Chapter 2 : Don't Let Go
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Don't Let Go
5 June 1964
Tuney was magic. Lily had no doubt about this. Petunia could read books with no pictures, and write the whole alphabet without the letters going wonky. She could draw trees with branches and leaves, and even a bird or two. She knew clapping games and jump rope rhymes Lily had never learned before, and when Lily asked How come or What is, Petunia always had an answer.
Each morning, Lily watched longingly over her cereal bowl as her sister left for school. Each afternoon, she waited at the kitchen table, hungrily eyeing the matching plates mum set out: two red apples, two biscuits, two cups of milk. Finally, just when Lily was about to cave in and eat her biscuit, the front door would open, and Petunia would prance in carrying a library book and a picture made of macaroni noodles. Mum hung her jumper and book bag on a peg in the hall, and together Lily and Tuney ate their snack.
On the last day of school, Petunia came home pouting, with wet spots still on her cheeks. “I miss Mrs. Gardener!” She moaned. “I don’t want to be in second form!”
Mummy took Petunia into her lap and patted her back. “It’s alright baby, you’ll love you’re new teacher. And think of all the amazing things you’ll get to learn next year!”
“I don’t want to!” Petunia shrieked.
“But, Tuney,” Lily smiled, “now we can play together all day!”
“You’re just a baby! I don’t want to play with you!”
Mummy was already scolding, but the words were out, flying like arrows to spear Lily in the chest. “Tuney!” She cried, and ran from the room, tears falling heavily.
Lily curled up in her usual hiding spot behind the two tall lilac bushes in the back garden. They were in full bloom that day, and their sweet, heady scent enveloped her like a blanket. For a moment she simply sat there, cross-legged on the grass, watching an ant make its way along a green branch.
As her tears settled, she found herself hoping. Petunia didn’t mean it. She couldn’t. They were best friends. They were Daddy’s little flowers. They played princesses, and mermaids, and circus tigers. Did Tuney really think she was just a baby? A pest? Well, anyway, next year Lily would be at nursery school, and Petunia wouldn’t be the only one with fancy teachers, and library books, and macaroni pictures. They could take the bus together, and eat lunch together, and no one would ever think Lily was a baby again. Feeling considerably better, Lily plucked two dandelions from the ground and began weaving a daisy chain. Another thing Petunia had taught her.
The sun was dripping further toward the edge of the sky, and the dandelion chain had gotten rather long, when Lily finally heard footsteps behind her.
“Tuney?” She asked hopefully, turning around at once to face her. It was mum.
“Can I sit down?”
Lily nodded her consent. They were quiet for a little while. Mum added a flower to the chain. The girl climbed into her mother’s lap and made a confession. “What Petunia said wasn’t nice.”
“No, not nice at all. Are you very upset?”
Lily considered. “I’m better now, mostly.” A pause. “Do you think she meant it? That she doesn’t want to play anymore?”
“No, of course not. She’s just sad to say goodbye to her teacher, and her friends at school.”
“But she still has me to be her friend!” Lily answered, indignant.
Mum laughed. “And you’re the best friend anyone could ever ask for!”
Lily felt the weight of Mummy’s lips on the top of her head. She snuggled against the warm chest. “I love you, Mummy.”
“I love you more,” Mummy answered, like always.
“Oh, yes I do!” Mummy wrapped her up in a bear hug, tickling, and Lily let out a joyful screech of laughter.
At bedtime, Lily brushed her teeth, and Daddy carried her to Petunia’s room to hear a chapter of The Little White Horse. She danced into the room, excited, until she caught sight of Petunia, wearing a summer nightie under a pale blue sheet, and the memory of her sister’s harsh words floated back to the surface.
Lily bit her lip nervously, and the older girl scooted over in bed and turned down the sheet. Smiling at the invitation, Lily scrambled in, and together she and Tuney oohed and awed there way through the story.
The next day was Tuney’s first day of summer hols, and Lily had a very important plan. The moment she’d slurped up the last drop of milk from breakfast, she slid on her trainers, presented her feet to Mum for double knotting, and then guided her sister’s bicycle across the dew covered lawn to the front walk. Lily had seen Petunia ride a hundred times, flying past her toward whatever adventure awaited. Not this summer. This summer it would be Lily and Petunia, Petunia and Lily. Always.
