Summer Sisters by Chris Green
Sisters Claire and Lucy were born on the Summer Solstice, one year apart. They shared the same genes, the same upbringing and went to the same schools. Yet they were like chalk and cheese. Claire liked pressing flowers and playing with dolls. Lucy trashed Tonka toys and read Viz magazine. Claire’s favourite colour was pink. Lucy’s favourite colour was black. Claire listened to the Spice Girls and Steps, Lucy listened to Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine. Claire had a pet hamster, Lucy had a pet snake. A python named Diablo. Sadly, Diablo and the hamster were not kept apart. Taking advantage of the oversight, the snake ate the hamster. Not content with one hamster for his supper, Diablo also devoured Claire’s friend Hannah’s hamster, which was on a sleepover.
The two sisters stopped talking to one another. Neither of them made any attempt to heal the rift. In due course, Claire married Colin, a Statistics Specialist and table tennis enthusiast. Lucy eloped with Ahmet, a knife thrower from the Tirana Travelling Circus or some such venture from the Albanian capital.
There was no denying it. Claire and Lucy were polar opposites. Once they had gone their separate ways, they were never likely to meet socially. Chance, of course, is a capricious creature, something of a joker at times, but even so, the circumstances of the sisters’ accidental meeting at a Sigur Rós concert in Bilbao could not have been predicted. Claire hated experimental art, music and literature or any other hint of strangeness in her life. Furthermore, she had traditional tastes in holidays, sun-soaked beaches and a summer novel by the swimming pool. Bilbao was not somewhere that came into conversation often as a holiday destination for sun worshippers. And who could imagine Lucy would be at the same Sigur Rós gig? The band with its classical overtones was surely not wild enough for her tastes. No knives in their act, for one thing. And there were no table tennis or knife throwing events in Cantabria that might have attracted either Colin or Ahmet. Yet here they all were to listen to the enigmatic post-rock band from Reykjavik.
Lucy’s ‘Sorry about the hamsters,’ seemed spectacularly inadequate as a greeting to compensate for twenty years of sisterly silence, but it established a dialogue.
‘Sorry I hid your Texas Chainsaw Massacre video,’ Claire said. ‘And sorry I got you thrown off the school netball team.’
In the course of the subsequent conversation, Claire confided that she had thought she had booked a Diana Ross concert and had wondered why the concert was so far from Barcelona. Colin was in Spain under duress, anyway, as he was missing an algorithm conference in Watford or somewhere in the Home Counties. Lucy, in turn, said that she and Ahmet had been on a ferry from Portsmouth to Santander and had found the Sigur Rós tickets on board. Never having heard of them, she felt they might as well check the band out. Ahmet, meanwhile, explained to Colin the best way to skin a ferret. You needed to make sure your knife was sharp enough. Colin countered with some table tennis tips that were bound to come in useful. It was a numbers game, he said, and if you stood back from the table a little more, statistically you would win more points.
Following the concert, the sisters agreed they had been immature when they stopped speaking. There was no need to keep on with the charade now they were adults. After all, blood was thicker than water. They exchanged details and phone numbers and agreed to stay in touch. They agreed they would not leave it too long. But they went their separate ways. Life took over again, and neither of them heard from the other.
Claire began to find living with Colin a little dull. The endless round of table tennis tournaments she seemed obliged to attend was wearisome. Life shouldn’t revolve around grown-ups hitting a ping-pong ball backwards and forwards for hours. The tedium of it was stifling. Where was the romance? Where were the nights out? Where were the surprise trips to the coast? It was summer too. Summer was meant to be stimulating.
She started going on nights out with her friend Deborah, becoming more adventurous in the venues they attended. One hot summer’s night at R3Hab after a few extra brandy and Baychams, she fell into the arms of Adam, a middle manager from Maidenhead, who was also letting his hair down, he said, following a protracted divorce from his wife Geraldine, a customer service supervisor and all-round difficult bitch from Henley on Thames. Fortunately, he didn’t dwell too long on his break-up and she didn’t bitch too much about Colin. On the plus side, Adam did not mention table tennis once during the whole evening. Or any other sporting pastime. He was a breath of fresh air.
‘A nightcap back at my place, I think, babes,’ he said finally.
‘That sounds like an excellent idea to me,’ Claire said. ‘After all, you only live once, and tomorrow is Saturday.’
After another memorable night or two out with Adam, still without a mention of table tennis, Claire asked him for the name of his solicitor. She was going to do what she should have done years ago. She was going to divorce Colin.
