It was warm but the sky was overcast. Grey clouds, heavy with the threat of rain. Muggy. It was impossible to tell if the weather would hold.
A good metaphor for Christmas lunch with family.
Always, there were the fond reunions. The familiar jokes. Each person slotting back into their place, no matter who they had managed to become away from and in spite of their family.
Invariably, the cracks would appear, small remarks finding their desired mark just under the skin. Old grievances reopened like a child picking at the crusted scab of a past hurt.
And our family gatherings were busy. Blended family with eight grown children, partners, grandchildren. Busy.
My nephews arrived. I squeezed their little bodies into mine, kissed their sweet, excited faces. I drew my sister-in-law into my embrace, told her I had missed her so. But their arrival was always weighted with tension.
Older than me. Loving. At his core, a good man. But a grey cloud over an otherwise sunshiney day.
Quite suddenly, he could change a room’s atmosphere, an energy field crackling around him, almost visible. There was a collective holding of the breath.
It was impossible to know if his good mood would hold.
After lunch, gift-opening revealed super soakers, giant contraptions of garish fluorescent plastic. The water pistol on steroids.
He was instrumental in inciting a full-out water fight.
Bodies ran about the back yard, giving chase, hovering around corners like Hollywood cops. Laughter and screams and begging for mercy. Tendrils of wet hair plastered to ecstatic faces.
“Not me! Don’t wet, Granma! My contacts are in! My contacts!”
Poor Betty. The oldest and the slowest. She had a target on her back. She hovered inside the front door, caught between not wanting to get wet and not wanting to miss out. All the while, a body was positioning itself on the roof, a bucket of water readied for the first glimpse of her silvery hair.
I was the worst kind of participant. I gave the obligatory squeals of protest but tired of the game long before anyone else. Already having changed clothes once, when he targeted me a second time, I just crouched on the ground, wrapping myself into a ball. He trained the jet of water on me until my refusal to resist sucked the fun right out of it.
He had always been disappointed I was such a….girl. A baby. The baby.
Inside, I peeled the second lot of wet clothes from my body and with a towel pulled firmly around me, I made a run for the sanctuary of my car.
Once inside, I locked the doors and began reading my book.
Another example of how very different we were.
Frustrated, he circled my car, looking for a way in. Others joined him, determined to get the princess. The car jiggled with their attempts to jimmy the lock on the car boot.
In time, they grew bored of me, and eventually, bored of the whole game.
The sky, still overcast, darkened earlier than usual. Christmas Day exhaustion was settling upon us all. Embracing one another, we promised to catch up again soon, not let so much time go by this time. We packed up and peeled away.
“Love you, sis” he told me. I told him I loved him, too.
The weather had held.
This piece was written in response to the RemembeRED prompt: This week, we're giving you a photo to take you back in time. In 700 or fewer words, show us where your memory takes you.