Of all the days we lived and loved the best were family feasts. Zah’s family would begin to arrive just after breakfast so we learned to wake an hour earlier than normal to welcome the day as only we understood how. Then it was a shower together and throw on some old clothes grinning all the while. Love never felt old to us, especially in the stolen kisses as we busied ourselves for the impending masses, and it was as if I was kissing Zah for the first time. In my eyes I still see him as I did the first time we met, and when he smiles his sweet, seductive grin I still find myself blushing. So as he put on coffee I would begin preparing the dough for the fry bread, scrubbing vegetables, and putting meat in to marinades. Having been kissed once again and helped to swig from a mug of coffee I would despatch Zah to the storeroom to decant beer and mead ready for lunch. As family arrived they would be given tasks or told to make themselves useful picking more supplies in the garden.
As numbers swelled Zah and I found ourselves rapidly becoming redundant, not that we minded. We would drift out to take the workshop doors off their hinges and lay them on trestles. White linen would billow on the breeze before settling to cover them and make tables big enough for everyone. Tables fit for the kings, the queens, the princes and princesses of our hearts and we would smile knowing a beautiful day was sure. One the needful was done I would find my hand taken and with a finger placed to his lips I would be led quietly to the secret garden. We had designed it so that it was practically impossible to find. Four tall, thick hedges at an intersection meant that a room was created. It relied on an optical illusion and knowing exactly where to push through a thinner piece so to the casual observer it just looked like a hedge. But through that hedge we had made a private, wonderful space to dream and be completely safe. None of the family ever found it, not even the kids. They would always remark when we appeared grinning at the kitchen door how they had searched and searched, and just why were we looking so happy and out of breath? Why we were out of breathe had little to do with the rushing about preparing and more to the enfolding of each other in loving arms, the gathering of metaphorical lilac, the remembering of eternal limb against limb under an azure sky, and always, always the pressing of lips that never grew tired against the same.
Often we would stop what we were doing to silently scream with laughter as a voice was heard on the other side of the hedge calling for us. Another would answer that we had been spotted heading this way and must have gone off to try and catch more fish or something. That raised a giggle as I wiggled a finger in just the right spot with my prize catch. There might be a damning of our butts but as the crunch of feet disappeared we would fall back to the stroking of each others hair and the renewal of kissing. I remember once Zah’s mother staring at my neck when we appeared back in the kitchen once day and asking if we had caught anything? We apologized and explained that while we had had plenty of nibbles, sadly our baskets were empty. She roared with laughed and shot me a look that could only be described as prehistoric. Shooing everyone out of the kitchen she grabbed our hair as we attempted to flee too.
“Now boys,” she said peering at us, “baskets may be empty, and there’s obviously been a lot of nibbling, but Zah my boy next nibble make sure you don’t leave a mark above his collar.” With that she descended into fits of laughter and had to be revived with tea and hugs. No more was said but on future visits we always felt ourselves being quietly examined for love bites across the kitchen. When none were seen, thank heaven’s for clothing, we would receive playful clips round the ear and Ma would comment “lots of nibbles no doubt.” Who says that old love can’t smell lilac and be young again.
But fun aside those were golden days for us. The seeing and sharing with those we loved. The news, the sharing of stories, and as the sun began to dip towards the ocean songs would unwind to dance with the gulls that circled overhead. By the time it got dark there was a bonfire and Zah would begin to pile potatoes into the embers for supper. Then bodies would disappear into tents and Ma and Pa would be ushered to our bedroom before the pair of us collapsed next to the fire and just held each other contently. Sometimes as the sun rose we would still be there. The sea air mingled with the lingering smoke from the fire and the world felt alive. We would stir the embers before piling on brushwood then run down to the water for an early swim.
I remember the first time my sister made it down to a feast. I missed her but understood that it was a long, long trip. She and my brother had visited before but never for a family weekend so when she wrote and said they were coming we were ecstatic. The day started as it always did, lilac and kisses followed by the steady stream of arrivals and us being slowly pushed out of our own kitchen, but no sign of sis. It was a long drive we knew and there were lots of reasons not to panic. So after tables were made and laid we wandered off to do some laying of our own.
Since our moment in the kitchen with Ma we had become strangely unmixed. The calls for us had stopped and when we appeared nothing was mentioned but there was always, always a grin on her face. She confided to me one night that she was happy to see her baby boy loved and safe so I guess she had warned everyone we needed our space too.
As we were breathing lilac and enjoying the blooming thereof we suddenly found ourselves drenched with a bucket of cold water. My sister stood laughing over us and politely but firmly pointed at the scattered clothes.
“Brudder cover it up,” she choked out between laughs “somethings a sister just shouldn’t see!”
