The Petticoat

Ngaio Carlisle

© Copyright 2003 by Ngaio Carlisle


Drawing of a pyramid with a treasure inside.

This story is about a young girl’s fantasy. Her wish for a sibling is so great that she invents an imaginary friend. This friend disappears when her brother is born, and never returns. However, deep within her, the longing for a sister – preferably an older sister - remains. At the age of eight, this wish is granted and her fantasy ends.

I was five when my brother, Peter, was born. Being an only child for so many years, I had an imaginary friend who I talked to, played with and argued with. My friend, “Ran,” did all the bad things that I would normally be in trouble for doing! She left dirty clothes on the bathroom floor, she was the one whose grubby handprints were on the newly painted walls, she was responsible for glasses of milk that spilled; sometimes dropping to the floor and shattering, she was the one who broke my toys, and returned home from the bush with red mud on her socks and shorts.

“It was Ran, Mummy, I didn’t do it,” was my explanation for all of the above.

Why on earth I called her Ran, I’ll never know. What I do know, was that I desperate for a sister. If she was older or the same age, it didn’t matter to my five year old psyche! When Peter arrived, Ran disappeared and never returned. However, I still hankered for that sister.

At the age of eight, I decided that there had to be a God! My father took two months leave so that the family could go to South Africa on holiday. I was missing a month of school but there was better news to come! He sat me down just before we left on our vacation.

“I have something very important to tell you,” he said seriously. “Before I married your mother, I was married to someone else.”

My heart leapt into my throat, and I wondered what he would say next. My eyes trained on his face, I waited with baited breath, too scared to speak. “Was he going back to his first wife,” I wondered.

“I have two daughters, Glynnis and Ingrid,” he paused. “They are your sisters!”

Oh what bliss, I had two, not one, older sister!

“The last time I saw them, they were very young, probably younger than you are, Ngaio. Glynnis is eighteen and Ingrid is twenty, and they live with their mother in South Africa. We are going to see Glynnis while we are in Umchlanga Rocks.”

He paused, and my heart sang with excitement.

I had a real sister not an imaginary one, a real live sister! I couldn’t wait to see her!

My father found out where Glynnis worked and one bright, sunny afternoon, we went looking for her. I never realized until years later how nervous he must have been. It must have been hard for my father, and his daughter, to renew a relationship after all those years. Glynnis was very young when he’d last seen her, and had grown up without him. They were strangers who had to learn about each other, two people meeting and beginning a new relationship. What would they say to each other, would they feel comfortable in each other’s company, what common ground would they start from?

We stayed in the car while he went into a shop to find her, his excitement barely veiled. I remember sitting in the car, waiting for what seemed like an eternity. My emotions twisted, my heart beating out of control, I held my breath and exhaled slowly as the shop door opened. A beautiful young woman stepped outside into the sunshine closely followed by my father, who grinned hugely. I couldn’t help myself, I gapped, mouth wide and eyes glued to this beautiful creature who was my sister.

She seemed excited to meet us, and graciously hugged my mother. I scrambled out of the car and ran around to where the action was taking place. She was busy talking to my parents, and did not notice me. I tugged gently on her dress. I’d noticed its fullness when she walked to the car, and now as I touched it, it felt stiff and swished as she turned to me, a smile on her face. She knelt down, and eye to eye, we smiled at each other. I was hooked! When she stood up and turned back to my father, who put an arm possessively around her, her dress lifted, blown up by a slight wind. It was then that I had a glimpse of her full, stiff net petticoat that was trimmed in a rainbow of colors. I had a similar one that I wore to church, and on special occasions, but mine had one layer of net and was white.

We left and returned to the hotel with Glynnis’ promise to visit us the following week. I couldn’t wait for the weekend and my excitement built. I hung on to every word as my parents discussed her upcoming stay, and made plans. The week dragged like a wounded animal as I counted down the days. Friday eventually arrived, and with it Glynnis and her fiancé Graham. I became a shadow. I didn’t want to miss one minute away from them. I hung onto every word she spoke, watched her put on her makeup, fingered the stiff netting of that wonderful petticoat, and was never far from her side. She allowed me to try it on, and we giggled when I held it up against my body; trying to draw it in to fit me. I inhaled her smell that coated the layers of that petticoat. She didn’t seem to mind my constant company; she was very patient. She read to me at night, and helped me with my schoolwork.

For me, that was the most wonderful week of my young life. As I watched them drive away, I prayed that we’d see each other again, soon. I carried those wonderful moments, her voice and her smell in my heart, but my most vivid memory was of her petticoat – why I’ll never know. Sadly we never saw each other again even when I tried to locate her as a young adult. Once again she’d disappeared from my life.

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