First Part: ‘Nine’

“Carrots? In a cake? Mum you must be wrong” Anna seized the aging recipe book from her mother’s grip. “We have carrots with our meat. How can they be in a cake?” Anna was amazed at her mother’s silliness.
“Well, Anna, this is a carrot cake, so it has carrots in.” Anna’s mum rearranged her facial expression; shifting from her wide smile to mock sternness, “Now are you going to weigh that grated carrot or shall I?” Anna, who did not notice the corner of her mother’s mouth curl up into a whisper of a grin, reached for the bowl of grated carrot in silence and carefully, though shaking, weighed it on the scales.
Laura Taylor watched the weighing ceremony conducted by her daughter with a deep affection. Her thoughts cast back a small handful of decades to when she had been stood on the same cold brown tiles in the same kitchen. Her feet had been bare because her socks were all full of holes. Her own mother had taught her to make carrot cake, though she could not remember protesting to the concept of carrot cake in the same way that Anna did now. She supposed that Anna’s stubborn manner must be inherited from the other side of the family. Even then, in her bare footed memories, the grated carrots in question had been freshly picked from her mother’s allotment. Anna was beaming up at her mother.
“In this bowl, I have 250 grams and in this one I have the rest.”
“Very good!” Anna relaxed at her mother’s praise. “Anna, do you remember a few years ago, when you would go down to the allotment with your Nana and pick carrots?”
Anna, now released from her mother’s phantom anger, was dancing around the kitchen, always careful not to put even one little toe on one of the cracks between the tiles. “Um, yes, I think so. It was on Thursdays I think. We had art last on Thursdays then. You have my butterfly painting on the fridge.” As she made this statement, Anna stole a quick glance at her pink butterfly, which was held on the fridge by a magnet, before she was again a blurred image of a nine year old girl twirling about her kitchen. The magnet had once been a sunflower, but had been hit by autumn and then winter and had failed to flower again the following spring. Years of Anna related chaos meant that the sunflower magnet was now just a stem. Anna stopped spinning. She collapsed on a chair and giggled as she watched the world around her grind to a halt as her dizziness faded. “Mum?” Her voice had been absent when recalling carrot picking with her Nana, but was now direct and strangely businesslike, given her age. “If we’re having carrot for pudding, what on earth are we going to have for dinner?” To Anna, a more significant answer had never been required.

Twenty minutes later Anna was on her tiptoes peering into the oven. “Oh, goodness me Anna! Get back! That will be hot!” Laura had left the oven half open as she searched from the oven gloves. As she swung around, oven gloves in hand, Anna had stepped back obediently. With an ease only achieved through experience she swung the cake out of the oven and turned it out onto a deep red plate with yellow polka dots, Anna had picked it out.
The lock of the front door clicked and in no time at all Anna’s Dad was peering around the kitchen door. “Oh, Laura, that looks lovely!”
“Daddy, Daddy. Dad!” Anna circled her father for attention.
“I helped.” Satisfied that her involvement had been acknowledged Anna returned to pirouetting around the kitchen.
“Simon, did you ring the Drakes to check they were still coming?” Laura’s gaze did not leave the mixing bowl in which she was stirring the butter cream for the cake.
“Oh yes,” Simon slyly dipped his finger into the mixture, it went unpunished, but not unnoticed, “They said that they were of course still looking forward to coming this evening. They also said that Matthew has perked up today, and so they asked if it was still okay to bring him to?”
Anna’s attention was guaranteed at the mention of her best friend’s name. “Matty’s better? Oh yey! I haven’t seen him in weeks! And I haven’t even been allowed to go and visit him. Not once!” Anna screwed her face in to an exaggerated frown.
Her mum laughed, “Don’t be silly Anna, Matthew has only been ill for a few days, he was in school on Monday!” Anna didn’t respond, she did not like being corrected.
“So, I told them that was fine. I mean, it is isn’t it?”
“Of course Simon, only one extra little mouth to feed.”
“One little mouth, eh? Don’t remember the last time he came then, he and Anna ate their way threw that entire bowl of jelly!” He turned to the fridge, “I’ll get going on the lamb then.”
Anna had wandered out of the room. She was sat on the floor in the living room, cross legged and reaching deep into her purple school rucksack. With a feeling of great responsibility she sorted out her work, completed, from the work that she had promised all of her teachers she would give to Matthew. He lived next door and she had planned to go and visit him on Monday, when he had not turned up to school, but she was told that he was too tired to see her. He had been too tired on Tuesday as well and Wednesday too. She had not bothered asking on Thursday. She was looking forward to seeing him when he came over for dinner with his parents.

