Between my birth and that of my younger sister, another child should have joined our family. Apparently, there had been other children too, probably before me, but they too vanished before they were born. I don’t know when I was told about these missing maybe brothers, maybe sisters, or why I would have been told, except my parents were very open and truthful about everything. I don’t remember having a conversation about it, or why it should have been said, and in fact I don’t remember my mum telling me, so maybe it was my dad. When I was in the lucky situation to be able to plan a family, my mum had already died. I have two children, but like my parents, I might have had more if things had worked out differently – to be honest, although it does pop into my mind from time to time, it’s not something I think about very much. I am very close to my sister, very close, and very lucky to have her as my sister.
One of my lost siblings may have been a boy, I seem to remember thinking he was, but then not really remembering why I thought so… had I been told, had I imagined or mis-remembered it? My dad liked the name Alex, was it a possible for me, or was it my lost sibling? Might I have had an older brother called Alex, or a brother between me and my sister?
I wrote a couple of days ago about using a lost sibling or imaginary friend as a device for writing autobiographically; I’ve started with a scene which is totally imagined, except I did once have to walk home with my bike because I had no lights, and in those days cyclists were more law-abiding. On that occasion I was with my sister but I’ve used that memory to try out the idea of Alex the never-born sibling as a way of writing about myself.
It was dark and raining as I pushed my bike along the Victoria Avenue, from pool of light to pool of light as we walked beneath the street lamps.
“Even if I had a bicycle repair kit I wouldn’t be able to fix this blooming puncture,” I was really fed up, soaking wet, right through to my skin because I’d decided not to take a coat with me.
“Well you would have done if you were home and had a bucket of water to find the hole,” Alex reasoned with great faith in me.
“I’ve never done it before, Dad’s always fixed it,” I rejected Alex’s attempt to make me feel better, and then, to make me feel worse I stepped in an unseen puddle deep enough to let water into my shoe.
“I should have set off sooner, I should have realised it was getting dark, and I should have remembered the battery in my front light is dying.”
“Of course you should,” said Alex. “But you didn’t and anyway, it’s not too bad is it, it could be worse, there could be a tidal wave.”
“Here in Cambridge? Sixty miles from the sea?” I stopped and considered trying to empty my shoe, I’d been squelching as I walked. My hair was plastered to my neck, my clothes were sodden through, there was no part of me dry apart from my left foot which hadn’t stepped in the puddle.
“Would we survive? The tidal wave? We can swim, maybe we’d be flung into a tree or find a rooftop!”
“Or maybe we’d drown! Sometimes Alex, you’re imagination is too vivid!”
“It would make a great story, though, wouldn’t it,” he suggested helpfully.
I stopped again, we were under a chestnut tree but as it was November and there were no leaves it didn’t give me much protection.
“Hello, lad, everything alright? You don’t seem to have your lights on.”
I was jerked out of my dream of Alex, me and a tidal wave by a dark figure in a helmet and a long cape, shiny with rain. He too had a bicycle and his batteries worked because the front light dazzled me.
Should I call him sir, or officer, or constable, or just not call him anything – I’d not spoken to a policeman before.
“I’ve got a flat tire, and my battery is dead so I’m walking home. I just stopped to shelter for a moment,” I answered and thought how feeble I sounded.
“I thought you were a young lad, a young lady like you shouldn’t be going home on your own in the dark!” he sounded more kindly. “Where do you live and where have you been?”
“I’ve been visiting my cousin Gillian, she lives on Parkside, I live in Metcalf Road, just off Gilbert Road so it’s not very far. It won’t take me very long to go home now.”
He thought about it, obviously not liking the idea of me being on my own – he couldn’t see Alex, obviously.
“I’ll walk with you until you get over Victoria Bridge, then you’ll be safe,” he said kindly, and I thanked him.
“There you are,” said Alex. “All’s well now, this nice policeman will make sure you’re not kidnapped or set upon by foot-pads!”
I nearly burst out laughing but then the policeman who was telling me that it must be a night for punctures would have thought me very strange, would have worried about me more, and might have walked all the way home and spoken to my parents. I controlled my laughter, silently told Alex to shut up and tried to make sensible comments to the policeman.
Kidnap, foot-pads, a tidal wave…
“By the way,” Alex replied, “We don’t say shut up in this family!”