‘We have plenty of time’ Sissy said.
‘We haven’t got plenty of time. We’re going to be late and I don’t want us to be late to this.’
‘Please Maurice I haven’t had anything to eat since last night’.
Maurice’s hands gripped around the wheel and they slackened again. He breathed out through his lips just like the therapist had told him to do. Not through the nose, she had said, it’s a lot harder to express yourself that way, you have to really feel it. ‘Purse your lips, almost like you’re a halibut.’
Maurice hated halibut. He hated fish. He disliked most things that came from the sea, and most things outside of the sea. But one thing that he did like, was his sister. Although he didn’t always show her that.
‘Well who’s fault is that Sissy’, he said, his eyes not leaving the road.
‘Oh God you sound just like dad. Don’t be like that. Look there’s a diner in 5 miles, let’s just stop there. You can just have a coffee if you don’t want anything’.
Sissy watched her brothers’ profile. He did look a lot like their father. That sloping nose and the wide expanse of forehead. The way the hair had started to recede at such a young age. Their father had never been fat, ever. Heavy sometimes in spirit, but never fat. Maurice could have the same way about him, carrying so much weight on just two human shoulders.
She reached out as if to put her hands on the wheels. ‘Don’t do that’, he said. There was no force in the her hold, instead her hands just lay their stationary. 4 different palms around the leather.
‘I won’t do it if you don’t give me a reason to do it’, she leaned forward and whispered into his ear.
A wry smile twisted across his face, but still he didn’t look at her. She could tell she’d won though.
‘We’re only stopping for 20 minutes though’ his voice spoke against the rumbling of the wheels. Most of their journey so far had been in silence. It was only the noise of the occasional passing car that interrupted the stillness that they both sat in. The Volvo had belonged to their father. Sissy had thought how much smaller it felt when they both stepped into it, from when they were little, but she had kept this comment to herself. At a younger age, her milky white legs seemed to dangle from these seats and hang down into the abyss of the footwell. Only it wasn’t an abyss now. It was just a footwell, her feet landing happily on the carpet and the floor covered in the bag of her old trainers she’d bought in hope of being able to do some cliff walks over the weekend, and a couple of plastic empty coffee cups stuffed with crisp packets. She had been so little when she was younger, smaller than most kids her age and with such thin whips hair it was almost like spun gold.
The sound of the indicator ticked and Maurice moved the car into the right-hand lane. The diner sat on the landscape. It looked friendly, as much as a building can look. Fat red letters stuck up boldly, letting the world know what it was. Inside, people sat together in small clumps. The odd figure sat by themselves and watching out the window as the car pulled in.
‘Sissy this is one of those faux American places. We’ve only got 20 miles to go, there’s going to be a lot of food to eat there. I don’t want to go in here’, Maurice said on an annoyed exhale.
‘You don’t have to’, she said, opening the door and squeezing his knee briefly before stepping out of the car. Dust flew up behind her as she walked. Maurice watched his sister’s trail. When she was first born she had been this tiny bud of a flower, so petit they all thought that something must be wrong with her - there must be something out of place or an organ would be too small or there wasn’t enough blood or something. But it was all there. All perfectly placed. He had been the only person who could make her laugh when she was a baby, and then it was like the bud was opening, and she would grip on to his finger knowing the digits with her pink gums and those huge green eyes staring up at him.
He sighed and squeezing his lids shut, rubbing the bridge of his nose. ‘Every time you feel yourself getting angry, try and imagine that you are somewhere where your anger isn’t needed. There’s no room for it and so you need to send it somewhere else’.
Their mother had always been angry. That’s where it had come from, this hot electric thread that ran through him. She had been like a storm, waiting to break at any moment in their house, their father a thick sheet of tarpaulin that had attempted to cover it all from the relentless thrashing rain that would suddenly fill the lounge, the kitchen, their bedroom. Maurice’s drinking hadn’t made it any easier. He had started drinking more beer when he realized that lager dulled his feelings, and so the more he drank the easier it was to not become angry. But that was a method that had imploded not long after he had found it.
Sissy’s slender figure disappeared into the diner. He exhaled again, trying to relax his eyebrows, trying to unpick the tension that was building on his insides, in the bit that only he could see and feel and know. Then like a ship steadily turning, he reached for the handle in the door and followed her path into the restaurant.
The bell chimed loudly as he opened the door. The lights were bright, but not garish. It was a lot cleaner than he had expected to be. Sissy sat in a corner booth, a menu held up to her face but he could tell it was her because of the way the fingers were placed. In that way when you know someone so well it could almost be you recognizing yourself.
‘I’m glad you changed your mind’, she said without lowering the menu but knowing that her brother had sat down in front of her. ‘I know there will be food there, but mum’s in charge of it, and a couple of the aunts’.
Maurice looked around, a red haired waitress was walking towards them. A smile plastered onto her face.
‘I don’t recognize you two, you must be just traveling through then. Going anywhere nice?’
Sissy let the menu drop and beamed back at the waitress. Maurice’s face remained still.
‘A funeral. Our father’s. My brother doesn’t think we have enough time and that we’ll be late, but I don’t think we will be, and seeing as I inherited dad’s ability to best estimate time of travel I think he should trust me’.
‘I’m so sorry to hear that, and for your loss’, the waitress’s smile dimmed.
‘Thank you', Maurice said stiffly. His lips barely brushing against the syllables.
‘Yes thank you’, Sissy said.
‘What was his name?’ The waitress asked, her gaze moving from Maurice’s to Sissy’s.
‘Dylan’, Sissy said. ‘The service is up near the coast line. There was a huge part of him that loved to walk there, and where he said he always belonged to.’
‘We all deserve to go where we belong’, the waitress said quietly, almost into her pad.
A heavy silence fell between the 3 of them, and then Sissy broke it ‘So please can I have the cheese toastie, with both the chips and the salad. And a coke. A big one’.
The waitress’s pen moved softly across the pad. She turned to Maurice, unsure what to do with her face. Balancing it somewhere between sad and neutral.
‘I’ll have the toastie please but no chips or salad, and a water’, he said, closing his eyes as he spoke. Finishing his order with a tight close lipped smile.
The waitress nodded her head. At the crown, her roots were showing through. Not the vibrant red colour that covered the rest of the hair, but instead a muted brown. Mousy.
‘I thought you hated diners?’ Sissy grinned at him.
‘I do. But you’re right mum is not the best cook’.
She slid her hands across the table, the two wands of her arms stretching across the expanse to reach him, her palms turned face up in front of him in surrender.
‘No matter how much I irritate you, and I don’t know why you get so angry and we don’t understand the others’ way of seeing-I always know, and hope, we belong to one another. And I promise I won’t let us be late to dad’s funeral’. Her green eyes were glazed with a sheen of tears.
‘Don’t cry you big baby’, he said, narrowing his eyes at her and squeezing her fingers, ‘you’ll get your sandwich wet and then you’ll have to eat mum’s food’.