Our Frank

The paper reported yet another motorbike accident where a boy died and the number of recent road deaths.

These were cold words to infuriate – they were not the words for us.

That eighteen year old, the 56th dead, was Frank… a boy somehow part of me, though what could I claim?

Was he truly mine as boyfriend?

Frank was also a brother and eldest by nine minutes. Felicity, my friend for a time, was his twin.

There was another pair of twins, girls and four years younger.

If I couldn’t find words for Frank’s death, back then I didn’t have them for lust either.

I just found myself lounging languidly across the end of our sofa and time passed without my noticing.

It was just another thing happening, as I lived being sixteen and Frank was alive.

It was my mother, ready to shake out this new recline, who alerted me.

“Sit up and for goodness sake keep your legs together.”

Clearly there was some threat in a daughter day dreaming across a sofa.

It was the second time she walked in on my unacceptable posture that the obvious clicked.

This clearly had to do with Frank!

We did not date or speak of whatever passed between us but his intense green eyes held surprising new power. They did something to my body.

Whatever other eyes saw of me, I didn’t wish to consider. My mother noted untidy clothes and tangled hair.

An aunt, commenting on my unbecoming self-conscious slouch, said I was growing vulgar and saw herself as a straight back lady.

Those two sisters and their friends, taking no nonsense from children, expected daughters to join certainties of decency.

It was easy to baulk at their ways, even if other options were not yet visible.

My grandmother, too, had begun to slide out of joining. She lost the coherence of her middle years and started failing to complete a sentence.

This irritated both her daughters, though there was something to the way she dropped out of concluding, to leave suspense. But if that uncertainty appealed, my grandmother’s increasing confusion scared me. It was not where I wanted to be going.

 What I may become had no substance, the future had no shape.

And my father longer seemed an ally. He simply smiled at the sight of me once.  But the constant scowl I was accused of mid-teens seemed to put him off. Time for a father to take a back seat and not even one in the same car after Frank got his licence.

I danced with Frank at school and church socials with too many adults lurking.

Then, Felicity, a school year ahead, became my friend, calling me a soul mate after reading me her poetry.

I went her route home from school, walking alongside, pushing my bike.

We talked intensely as I recall – it seemed a new kind of bond but what did we say?
We didn’t name Frank, who was probably playing sport, even though he seemed the glue.

When she and Frank were going to an un-chaperoned dance, Felicity invited me.

Although my mother said I should have friends my own age – I was still sixteen while the twins were about to be eighteen – since their father was a respectable Dr Milton and driving us, I could go.

She made me a satin dress in pale apricot with lace across the top.

I secretly bought embroidered pink knickers – not that there was any possibility of them being taken off.

Was this going out with Frank if Felicity was the one to ask me?

It was increasingly obvious when we met that Frank’s eyes altered me and that he knew this.

Felicity told me to be careful because Frank would only marry a good girl. Neither of us saw anything further to say, we were saturated with the same social judgements.

Felicity knew no more than I did of the pill, just over our horizon, which might protect us from having to marry in a rush, mortifying our mothers and inclining fathers or brothers to talk of a shotgun.

Felicity would also be good. Frank wouldn’t tolerate anything else, she said – yet his eyes left all of me fully exposed.

Frank got his licence and was proud.

To celebrate, his father agreed we three could have the bulbous green car for a picnic, as long as there was no beer.

Felicity set out lunch but Frank pulled me up by the hand and said the two of us were going for a walk.

Felicity spread out a towel and lay down, though it wasn’t sunbathing weather.

Frank and I walked, side by side, in silence.

Then he kissed me.

Not for long– but long enough for astonishing sensations.

He would be going away soon, he told me, and could not be tied. It was different for boys, who should get experience.

Probably we would get married wouldn’t we?

It wasn’t quite a question, yet seemed recognition that chemistry between us mattered to him as it did to me – and that it could be put on hold.

Perhaps we weren’t ready for it.

Summer came and, as school ended, we danced and danced, as I remember it.

Felicity was to stay in town but Frank was going to work for one of his uncles in Auckland. He would have this holiday job then head to university.

Felicity was going to Teachers College, not that she much wanted to teach, but it was closer and considered better for a girl.

Frank was in Auckland on his cousin’s motorbike.

Felicity didn’t call me.

I still don’t know whether my parents found out from the morning paper or some phone message.

Uncertainty of transmission added to disbelief.

How could it be believable?