Anna sulkily pushed her peas to the side of her plate with her fork; she was mourning the carrots that she had not had the option of eating with her lamb. She knew though, that if she chose to eat no vegetables she would not be allowed to have pudding. Although, she had not yet decided whether she wanted pudding, not when it had so many unpudding-like ingredients in it. Anna and Matthew were hardly listening to the conversation their parents were having, they had been granted a small scrap of paper on which to play a noughts and crosses tournament. As is the norm with noughts and crosses, they were tying. Matthew’s mum, Sarah, was talking at the point when Anna decided she did want pudding, and so stuffed a forkful of peas into her mouth, determined to ignore how repulsive she found them.
“So anyway, there they were in the middle of the jungle, she’s exhausted and sick of all the bugs. I mean, can you blame her? So, he pulls out the ring box. And, well, she was so shocked. Said yes though, right there and then before he even had the chance to ask her. I’m so happy for them!” Sarah seemed the have told the whole story without once feeling the need to take a breath. “Nineteen though, it’s ever so young to be engaged, especially these days!”
“Yes, I suppose it is, have they been together long though? Simon and I might have been in our mid-twenties when we met, but it only took us eight months to get engaged!” She smiled widely at her husband.
Sarah’s husband cut in at this point, “Oh yes, well that’s the thing isn’t it. They met in high school, been together three years now. And since they’ve been travelling now and all that, I doubt either of them will be shocked by the reality of living together.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s true.” Sarah turned her loving gaze towards the two children, “Matthew’s the youngest of all of the cousins on my side, so Helen’s just been lovely and said that Matthew can take a friend if he likes, so he doesn’t get bored during the day. So of course, he’s desperate for Anna to come now! That will be okay, won’t it?”
Laura and Simon were both amused at Sarah’s confidence that Anna would be going, despite her phrasing it as a question, there was no doubt in her tone. Anna and Matthew had been so close for so long that both couples were entirely use to making plans involving the child that was not their own, as if they were.
“I’m sure Anna would love to go!” Anna had reengaged when she realised that her name had been muttered twice. “Anna, would you like to go to the wedding?”
“Um, yes Mummy, but, whose wedding is it?”
All of the adults chuckled at her innocent vacant expression. “Matthew’s cousin Helen is getting married next month, and Matthew would like you to go.”
“Well then, if Matthew’s going, then I will.” With that, the matter was decided.
The children soon zoned out of conversation as the room began to glow orange with the evening sun. Matthew had miraculously found himself enjoying a noughts and crosses winning streak. Anna examined the empty grid, her mind was working like a very complicated clock as she considered and dismissed all kinds of strategies, she landed upon one. She slowly drew a perfect circle in the middle square in the grid, then with a burst of sudden movement drew crosses and circles successively, the formation of the shapes deteriorating as she went. Within seconds, and without Matthew picking up his pencil, Anna, Team Circle, had finally won another game. Matthew looked blankly at the chaos that had appeared before his eyes, before slowly opening is mouth into a toothy smile that soon grew into an hysterical fit of giggles.
Simon was collecting up the plates, “Well, it’s looks as if we’ve lost them now,” he tilted his head playfully towards the children, Anna was now laughing in harmony with Matthew. “It will be a while ‘til we bring out pudding kids, why don’t you go for a play in the garden. It’s still pretty light and I think you could both do with wasting some energy.”
Anna straightened herself up and looked at Matthew with all of the seriousness that she could muster, “Race you to the swing set!” With that, she darted from the room in a flash of red sweater and blonde hair.
By the time Anna reached the swing set, Matthew had overtaken her and was leaning against one of the uprights, gasping for breath. They each collapsed onto a swing.
“I’m glad you’re coming with me, to the wedding. Mum said I would be bored.”
Anna began to push herself backwards and forwards on the swing. “That’s okay, it might be fun it we’re both there.”
“Yes, it will.” Matthew grinned. “I heard Mum saying while we were eating that they were too young to be getting married. But earlier Dad told me that they just knew that they were ready. I wonder how.” Matthew was naturally less curious than Anna, and his wondering has reached its end but the time he reached the end of his sentence.
“I heard my Mum say once that, people get married when they decide they want to spend their whole life together.” Anna was proud that she knew this.
“Oh,” Matthew stood up, looking confused, “is that all? Well, I know that I want to know you forever.”
Anna stood up too, “Well then, I supposed we should get married then?”
“But, Mum said nineteen was too young, we’re only nine!”
Anna shook her head at her best friend, “Yes silly, but we’ve known each other for six years, that’s plenty to get married.”
“Yes. Yes it is. Let’s get married”
The two children ran back up the house, both of them half convinced that they were now married.
It did not take Anna long to decide that carrots in cake was not such a bad thing after all. Her mum observed this as she was finishing off her second slice.
“Well,” Anna prepared to defend herself, “It’s weird. But good weird.”
“I’m so, so glad you approved my love.” Anna beamed, not yet conscious to her mother’s gentle sarcasm, “While you were down in the garden we told were telling Matthew’s parents that you want to learn to play an instrument and Sarah told us that one of the women she used to work with teaches the ‘cello. How would you like to learn to play the ‘cello?”
“What’s it like?”
Matthew chipped in, “It’s a big upside-down violin. Can I learn to play too? Mum? Dad?”
The four adults looked at each other, all of them with the same amused expression. “Looks like we’ve found yet another thing for them to do together!” Matthew’s Dad remarked.
Anna and Matthew returned to their noughts and crosses tournament, both children sure that they were already enjoying being married.


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