I remember coming home, his helmet the colours of fire on the third hook of the porch, his boots all muddy and grassy. It was the only day he finished early. He was training almost constantly now, so incredibly, so fascinatingly devoted.
Our parents favoured him, but he knew that. So humble he was though, about that and everything!
Why didn’t I look up to him?
The stairs of our house are wallpapered with his rosettes, the majority containing ‘1st’. That isn’t even all of them though. There is the lounge and kitchen too. He didn’t put them up of course, Mummy did. She often told me how proud she was of him. I never was though. Anyone can sit on a horse, it’s not his fault if it decides to run fast, I thought.
It was one day, pouring with rain, when he came home closely pursued by his coach. His coach and our parents sat down together and sent us away. I listened intently from the corner of the stairs. The only words I made out were ‘extremely important’ and ‘so talented’.
I remember the front door shut and our parents came upstairs with exceedingly exciting news. They told us of how he was to race in the Grand National. I was confused then. Of course I should have been excited for him, but inside I was angry. It was as if no-one recognized I existed, no-one noticed I tried.
He had a few days off, to think about whether he wanted to do it, which of course he settled on doing. Before you had time to congratulate him, they got an exceptional artist to paint him posing on his horse. He perched on his bold white horse for hours on end.
I didn’t speak that day. I was full of anger, but yet my heart was full of nothing. On the rare occasion I looked into my parents’ eyes, all I could see was him. Sometimes I wondered if they would notice if I wasn’t there.
It was as though the world heard me, heard me say that I would rather him not race. He had been recruited and agreed to fight. They were in urgent need of soldiers, but it was just months before the race. My parents were heartbroken and scared but somehow thought it wouldn’t happen, thought he wouldn’t go. He was their everything. After some convincing, they were no longer sobbing but had merely agreed that for him to go would be an honour. It was what he wanted of course.
I remember when he went, promising to come back.
His portrait is hanging above the stairs and it is dusty now. His helmet is on the third hook, but it is the colour of fire in the distance. My parents’ hearts are now shared, between him and grief. My inside has gone. I stare into his eyes, and it feels as though the nothingness inside me has disappeared. My eyes flick down to the letter. Although it is smudged with my tears I can still make out the words. They are ringing around my head: ‘Missing in action’ Why couldn’t I just have been proud?
The letter is gripped in between my sweaty forefinger and thumb, and I stare at him through my mourning eyes. He is all I can think of, all I can hear and feel. But he has gone and hasn’t kept his promise. He has gone and the paint of his face has smudged.