Andrew had been jolly once. I’ve never known another person to fit a word so perfectly. He was hugely tall and hugely wide and hugely confident. When we were younger my cousins and I would hide behind a wall, peeking around to watch our parents having fun, sitting at the dinner table on to yet another bottle of wine. Their card games were played intermittently throughout loud outbursts of “remember when” followed by hysterical laughter, filling the room with warmth. Andrew’s laugh didn’t suit the way he looked. It was high pitched and giddy compared to his frame. To us, his laugh was often funnier than the reason we’d started laughing in the first place.
One Christmas he and my dad got a little too drunk.
“Sophie,” my dad slurred, pulling me aside and giving me this look like he was about to break serious news. I stared at him, returning his gaze with my undivided attention.
“Go and put Shakira on.”
“Shakira, you know?” he continued to stare intently until the silence grew unbearable and his frown broke into a crooked-toothed grin.
“Andrew and I are going to do a dance performance.”
“Got any costumes?” Andrew added, his face appearing beside Dad’s. Their cheeks were a matching shade of red, their breath the same musty smell of beer.
Eager to assist with a performance of any kind I returned to the living room moments later with a rainbow clown wig, a grass skirt and lei, a snorkel and mask, and my stereo. Following a quick debrief where I delivered some pointers based on my own performance experience, they confirmed that they were ready for their debut.
“Introducing,” I yelled, barging into the kitchen and demanding the attention of Mum and Gini who had been sitting at the counter engrossed in conversation, “Peter and Andrew!”
I hit play, and a twanging guitar drawled out of the speakers. The drums rolled in and Shakira howled like a wolf against a wall of pan flute. From opposite sides of the kitchen my dad and uncle emerged, shirtless, dressed in the costumes I had found.
“One, two, three,” my dad yelled.
On three, they ran towards one another, jumping in the middle and slapping their hairy beer-guts together.
“We’re belly dancing,” Andrew said, grabbing his flabby stomach with two firm hands and wiggling the folds in the direction of his wife.
I looked over at my auntie in time to see her fall off her stool, crossing her legs and whooping with laughter.
When he got sick, he halved in size. The weight practically evaporated from his bones and in a few short months he became an empty sack of skin, flinching with the effort it took to get off the couch. He looked old. He looked sad. He didn’t laugh. There was a lot to take care of in the time that was left and the “remember whens” at family dinner took on more importance. The cards stayed in a drawer.
Eventually, and all too quickly, it had come to this — the whole family, together again, at the top of a hill. The air was warm and we could see nothing but green in all directions. Cyclists rode past and said good morning, not understanding the importance of the situation they’d interrupted. Andrew was with us too, making his final appearance. Specks of gray ash in a tiny little box.
A sense of quiet enveloped the hill and nobody passed for a long time. Gini and her three sons approached the very edge of the cliff. She opened the box and, with a flourish, threw a handful of dust into the air. The wind was not in our favour and the ashes were snatched up by a strong gust. They flew backwards onto the lookout, hitting my auntie in the face. She stepped backwards, spluttering, spilling more of my uncle into the wind. This time, ash became caught in the wool of her jumper. She glanced back at us and laughed. She seemed embarrassed. My cousins gathered around and the remaining ashes were emptied downhill, directly into the grass. We were silent.
“I don’t really remember my Mum,” Dad said, later.
“What do you mean?”
“I remember how sick she was, but before that I don’t remember.” I didn’t know what to say.
“Do you think George will remember Andrew?” he said.
“I don’t know.”
“We’ll make sure he does. Tell him stories. Remind him.”
I looked across at George, still looking out across the valley, one hand on his mum’s back. His shoulders were shaking.
As the wind slowly picked up pieces of ash and carried it away my auntie turned towards us. She looked down at her jumper and began to shake it, freeing bits of dust. Then, she pulled it up, over her head, and her t-shirt came away with it. My auntie began to laugh hysterically.
George turned around to see his mother standing at the lookout in her bra. Her eyes were wet and red with emotion. We all stared at her. She looked up to the flecks of gray ash floating above our heads.
“There you are.” she yelled at the sky, “there’s one last look for you.”
And then, we were all on a lookout, crying, and laughing.