Martha O’Brien is a twenty-year-old writer from Cardiff. She is in her third year at Cardiff University, studying English Literature and is currently working on her first novel.
Eliza was the best. She was warm and light, like the colour orange, or pink, or like sugar on grapefruit, or all three. Pink and orange like grapefruit, that’s it, but without the sharp shock, just sweetness and smiles. She smelled of softness, if someone can, and she was soft, and she laughed like the sun, and smiled like it too. She was soft and she was gentle and she was warm and she was kind, and she always was ours. She also lived next door, at number 17, and could make the best origami dragons. She was in Adam’s class at school, and had hair as short as Adam’s too, except it was curly and always out of her face with multi-coloured clips. Those are the things I think about when I think of her, and of the summer when we were too old to stay at home and too young to go any further than the park. Eliza was lovely.
I remember once, me, Eliza and Adam, on the field next to the park by our house. Eliza and Adam were playing, but I had to sit and watch, because Adam never let me play.
‘Show me where the money is or I’ll shoot!’ Adam shouted.
‘Never!’ Eliza shouted back.
‘I will! I’ll kill you!’
‘Do it then!’
Adam shot and Eliza died.
‘You’re meant to show me!’ Adam moaned. Eliza sat up in the grass and giggled.
‘That’s not fun! And you never shot Daniel.’
Adam threw himself down on the grass and glared at me. ‘He’s not playing.’
‘I want to,’ I muttered.
‘Fine then. Let’s play dares.’ Adam said, smiling. Eliza smiled too, because she knew what was coming, and so did Adam. I felt my cheeks getting hot.
‘I dare Eliza to kiss me.’ Adam grinned. Eliza laughed like she wasn’t expecting it, and leaned over to give Adam a 3-second peck on the lips. My cheeks flushed red. Adam leaned back and stretched out on the grass.
‘Right. I dare Dan-’
‘I don’t want to play.’ I said firmly.
‘Come on!’ Adam smirked. He paused, and then said, for maximum effect, ‘You’re only jealous Eliza won’t kiss you.’
‘Shut up!’ My cheeks were starting to burn.
‘If you were in Year Six as well-’
‘I don’t want to play!’ I was redder than ever, and I knew Eliza could see, so I lay face-down in the grass, ashamed that I was nine and not eleven, that I wasn’t grown-up and going to big school, that I couldn’t dare girls to kiss me.
‘We can play something else,’ Eliza suggested.
‘There’s nothing else to play.’ Adam said. We all sat, hot, in the sun for a little while, stuck for suggestions.
‘There’s tip tops in our freezer.’ Adam offered at last.
‘Are there lemon ones?’ Eliza asked.
‘Who likes lemon ones?’ Adam pulled a face.
I sat up. ‘I do.’
‘No you don’t,’ Adam laughed. ‘You’re only saying that ‘cause Eliza likes them.’
My cheeks began to heat up again, so this time I turned my back to the pair of them.
‘I didn’t mean it,’ Adam muttered, and I felt Eliza’s hand on my shoulder as she sat down next to me.
‘Don’t worry,’ She whispered. ‘My brother’s the same. They’re nasty.’
I didn’t say anything.
‘Plus I know you like lemon tip-tops,’ she smiled, and I said nothing. ‘And if you want,’ – she lowered her voice even more – ‘I can give you a kiss as well.’
I smiled but hid my face in my knees so she couldn’t see.
‘Can we play another game now please?’ Adam said from behind us.
‘What do you want to play?’ Eliza said.
‘Not you!’ Eliza turned to him, annoyed. ‘I was asking Dan.’ I beamed into my knees.
‘Hide and seek,’ I whispered. Eliza smiled wide.
‘One, two, three – go on then! – four, five…’
Me and Adam ran, leaving Eliza in the field and heading for the woods. Adam was much faster than me, taller and longer, and disappeared into the trees before I reached them. I reached the woods and ran down the muddy path, following it until I found a tree easy enough for me to climb, with enough leaves to hide behind. I sat in the tree and waited. I wasn’t very good at that part of the game. I started to think about where Adam was hiding, and I started to think about Eliza getting lost, and I started to wonder if she could see me, where I was hidden. I stuck my shoe out a little bit, so she could spot me when she came. Then we could go and look for Adam, just me and Eliza. Maybe we wouldn’t find him. I started to wonder how quickly Eliza would find me in the tree. I thought about being there forever, and her never finding me, and I got scared, so I jumped down from the branch I was sat on and ran back up the muddy path, over the roots of trees that jutted out and past the leaves that brushed my shoulders, and out into the open. I ran so fast, looking down at the ground so I wouldn’t fall over a root, so quickly that I ran head-first into Eliza, who was running into the woods. I fell backwards onto the ground and she laughed out loud, then covered her mouth quickly.
‘What are you doing?’ She giggled. ‘You’re meant to be hiding.’
‘I-I changed my mind on where to hide.’ I muttered quickly, standing up and dusting off my legs and bottom.
‘Let’s go and find Adam, then.’ Eliza ran into the woods, and I followed, flushing pink with embarrassment at my own fear of hiding. We ran past the tree I had been sat in, which turned out not to be so far into the woods at all, and then further along the path, and reached a fork. The main path was clear, and the left path was overgrown and hardly a path at all, but Eliza turned left anyway. I stayed where I was and watched as she ran away. A few seconds passed and I heard her voice calling.
