3rd Prize 2015 - Massive Stone Lions by Lisa McDonald
Massive Stone Lions by Lisa McDonald
And then, eighteen months ago, my dad died. He was only sixty. It was a bit of a shock to us despite the ciggies and his stress from work. I don’t know why people are so horrible to traffic wardens. Mam cried so hard she broke the blood vessels in her eyes. Dr Griffiths had to come round three times in the first week.
So many people came to the funeral service that we had to have the big room at St Gwenog’s. The whole street turned out to say goodbye to him plus all the relatives came down from Aber which was a surprise, really, considering what happened the last time they visited. Still family is family . Dad would have been chuffed. Mam and I made trays of cake and my cousin Bronwyn and my Auntie Gwen made loads of ham and cheese sandwiches. Uncle Elwyn sang at the end and that made my mam cry.
After that, Bronwyn popped over every Monday to make sure we were okay and not getting ill with the grieving. She only lives in the next street, mind. One day, she came over on a Tuesday and when she came through the front door, she said she wanted to talk to me about something important,
“It’s to do with a discovery, Ffion,” she said.
Bronwyn goes through hobbies like I go through diets. She’d finished with astrology and was now into finding new relatives in our family tree. What about looking after the live ones, was what I thought. My Auntie Gwen, Bronwyn’s mam, she was already starting to go a bit demented even then. The week of Dadda’s funeral, she went into Mason’s in her nightclothes but when Dai Jones on the fish counter brought her back home again, Bronwyn didn’t seem all that bothered. It wasn’t even my auntie’s best nightie and she wasn’t wearing a dressing gown either. And I didn’t want Bronwyn to discover any new men in the Evans family tree. I love my female relatives and I loved my dad but I do struggle sometimes with the loud uncles and the beardy cousins - except perhaps for Bronwyn’s brother, Dafydd – and even he can be a bit silly, now and again. When I visited him last week, he asked me to smuggle him in a mobile phone next time I went. As if I would.
I put the kettle on and told Bronwyn I was sorry she’d missed Mam.
“Well, actually, Ffion,” she said, “I don’t want to see my Auntie Emmy, not yet, because she might be a bit upset by my news. “
“Well,” I said, “I’d better have a slice of angel cake before you tell me then. And if it’s really awful news, I’ll have another piece after it, as well.”
“Hmmm,” she said.
I stared her in the eye and took a big bite of sponge.
“I’ve discovered something important in my research,” Bronwyn said. “I’ve found a birth certificate.”
“ Whose certificate? Fancy a slice, Bron?”
“Well, it’s like this, Ffion,” she said. “You’ve got a sister.”
There – and that’s exactly how she said it. No warning or anything.
I have a sister. She’s called Delyth Angharad Evans and she’s five years older than me.
I’d always wanted a sister so I was incredibly excited. I still cried though. Sugar would have helped but Bronwyn had put the cake back in the kitchen.
The next day, I visited Auntie Gwen. She might not always recognise her own daughter but she can remember stuff from years back, like from when she and Dadda were kids.
“Auntie Gwen,” I said, “I want you to tell me about my sister, Delyth.”
“It’s a secret,” she said. “I‘m not supposed to say.”
“Mam,” said Bronwyn, “you can tell Ffion. She already knows she’s got a sister, she just wants to find out a bit more about her.”
“Who’s that woman?” said Auntie Gwen. “Is she with you, Ffi?”
Bronwyn went into the kitchen and I heard her banging about in there, opening and closing cupboard doors. Honestly, her language is vile sometimes.
“The thing is,” said Auntie Gwen, “when Glyn – your dad - was sixteen, he had a bit of a fling with a bad’un. She got pregnant and said it was Glyn’s. Our dad made Glyn smuggle himself onto one of the cargo ships going out from Penarth Docks. Once he was out to sea, he jumped out and let the captain know he was there. Well, he ended up working for two years on the River Plate in South America.”
I didn’t think Dadda had ever been west of Swansea so this was a bit of a shock.
“While Glyn was out in Argentina, “ said my auntie, “the war was about to start and he wanted to volunteer for the RAF. Thing is, he was worried if he left it too late, like, he’d get called up to the Army instead. Well, he didn’t fancy their uniform, did he? So he worked his passage back again to Wales toot sweet. Leading Aircraftman Evans – there’s posh it sounds. I could murder a cup of tea, Ffion.”
Bronwyn came in holding a tray with cups of tea on it which she banged down onto the table.
“There’s lovely,” said Auntie Gwen. “Have you worked for the agency long, dear?”
“What happened next?” I asked.
“The RAF sent him up to Squires Gate in Blackpool,” she said, “and that’s where he met your mam at a Christmas dance in the Winter Gardens.”
When Mam heard the news about Delyth, she was upset but, after all, I told her, it happened before she and Dadda had even met each other. It wasn’t like he was unfaithful to her or anything. Eventually, when she understood how important it was to me, she said she was happy if I looked for my sister.
It took me eight months to find her and about half an hour to see how different we were.
