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Martha Hopper

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It was a strange day….by all means. For one, Aunty Ada was home even though she hated being here. Or so Karl had told him.

(‘She says for a place with so many carpets your house is cold as a cave.’ Karl said patting Natty’s leg. ‘I think your house is plain spooky’
‘No it isn’t, it’s just big’ he had snapped.)

Nevertheless, hate or not here she was, all smiles and sunshine. Not like there was any outside. It had been raining cats, dogs and bloody horses for the last two days and though puddle jumping was a tempting proposition the mere thought of soaking wet underclothes served as a literal dampener to his mood.
God it was boring! He kept aside the soldier he had been playing with and decided to take a look outside the window. Drab. It was all so drab right now, Mary had to go back to her home, dad was out and Karl was in the room downstairs, droopy on all the syrups and lozenges they had stuffed him with for cold. At times like these he wished he had a dog, but dad didn’t care for them so that was that.

The silence of his surroundings were broken by the hasty opening of his room’s door (He absolutely and resolutely refused to let it be called ‘NURSERY’ anymore).It was aunty Ada and she looked quite jolly for such a dull day.

‘Listen darling, I want you to get dressed up and come downstairs’ she beamed.

‘Are we going for a party?’ he asked.

Aunty Ada held the suit he had worn on his birthday, the only other time he was allowed to wear it was when dad had this awesome party with many people, all of them dressed to the nines and drinking some drink.

(‘Can I have some of that too, Uncle Arthur?’ he asked shyly.
‘At least wait till you reach my shoulder boy!’ uncle Arthur had roared with laughter)

Aunty Ada just chuckled ‘No, not that, something better. Go on then……’

A few minutes later he had done his best and the end results were less than satisfactory. His shirt looked haphazard at best, the whole collar thing was a spectacular fail and he couldn’t, for the love of almighty, figure out the deal with his shoes.

His cheeks burnt red as aunty Ada raised an amused eyebrow. ‘Need some help there?’

After providing him some assistance with dressing aunty Ada helped him into his coat and flat cap. ‘Why you’re quite the little blinder aren’t ya!’ she quipped as he skipped ahead cheerily. He felt his heart swell every time he put on the coat and his flat cap.

(Not that he would tell anyone what he did staying up after Mary supposedly put him to bed. He had even rolled a piece of paper to look like a cigarette, and so he paraded around the room in the middle of the night coat, cap and cigarette just like all others…just like dad.)

As he settled into the car he was surprised to see aunty Ada bringing Karl along.

‘Aren’t ya sick?’ he asked as Karl got in before aunty Ada.

‘I won’t be able to rest anyhow so mum just let me come’

‘Where are we going anyways?’

‘Ya don’t know you dumb knob!?’ Karl burst into a giggle.

‘Oi! That’s no way to talk to your brother, alright. Be good and mind yourself’ aunty Ada admonished Karl and smiled kindly at him.

He however, was in no mood of conversation any longer and chose to stare out of the window as the downpour turned into a full blown storm, hailstones and all. He caught a couple of hailstones and swallowed them showing steadfast resistance against aunty Ada’s scolding about how unhygienic it was.
Karl meanwhile, had fallen asleep again. Somehow he wasn’t surprised; his cousin could bloody well sleep through an entire concert being held in his very room without so much as tossing.

‘Charlie…’

‘Yes aunty?'

‘Did dad tell you something?’

‘About what?’

Aunty Ada sighed and rubbed her forehead ‘You have a sister Charlie.’ she spoke so quietly it almost seemed like a whisper.

The impact however was that of a sucker punch. Suddenly there wasn’t enough air and his mind went completely blank, no words came out as he stared at nothing in particular.
Aunty Ada let out another sigh ‘You can tell me how you feel. You know you can…..Its okay’ She smiled and ruffled his hair, reaching over Karl who was still asleep.

‘Yes aunty Ada.’

The only thing he felt currently was a funny feeling in his belly. Sister. What was it supposed to mean? Where was she till now? Where is she now? Is she going to live at his house? The last question rung out the hardest.

Would she live with him?

His world was small, always had been. Him and dad. That of course didn’t mean he lacked a family. There was uncle Arthur and his family, uncle Finn with his jokes, uncle Michael (Or Michael as he asked to be called.) with his little treats, outings and silent smiles, his mother who both intimidated him and made him feel the safest at the same time and of course there was Karl and aunty Ada.

But when everyone left for their homes it was again him and dad. Now since she was here, what would it be like? What was she like? How old was she? What did she look like? His train of thought came to a halt as he felt Karl getting up next to him.

‘Okay boys we’re here. Now no running around, no playing and no touching things. It’s a hospital and I want you both behaving properly am I clear?’ aunty Ada said as she got out.

Karl walked on but he stood where he had gotten down. As he looked at the hospital gate his feet felt clammy and a fluttering feeling passed through his body. He wished that the weather had been more pleasant as the rain(now much gentler) soaked his shoulders.

