AIDA AUSTIN: "I lie back in the sun all kissed out by my niece"

IT’S 9am, down in the garden and I’m sitting on a rug in the sun. Beside me, my younger sister is lying face down.

She’s slightly hungover, or to put it another way, still a bit drunk.

Last night, my husband persuaded my sister to watch Holland’s World Cup game against Costa Rica with straightforward tactics: wine. The fact that she’s married to a Dutch man was never going to swing it.

I’m wary of my sister at the best of times, when sobriety can be relied upon to soften the edges of her prankish nature, but I’m especially wary this morning; she’s good at making me come a cropper even when she hasn’t got a bottle of last night’s red inside to help her along.

“Look at you Nelson,” she says, rubbing her black labrador’s ears, “all handsome.”

She rolls over onto her back and looks at me. “Sometimes I think Nelson is actually a person. Dogs understand far more than we think they do, isn’t that right, Nelson?

“Well? What do you think?” she persists. But I am not in the mood for soap-boxing — not about dogs, and not when she spent last night soap-boxing me about all sorts of alarming topics that had nothing to do with Holland’s win and everything to do with taboo.

Perhaps my sister is not feeling prankish this morning.

Perhaps last night’s red is just turning her — unaccountably and let’s hope just for this morning — into an idiotic dog-bore.

“You’re the cleverest dog, aren’t you Nelson?”

It seems I might not need to be so wary after all. I relax, lie back and say, in my older-sister-with-only-two-glasses-of-red-inside-me-because-some-of-us-know-when-to-stop voice, “for god’s sake, can you stop pretending Nelson is going to answer you.” At which point she gives me an unsettling look, and closes her eyes until Lola, her four-year-old, click-clacks down the path towards us in my sparkly red Dorothy shoes, and sits on her mother’s stomach.

Lola is wearing a flamenco dress that had already seen better days even before my sister bought it from the second-hand shop in Sligo. Her wispy hair is freshly washed. It is a bizarrely winning ensemble.

“I know Lola,” my sister says sitting up suddenly, “why don’t you stop your auntie from big-sistering me? Why don’t you show your auntie all your special kisses?

“Give her your Butterfly kiss,” she commands Lola, “she’d like that.”

I get Lola’s Butterfly kiss when she climbs into my lap and bangs her eye into my cheek, trying to flutter her mashed eyelashes against it.

“And your Special Biggest Monster kiss,” my sister orders. Which is basically like being mugged by a mouth.

There’s an arsenal of kisses to get through; I get a Princess Elsa kiss, an Eskimo, a Fairy and a Maori — but there is something a bit too eager about the way my sister keeps encouraging Lola that’s beginning to make me feel edgy.

“And now the best one of all,” my sister says finally, “now give auntie your special Ocelot kiss.”

“Why’s it called an Ocelot kiss?” I ask.

“She’s got a thing about Ocelots at the moment,” my sister says, “don’t ask me why. Now drop your head forward.”

I drop my head forward.

Lola holds my head and rubs the top of my head vigorously with the top of hers.

“I taught her that one specially for you,” my sister says.

Lola likes the Ocelot kiss. I can’t find the heart to stop her Oceloting me and what with my sister’s encouragements, she Ocelots me for some time.

“That’s enough now Lols,” my sister says finally. “Now go and find Daddy in the kitchen and ask him where Mummy’s coffee is.”

I lie back in the sun with my sister, feeling all kissed-out. As feelings go, it’s one of the best.

“She’s a tonic,” I say, watching Lola clack off in my Dorothys, dragging Nelson behind her by his collar.

“She is,” my sister says, “but you might want to borrow my nit-comb. I found three of the little f*****s on Lola in the shower this morning.” She rolls back onto her front again.

“And what with all the head-rubbing...” she says, closing her eyes with satisfaction.


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