I’ve boiled the kettle four times before getting here today, searched the bedrooms for enough whites to make up a washing load, finally made my coffee and my stomach is still turning, just waiting. I’ve dug out an old photograph from the tallboy in the dining room. I keep a box of them sorted into rough date order, something I did about a year ago. It was quite a task, trying to remember, trying to make a narrative of my childhood, my children’s births, attempting to guess the ages of the boys at their parties and relating these chronologically to scenes of family weddings, holidays and days out. I wasn’t even sure about which baby was which in some and tiny clothes were passed on from the first to the second so their outfits yielded no clues.
They’re all there in the drawer but today of all days, one jumps out at me. It’s a birthday party and I can make out four candles lit on the Williams Formula One cake but one of the flames is brighter and bigger than the others. He must have been five. I can see a girl through the perspex lid I am using to shield the flames and my son is at the other end lifting a tiger mask to reveal his mouth open and laughing. My other son, two years younger is nearest to the camera, making him look the same size as the others; I’d recognize the back of his head any day. I remember the relief at lighting the candles because it meant that the party was nearly at an end and to get there without any accidents or upsets was my biggest worry. In the background is a tractor, the type you pedal and there is a red bike lying on the grass; those were the days when they drove nothing more dangerous.
But today my eyes are drawn to one boy, leaning forwards towards the flaming candles. He has brilliant red hair and he looks happy. In the picture, he is the one friend my son still knows although their paths have divided at times. My stomach will keep turning as I wait for news.