My family are terrible with secrets. And by that I suppose I mean that we keep them terribly well. When Joshua was a baby, I remember mother keeping him constantly inside or in the shade. It was only as I reached sixteen, and him ten, that I took notice to his darker skin, and considered how it could have ever got so, since he never went in the sun. Nina, the oldest of us, told me not to be so stupid, and begged hadn’t I ever realised before? And then I suppose I really understood for the first time, that even once a secret is quietly realised, its discovery is kept just as discreetly amongst us. It does no good to go boasting our wits and uprooting everything that is so delicately resting on lies.
My father died when I was young, probably. With the calculations of hindsight; a year or so before Joshua was born. There are five of us now. My mother, Nina, me, Tilly and Joshua.
Nina, Tilly and I were all born in February, and Joshua’s birthday is May. My mother was a fragile looking woman. But she really came into her own about the time she was pregnant with Joshua. I remember she became busy, and began to wear less makeup. She became more beautiful than before, and began to laugh again. Nina was nine then and remembers her before my father’s accident. I don’t think it strange that I took it all for granted. Why would I ever have doubted my mother; calculated dates and checked memories? Of course Joshua was my brother, so there wasn’t much to question. I never thought his father might be different, and in every way that mattered, he had the same father we all did; an absent one.
Tilly is a dancer now. She’s terribly thin. Nina married a Saudi man and moved out there with him. We all stay in touch but we never talk about Joshua. Once again, we are terrible at secrets. And Joshua is not so much a secret, as a truth we pretend not to know. Nina can’t bear the thought of homosexuals, as she calls them. Tilly probably has been one of them since boarding school. She’s brought friends home for years, and for the last six, the friend has been Julia. We are all adept at dancing round details.
Joshua lives in Hammersmith with a chef who he met at a creative writers evening class. They have dogs together, and eat beautiful food. I visit them once or twice a month, they never come to see me. I suppose that is one more thing resting on unspoken acknowledgement; I am a disappointment.
We never talk of the things we wish were not true. I couldn’t tell you why Nina’s rebellion took the direction it did, or why Tilly was so enchanted by a world that hurts her body darkly. Joshua seems to be the only sane one of our bunch, and still he is the outcast. I am in no position to assess my own failings, but I know that I too have carried my demons, to my own detriment, and to the pain of others. I guess we’ll see what comes of me, if I get my judgement day. Till then, I’m doing the best I can with what I got, and kings can do no more.