Jo-Ann Bekker

Heís home, I shout. I jump up. The spaniel at my feet panics, I trip over the dog and go through the glass door of the sunroom.

Benjy, the spaniel, has silky ears and poor eyesight. Time after time I walk through the front gate and he barks at me in an ugly way. I call out Benjy, Benjy but he carries on barking until I reach the house. Then he suddenly recognises me and leaps into my arms. He licks my face and wags his stumpy tail.

My own dog is called Pom-Pom. She arrives with that name. She jumps out of the car and runs into our garden like it is her idea to come and live with us, nothing to do with the man who is selling her. I am disappointed for two minutes because I wanted a puppy, then Pom-Pom smiles at me. I take her for walks and all the neighbourhood dogs come up and she smiles at them and they smile back. I build a jump course out of bamboo and she follows me around, jumping over every obstacle like a pony.

My sisterís dog is Lily. Our cousinsí Staffie has all these puppies and we get the runt of the litter. The puppy they call Lily the Pink. She is pretty but she snaps and snarls. When we go for walks and the other dogs come out to play with Pom-Pom, Lily gets jealous. She bares her teeth. She starts fights then changes her mind and withdraws, yelping, her tail between her legs. A man knocks on our door and shows us his bleeding leg. He tells our mother Lily bit him.

When we go on holiday our dogs go to the kennels. They each have their own cage. One year, Lily and Pom-Pom share a cage and Lily kills Pom-Pom. And Lily gets put to sleep.

My sister and I fight. We fight with words and nails and bones and muscles. Sometimes we jab each other with our elbows in the car, or pinch each other hard under the table. We try to keep our faces blank so our mother wonít notice. Our worst fights happen when we are alone. My sister always starts them. She is either spying on me, or laughing at me, or teasing me, or beating me at tennis. I sneer at her, or call her names, and she attacks me and I retaliate, and we carry on until we draw blood or cry or our mother bursts in shouting stop it stop it stop it.

On Sunday afternoons our parents go for a drive. Our baby brother goes with them. My sister and I stay at home and do homework and music theory. I am better at theory than piano. I am conscientious but I donít have the touch. My sister has it but she hates scales and theory. Once, as Iím correcting my theory, my sister grabs my eraser and wonít give it back. I swat her with my textbook. The sharp corner hits her near her eye and leaves a mark. She is furious. We say we hate each other. She says she is going for a bike ride. After I finish my homework, the doorbell rings. A strange woman is holding a mangled bike. My sister is standing beside her. She looks small and scraped. Her mouth is bleeding. She gets a special filling for her chipped front tooth.

On holidays it is just us. We never go away with other families. We hire a cabin in the mountains. While our parents unpack we walk around the foothills. We walk until the grass is higher than our heads. The sun sinks behind the peaks. We stop fighting. We walk quietly. My sister walks behind me. Without speaking we know we are lost. We hold hands and cry. Then the long grass ends and we are back on the road. We run back to the cabin.

We go to the seaside. We run into the sea with our inflatable lilos. One minute we are riding the white water to the shore, the next my sister is being sucked out to sea. She looks scared. She is moving fast. I swim towards her and she stretches out her arm to me. Waves crash over us. A surfer pulls us onto his board and paddles us ashore.

We always hope to make friends on holiday. We walk up and down the beach looking for someone to play with. Usually we end up walking to the shop. If we take our brother with us, our mother gives us money for ice creams. We push his pram and let it go and watch it move on its own, then we charge after it and catch it. It makes him laugh. One time we push the pram down the steep path outside the shop but it goes too fast, we canít catch up, it leaves the path and topples over onto the grass. Our brother sits up and laughs and so do we.

Our mother gives us new bikinis. A burgundy one for me, a brown one for my sister. My sister isnít even a teenager but she looks better in hers. We donít buy many ice creams. We hardly look after our brother. We donít look for friends, they look for us. A swimmer chooses my sister. A swimmer whose father times him every morning as he does laps in the rock pool. My boy is tall and goofy. He does a backwards somersault off the verandah of our holiday bungalow. I know he is trying to decide between me and another, taller girl. But it is me he kisses on the beach. On the way back to the bungalows he starts talking to another boy about fish. He says: I think I hooked the right one. I go off him right away. The swimmer kisses my sister the following night. We are all sitting on the dune. The tall, goofy boy is talking to the taller girl. My sister loses her tooth filling.

I am too old to shriek and jump up but our father has been away for a fortnight. We are all excited. Our mother is in a good mood. The tea tray is set, the cake is waiting. There is ice in the ice bucket, sherry and whisky on the drinks tray. My sister and brother are watching television but I am facing the sunroomís wall of glass. Autumn sun streams inside. The spaniel snoozes at my feet. I shout and leap up, as the car glides down the driveway. Benjy wakes with a start. He barks and jumps up at me as I step towards the door. I fall over him. My right knee crashes through the door pane. The glass shatters. A big jagged hole in the door. Large shards of glass on the carpet and steps, smaller bits above and below my knee. My mother removes the pieces she can see, presses a wet cloth against the blood and we hobble to meet my father. He gets out of his car then gets back in and drives us to the hospital.

There is no pain until the doctor arrives, until he digs around in my wounds with tweezers and stitches up the cuts. The most painful part is the injection. The doctor says: Think of something nice. I go to the beach. To the closed eyes of the tall boy. To the clouds streaked and dotted across the dark sky, the moon racing between them.

Jo-Ann Bekker's fiction has appeared in Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Itch, New Contrast, The Drum, and Type/Cast. She received her MA in Creative Writing from Rhodes University in 2016. Before writing stories she worked as a newspaper reporter. She lives in Knysna, South Africa.

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