It was happening more frequently these days. The nightmares. The flashbacks were so vivid they would follow me into my waking state.
When I first went to live with the Pickles two years ago they were practically strangers to me. I had met them once when I was six. Freddie was only two when I traveled to England the first time. It was also my first time on a plane and it was absolutely excruciating.
Twenty-five hours in the air with thousands of kilometers between you and the sea is not a pleasant experience. I kept asking my mum if the plane was going to crash. After the twentieth time other passengers were beginning to give my parents disapproving looks. The kind of look that says ‘you have failed as a parent’. It was a harsh assessment in my opinion.
I had never really experienced cold before. Winters in Australia could be quite chilly but nothing compared to the feeling that hit me as I stepped off the plane. It was an unfamiliar sensation and I suddenly wanted to be back on the plane. I distinctly remember my dad carrying me as I wailed and smacked him on the back.
I never could have imagined that nine years later I’d be back in that place again, stepping into the cold English frost at Heathrow airport. Only this time the cold didn’t bother me. The numbness was strangely comforting. It seemed to not only dull my fingers and nose, but the tears as well. I didn’t ever want to feel heat again. I wanted nothing more than to curl up within a blanket of snow and let it numb every inch of me.
When I saw Freddie for the first time she was not that gurgling little basket of red curls I remembered. Her hair had faded into a more copper tone, with long waves falling down her back. Her large green eyes stared at me in wonder and there was a tinge of sympathy in the way she curled her mouth. Her ears were like my mothers, only there were no piercings to be seen. She wore a navy blue coat with yellow buttons and white leg warmers that extended beyond her knees.
When I approached my aunt and uncle they tried very much not to cry. Aunt Mary was not very successful. She held me tight and it was very warm. It might have been comforting but in truth it wasn’t. This woman was a stranger and all I wanted was my mum to be hugging me. A feeling of resentment twinged in my gut. You are alive and your sister is dead. It was a horrible thought but sometimes you just can’t help how you feel.
It could’ve been all downhill from there. It would have been so easy to let that resentment grow, to let the seed bear fruit. I wanted to let it eat me up until I was no longer my mother’s son. For if I was no longer the son she raised then I no longer had a dead mother.
It wasn’t however, the end of me. I suppose I have Freddie to thank for that. She didn’t hug me or cry. She held out her hand and said nothing. I took it and that was that.
We sat next to each other on the ride to her house saying nothing. For ten whole days after that we still said nothing to each other. While everyone else was pestering me, trying to find out what I needed, Freddie already knew. I needed time and time is what she gave me.
After the tenth day I finally spoke to her. I told her that her coat was ugly. I’ll admit it wasn’t the best first thing to say to her. She just smiled and shrugged.
“What do boys know about fashion anyway?”