The Forrests - By Emily Perkins

1. Home

Their father balanced behind the movie camera, shouting directions as he walked backwards and forwards in front of them. He handled the Kodak, their most valuable possession, as though it were an undulating live animal, a ferret or a snake, and it was leading him. The children took turns hunching under a cardboard box in the back garden for a sequence he told them would be funny later. When it was Dorothy’s turn she crouched like a turtle on the grass, forehead pressed into her bony knees, arms tucked down by her sides, and breathed hotly into her own skin while Michael lifted the box and placed it over her, a warm shadow, a rare private space. She inhaled it.

Clover flowers bumbled her cheeks and the cardboard smelled sandy and soft and the noises outside – a trickling bird, Michael, her sisters, their father’s voice, Daniel – were faint. A thick purple scab was escaping from one knee and the fresh skin beneath was suddenly there as the box lifted off and Evelyn said that it was her turn now and Dot tipped sideways and rolled onto her back, the sky exploding with light, Daniel leaning in to block the sun, his face dark in silhouette. ‘I am the dribble king.’

She grabbed him by the ankles, fingers around the bones and the tight band of his Achilles tendon, and toppled him so that he fell knees first to the grass. They scrambled up and he chased her round the garden, his shins and palms grazed with dirt and grass stains, and her father shouted, ‘Not there, you’re crossing the shot,’ and everyone else joined in the game and the sister under the box called mutedly, ‘What’s happening?’ and knelt up, the box over her head and shoulders, and their father said, ‘Not yet, Eve,’ but she lifted the box from her head, dropped it and said, ‘I’m thirsty,’ and trudged back past the clothesline and into the house, bending down to stroke the heavily pregnant family cat, who was climbing up the back step in the sun. Their father kicked the box.

By the lemon tree, laden with dimpled yellow blimps of fruit, Dorothy fake-dodged Daniel and wheeled round, squaring off to chase him back, and he sprinted up the side of the house, leaping in his bare feet over the shelled front yard as though it was hot coals, up the footpath that bulged and splintered with tree roots, past the houses of their neighbours and the home beautician’s where Dot’s mother got her legs waxed, around the spilled rubbish bag on the corner, past that kid on her bike with the ribbed pink handles, and the newsagent’s and the man leaning on the wall outside the halfway house, and across the empty street past the Chinese takeaway and the baker’s whose white bread went pasty over your teeth and the butcher with the smouldering fumes out the back from the smoking system. Suddenly Daniel was nowhere to be seen. The sour smell of potassium nitrate bloomed and the afternoon bracketed out in front of her; the street may as well have been empty. Dorothy turned and ran from the wide open space, the disappearing road behind.

When she burst through the front door, panting, and jogged towards the kitchen for a drink, Daniel was already there. He sat opposite Eve, tipped back on the chair legs. Fingers lightly anchored him to the edge of the table. Eve poured the clattering Scrabble letters out of their velvet drawstring bag, and pushed them round into a rough circle. ‘Michael!’ she called, her head tilted in the direction of the stairs. ‘Come on!’

Dorothy drained the glass of water and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. ‘How did you get home so fast?’

‘Just generally supersonic.’ Daniel pulled the tea towel from the rung on the oven door, took the glass from her, shook it free of drops and wiped it dry. ‘We need this,’ he said, and plonked it upside down in the centre of the table.

A thick shaft of sunlight angled into the room, illuminating the fine dust over its surface like the near-invisible hairs on the children’s skin. Dorothy sat and felt something nudge against her knees. Her younger sister was hiding beneath the table. ‘Ruthie.’

‘Shh, I was going to tap,’ her sister said.

Eve pulled her out and onto her lap. ‘Are you scared?’

‘No.’ But she buried her face into Evelyn’s neck.

‘Go and get Michael.’

Ruth snuggled further into Eve,