‘Carnival is a channel for the expression of the man’s hidden desires. It is an intensified expression between the primal instincts and the demands of culture and society.’ – Micha Ankory, 2016.
The mature loquat tree hung over their fence and every spring dropped succulent, silky-stoned fruit into their yard, while other fruit hung on the tree in abundant oversized clusters like tarnished yellow stones.
Every year as the fruit ripened Florrie cleaned out her cubby house. It had been built by Peter for her sister Elspeth, but Elspeth had abandoned it as a three-year-old after discovering a splay-legged Huntsman spider on the ceiling. Florrie was not afraid of spiders.
Slowly she pressed her left eye to the small hole. Annabelle was brushing long, white cat hairs off her green blazer, while a man kissed the blonde hair on her toes. Silence hung on all of them in summer’s yellow light.
On weekends during loquat season Florrie took blankets into the cubby house and set out white enamel plates. She invited Elspeth, offering her lime cordial to accompany the loquats. Elspeth and Florrie sat close so that they could share the succulent clusters, shoving whole loquats into their mouths and spitting the slippery stones onto a plate.
When Florrie was not holding court, she preferred the loquats lukewarm, eaten as soon as possible after they had been hanging in the sun and after brushing the fruit’s fuzzy skin with her hand.
A platinum ponytail with no bumps. She watched it shine under the fluorescent lighting while the man unbuttoned Annabelle’s shirt and shifted her tie. She felt sorry for him. He was missing so much, failing to lick the hollow of her neck where the diamond heart rested. That soft pool of milky skin. Sweetened condensed milk.
One year Florrie dug a trench near the back fence line. A lot of the labour involved hacking away tree roots. She covered the trench with waxed cardboard cut from boxes supplied by the local greengrocer’s and piled dirt and leaves on top. In the garden’s back shadows the tunnel was invisible.
Florrie’s father didn’t notice her efforts and her mother must have turned the proverbial blind eye. The tunnel started underneath a large pile of compost – which was only turned a few times a year but which steamed most winters despite this neglect – and ended near the rope ladder that dangled from the cubby’s elevated front door.
This time she watched Annabelle through the window. The man grabbed her breast, biting it through the blue bra, pulling at the black watch tartan covering her thighs. He rolled her on top of him, her kilt covering the circle of skin from his navel to his thighs. Then the man arched his back, holding her buttocks. Her cry was silver.
Florrie spent days playing in and about the tunnel one summer, escaping from Gulags, searching for treasure under the Thames, burrowing into bank vaults and crossing the borders of obscure countries, until autumn rains dislodged part of its roof and her father, finally turning the compost one day, saw what had previously been hidden. He crushed its roof and cross-questioned his children.
Annabelle divided her ponytail into two and pulled until the red elastic eased down her hair. Secure. The man pulled on his pants. She searched for her school bag. She watched them walk to the car in silence, knowing the man would drop her a block away from the science labs.
Florrie stood in crimson-faced silence as Elspeth, benignly and matter-of-factly, told her father that she had built the tunnel as part of a school science experiment, going into detail about how many insects had used the tunnel to move from one part of the garden to the other, and how she’d only seen three centipedes during the whole period.
She remembered watching him stroke the fine hair on the nape of Annabelle’s neck, promising he’d get her back to school by recess. She knew that up close, Annabelle smelt like fairy floss.
A year later, the loquat blossomed profusely and the weekend feasts in the cubby house lasted for more than a month.