It was like a scene out of a B-Grade horror movie. The lightning flashed and the thunder rumbled just as my mother opened the front door, silhouetting the figure of a man on the front porch.
“G’day Kassey.” His scruffy beard made him appear even dirtier than he was.
I peered out from behind my mother and caught the smell of stale tobacco.
“What are you doing here Martin?” my mother didn’t seem too pleased to see him; whoever he was.
“I heard the old boy had died, and thought I’d come and see how my big sister was doing.”
Big sister? This man was my mother’s brother?
A movement in the shadows caught my eye and I realised there was a girl about my age standing behind him.
I smiled hesitantly and she smiled just as hesitantly back at me.
“Well I suppose you’d better come in.” My mother opened the door wider and stood aside.
“You remember my oldest girl, Alison, don’t you?”
Mum looked at the girl in surprise. “Martin, I haven’t seen you in twelve years. How could I remember a child I saw only once?”
Martin looked surprised. “Bin that long ‘as it?”
The girl stood nervously just inside the front door, unsure of her welcome.
“Why don’t you and Alison play a game or something in your bedroom?” It was obvious whatever my mother intended to say to her brother was not for our ears.
We sat on my bed, me at the head and this stranger at the foot.
“I... I didn’t know I had a cousin.” I said at last. Cousin! the word was only a hazy reality. “How come we’ve never met before?”
“We met once when we were about two or three; Dad told me on the way over here.”
“And we’ve never seen each other since then?”
Alison shook her head. “Weird huh.”
I leapt off the bed and dragged a photo album from the wardrobe. “Look at this,” I said, showing her a photo of two tiny girls standing together in a playpen. “Is this us?”
Alison nodded. “Yes, that’s us; mum has the same photo in her album.”
“I’ve always wondered who the second baby was. I mean, I knew that one was me.” I said pointing to the smaller of the two girls, but Mum never told me anything about you.”
Alison brushed the photo with a finger as if trying to remember something. “How old are you?”
“I’m thirteen.” I replied warming to her.
“I’m fourteen and I have three younger brothers and two younger sisters.”
Silence took over again as we both sought something to say.
“Um... so how come we never saw each other again?”
Alison shrugged. “We move around a lot. Dad isn’t very good at keeping a job for long.”
“So where are your mum and brothers and sisters?”
“They’re at home. My youngest brother is only a week old. Mum didn’t want to take him out in the cold.” Alison’s eyes took in my bookcase as she spoke. “You have all The Famous Five series,” she said excitedly.
I grinned, “You like The Famous Five?”
“Oh yes; I’ve read the series about ten times.”
I sat cross-legged on the bed facing her. “Who was your favourite character?”
“I like Anne. She’s quiet and shy, but when the others are in trouble, she forgets her fears and jumps right in.”
“My favourite is George,” I told her. “I wish my parents had called me Georgina.
For the next two hours, we – my newly discovered cousin and I – talked books, books and books. We both loved books about horses, we both loved stories about kids in boarding school. On and on, discovering so many similarities. But the biggest surprise was that Alison liked to write. I felt as if I’d found a soul mate. Then, as suddenly as the visit began, it was over.
I don’t know what my mother and Uncle Martin talked about, but he was very subdued when he poked his head in the door.
“C’mon, time we were going Ali, ya ma will be worrying about us.”
Alison stood and moved towards the door reluctantly.
“You will come again won’t you?” I asked desperately, not wanting to lose her again.
She smiled. “Sure I will.”
But she never did and I never saw my cousin again. I’ve often thought about her over the years, and even more so this past week.
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