I remember how worldly you were—I wanted to be you when I grew up. You left school in fourth form to become a kitchen-hand at the Devon Motor Lodge. You got to meet the members of Hot Chocolate, Little River Band and Herbs when they stayed there during their tours. I thought you were flash because you lived in an old seven bedroom wooden villa by the sea, and had a second-hand waterbed covered with a bedspread from DEKA. Printed on its brown and cream synthetic fibres was an African savannah scene; a lioness sat on its haunches in the foreground looking depressed or deadly depending which way you brushed its fuzzy features.
You weren’t concerned about small change. Coins were copper and silver freckles on your bedroom carpet; I corralled them into piles and you let me fill my pockets. You danced to Kate Bush records and hardly wore shoes, even in winter. The soles of your feet were tough and dirty. Once, you spent almost a whole pay packet to get your hair crimped. Your hair is thick and when you came back from the hairdressers it had poofed into an afro. It took you two days to wash it out. You were a tin-arse who won prizes at galas like meat packs from quick fire raffle and bottles of Spumante in the tombola. Once you won a Women’s Weekly competition. A VCR was sent to you all the way from Auckland. We heard they had been invented but I didn’t actually know anyone who owned one. You were the first.
Your flatmates were crazy. There were skids on your kitchen lino from when someone rode his motorcycle inside, like Meatloaf in the Rocky Horror Picture Show. You were barmy too because you stole a stuffed pink panther from a car parked at the beach and you let me take it to school for morning talk. It was twice my height and the other kids begged to hold him.
The thing I loved most about you was that you took me places—the park (remember that time you helped me nick coins from the wishing well in the Fernery?), the zoo (remember how that monkey reached through the bars, took the lit fag from your mouth and ate it?), the movies (the Dark Crystal with those freaky puppets), and once to Mad Hatters restaurant for a hamburger (there was that little kid at the table next to us who got so excited he pulled down his pants and pissed on his food, remember?).
When I imagined the world ending and there being room for only one other person in my escaping space ship, it wasn’t Mum or Dad or any of our brothers that I chose. I would have taken you with me. We would have rocketed to safety together.
But then you brought home a guy to meet mum and dad. I didn’t like the way he leaned on you with his arm around your shoulder, like he owned you. You were different around him, shy and diminished. You said, “Say hello to Jared sis,” and so I said, “Hi Jared, you wanker.”
You whacked my bum and told me to piss off. I sulked for days.
Afterwards we didn’t see much of you. I heard Mum and Dad whisper your name late at night in the kitchen, and sometimes Mum cried. Then you turned up one Saturday and said, “Come on, put your jacket on, I’m taking you up the mountain.” Jared was waiting outside in his Anglia, his arm resting on the open window, tapping his fingers on top of the car roof. He had a mate in the passenger seat who sneered at us when we came out and said “‘Bout fucking time.” I tried not to care. I had never seen snow and I wanted to badly.
Jared drove fast and when we turned off the main road, heading into the paddocked wop wops, he starting weaving from one side of the road to the other for a laugh. You and I were sliding into each other on the vinyl seat in the back. You giggled, pretending you were having fun, but you were holding my hand tightly. To take our mind off the road, you showed me your new tattoo on your arm of two diving kingfishers.
When we got to the base of the mountain, sombre bush pushed into the edges of the road. It became dim in the car. As the bush flashed by I looked for Bigfoot in the shadows, but there were only ferns and green moss dangling from tree branches. You let go of my hand and opened the window. The air that rushed in smelt alive and you stretched your arm out and smiled until Jared yelled back, “For fuck sake, close the window you dumb bitch, it’s bloody freezing.”
The trees got shorter and thinned out as we climbed the windy road, and all of a sudden we were spat into a car park. The top of the mountain was hidden in the mist, but the sea was a blue Formica table and sitting on top was the district laid out like a game board. The towns looked impossibly tiny and distant. It was strange and lonely up there; it felt wrong to be so far from home. You pointed to a patch of grey against a boulder, and I ran to touch the dirty snow. As I made a small grimy snowman, you smoked weed in the car.
We walked towards the ski field. You held my hand again until we reached a sign. “Beware of rocks falling,” it said, and showed a petrifying picture of a stick figure getting crushed by boulders. The boys walked on tiptoes, then shouted, “Shhhhh…be Vewy Quiet!” You piggybacked me the rest of the way because you knew I was afraid.
At the ski field snow was everywhere. There were families and couples skiing together on the slope above us. You had brought a rubbish bag to slide on. I sat in front of you, and you held me as we nudged ourselves to the edge of a knoll. We whooshed down. The icy air licked our faces with its frosty tongue. Snow flew around us like a blizzard of milky sequins. I felt like we could take flight.
When we reached the bottom the boys took the bag off us, and hogged it until they tore a hole and chucked it into a bush.
Then they started throwing snowballs.
They volleyed them back and forth, and you joined in. Then Jared threw a hard packed one and it hit me in the face. It was a surprising icy punch. When I remembered how to breathe, I screamed your name. I wanted to go home. The boys howled with laughter. You got angry and they threw snowballs at both of us, until you got so pissed off we were both bawling. Then Jared said he was sorry and pulled you onto the snowy ground. He pinned you down. You said, “You’re a wanker,” but smiled and kissed him. I didn’t understand why you did that.
When we got back to the car, the keys had been locked in, so they smashed a back window. I made a snowball from the car park snow and placed it on the floor beside me. The cold nipped our faces on the drive down. With chattering teeth you said, “Look back!” For a moment we could see the peak of the mountain, rising out of the clouds behind us. I was surprised it wasn’t smooth like it looks from a distance; it was craggy and rough like an uncut diamond. Then it pulled its grey cloak back around itself and was gone.