Tulips

Copyright © Isabella Dalzell 2018. All RIghts Reserved.

 “Happy Easter, Anne.” Dad hands Mum the cellophane wrapped bouquet, his curly mouth grinning, showing his perfect white teeth. With a secret smile she unwraps them, regarding the tulips with their gold blush on the base of each red cup. She fills the black and pink Chinese vase, sparks of water splashing from the Belfast sink as the thrumming tap empties itself into the porcelain. Carefully, she carries the vase to the upstairs sitting room which gleams green and gold in the sunlight. She places it on the coffee table in the middle of the room, carved with dragons, admiring the reflection of the dancing colours in the glass top.

 

“Come on gang, time to put your coats on!” Adrian, my brother-in-law, chivvies us into the hall, “hurry up or we will miss the pub!” And leads us all out of the house.

 

The whole family traipses out of the white terraced villa which houses three generations on its different storeys. It is set back from the road and surrounded by a low stone wall and wrought iron gate which whose latch snatches at the pockets of our rain coats. We head down the narrow road in a disorderly taggle, still buttoning our coats and tying our scarves. Our straggling group bustles along the High Street, with its smell of sea wind and freshly baked bread and skirting the green outside the cathedral we walk towards the promenade. Sam, half whippet, half collie, races ahead and back towards us in spiralling circles, sniffing enthusiastically at the pavement. We crunch down the shell-strewn slipway where the fishing boats sit like a flock of stranded sea mammals and up over the curving cliff path towards the lighthouse.

 

We walk single file, Adrian striding ahead, Tom running alongside his father to keep up; the six-foot four man almost twice the size of the boy. They are followed by my sister and me, heads together; the one with long, silky, dark hair, the other with auburn tresses, mingling in the wind. We are deep in conversation, speaking with identical voices, gesticulating, each almost the mirror image of the other. Skipping beside us, my young cousin, fine boned and brown skinned, is lost in a world of make-believe and horses, dreaming of the day when the one she imagines underneath her becomes real. My mum and dad, in-laws, uncle and aunt are sandwiched in-between, with the dog Sam, describing elongated circles around us.  rounding us all up to make sure we're all still there.

 

The wind gets up, wafting sand over the cliff tops into eyes and noses, blowing the reedy marram grass anchored in the dunes and whipping the skies with rain. We halt, looking down at the stomach-churning depths where the clay cliffs have fallen in sugar mounded lumps onto the beach far below. The path disappears in patches, fenced off with wooden staves plaited with wire, and we carry along the cliff top until we reach Overstrand. Gratefully, we pile into the small, stone flint stone pub. First to the bar, Adrian orders the drinks with jovial hospitality. Gin and tonics for the older ladies, halves of dry cider for Barbara and I, pints of Guinness for the men, apart from dad, who sticks to his whiskey and dry. We move into the games room where Tom is allowed to sip his orange juice and the younger members of the group fling wooden cheeses at the skittles and the older folk gossip.

 

 The sky is darkening further, decanting drops of scudding rain as we walk back along the beach. Even so, we linger at the rockpools, marvelling at the mincing walk of tiny crabs on their slantwise journeys. Rolling up trousers, Adrian and his dad, Bernard, paddle in the sea and reminisce, looking at the boats far out on the horizon.

 

 “Time to put the dinner on, Anne!” Adrian strides homeward and by the time we all catch him up he’s in the kitchen, efficiently peeling and chopping, basting and pouring wine for us all. Jostling in the hallway, we take off our Macks and hats and gabardine windcheaters and hang them on the stand. Barbara, my cousin Helen and I set the table while Mum and Dad lead the aunts and uncles to the upstairs sitting room to relax before dinner. Tom races ahead, jumping the stairs two at a time, disappearing behind the bend in the banister. Alone of the aunts and uncles and in-laws, Betty, Adrian’s mother, remains in the kitchen smoking a cigarette and sitting on a straight-backed chair, sips a modest sherry.

 

“Show us the flowers Robin gave you this morning then, Nancy,” Aunty Jean says, using the petname she’d used for Mum, instead of Anne, since they were children. She unbuttons her smart hand-tailored jacket as they push through the door to the upstairs sitting room.

 

“Yes, Anne. Let’s take a look at them,” says Uncle Jim, suave in his herringbone jacket and brown twill trousers. He raises a black eyebrow, eyes twinkling.

 

They troop in, crossing the green and gold silk carpet toward the matching sofa. The sun is streaming in through the attic windows again and all eyes travel to the coffee table where the pink and black vase stands. The bright blooms have gone and, in their place, stand a bouquet of headless green stalks protruding in graceful arches from the vase. Describing an almost perfect circle on the floor around the coffee table are the heads of the decapitated tulips, lying there, petals glowing red and yellow like embers. All the adults in the room slowly turn their eyes towards the small boy edging along the wall until he cannot get any further. He stands trapped in the corner.

 

“Tom!” Adrian says sternly from the open doorway.

 

“It wasn’t me!”

 

The pink-faced boy hauls himself up to his full four-foot, six inches and stepping forward swings his anorak, complete with flying zipper head, around his head in illustration.

 

“My coat did it!”