She likes being called Delly. She’s thin as a liquorice lace because she goes to the gym every day. She lives in Lisvane and that’s nearly the countryside. She’s got massive stone lions on top of huge brick gateposts at the end of the drive to her house which is one of those pretend Tudor things all white with black beams on the front. She doesn’t need to go to the gym. Walking up and down the drive a few times should crack it. She doesn’t eat cake. She’s not a fan of wheat. Or fat. Or sugar. What do you eat, then? I said. I like salad, obviously, she said and I drink a lot of smoothies, especially green ones with spinach in.
The Saturday after our first big chat, we went to Delly’s. She was throwing a big party in her big house and we were all invited. She said it was to welcome us into her family. I thought she was joining ours.
“When are you getting ready?” asked Bronwyn, when she arrived to pick up me and Mam.
“I am ready,” I said.
“What a lovely hotel,” said Auntie Gwen.
“Come on, Ffion,” Bronwyn said. “Come upstairs with me. You can’t go out looking like that. This is a party we’re going to, not a sodding jumble sale.”
She made me try on different dresses from my wardrobe but I was already wearing the only one that I could do up.
“It’s not my fault,” I said. “It’s my glands.”
“Your glands, my arse,” she said. “Put on these pearls.”
Bronwyn took off her necklace. She’d bought it in the sale in David Morgan’s especially. She hung it round my neck and then she put lipstick on me and some blusher, too. I looked in the mirror and burst out laughing.
Mam came out of her room and she looked lovely. We made her take the hat off though.
It was a while before Delly saw Bronwyn’s Astra on the other side of the electric gates and got them opened for us. It wouldn’t have mattered that we’d waited outside so long except that Auntie Gwen needed a wee and she’s too old to hang onto it for more than half an hour. Unfortunately, Delly’s phone was at the bottom of her gym bag where she couldn’t hear us ringing to say we were there and please could she let us in.
Auntie Gwen’s skirt washed out nicely in the downstairs lav.
The meal itself began fine - I liked the red bean and quinoa soup - but then Delly served up seafood and I didn’t know that you weren’t supposed to try and eat the outside shell of giant prawns. I quietly spat out the hard bits into my napkin. No-one saw. The thing is the napkin was a cotton one and the red lipstick that Bronwyn had put on me made a bit of a mess of it. They won’t find it though because I put it in the bin in the kitchen. The kitchen had an Aga in it and I was a bit curious. That’s how I came to burn myself but I put it under running water for ten minutes and there was almost no mark at all on my wrist the next day.
Bronwyn took a photograph of us all and Giles, Delly’s husband, took one, too. Tristram, Delly’s son, was lovely. He was dead generous with the wine and nobody minded at all when Giles said Bronwyn couldn’t drive us back and that we were going to have to call a taxi. And it was lucky really because Bronwyn was sick on the way home and that would have made driving difficult. She thought it must have been the spinach soufflé and she’s very likely right.
When we got home, I opened a packet of Jaffa Cakes and I munched them in bed. After the prawns episode, I hadn’t wanted to eat anything Delly gave me, in case it was something else that I didn’t know the rules for.
It wasn’t the best night of my life but I’ve had worse.
On the Monday, I visited my cousin Dafydd, Bronwyn’s brother. I like to go once a month if I can. I showed him the photograph which Bron had taken of us all.
“They live in Lisvane, “ I said to him. “They’ve got massive stone lions at the end of their drive.”
I pointed out who was who and Dafydd seemed quite interested.
“That dress looks tight, Ffi, “ he said. “You’re going to have a heart attack if you don’t lose some of this weight.”
And then he looked really closely at the photo and he started to laugh. I stood up to go, even though there was still half an hour left . I went to take the photograph from him but Dafydd held on to it and put his hand on my arm.
“No, Ffi,” he said. “It’s not you I’m laughing at, you daft girl. It’s something else. Sit down and I’ll tell you.”
And he did.
Delly and Giles returned Bronwyn’s Astra on the Tuesday after the party. We were all there, looking through the front room window, waiting for them. Giles parked the car and then got into the passenger seat of the Mercedes that Delly was driving.
They weren’t going to knock.
Me, Bronwyn , Mam and even Auntie Gwen came outside onto the pavement and so Delly had to talk to us. They both smiled through the windscreen. I walked towards the driver’s door and Delly opened the window.
I put my head through it.
“Well, there’s lovely to see you, Delly,” I said.
“You’re looking well,” she said. “How’s Bronwyn?”
She waved at her and my cousin waved back.
“Super car, this, Delly. The business must be doing well,” I said.
“What business, darling?” Delly asked, smiling.
I handed her a copy of the glossy advertisement Dafydd had told me I’d find on the internet. The stone lions looked gorgeous in it and so did Delly.
Now I understood exactly what kind of exercise it was that kept her so fit.
“My cousin Dafydd sends his regards, “ I said to Giles. “East Wing, Cardiff, 2013.”
Me, Bronwyn, Auntie Gwen and Mam went in and had a cup of tea and a big piece of lardycake.
That was a month ago. Bronwyn says she’s not interested in finding any more new relatives. She’s thinking about life coaching instead.
We’re having a little welcome home tea next week for Dafydd. Because I want to celebrate all of us being finally together at last, I’ve invited Delly, Giles and Tristram to it as well. After all, family is family.