute. Tomboy turned girl in the hairdresser’s chair.
Her sister is older. Olivia. Nine years. She is growing tall and graceful, already elegant, like the most perfect of ponies. She aspires to be a princess and amongst the family it is becoming less of a joke and, more of a possibility.
They are in the park behind their home, allowed to play within calling distance of their mother. Emily likes to stretch the boundary, Olivia keeps control. It is autumn and they gather acorns under low-hanging branches that reach down to the grass with their crooked fingertips.
The lake is wide and row-boat season is just coming to an end. The girls often stand and watch the boats on the bright water, but today there are none out and the lake is like a slab of dark glass. They are allowed to go close enough, but no nearer than the length of their back garden. Emily likes to gain a foot now and then, pretends she doesn’t measure too well. Olivia says she will tell Dad, but she says it in a nice way.
Their pockets are stuffed with acorns and they talk about how if they only had a basket, they could gather even more. Emily suggests they go home and get two breakfast bowls, her bright brown eyes filled with the idea, but Olivia says Mum wouldn’t allow it.
With a start, Emily bolts towards the lake and Olivia calls after. She makes it right to the edge and throws an acorn at a passing swan. She misses and the acorn halts to a float. Olivia pulls her back to the invisible boundary, but does it in a kind way.
The swan pivots to determine whether or not it is being fed and after Emily fires another acorn, it hisses.
“That thing’ll bite you Emily.”
“How will it, sure it’s in the water.”
“It’ll soon come out if you keep throwing things at it.”
Emily is a rock star. She throws another, then another. Her hand is rooting in a pocket for the next one. The swan hisses some more, flaps its wings and before they know it, is on the shore. The older sister grabs the younger’s arm and tries taking them to safety, but the younger is moving in the wrong direction, towards the swan, kicking the air with purpose.
Massive wings outstretch like a water angel.
Now they both squeal and run.
They almost manage to get away, but Emily gets pecked on the leg and it is enough to start her tears. As they go, holding hands, running and weeping, acorns fall from their pockets down onto green grass that rushes under their feet and past the now stalling bird.
The girls are at the back gate, pushing to get in.
In the kitchen their mother is sitting, her belly swelled with a new sister who will be here soon and will be called Norah. She will be more strong-willed than both of her sisters combined and have the finest, blonde hair. She will also love to sing, and amongst the family there will be surprise at how much determination she has. The girls barge into the house, both in tears.
“What’s wrong, girls?”
“Emily got bit by a swan!” says Olivia.
“Where did it bite ya?”
“On the leg,” Emily manages to say.
The mother rubs her daughter’s thigh. “Why did it bite you, did you do something to it?”
Olivia is settling now. “She threw acorns at it and it chased us, I thought we were dead.”
The mother starts to laugh. “Emily, did you throw acorns at the swan?”
She nods and cries all the more.
“Well, you wouldn’t like people to throw stuff at you, would you?”
She shakes her head no.
“Right, into the living room the both of you, I’ll make you a glass of juice and a biscuit and everything will be alright.”
After a few minutes, a pair of blue and a pair of brown eyes are dried up from tears and watching the television. Biscuits are half-eaten and orange juice already done. Emily finds an acorn in her pocket and examines it down by her side, then puts it back in her pocket again.
“What time does the park close, Olivia?”
Their mother comes in and sets a cushion, then sits back against it. “There now girls, are you both alright now?”
Olivia says yes, Emily nods and the sisters sit together and watch cartoons.
* * * * *
Jamie Guiney is a literary fiction writer from Northern Ireland who has a black belt in Karate, lives beside a graveyard and has a strong dislike for onions. His short stories have been published in literary journals, newspapers and digitally on iPhones and iPads. He has previously attended the Faber & Faber Writing Academy and received backing from the NI Arts Council for his writing. Jamie is a member of the Newman Writers Group. His short story ‘A Quarter Yellow Sun’ was nominated for ‘The 2011 Pushcart Prize’.
His other contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.