I was not invited to my father’s third marriage, but they saved me some cake, and the bride’s aunt gave me a knitted lurex basket containing a potpourri of the wedding bouquet. I carried the basket back to my mother’s house (I was twelve) like a dead bird in the palms of my hands.
My mother carried the basket to the house of her friend, the gardener, who kept an incinerator. The gardener opened the lid of the furnace and threw in the basket and poked it with a long iron fork. When white smoke came out of the chimney, she went into the house and brought out a Kilner jar of brandy crammed with pale cherries and apricots. She ladled out three glasses and told this story:
‘Once there was a man who had a right to his happiness, so he left his wife and daughters and moved to America, beyond the reach of the Child Support Agency. One day, finding himself settled and nostalgic, he asked that his two daughters, Alicia (eleven) and Flora (nine), be sent to visit him. Their mother agreed and sent them off with a large suitcase each (they were to stay the whole summer), but the suitcases were empty — no pants or socks or change of clothes, not a tube of sunblock or a swimsuit or a pair of pyjamas, not even a toothbrush.’
‘Magnificent!’ said my mother.
I bit into a cherry that did not taste like cherry.
It was growing dark in the garden. I felt, suddenly, enormous, as vast as the night. I could see all the way to California, where two little girls dragged their unwheeled suitcases through a cavernous airport and stood before their father. They were so frail — all elbows and eyes and hollowed-out cheeks.
LUCY TUNSTALL is a writer living in Bristol, UK. She has published poems in PN Review, Poetry Magazine, The Poetry Review, The Paris Review Daily, and elsewhere. Her poetry collection is The Republic of the Husband (Carcanet). This is her first work of fiction.