She swung a leg over the bike. The seat was too high; she had to stand on the absolute tips of her toes and do a little hop to get on. It was surprisingly uncomfortable, and she wiggled, trying to find a softer spot. The movement sent her toppling. She tried again. And again. On her third attempt, Lily managed to get both feet on the pedals. Shakily, imaging herself a tightrope walker, she pushed forward with her legs, and the contraption of gears began to turn, moving her slowly along. She didn’t get far. Her feet just barely connected with the downward position of the pedals, relying on a certain elasticity in her knees. She made it to the mailbox before she fell, grazing her arm roughly on the cement. A sharp sting radiated out from her elbow. She twisted to look at it, and found the scrape coarse and bloody. It hurt, and for a teary-eyed moment she considered crying for Mum, but that was no good; she'd have to stop her bicycle practice. Anyway, why bother? Breathing deeply, she stared fiercely at the wound for a minute or two, willing it to calm, and soon enough it stopping bleeding and the pain receded into the past. Much better.
Seven falls later, Petunia emerged from the house. “That’s my bicycle.”
Lily turned toward her sister with what she hoped was an elegant and defiant expression. Her cheeks were brushed rosy by morning sun, framed by hair gone lush and messy from her repeated tumbles. In truth, she looked like nothing so much as a wild creature, albeit a rather lovely one. “I’m teaching myself to ride,” she pronounced.
Petunia giggled and tugged on her braid. “I saw you fall. Twice.”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Lily lied, but her reddening face betrayed her.
“I saw it in the telly screen.” The Evans' television, in the corner of the front room, had the rude habit of reflecting on its glass whatever scene the picture window near the door happened to capture.
“Yes, well,” Lily conceded. “What about it?”
“I’ll help you,” Petunia said brightly. She went to the bike, which still lay on its side, stood it up, and grasped its neck in her hands, holding it steady. “On you go, then.”
Lily grinned and hopped on. The necessarily wiggle of her hips set a smile on Tuney’s face. Carefully, determined to make her sister proud, Lily started pedaling. She began to pick up speed.
Petunia still held her straight. “You’re going too fast,” she panted. “No wonder you kept falling. It’s best to start slow.”
Lily relaxed her pace a little, and found Petunia was right. Now she was almost to the end of the lawn. Now, almost to the neighbor’s walk. A sudden jilt caused by uneven pavement stones sped her heart and made her sway so badly, she surely would have fallen if not for Petunia’s steady hold.
“Don’t let go, Tuney. Don’t let go,” she pleaded.
“I won’t, I won’t. Just keep riding.”
They made it past another few houses. Lily’s heart danced gladly. She forgot to control her speed. She pedaled eagerly, the freshness of wind in her face egging her on.
“Slow down, Lily! You’re going to run me over!” Petunia laughed.
“No, I can do it. I want to fly!”
“I’m letting go.”
“I can’t go that fast.” Petunia released her hold and jumped backward onto the grass verge.
Lily zoomed toward the end of the block, utterly ecstatic, until a horrible thought occurred to her. “Tuney! Help me! I don’t know how to stop!”
But Petunia was still catching up, and Lily’s words were tossed aside by the wind. In only a second she would be in the street. It was Canfield Avenue, only a block down from the high street. She and Petunia were forbidden to cross it, and for good reason. She heard the bustle of traffic grow louder, and then swell to a roar, and she knew she had to stop now or die trying. With a violent scream, Lily threw all her weight toward the verge.
A white-faced Petunia found her tangled up on the warm grass. By some stroke of luck, the bicycle had not landed in the street. “Oh my gosh, Lily! Are you alright?”
Lily’s eyes were wide open, her chest rising and falling steeply. The tiniest of smiles crept onto her face. “Well, I did fly, Tuney, didn’t I?”
Petunia shook her head fondly. “You’re a nutter, you know that?” A giggle slipped from her lips, and Lily echoed it. “Come on, I’ll ride back. You can stand on the pegs.”
Lily stepped up onto the pegs and rested her hands on her big sister’s narrow shoulders. And together, they flew.
The Little White Horse is a children's novel by Elizabeth Goudge. For anyone kind enough to be reading this a second time, you might remember I previously had them read Matilda by Roald Dahl. As it turns out, Matilda wasn't written until much later, so I had to find something else. I chose The Little White Horse because it was reportedly one of JKR's favoritites, and retains an element of magic that I wanted to include.
Many thanks to Penny for her very helpful review!
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