Did we run down sand dunes, bare feet stinging on hot sand, yelling jump at the edge of the wharf, while gulls screamed overhead and then – half drowned – thump each other’s chests clear of sea water, wrap each other’s bodies in rubbery lengths of kelp, popping the salty pods with our teeth … and because Jo-fish whined … did we dig a hole in the sand to bury her, first her feet, legs, her round belly right up to her neck, weaving seaweed into her hair, pipi and whelks and were we laughing, us sisters?
Did we abandon her, lured by the tinkly tune of Mr Whippy, his pink and white van parked at the base of the dunes … hoping for free ice creams … rolling our eyes at Mr Whippy, angling our skinny hips, I bet all the women are after you, and when he turned his back to fill the machine with milk powder, mumbling, go home crazy girls, were we still waiting, holding out our sandy hands?
And later, lying in the long grass – using hand signals, stop, move, or target ahead – inching towards the back of his van on our bellies, the feathery tufts of the grass tickling our skin did we forget we were girls, going bare chested, our murderous hearts beating, our breath a war cry that fell to a whisper when Mr Whippy lifted his counter, went outside for a smoke or a leak?
Were we under the dark chassis, listening to his footsteps, lifting our heads to the monotonous humming, the gurgling sounds, the plumbing sounds until sudden-struck by another noise, the noise of the incoming tide?
Were we rolling out between the tyres, get out, get out, scrambling over each other, yelling our sister’s name as we raced back over the dunes, searching the beach … her head, bobbing with shells and seaweed, the gulls screaming over the wharf, were we running, were we running?
Was it later we fought; snatching at each other’s ponytails, pinching arms, legs, saying to Jo-fish, harder, pinch harder, letting her steal our Mickey Mouse beach towels, body boards, sparkly hair clips and later again, lip gloss, tight jeans, painting her nails, Coral Red, teasing up her hair, big and pouffy, saying nothing when she climbed out the bedroom window on moon lit nights, and when she floated back in, wild-eyed, sandy, bringing the smell of the sea, the moan of the wind, were we swamped, towed under, our throats filled with salt water, were we dreaming, wrapped in blankets, side by side under the sky, brushing long strands of hair from our mouths, were we pointing to the brightest star … laughing … Hey, that could have been you, Jo-fish.
Frankie McMillan is a poet and short fiction writer from Aotearoa. Her new book, The wandering nature of us girls (Canterbury University Press) will be launched in August 2022.