HOME, 8am, and the type of noise my youngest sister’s generating downstairs in the kitchen declares her view that if getting up at 8am is good enough for her, it’s good enough for everybody.
“Look at that sunshine,” she shouts at her children, “shoes on everyone, and take your toast outside.
“It’s a crime to miss a second of that sun,” she bellows above the noise of a colossal, metallic crash.
“What’s that?” my husband whimpers beside me in bed.
I remember this highly specific sound from when my children were teenagers. “She’s tipping the cutlery from the dishwasher basket, upsidedown, straight into the drawer,” I say, though until now, I’d have bet my house on no-one being able to unload a dishwasher with less care than a 15-year-old.
We listen to my sister clattering plates into cupboards.
One of my sister’s guiding principles, as she goes along in life, is to make quite certain that each family member is having exactly the same amount of fun as her. She calls this fine, egalitarian principle “give and take”. But this morning, it’s her husband’s turn for a lie-in, which is much more fun than being on early-morning breakfast duty — and my sister’s feeling the pinch. So she’ll be wanting to share that feeling with us, too.
“Any minute now she’ll break into song,” I say.
“Oh the sun is coming out, and the fish are all about...” she belts out, up through the floor boards.
“And then she’s going to come upstairs,” I say, “so that she can share her less-fun early morning duty with us.”
“God it’s weird how things run in families,” my husband says, with a look which suggests he is pondering his own experiences of this excellent give-and-take principle and how, on balance, my life-long application of it has worked out for him.
“She doesn’t like to suffer alone,” I say.
“Is that what you call it?” my husband says.
The door bangs open.
“Morning,” my sister shouts, sitting down on the end of our bed, which I am not in. I am on the floor, on a thin mattress.
“Whatchya doing down there?” she shouts.
“I’m in my huff-bed,” I say.
“Whachya do?” she says to my husband, “you being a sex-pest again?”
“No,” he says, “restless legs. I had three cups of coffee last night. She says I kicked her around in the bed till three in the morning, so she went into a huff, pulled the mattress out and rolled onto it. She keeps it under the bed now.”
“You’re the one with the restless legs,” she says to my husband, climbing under the duvet and settling in, “so how come you’re up here like a king and she’s down there in a doggy-basket?
“I keep telling her I’ll go down on the mattress,” he says, “but she says this mattress is bad for her back anyway.”
“Good to see the age of chivalry’s not dead,” she says, smacking my husband’s legs through the duvet.
I’m being very quiet. It is 8am and too early for such carry-on.
My sister bends sideways and peers down at me over the edge of the bed. “I think you’re getting to like it down there,” she says.
“I’m discovering the deep and peaceful sleep of sleeping alone,” I say. “No kicking, no duvet wars and this mattress is amazing.”
“You wanna watch that,” she warns my husband, sitting back up. “It’ll be separate bedrooms next. And conjugal visits if you’re lucky.”
My husband tries not to look terrified but it’s hard for a man to keep the fear off his face when all of a sudden, he’s hearing nails being hit into the coffin of his sex-life.
“You love your doggy-basket, don’t you?” my sister says to me.
Now my husband peers down at me. He tells me I should stop making a fuss about his restless legs, we can sort the duvet wars out, and that we should curl up together like puppies in a basket forever and ever in our marital bed, till one of us drops dead in it, amen. Or words to that effect.
“Right,” my sister says, getting out of bed, “enough lying around. Have you seen the sunshine?”
She gallops downstairs, leaving my husband to hang his head over the edge of the bed, looking mournful — and me to privately acknowledge what I already know: that my sister’s guiding principle — of making quite certain that each family member is having exactly the same amount of fun as her — is precisely the same thing as ensuring that no-one has more.
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