The trouble was she refused to turn away and so as tears streamed down her face we groped for clothes while attempting forced modesty. True we had to swap shirts because we put each others on but once we were decent we fell to kissing and hugging her. She squirmed a bit complaining we needed sterilizing but forgave us for the show. Later, after lunch, she grabbed Zah’s arm and dragged him off towards the ocean. Once tables had been cleared I could see them sitting on the sand seemingly roaring with laughter. Coffee! Grabbing two cups I was determined to find out what the pair of them were finding so funny. Sister dearest and Zah fell silent as I approached. No smart comment was made about bare bums, no comment at all, so I handed over the coffee and we sat in silence. It was bizarre. All sorts of questions were bursting inside about what was going on in her world and yet there we sat silent as though some great secret couldn’t be told. Whatever was going on between the pair of them was obviously not going to be shared so in the end I left them to it and wandered away to hack at the roses. Eventually I found a hand on my arm and turned to see Zah smiling at me tenderly. “Four bushes slain eh?” he said and pulled me to him. A kiss and a stroke of the hair then he whispered in my ear “trust me ok! You may enjoy this evening.”
The rest of the afternoon was strange. I found myself banned from the kitchen for one thing. Ma made sure every time I appeared at the door a sister or a brother would grab me to ask about a plant or get me to show them one of the projects we were working on. Late afternoon came and I was still having to explain the workings of the outside bath or how the greenhouses were constructed. It was just too frustrating. No sister in sight and Zah had taken the truck off somewhere. Twilight rolled in and the purples and grays of evening painted the sky. I remember lanterns being lit through the trees and plates, cutlery, and platters being brought out for the evening meal. Food was eating and yet no Zah and no sis in sight. So I doodled with my fork through the food. Occasionally I would be called on for a thought on the conversation but was allowed, once I’d given it, to go back to my quiet thoughts. Twilight faded to black as we ate and stars shone across the sky. Constellation upon constellation laced the vault of heaven. There was a peace and a balance in the night but he was missing and that always caused a dull ache. Then suddenly there he was.
Zah in a suit is unusual. Zah in tails was an unknown, though very dashing, sight. Yet there he stood. Dressed to the nines and a grin the size of Canada on his face. Ma had suddenly gained a hat and the rest of the family were slipping on jackets and hats that must have hidden under chairs. It was all very bizarre and I began to feel a little underdressed. I was aware of other shadowy figures coming from the house. And there suddenly were my parents and sister with my niece. England had come to the shores of Canada and I was dumbfounded. Everyone was dressed as though there was a celebration except me. Before I could run to my parents Zah coughed and then spoke.
“Your sister reminded me before she arrived we were living in sin love. Been a few years I know but she thought maybe we should put things right. I say thought, she was quite forceful on the matter. So how about it my love? Will you make me an honest man and let me make you one?”
I would like to say I was calm and said something wonderfully witty. I would like to but all I could whisper was yes and then grab him and squeeze him so tight his top hat fell off. Then I snogged him. No kiss could compete with that one and as cheers rang up from the tables fireworks suddenly burst over head. At that we were both bowled over onto the ground as my northern sister rushed to bear hug us. “Took you both long enough” was all she said before running to let off more fireworks.
The following morning we were married. It was a simple affair but beautiful in the simplicity. The tails had disappeared and instead we stood in normal, workmanlike clothes. Zah in my old blue shirt and I wearing his green one. My father gave a beautiful blessing and one of Zah’s brothers who was a preacher did the formal parts. I remember the closeness of it all. It was as though the whole landscape was reduced into the people sitting on the grass willing us on. It’s grandness and beauty shining from each face. My own Ma and Zah’s Ma held pride of place in the middle and seemed to be happily comparing notes on their boys.
And so we were married. As we kissed to seal the deal a cheer went up and then it seems life went back to the way it had always been. Dinner that night was a more extravagant affair but really there was little else that was different. My father walked with us on the beach and we talked deep about life and hope and happiness. There were touching moments but they felt so normal. Until that is it came time to say good night. I was led to our secret garden by Zah and as we pushed through the space had been transformed. Lanterns glinted around a bed decorated with throws and lilac blossom. There on the bed were my sisters polishing off a bottle of honey wine and grinning like Cheshire cats. When they saw us they snorted with laughter and making rude comments walked off making sure the bottle was taken too. A peck on the cheek from them and then the two most wonderful women, after mums, walked into the hedge and disappeared.
I turned to Zah and placing my hand on his hip while taking his other in mine. I led him in a silent dance under our stars to the music of the ocean. When finally we began to feel the call to sleep we found out why the sisters grim had been giggling. There on the pillows was a very large bar of dairy milk chocolate and a note that simply said “gotta keep your strength up eh?” There are times I truly love my sisters, but I love Zah more than anyone else in the world.