The sound, outside, is either rain slowly dripping onto pavement, or clothes pegs being snapped off a clothesline. I would plump for the latter, as suddenly there's an image of tiny fat toddler's fingers unclipping plastic peg springs. I let the image play in my mind awhile, but I remain in my seat, facing the swathed blankness of my bedroom wall. Always slow to turn around, I wonder how much of the world I've missed, daydreaming, imagining.
It's hot, sticky: bare flesh weather. The best I can do—even at the private confines of my own desk, is a black T-shirt with its sleeves rolled back at the arms. No shorts for me, either—I'm in three-quarter khakis, bare feet scrunching against the carpet. The dripping, the snapping, whatever it is, gets louder, and I'm forced to turn around to look out the window. I let out a little groan as I use my arms to shift myself in the chair. It's hard, if you're anything like me, to give up a comfortable position you've spent so long getting into.
Even moved, I still have to strain my neck to see over the bougainvillea that invades most of my window view. A few loose strands of my hair fall onto my cheek and stick there. Outside, of course, Seb, my little brother, runs senseless barefoot laps around the rotary clothesline. Scattered in the grass—or at least the brown crap that passes for grass in our yard—are mum's new multi-coloured plastic pegs. Seb runs through this spiky, stippled rainbow without any evident thought. I picture his tiny feet, punctured with coloured plastic.
I sigh, loudly enough to make me imagine maybe Seb can hear it. He keeps running. I look down at the thick paperback in my hand. I've bent the cover back around, my finger holding my place. I had really pictured this afternoon as free of distractions. That glorious, uncracked birthday copy of Wheel of Time I had so looked forward to—it was in my grasp, half-read, begging to be finished. I had pictured reading the last few pages as the afternoon light slowly dwindled. I had read Magician in one day: why did my perfect record have to be in doubt?
But this afternoon, free from parental meddling, was conditional. I had to be the good older sister. I had to look out for poor, helpless Seb. I had agreed—why wouldn't I?—because Seb seemed to spend every allowable moment on his Megadrive. That was where he should be. Why the sudden pact with nature?
I try getting up from my chair, but it's just too comfortable. The whole afternoon's inevitable procession plays out in my mind: getting up, finding shoes, fighting with Seb, Seb following me back into the house, making me make him afternoon tea, him pestering me when he realises that all I want to do is read my book. The Sunday would be gone, and then the dread of next day's school would engulf me, and I'd not be able to exchange the book at the co-op on the way back from tennis on Monday afternoon, and then everything else would just fall apart from there.
I let my hand casually flip the book back open, let my eyes wander to the words, just for a moment. Caught, then, like a fish on a hook. At a chapter break, the white space snaps me back. I look up, letting blissfully forgotten thoughts wander back. Seb. Pegs. Mum.
I turn around again, with effort, and peer out into the yard. Seb's not there. The pegs are in a little pile under the clothesline. Better than nothing. I noticed the sun, burnt half away over the top of our fence. It's then I observe that unusual thing. Our house in complete, utter silence. The first thing I think, of course, is: No distractions. I open the book, holding the pages I have left. My fingers buzz them, flip through them, and it feels like no more than 150. Perfect.
But, as is so often the case, I still have—by my best estimate—only 20 pages to go when mum storms into my room, shouting, her makeup all lopsided from crying, blaring out phrases like how did you not and he's so young and taken so quickly.
And all I can really think is: Way to ruin an ending.