Ngaire sat in the front garden in the chilly Oamaru morning, arms extended, palms upwards. Her furrowed brow was covered by golden story-book curls. Wearing a jam-splotched pink nightie, hand-sewn by her mummy, and with sleep encrusted eyes, she waited for her sister to jump out of the upstairs window.
Ruthie would often wake Ngaire up with screaming fits directed at their end-of-tether parents. “I’m going to do it!” Slam! went the door, shaking the walls, Ruthie’s shriek ringing through the darkness of Ngaire’s bedroom. Thump, thump, thump, went the boots on the stairs. Knuckles knocked at the door across the hall. “Don’t be ridiculous, girl.” “I’ll really jump! I’ll do it!”
Amid sighs and whispered conversation, Ngaire, quiet and resolved, shuffled into her slippers, put on her mittens, and plodded down the stairs and into the front garden. Swinging open the netted door, the breeze cut her ruddy cheeks. It was her solemn duty, she supposed, bare feet crunching through grass frost, to save her sister when she jumped.
Determined to be positioned correctly so as to best catch Ruthie, she cleared a space with her bottom in the loose bark between prize roses taller than Ngaire herself. They were coloured like homemade marmalade – warm honey yellow marbled with more intense orange rind in manicured excellence. Like an earnest watchman at his post, she sat regimented and squinted at the window, breaking eye contact only when her neck ached from craning upwards. The criss-crossed trellis, painted Victorian White, swam in her peripheral vision.
Just weeks before, the three Prince children had thrown plastic cups tumbling out of the window. Ernest had been sent out on a reconnaissance mission that, according to Ruthie, was of the utmost importance. Ngaire and Ruthie held their breath, peeking out from the kitchen door frame as he crept to the blue pantry doors. Bars of light from a street lamp shone through the kitchen blinds and onto Ernie’s pyjamas as he inched the doors open, and squeezed his elvish frame inside. Ngaire watched him, heart jumping in her chest, as he filled three green cups to the brim from a large tin of Milo, adding a decent, frantic shaking of chocolate chips. But when, back at base, chocolate smudged cheeks beaming with success, three pairs of small ears had heard footsteps in the hallway, Ernest’s conquests went cascading down into the garden.
It would have been quite a sight, the sleeping cul-de-sac abruptly interrupted by window shunting and falling cups, had anybody been watching. Miraculously, when Ngaire had examined the crime scene the next day, the cups were nowhere to be found. Maybe they’d grow into three green cup trees she could show her friends from school. Ngaire wondered what would happen if the cups were Ruthie. Would she bounce and roll, crumble like cigarette ash or splat like ice cream? It wouldn’t matter because she was there to catch her, she decided.
The full piece (from which this exerpt is taken) was originally published in Mindfood magazine.