The picture itself is so faded now that only I know what it really holds within its narrow pale pink frame.
It is a pastel drawing my sister drew for me sometime in the 1980s, entitled “Sisters 1955”. We are sitting on the edge of the wooden deck of the family bach that my father and uncles built at Beachlands, Auckland, wearing identical swimsuits which have gathered necklines, spaghetti halter straps which tie behind our necks, a shirred bodice and romper style pants. I know I must be five, as it’s 1955, and that means she must be six. In the drawing my suit is pink and white and hers is greeny-blue and white – the same fabric in different colour ways. As always, with all our clothes, they are identical except for colour. Mine are always pink; ‘so that you look well when you go to the Doctor’ my mother explained to me. As a child I was diagnosed with anaemia but my mother didn’t believe this and noticing that I always looked well in pink, she dressed me in that colour. My sister’s clothes were always greeny-blue.
We are both holding Chinese paper parasols over our heads, and we have our arms around each other’s shoulders. The parasols are identical too, except in colour, but I don’t remember the actual shades, just that they were highly-patterned with Asian style peonies and blossoms — and were very fragile.
I can smell the day. Heat, hot grass, the long drop. Feelings too; sunburn, tiredness from running in the heat and swimming.
When I look at the tiny black and white photograph that this pastel was based on perhaps only I can see the serious look on my sister’s face, the shadows under her eyes. She was always a quiet child, my big sister, my absolute rock. I looked up to her. I followed her and confided in her. But now, older and wiser and more understanding of family undercurrents, I think it may have been the other way around.