The trouble with this house is that there’s too much of it. It’s all arches and windows, built for more people and bigger parties, and they feel small against it.
Beatrice does her best. She never gets to be here for this usually, right in the middle of the school year, and so she wakes Hero up with singing and doesn’t stop until her cousin begs for relief. Leo makes it back in time for the aunts’ appearance from Siem Reap, clouded in rain and static. More singing, and swapping of stories, and complaints about international air mail.
Bit by bit they fill up the house. There are things to get ready, to chop and cook and clean, and they turn the music up louder. It’s the same old playlist they’ve been bouncing back and forth for years, adding as they go but never removing, so that by late afternoon they’ve gone through all the hits of the intermediate school disco and Leo banishes them upstairs.
Even though Beatrice stretches out the process of getting ready, tries to give Hero all the dressing up fun she could want, she’s still done well before Meg turns up. Hero has barely started, flitting around the room as though she hasn’t been planning this for weeks. Meg sits her down, twists her hair into plaits with nimble fingers, as Beatrice presents shoes and jewellery and makeup for approval. The bell rings again.
Noise rises as the night goes on, bodies warm. Beatrice takes pictures, as many as she can, and chases Hero from the kitchen each time she tries to help. It’s your party , she says. You’re sixteen! People float and muster, conversations tumbling from room to room until they’re rounded back together. Music is lowered, candles are lit. A circle forms and the house has stopped feeling too big now that they’re all there with Hero spinning in the middle. Someone threatens to sing again, they all clap. Speech, speech.
Beatrice doesn’t realise at first, not until it’s too late. Voices climb, not just his but all, and there’s a crack behind her as the circle breaks. Hero springs, is thrown back by her own wrists. There are bodies moving, which ones she hardly knows because her eyes are set on the girl in the centre of the room. When she finally reaches her there’s a gasp that makes her stomach twist and they stagger together, Beatrice trying to walk for both of them, until finally they sink. The house is quiet again, cold floor, high walls, and they are so very small.
Marry, this well carried shall on her behalf
Change slander to remorse; that is some good:
But not for that dream I on this strange course,
But on this travail look for greater birth.