Lucy was tired of travelling around Europe, getting pulled over by Customs, and staying in cheap pensions or in shabby caravans with circus performers. She had had enough of gambling joints populated by small-time Albanian Mafiosi and being taken to seedy establishments where people bet on dog fights. Ahmet’s ship was always coming in, but it never seemed to arrive. Lucy wanted to know where she was going to be tomorrow or this time next week. She wanted some structure. She wanted to be able to plan. While she did not want to become boring like her sister, it was time to settle somewhere and not always be on tenterhooks. She realised this was not something that was going to happen with Ahmet. He was never going to change. She wanted her life back. She wanted out.
Although Lucy was eager not to leap from the frying pan into the fire, her need for stimulation threatened the need for caution. After all, she was an attractive woman in her prime, footloose and fancy-free. Independence was all very well, but perhaps she could be independent and also be worshipped. Lucy needed to know that men still wanted her. To men of a certain type, of course, this gave the impression that she was up for it. Of course, Mario was going to chase after her. He was that very type. He had recently extricated himself from a stifling relationship and was looking for someone more free and easy.
Mario was several years younger than Ahmet and drove a snazzy Alfa Romeo, one of the fast ones. It was awesome on a summer’s day with the top down. Within a matter of weeks, she moved into his house on the hill. Mario was stimulating, but not too wild. And the sex was good. Not so perverse. Less s and m. Mario had to travel with his job, but unlike Ahmet, he did not expect her to tag along. Commerce was a different type of world to that of the urban cowboy. Mario respected her independence. She could pursue her own interests. This gave her the best of both worlds.
Had Claire imagined it, or had Adam suggested in the car that they buy a table tennis table? This wasn’t the only sign lately that he might be turning into Colin. He talked endlessly about cricket, statistics and data recovery and started bringing home The Telegraph. And he was putting on weight. All the sticky puddings he insisted on snacking on and the lazy evenings in front of the TV. Summer should be a time when you get out and do things. Had she overestimated Adam’s vivacity in those early days when he had wined and dined her and they had gone out dancing? Now it seemed to be a struggle to get him to take her to the pub on a Sunday lunchtime, and she could hardly remember the last time they had made love. All Claire’s friends agreed that it was time for her to count her losses and move on. But it was better to find out now than to let things slide, as they had with Colin.
All was not well between Lucy and Mario. It was summer. She was restless. Mario was spending more time away, often without an explanation, and when he was home, all he wanted to do was tinker with his car. And he had become insensitive. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when, out of the blue, he mentioned that the circus was coming to town and suggested they went along. The circus? After what she had been through with Ahmet. It wasn’t even as if they had children to take.
It was time to call it a day. She did not want to get hurt again. Besides, she had her eye on someone at work. Brett seemed to be taking an interest in her, too. If she were to drop the hint that she was available, he might ask her out. Now, Brett really was dreamy. He had film star looks and yet seemed down to earth. Her colleagues had suggested that he was a bit of a Lothario but there again, perhaps she had always been too cautious. Was it time to take a risk?
‘You remind me of someone I know, Claire,’ Brett said. ‘From a certain angle, you look just like her.’
Claire thought nothing more of the comparison. It was the kind of conversation you might expect when you had just met someone. More like small talk, really. There was no sense in reading too much into it. What Brett did not mention was that he had been dating the girl Claire looked a little like, on and off, for several weeks. He also left out that her name was Lucy. There had been no compelling reason for him to mention a name. Why would he imagine Claire would be acquainted with her lookalike?
What neither Brett nor Claire knew was that Lucy was pregnant. Lucy had just found out and was trying to decide how she wanted to play it. She hadn’t told Brett yet. She was not sure how he might react. But on the other hand, she was coming up to thirty. Perhaps it was time for her to settle down and raise a family. Might meeting Brett be the opportunity she had been waiting for, she wondered?
She decided she would ask Claire what she thought about the idea. Her sister would be pleased to see that she had mellowed. Although Claire herself seemed to have spread her wings a little lately, Lucy imagined she could still be guaranteed to be level-headed. She would introduce her to Brett to see what she thought of him before making a firm decision about the new relationship and the baby. It was high time she reached out to her sister, anyway. It had been too long. Hadn’t they agreed to stay in touch? Perhaps they could hook up for their birthday. They weren’t so far apart these days. A thirty-minute drive. And after all, it was summer.
Copyright © Chris Green, 2022: All rights reserved