Guest Rules

By Lorna Easterbrook

I’m seven years old. I think. They can’t be that long married, my uncle and his new wife, because they don’t yet have children. So I’m somewhere between six and eight. Let’s call that seven.

We’ve gone to see them in their new house. I think it’s their birthdays, so that makes this October. Everything I remember about that day is brown, and not just because the 1970s were brown, except for flashes of orange and that weird murky green.

It’s boring; I’m bored. They have nothing for children to do, even though they are teachers. There are no games – not even a pack of cards; no felt tip pens, no scrap paper. There’s just a long brown sofa and a ticking clock.

The adults talk adult talk. After lunch, I can’t hide it anymore. I fidget. I yawn. Then my uncle and his new wife say:

        ‘Why don’t you go in the garden and count the stones?’

I look at my parents and they nod. I’ve been told – when I’m a guest, I’m to do as I’m asked and not comment. To be honest, to a kid, most adult requests are pretty strange anyway.

        ‘Okay,’ I say, and put on my coat and shoes.

They can see me through the French windows, so I make sure to look as if I am counting, taking my time over the long flower border.

I come back in. It’s cold out there, even with my coat on. We’ve come in the car, so I don’t have a scarf or gloves.

        ‘752,’ I say triumphantly, as I come back into their sitting room.

We call it the lounge, at home.

        ‘No,’ my uncle and his new wife laugh. ‘That’s not right. Go out and count again.’

I look at my parents. There’s nothing on their faces that says yes, or no. I think: I’m a guest; I’m supposed to go along with this and not comment.

I go outside again. This time I take a bit longer. I don’t see why they need me to count the stones. They obviously already know how many are there.

Long after both my parents are dead, I visit my uncle and his wife. Anytime we encounter someone they know, she’s asked:

        ‘Is this your niece?’

And every time she replies:

        ‘No. She’s my husband’s niece.’

One of her sisters, also visiting, tells me that, technically, this is correct. I say:

        ‘Then she’s not my aunt.’

        ‘Oh no,’ the sister says. ‘She is your aunt.’

I think: it can’t work both ways. If I’m not her niece, she can’t be my aunt. This family has a history of dodgy logic.

Now I’m an adult visiting, my uncle and his wife share how funny it was to get me to go out twice to count the stones when I was seven.

I still don’t see what was funny. But I say nothing. I am a guest. These are the rules.

Lorna is a researcher, writer, public speaker, and storyteller. Her work so far has ranged from community theatre to think tanks. Most of her published work is non-fiction and covers treatment, care and support for those for whom illness, life changing injury or other disability affects later stages of their lives. At the age of six, Lorna once bested a hugely competitive neighbour, 18 months her senior, with her claim that “anyway, my Daddy’s got a loft full of lavatories.” (He didn’t.) You can find more things that Lorna has made up at www.lornaeasterbrook.com.

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