‘Daniel?’ she shouted.
‘Yeah?’ I called back.
‘What are you waiting for?’
I wasn’t sure, so I didn’t answer. I heard her coming back down the path, running. She appeared, ducking underneath a branch, looking worried.
‘What’s wrong?’ She asked. I started to feel embarrassed again, and red in the face, so I ducked under the branch and sprinted past her along the path.
‘Daniel!’ Eliza yelled. I knew I was being odd, or annoying, or both, but I just kept running, and I was running so fast that I didn’t look for tree roots, and I didn’t look for stinging nettles, so when my foot hit a log, I tumbled, my feet over my head, and landed with my knee bleeding and stinging through the fabric of my shorts. Tears leaked out of my eyes and I hurriedly wiped them so Eliza wouldn’t see when she caught up with me. I heard her quick footsteps, and I heard what sounded like sniggering from the bushes.
‘Daniel! Are you okay?’ Eliza said as she approached the spot where I sat nursing my bloody knee. I peeled up my shorts. There was a cut somewhere, but I couldn’t make it out under the mess of blood. I didn’t look behind me for fear of Eliza seeing my tears, but I could see – through teary eyes – Adam in front of me, stepping out from the trees, doubled over laughing. ‘Adam! Found you!’ Eliza gasped.
‘You should’ve seen that fall, Liz, that was like You’ve Been Framed, Dan,’ Adam laughed as he walked over to me. ‘that was a classic-’ He looked down at my knee and winced. The smile dropped off his face. ‘Does it hurt?’
Eliza walked around me and her face dropped. She knelt down to look closer.
‘Daniel! Oh no. Do you have a tissue?’
I shook my head.
‘Well, you’ll have to find one,’ Adam said in a kind of awkward panic. ‘if Mum sees that she’ll tell us off for being in the woods.’
‘We don’t have to tell her where I fell over,’ I sniffed.
‘Use a leaf or something,’ Adam said flippantly.
‘Don’t be so nasty,’ Eliza said. Adam looked at me angrily, like I was the reason Eliza was annoyed. I felt like I was, for a moment.
‘Can you walk, then?’ Adam asked. I stood up, and my knee felt like it was screaming, but I knew if I said that, Adam would be even more angry. I limped on my own, Eliza and Adam easily overtaking me. We walked in silence, and so I cried silently behind them, and wiped my tears away quickly. When we reached the field, I threw myself down on the ground, exhausted. The blood on my knee had become sticky and brown in patches. It looked nasty and awful and was stinging and warm. Eliza sat next to me.
‘That looks really disgusting,’ she said. ‘I think we should clean it up.’ Adam was tearing grass out of the field beneath him angrily.
‘We can’t tell Mum,’ he said without looking up.
‘She doesn’t have to-’ I began.
‘She’ll obviously know, Dan,’ Adam glared at me.
‘We can go to my house,’ Eliza suggested. I looked at Adam and he looked back. We had never been to Eliza’s house. We did not go into Eliza’s house. Mum never liked number 17, and we never really knew why.
‘I don’t think we’re allowed,’ I said.
‘Daniel!’ Adam hissed.
‘What?’ Eliza said, wide-eyed. Adam looked at her awkwardly. Eliza’s face changed, to a serious one. ‘I’ll go. Mum has a first aid kit on top of the fridge.’
‘Do you want me to go? With you?’ Adam said, putting emphasis on the word ‘go’, like it was one he’d not heard before. Eliza stood up and brushed grass off her legs.
‘No, you should look after Daniel. I’ll be back in a minute, anyway,’ she smiled, and walked away, across the field, then onto the tarmac path, and through the park gate. I watched her the whole time, my head craned around my shoulder, and when I turned back, I saw Adam was watching her, too. He looked at me, irritated.
‘Why are you staring at her?’ he said.
‘You were staring.’
‘I was just looking in front of me.’ He pulled more grass out of the ground beneath him. My knee was uncomfortably warm, which really meant boiling, because the rest of me was boiling hot under the sun too. We didn’t talk much, me and Adam, because he was annoyed at me, and I didn’t know why, so I didn’t push it. After ten minutes, Adam did speak, only to say,
‘She’s taking a while.’ She was, too. Our houses were only around the corner from the park, and it usually took less than two minutes to sprint round, get three tip-tops out of the freezer and sprint back. I knew this because Adam always timed me. She was taking a while.
‘Maybe she couldn’t find the first aid kit,’ I suggested. Adam didn’t say anything.
We never watched the news because it was on past our bedtime, but that night, Mum let us, because she said that it was important, and lots of people might want to talk to us, and not to be scared at all. It was strange, because we never watched the news, but the one night that we did, Eliza was on it. Big letters that read, ‘MISSING GIRL’, and her face was underneath. Dad was stood in the doorway, with his eyebrows sad, and Adam was sat on the sofa, crying, and Mum was cuddling him. In the end, she never even asked how I cut my knee. She wiped it up with a wet tea towel, and put a big bandage on it.
‘My boys,’ she said, giving me and Adam a kiss. ‘My beautiful boys.’
© 2019 Martha O’Brien