Aunty Ada took his hands in hers. ‘It’s going to be okay. You’re going to love her’ she said the second part with a smile. He chose to remain quiet; it felt like first day of school all over again.

He was somewhat relieved to see Isaiah and uncle Finn in the lobby, though he usually tended to run headfirst into uncle Finn today he was a little too preoccupied to bother.

‘Which room are they in? aunty Ada asked as she looked around. ‘Also, did you see Karl? I don’t know where he ran off to.’

‘Yeah he was feeling sick; Michael went along with him to the restroom. Lizzie is in 128, first floor.’ Uncle Finn said as he searched his pockets for something.

‘I knew all that travelling was bad, but he had to be bloody stubborn today’ aunty Ada shook her head and rolled her eyes.

Uncle Finn chuckled in response. ‘Well, he is your fucking boy after all.’ He said as he lit a freshly found cigarette.

‘Mind your language will you, don’t want this lot to turn out as brutes.’ aunt Polly said as she came from behind. ‘You go see after Karl, I’ll take Charlie’
Charlie watched as aunty Ada silently nodded and departed. ‘Let’s go then.’ She said placing a hand on his shoulder.

Well technically aunt Polly was grandma Polly but he hated calling her that and she didn’t seem to mind so he stuck with aunt Polly. As they started for the stairs he recalled that Lizzie was in the hospital in room 128. Was she sick? Did she get hurt?

‘Aunt Polly?’

‘Hmmm…?’

‘Why is Lizzie in the hospital? Is she sick?

Aunt Polly didn’t say anything until they reached the first floor. She then looked at him and said ‘You remember how you told me about a teacher in the school with a huge belly?’
‘Mhmm….she became fat.’ He nodded

‘Well her belly was big not because she was fat but because there was a baby inside her belly’

‘How did it get in there!?’All he got in return was a slight titter from Aunt Polly.

I’ll tell you when you are older. Anyways, the point is that Lizzie had your little sister inside her belly and now she is out.’

There were many other questions Charlie had about this particular situation. Like how was she his sister if she came out of Lizzie’s belly? How was dad her dad too when Lizzie and dad were not married like mum and dad? But the barrage of questions was forgotten as soon as he reached the room.

The first thing he noticed as soon as he entered was how white everything was. The floor, the walls, curtains, chairs and even the bed rail was white. On the bed there was Lizzie, she turned to him and broke into a smile.

‘Hello Charlie…’her voice sounded strange as if she had woken up from a long sleep.

‘Are you okay Lizzie?’ he asked.

‘Never been better. What about you?’ she said as her smile widened.

He liked Lizzie, whenever she met him she would always ask him about how he was and what was new. Then she would hear patiently whatever he had to tell, ask questions occasionally and sometimes even tell him a few of her stories. Not to mention that she always brought him caramels (with him promising to brush his teeth). Even though he didn’t interact with her often he found her fun to talk to.

‘I’m fine too. I-‘ he forgot what he was saying when he saw a bundle of white squirming next to Lizzie in the quilt.

‘It’s a girl, would you like to see?’ Lizzie asked.

At a complete loss of words he simply chose to nod. He watched as Lizzie sat up slightly against the bed railing and daintily picked up the white bundle. Now he could see a little red face and the tiniest fingers and arms he had ever seen. It blew him away and the fluttering feeling was suddenly gone.

‘What do you think?’ Lizzie asked.

As if by its own volition his right hand went to her cheek. She was so soft! So soft and warm like the rabbit Ms. Thompson had once brought to class. He tried to pry open her little fist. Which she did, only to entrap his finger within her grip. He had never been more in awe.

‘Would you like to hold her?’ aunt Polly asked from behind. He couldn’t have jumped at the proposition faster as he nodded his head furiously. The next five minutes seemed like the longest in his life as aunt Polly made him sit on the bed across from Lizzie but not before making him remove his shoes and wash his hands.

‘Now I want you to be very careful, you keep this elbow behind her neck and this hand…..here’ aunt Polly adjusted his hands but still chose to keep her hands below his.

Then something happened, something he didn’t expect. His little sister squirmed in his arms and then there came a smile. There were simply no words to describe what that smile was and suddenly, almost as unexpectedly as the arrival of this little person, his heart unfurled with joy. A joy so pure, so profound he felt a dearth of words or actions.

She was beautiful! So beautiful, so sweet and so amazing. It seemed to him as if she had been pulled out of one of the paintings of little baby angels he had seen at the cathedral.

The rain had given way to a clear evening sky and as the colors of dusk fell across the room; her wispy fair hair glowed like a halo the color of marigolds that grew in the gardens.

‘Is she an angel? Is she my sister?’ he looked up with wide eyes towards Lizzie who sat across him. She simply smiled weakly and looked down and it seemed to him she was about to cry.

‘Yes, she is your little sister and no, she is not an angel, she is Ruby’ aunt Polly said with a gentle smile.

He turned his head back to the little bundle in his arms. This was his little sister, this was Ruby…..

‘Hello Ruby….’ He whispered