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21 Life’s what you make it

Sometimes it was like nothing happened for weeks and everything was slow and boring. You could be yawning by mid-morning and wondering what you could do to fill the day. Then other times, things kept happening all the time so that you never had a chance to stop and think about them properly.

This is what it felt like at the moment. Elisha didn’t get time to pause in her bedroom that night to make a wish, not one that she could deliberate on logically anyway. She could have just grabbed the well and dropped a coin in and said something – but she was learning to be more careful, to word things so that they couldn’t end up meaning something else altogether.

Whenever she used to complain, especially in the holidays, about being bored, her mum always told her that she should make the most of this time in her life. Once she got a job, apparently, she’d find she’d never have enough time again, certainly not time enough to be bored in.

It was partly because she remembered Aunt Jessie, before she lived in the home, and something she’d told Elisha once when she was sad. Her aunt had owned a cottage at the time, in a seaside town but not near the sea, though you could still smell salty water and seaweed in the air. All the streets had that open aspect, bungalows set far apart, inclines you could imagine went down towards a shoreline that Elisha associated with trips to the seaside. Roads seemed different from how they were in inland towns. They had the potential to lead somewhere exciting somehow and fit better with the landscape and tangy air.

But even by the sea, Aunt Jessie wasn’t happy. She was lonely because all her family lived far away and rarely visited. The Goodmans really only used to go once a year, for instance, in the summer. And that was when everyone wanted to be in the cottage so her aunt would have loads of visitors for a few weeks in summer, only to be forgotten about till the next year.

They’d been making some tea in the small, narrow kitchen of the cottage, she and her aunt, when the latter had paused and sighed deeply, looking out of the leaded window over the sink, past the pot of red geraniums on the windowsill. Elisha looked across at her, while filling a blue-and-white striped bowl from a sugar packet. ‘What’s the matter?’ she asked but then had to turn her attention back to her task as she struggled to stop the sugar pouring before the bowl overflowed, and tried to get it all to run back into the packet without scattering it on the counter, not altogether successfully. She licked an index finger and smeared up the granules she’d dropped before sucking them off.

‘Darling, you wouldn’t understand.’ Aunt Jessie turned towards her and smiled, her face crinkling up, but her eyes still sad. ‘It’s just so nice to have you all here.’

She was right – Elisha didn’t understand. Why be sad because you thought something was nice? She took a blue-and-white striped jug of milk out of the fridge and put it on the tray next to the sugar bowl, frowning a little.

‘When you’ve gone though, I’ll be lonely again. I have my little cottage and my garden and everything. But sometimes I don’t see anyone I can talk to for two to three days at a time. I can go to bingo or to the pop-in parlour, but I miss having my family around me.’

‘Kettle’s boiled,’ Elisha pointed out, not happy with the way the conversation was going. She was on holiday and she didn’t want to feel sad, more anxious about getting back to the others before they ate the whole of the Caramac bar she’d spied on the table.

‘You know, sometimes I find it hard to fill the days. I get so bored and I wish they were shorter and I could go back to bed again. But I know that’s terrible – because time is precious.’

‘Where’s that tea got to?’ growled her father, laughing, as he came into the kitchen and tickled Elisha round her ribs so that she shrieked and giggled and tried to get away. She didn’t notice her great-aunt sigh again as she poured boiling water into the teapot.