I'm sitting in the car, wearing my new, dark red converse trainers. They're so new they still have perfect white soles - there’s not even a scuff. I'm sitting in the car, because it's pissing it down with rain outside and I'm at my little sister's football match.
The text I received from my Mum earlier in the morning went like this:
I am going to leave for Kate's football about 10. KO is 10:30. Can you get here near 10?
I peer out from the backseat window, raindrops smudge my picture of the sodden muddy pitch containing a dozen fifteen year old girls and a football.
It is definitely more rain, than shine, I think as I hug my leather jacket around me to keep warm. The zip broke ages ago, but I love the way the leather is all worn out and snug. I can’t bear to throw it away.
My eyes run along the sodden side line of the pitch, scanning mothers in anoraks and dads with huge multicoloured golfing umbrellas; all giving up their Saturday morning to support their girls. There are a couple of women who have bought deck chairs along. They hoick up their wellies and push their glasses well and truly to the top of their noses (to avoid any drips falling from their hoods); shuffling about to find the best spot. All of them are wearing suitable shoes.
I spy my Mum, hopping from one foot to the other to keep warm, leaning on my brother, who at twenty-four, is a good two feet taller than her. His hood is up, and I can easily picture his expression from the way his arms fly up in the air each time Kate runs for the ball. Even through glass window of the car, I hear him yell Time! Time! to my little sister across the pitch.
My sister is easy to spot; the one with a big white number 12 on her back. She's also tall, and one of the only girls who seems completely unafraid of the ball. I watch as she thunders into this tiny twig of a girl who instinctively flits out the way just seconds before she might get squashed. I remember when I was Kate's age. I'd been picked to play in one lacrosse match for my school's B Team. I hated every minute of it. My Dad had stood at the side line yelling, "Get in there! Tackle her, come on!" I was a skinny little thing, looking up at this gigantic girl lassoing her stick around her head and thinking I'd rather be anywhere else in the world than on that cold, muddy pitch, about to be whacked.
I'm feeling hungry as well as cold now. I fumble about in my huge handbag for a moment, finding only the remnants of a crushed pack of Polo mints at the bottom. I peel open the foil carefully, picking out the big pieces, popping them in my mouth before dusting off the sticky crumbs that have fallen across my lap.
Slightly more satisfied, I turn to look out across the field again, and that's when everything stops.
There's a tiny, but familiar figure way across the field. I hadn't noticed him at first. Well, he is wearing an anorak just like everybody else... I lean up close to the glass, so my nose presses against it and it goes all steamy.
It's my Dad.
I know it's him for sure, because he's kicking a football around with a tiny gangly person with no coat on, who is unmistakeably my littlest brother.
I look instinctively over to my Mum, wondering if she's seen him.
Mum must be having a fit that Henry has no coat on. After all, it is teaming down with rain. I imagine her hissing something along the lines of, "What's he doing allowing him to run about with no coat on in this weather?"
I stare for a minute at the man I haven't known for eight years. Everything about his stance and the way he moves is familiar, yet completely alien to me. I watch as he kicks the football with his left foot, arms still clasped tightly behind his back as if he either isn't able (or isn't willing) to let himself go completely.
A long whistle blows. The girls, muddy and cold with flaming red cheeks run over to the pile of jackets and water bottles splayed in a heap in the car park. Sodden spectators begin to wander over to hear the manager's team talk at half time, clearly relieved to be half way through and able to start moving their toes again.
I begin to panic as I notice my Dad is also striding towards the car park. As he gets close enough, Henry spies me peering out from the car, and gives me half a wave, his hand shooting down quickly to his side in case my Dad sees him.
I don’t know what to do. I hop out the car, forgetting my perfectly white soled converse trainers and land clumsily in the mud. One arm flies up instinctively to protect me from the spitting rain, as all the court orders, injunctions, tribunals and solicitors letters hang like clouds above my head.
Henry runs over and throws his arms around me. I love the way my little brother smells; damp and Henryish.
When I look up and let him go, Dad is standing directly in front of me. I don’t know where to look, or what to say. Instead, I scan his face, taking in each new wrinkle that I hadn't remembered seeing before. Mum is busily fussing over my sister, looking for her asthma puffer, doing anything rather than look directly at him. My other brother, George is concentrating on his boots, arms crossed, puffing his chest out to make himself look bigger. He doesn't need to, really. Dad seems smaller than I remembered him. After an awkward minute nobody's spoken, so I croak a weak ‘hi’. When he replies, his eyes look pale and watery. His hair is greyer and he seems somewhat frail. Maybe that's what fighting does to you.
My brother takes a cigarette out of his pocket and lights it, holding his hand up to shelter it from the wind.
"Alright, George?" My Dad asks.
He nods his cigarette in response, his eyes still fixed on his boots.
As if it was the most normal thing in the world to be standing in a field in the pissing rain with your ex wife and your estranged children, Dad then turns to my Mum, and asks casually; "Do you remember Paul Duskin?"
I watch as Mum, the natural communicator of the two, hesitates, taken aback by his casual tone. She grips her umbrella even more tightly to compose herself, before rushing a very animated; "Oh, yes! Didn't he play for your old football team? The tall guy?"
It isn't normal for my parents to even talk, let alone reminisce. Henry (clearly not as dumbfounded as the rest of us by this rare exchange between our parents) seems to have found a toy gun from the car and begins shooting foam pellets at the girls huddled around their manager for the team talk.
I’m jumpy, nervous; I fiddle with the zip on my jacket and wait for something to go wrong.
My Dad continues.
"Yep. Really great guy. A wife, nice family... Died last year."
"Oh no... How sad." Mum pipes up appropriately, her voice slightly shrill.
He allows for a dramatic pause, which makes me wonder where he could possibly be going with this.
"...Yes. He died from lung cancer...” Lowering his voice in disgust, and nodding disapprovingly at my brother, he adds; “...from smoking."
My Mum winces. My eyes flit between my parents and my brother, who is getting redder by the minute. He's picking at my brother. Picking where he absolutely, one hundred percent shouldn't. I dig the white toe of my converse into the mud, and wait for 'the scene' to happen.
Suddenly, from out of nowhere, there's loud POP! followed by a dull thud.
My Dad has taken the toy gun off of Henry and shot George square in the chest.
My brother's lips curl up at the edges. He tries desperately to pin them down. My Mum stifles a laugh.
And without the faintest warning, eight years of anger is dispelled across a rainy football pitch. Because we could finally allow ourselves - for just a few minutes - to forget.