Chalky soils are the most delicious, you say, taking a pinch from the earth bank as we pass.
We’ve come along this sunken lane because Mum’s long gone, Dad only just, and it seems like we need to start being sisters again. The lane leads to Sunset Hill, where we always played. Its high banks are thick with primroses, like the times we’d pick them to decorate the church, but here beneath the exposed roots of an oak tree there’s a dry hollow, like a small cave. Having smacked your lips over its fine yellowish soil, you reach up for a handful of dark humus, rich as fruit pudding. Shreds of wet leaf and insect-casings stick to your chin as you munch. You swallow, breathe Yesss!
Dirt must be a superfood; you look more fabulous than ever. My mouth tastes like ashes.
Why can’t you be more like your sister? That was Mum, in the last days when she’d forgotten tact and fairness, her lifelong principle of treating us both equally. Because I can’t fucking compete, I didn’t say. Later, to my therapist, I blurted out all the things you did more and better than me: friendship, parties, sports. Sex, obviously.
She has a joyful spirit, Dad said at your first wedding. She opens her arms wide and embraces life.
That’s not all she opens wide, I didn’t say.
Our parents didn’t know half of what I knew about you. The shoplifting, the vandalism, the magic mushroom omelettes, the high-powered business trips that turned into orgies.
Or perhaps they did.
Even when your marriages failed it was spectacular, crash-and-burn. I try to remember what Dad said about me at my wedding. I think it was something about my cooking.
We’ve reached the top of Sunset Hill, named not for its west-facing aspect but for the pinkness of its soil. You sigh, God, I’ve missed this! You fall to your knees by a scraped-out depression, between clumps of tough grass. It looks as if a dog’s been scrabbling after rabbits, or maybe a badger. Doesn’t it look gorgeous? you ask me.
Oddly, it does.
You wet your forefinger, pick up a line of rosy dirt. Look, you whisper. Just a dusting is all it takes. On the very tip of your tongue. You demonstrate. Your eyes roll in ecstasy. I kneel by you, reach out a fingertip.
You go, Isn’t it amazing?
And it is.
Patience Mackarness lives and writes partly in an elderly VW camper van, partly in a cottage in Brittany, France. Her stories have been published or accepted by Lunch Ticket, Dime Show Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, The Coachella Review, Flash Frontier, and elsewhere. Her work can be read at https://patiencemackarness.wordpress.com/