When I was seven, Mum and Dad took us on holiday to a beach in Spain. This made no sense to me because there was a beach at home and the only differences it had with Spain were the pigmentation of the water and the language everyone spoke. It wasn’t even that warm, which annoyed Mum to no end because she said she only booked the holiday so she could get a tan and show off to Mrs Robins down the road.
I was seven, Finn was eight, and Elodie was nine. A perfect set. A perfect joke. Why was six afraid of seven? Because seven, eight, nine. I never mentioned this joke to our parents, because Mum didn’t approve of women trying to be funny, but Elodie and Finn and I laughed at it until our stomachs shredded to bits. Now that I look back on it, it’s not even that good a joke.
We did a lot of rock-pooling in Spain. I suppose it was something Dad must have done as a child because he bought us all candy coloured plastic buckets and one, long fishing net on a bamboo stick. One particularly overcast and miserable day, we were clambering over the craggy grey rocks, slippery with something that looked like seaweed, but wasn’t. Something you could pull right off the rock, with tiny pockets of air that - if you concentrated really hard - you could pop and see the slimy gunk that lived inside it. The other two were rushing quickly ahead, their dexterity much better than clumsy, seven-year-old me. Mum and Dad sat under an unneeded umbrella on the sand, keeping close eye. I hurried to catch up with Elodie and Finn, but in my rush, I dislodged a smaller rock and slipped. My bare foot plunged into the cold, grimy pocket of seawater that lay underneath it and I felt a layer of the skin on my ankle slice off and cling to its new home on the rock. I shrieked at the shock of it all until the four members of my family came rushing over to retrieve me from my spot at sea.
Maybe because I was in legitimate pain, or maybe because I was the sister of Elodie Yates and attention was hard to come by, I basked in the scrutiny of my mother as she tried to determine whether my scraped ankle would need further medical assistance. I wailed and wept until my father had the bright idea of fetching an ice cream cone to make me forget about the pain, which worked a treat.
Elodie did not take kindly to this. First, she shouted. Then, she kicked sand onto me and my ice cream and my poor, skinned ankle. And once she had decided that she had made enough of a scene, she took off, marching down the beach with her little pudgy arms swing-swing-swinging as if she had a proper purpose.
“Shouldn’t we go after her?” Finn asked, his dark brow furrowed over the rest of his face.
“She’s a drama queen.” Mum said. “She’ll come back.”
And come back she did. Not twenty minutes later, Elodie skulked back to our spot on the beach, her face a little pink, which could not have been from sunburn due to the fact that we hadn’t seen the sun once since we arrived in the country. She didn’t say anything until the sun came back out, which was once we’d gotten off the plane, back in the UK.
That was the first of many times. And every time she was missing overnight, Finn would stumble into Mum and Dad’s room, hands and words tripping over themselves, telling them that they should probably think about calling the police. But their answer was always the same; Elodie has always been difficult, but she’s always come back.
But on the fourth day of the ninth time Elodie went missing, they must have rethought their mantra, because I returned home from school to meet two police officers who were enjoying a cup of tea in the kitchen with my parents and a pale-looking Finn. We were able to tell them the events of the entire morning before she went missing because my mother has the art of getting her children out of bed and into school down to a T.
The whole house was awake by seven thirty, as usual.. Finnegan ate at the table, reading through the biology book that he got for Christmas, mumbling things he definitely didn’t need to know to himself. I could hear him muttering key words and definitions to himself as I straightened my tie in the living room mirror. He had a science test that day that really wasn’t a massive deal, but he was treating it like he could go into open-heart surgery at any given second. I ordered Alexa to play Radio One to drown out his incessant mumbling, but he quickly told her to stop before she could even process the request.
We, as a family of four, acknowledged the uncomfortable gap that sat between Finn and I as we ate breakfast that morning. We heard Elodie curse as she stubbed her toe on the landing like she always did. Mum pretty much cowered away from her when she appeared in the doorway of the dining room, dressed in black denim shorts and a striped tee. The details of her outfit were drilled into the whole town’s head by the end of the first week. She was wearing pink Adidas trainers. Even after they found her, I used to start every time I saw one of those trendy pink backpacks on someone in the street. She scowled when Dad suggested it was too cold to go outside in shorts, shook her head when Mum asked her, tentatively, if she wanted scrambled egg. She slammed the front door before Finn could finish his quip about the music she’d been blasting all morning. That was eight-fifteen exactly. She left the house at exactly eight-fifteen.
And then she was gone, and we finished our eggs in peace. Because no matter how out-of-hand she got, no matter how many times we were called to her friends’ because she was off her head, no matter how many times she tried to mess up our life, Elodie always came back home.
When they found her. When she ended up coming home, but coming home cold, it was as if someone had caught me up in that stupid fishing net we had. Like I was being pushed into the rockpool and sealed in forever. I thought about everything Elodie had done in her life and it was like someone had stopped writing a book right in the middle because my sister was awful but Mum and Dad always used to say she’d grow out of it. And now she couldn’t grow at all.
This is an (extremely condensed) version of a novel I began a few years ago. No matter which viewpoint I tried to tell the story from, it always seemed completely wrong. I took some time last week to transform it into a different story as a writing excercise. Hope you enjoy!