The Stain

I woke up way too early on the morning before my fourteenth birthday, due to excitement. My cousins were coming up for a visit I only ever saw them once, maybe twice per year. I remember I could barely sleep the night before either, because it was such a rare occurrence for them to come up and see me. I loved my cousins very much and, being an only child, longed for company of children my own age. Especially in the summer holidays, which seemed to drag on and on and never end. Living in the middle of nowhere, surrounded for miles by the endless green fields and woodland of Yorkshire was all well and good for most of the year, but when I was stranded there without school to socialise with my classmates…well, that's enough to drive anyone crazy. I was an exuberant child and needed somewhere to channel my energy. My parents were too busy with the farm work and the only animals we kept were either the dairy herd of placid, doe-eyed cows or the working dogs and practically feral cats. I didn't get a lot of chances to play. So I'd spend most of the year journeying through the acres of land around my home, searching for new, exotic places to impress my cousins with on their annual trips.

Let me tell you about my cousins. Just thinking about them gives me a warm bubble of delight, which starts in my stomach as the butterflies awaken and start their aerial acrobatics within my belly. It then travels up my oesophagus and into the back of my throat. You know how people describe the feeling of a lump in their throats when they're overcome with emotion? Well, it doesn't just apply to the feeling of sadness—at least not to me. I get it when I'm overwhelmed by the love I feel for my beloved cousins.

The oldest of my cousins is called Tommy. He was tall, strapping and, in my opinion, absolutely beautiful, even in all his fifteen-year-old glory. He could have been an Enid Blyton hero. He even had the very southern English accent, with the delicate lilt of his upper class schooling decorating the edges of his voice. Compared to the brash and thick Yorkshire tang I was so used to, his voice sounded like gentle bells to my ears. His sister was my age, or at least the age I would be the next day, and she shared her brothers beauty. Both had glorious golden locks, shining blue eyes and dazzling smiles. Their cheeks were soft and rosy, and their skin was smooth—unlike mine. The palms of my hands were rough with the calluses of the hard toil of the land. My hair was thin and black and cut short to keep it out of my face while working. I longed for the thickness of Tommy and Jemima's hair, and when they came to stay I would often sit in ecstasy as Jemima allowed me to brush and brush her tresses and plait them and sweep them up into pony-tails…oh, it was better than playing with any doll!

I had third cousin, but I often forget that he was related to the two amazing creatures I just described above. So different was he, in both looks and personality that I tend to forget that he and they came from the same gene pool. It seems so unbelievable. He was short and stocky and irritating as hell. He was ten and never stopped questioning ANYTHING and EVERYTHING we ever did. He had a nasally voice and asthma, so he could never keep up with us big kids so he would constantly whine at us to 'slow down' and 'wait for him'. Fat chance. He had gingery hair and it was bushy and stuck out at odd angles. He had small, watery blue eyes and wore glasses, which were—since he was so blind without them—unnaturally thick and therefore magnified his eyeballs so that he looked like a mole.

'Mole' was one of our pet names for him. We had several to choose from, but that one was a favourite. Tommy, being older than us girls, knew a wider variety of put-downs and we marvelled at his repertoire of curse words. We thought 'bugger' was one of the rudest words we'd ever heard and so we used it liberally on… Mole. Do you know, I can't even remember his real name! They said it at the funeral, and it was in the papers along with his picture, but I always remember him as Mole. Isn't that funny? Anyway, Tommy who told us he'd read 'The Lord Of The Flies' (although we found out later that he'd only read the first three chapters) liked to call his brother Piggy. It fit him like a glove. Did I mention that he also had a stubby, upturned nose? Mole, I mean, not Tommy. Tommy had a great nose; long and straight and narrow. Jemima's was very similar, although hers was more like a button nose. Very cute.

Right, so now you know who my cousins are, and I'm sure you can see why I idolised them so very much.

The day they came to stay was a day in late July; and it was one of those summer days when you wake up and feel like the season will last forever. It was bright and fine–like it is during most of July, really, but there was something different about this specific day. I woke up to sunlight streaming in through my slightly parted curtains and the trademark summer-smell: freshly mown grass. I looked out of my window and waved to my dad as he paused from trimming the hedge and brushed sweat away from his forehead. I dressed quickly and ran down the stairs taking them two at a time. My mother was nowhere to be seen—probably out on the farm. My mum kept a horse and she liked to ride her early to escape the noon heat.

I went to the fridge and chose not to have proper breakfast. It was way too hot, so I thought an ice-lolly would do for me that morning. I took it outside and ate it on the veranda, taking my time with it and allowing the sticky juice to flow down off the flimsy stick and over my hand. After all, it was so hot that even the flies were resting in the shade, and I knew they wouldn't bother me.

