My cousin died ten days ago from leukemia. She was only three weeks older than me with twin sons, my youngest daughter’s age, and an older daughter.
In my book she was too young to die and her family are in a state of shock.
We were close as children. My sister and I stayed with my cousin's family often during the holidays, holidays that for me were some of the best times of my life - to be away from the troubles in my own family, to be free of fear, and for once, however briefly, to live with a ‘normal’ family, or so my cousin's family seemed to me at the time.
The best of it, in my child’s mind, my cousin's family lived in a double storey house with a laundry chute in the upstairs bathroom that ran all the way downstairs and outside into a washing basket under the back veranda.
I never dared, but I liked to imagine myself crawling into the chute and sliding down through the house into the ether.
The chute began as a box on the bathroom floor with a flat lid. It held a mysterious quality. From outside in the laundry I could look up at the exit. To me it offered a whole other dimension, rather like a sanitised poo hole.
To add to it, my cousin's father kept indoor tropical fish. He installed a rectangular fish tank in an internal wall between two rooms so that, as if by magic, you could see into the tank from two directions.
My sister and I spent what now seems like hours watching these tropical fish in iridescent blues, turquoise and yellow as they swam in everlasting circles through their fish tank life.
I felt a strange thrill whenever one of the fish released a thin black strand from what I imagined to be its bottom. Fish shitting. The longer the strand the better.
My cousin was older than me by only three weeks and yet she seemed much older. She was a first born and assumed an authority I lacked as sixth born. She bossed us all around, not in an awful way as I recall but with the clear authority of her first born and sisterly status.
I might have resented it at times but in those days I was too timid to stand up to anyone outside of my own family.
I can see the fish tank still and my aunt giving instructions to my cousin to whip the cream for dessert. My cousin was masterful in her ability to whip cream; to get it just right, the firm texture with just enough sugar and a splash of vanilla essence, but now she is gone and all I have are my mottled memories.