My cousins arrived by lunchtime and my mum was ready for them. She greeted the children and her sister and brother-in-law in the kitchen, armed with a tray of ham and chicken-roll sandwiches and a pitcher of cool, but tangy cranberry juice. Even my dad made an appearance, coming in from fixing a broken fence, covered in sweat and dirt, but grinning from ear to ear. He enjoyed my uncles company for the two were like peas in a pod, and dad missed male company in summer—the same way I missed Tommy and Jemima when they weren't around. Actually, if truth be told, I found that I missed them most when they were sat right next to me on those rare visits. It was always at those times when I realised just what I was missing out on when they weren't around. I suppose that's what true love is like, but I wouldn't know. The only love I've ever suffered from is the love I feel for my flawless cousins.

But, of course, just to spoil the picture-perfect time, my other cousin was there. He was like a taint on my cousins family and ruined the experience I had been waiting for, for so long. I mean, who really wanted him there? Certainly not I and I'm sure my other relatives shared my distaste for the child.

He irritated me at once. I was sat on the floor with Tommy and Jemima, our legs dangling over the edge of the porch. I giggled at a joke Tommy had just told me and Jemima poked my side; a secret message telling me that she knew the jokes would get much dirtier once our parents were out of earshot. I loved hearing those jokes, even though I didn't really get them. But when Tommy cracked them I felt terribly grown up.

Mole or Piggy (take your pick, although personally I'm rather partial to Mole) sat himself behind me and I could hear his ragged breathing even before I acknowledged his presence. His breath came warm and smelly on the back of my neck and it wafted around to my sensitive nostrils. I felt the muscles in my neck tense up and I suppressed a shudder, which threatened to rattle my spine. God, how I hated him!

Tommy glanced over his shoulder and sneered at Mole.

"Do you want something?" he asked, catching my eye and hiking an eyebrow at me. Mole just sniffed and chewed on his sandwich. The noise made my teeth grind.

"Oy, Piggy," Tommy said quietly, so as not to let to adults hear him ragging on his brother. "I asked you a question." Another sniff, and then: "What are you guys going to do this afternoon?"

"That's none of your business," Tommy said as Jemima scotched round so I could move away from Mole. Then Tom jumped up and addressed his mother and father. "Can we go down the woods, mum? Dad?"

We thought we'd left Mole behind, but he found us. We were by the brook in the woods. Actually, when I say 'brook', I really mean river. I wasn't all that deep, but I was swift and it had a lot of rocks dotted around the riverbed. We were messing around in the trees, which framed the length of the river and formed a sort of canopy over the water, like in the pictures of the jungle I'd seen in school.

Mole materialised like a foul smell on the bridge. We didn't actually notice him at first, because we were having way too much fun; immersed in our own little world. He wasn't welcome.

"What are you doing here?" Tommy asked incredulously. Mole sniffed. "For God's sake, blow your nose!"

"Can I play?"

"Hell no!" Tommy snarled, and we laughed.

"Why not?"

"'Cause you can't bloody well climb up here, that's why!" Tommy taunted, "Plus, you know, we hate you." Mole sniffed. Then he drew his brows together in determination. He strode over to the bridges hand rail and attempted to mount it.

"What the bloody hell d'you think your doing?" Tommy scoffed. Mole managed to get on top of the wide rail, and he stood shakily.

"Hey Tommy," Jemima laughed, mockingly, "he's gonna try climbing a tree!"

"Don't be an arse!" Tommy jeered, "Pigs can't climb trees! They're best suited to rolling round in mud and shit!"

"Yeah, I wondered what that awful stink was!"

Mole reached out for the nearest branch. Grasping it firmly he pulled himself onto the tree and stood for a moment, gasping. His breath came out even more broken up now and he was quite pink in the face. Didn't surprise me—it was a lot of bodyweight to haul around.

Tommy and Jemima continued with their barrage of insults, their language getting gradually ruder and coarser. I felt slighted—I needed to come up with something good to match their excellence and make them look at me with the same admiration that I felt for them.

Mole climbed on.

He was closest to me and so I scrambled further up my branch to avoid him and his disgusting existence. He reached for a branch and wobbled on his perch. Then I had it.

He clambered onto a branch directly below me, and so I reached out my foot. My trainer clad foot gave a push and then another. Already unsteady, Mole slipped. He grabbed onto the bough and held on for dear life. Tommy and Jemima saw my cunning plan and encouraged me with shouts. Mole sweated and snivelled. I pushed and pushed.

And then, finally, he let go.

And fell.

Splash and crack!

We laughed long and hard. He was lying in a shallow bit of water, face-up, eyes tight shut. He must have been really embarrassed because for ages he just lay there. Shamed and humiliated. Served him right.

After a while we climbed down and made to leave, but he didn't follow us. He just kept lying there. Quiet as a mouse. Or a mole, I guess. We called his name, but he refused to answer. We decided to leave him there to seethe in silence until cold and hunger drove him to search for us at the house.

I'm going to visit Tommy and Jemima today. They'll be dressed in black, and Jemima will have a black ribbon tying back her golden locks. There's to be a party for Mole, but he won't be there. I've never been to their home, but we're pulling up to the drive now. It's quite a big house. Fancy.

I've always wanted to see where my cousins lived, and thanks to Mole, I've now got the chance! But he won't be there. And my cousins will be...just right, with no stain on their perfect existence.