My mother’s altered tone that morning, as she told me, was meant to sound kind but if she couldn’t say it straight it might not be true.

I wanted to ring Felicity but my parents said a firm no. Wait.

What was happening?

Why couldn’t Felicity tell me, wasn’t she my friend?

Even the small newspaper account didn’t help me take anything in. The bare bones of fact felt an outrage and had so little to do with the boy I knew.

He could be a statistic for them but my Frank was the one whose eyes and kiss altered me.

The family will want peace my father told me.

But how did he know?

Was it possible for Felicity to believe Frank could be dead?

Had she seen him?

What if he’d just disappeared into city life and wanted to cut off from all of us?

I went on my bike, repeatedly passing the Milton’s house, hoping to catch sight of at least one of them or to see some sign that this news could be true.

Everything looked shut, the big green jaguar was gone and the Labrador not in the front garden as usual. Only the wall of hydrangeas still bloomed.

Out again later, I saw their neighbour with the pale Labrador.

The family all left for Auckland as soon as they heard.

But Frank died before they got there, she said, and she didn’t know how long she’d have the dog.

The grandparents were in Auckland, along with Frank’s two uncles, and apparently Mrs Milton wanted to stay with family, even after the funeral.

She hadn’t much liked having to move from their life up there when her husband took on a practise in our town.

Dr Milton got a locum for several weeks then came back.

Felicity did not.

The cut off with her felt more real than the supposed fact that Frank was dead.

I went back to school for my final year.

The younger twins turned up after the long summer but Felicity was staying with her grandparents and now doing her teaching training up there.

Frank was the one supposed to live in his generous grandparent’s large home.

None of it made sense but I didn’t go round saying so and if I passed the twins at school there was just embarrassment.

It wasn’t quite that I disputed the death.

I just couldn’t believe it – and grew bewildered about other facts – they had so little meaning now.

I didn’t get a new best friend.

I didn’t go to dances.

I did school work because I wanted to get away to university, and kept to myself.

Eventually I met Mrs Milton on the street. “Hello dear,” was all she said but it unnerved me to see how different she looked, wary and thin, with her solid confidence and authority gone.

She knew her only son was dead even if I did not.

Probably there was too little inclination to swallow it.

Frank said our love, or whatever it was, must go on hold.

And I could live with that – waiting was fine by me.

It’s doubtful I expected to find him once school and enough waiting was done, but being on hold had not yet been truly cancelled.

Felicity came back one holiday and didn’t ring me.

Someone told my mother she’d see Felicity transformed by city elegance though that girl was far too thin.

I’d put on quite a bit of weight, overeating in my semi-seclusion. Did I want to see Felicity looking impressive?

I kept biking past the house waiting to meet her as if unexpectedly.

One day there she was, nearly home.

I’d practiced speeches but they evaporated. I stood by my bike and not a single sentence would form.

Obviously I was choked and on the edge of dissolving.

Felicity was curt. “I can’t deal with your drama.”

She turned away and hurried home.

So that was it?

My many thoughts on our possible encounter never included this scenario.

I just stood there, despite wanting to charge and force her into telling me all I felt I needed to know.

Only as she reached the gate a startling yell came out of me.

Felicity did not look back.

Over my seventeen and a half years some of my mother’s many sayings stuck.

Why did “there’s nothing new under the sun” stick, when I had no idea if it made sense or not?

But, as I stood beside the bike I’d tried to decorate, the only thing that came to mind was how could it not be new to hear myself cry out, “but I loved him too!”

And, though said for the first time, it felt obviously true.

Yet somehow what my body knew then could once again slip from view. It was forgotten.

In my circle at university contraception could be found and feverish ideas of liberation carried us, rather than our own, once controlled, bodies.

I had no wish to feel as helpless as I’d felt aching for Frank, and would make a sensible choice to try sex.

Not one boyfriend unleashed what remained locked and, though I failed to register this, it all felt safer.

Passion had meshed with death and my head was turned away from it.

Unfortunately not all my body turned itself as easily. But rashes and cystitis seemed part of sex and were commonplace in the student hostel.

Boys trying new techniques they’d read in books might be interesting yet not compelling.

It took years until I would face how it felt impossible to want anyone the way I had ached for Frank.

Felicity was not a teacher.

She dropped out of college but later went to university.

She got an address from my mother and wrote to me in Australia.

We had an unfinished conversation she said and we agreed to meet on my next return.

I had shed the chubbiness acquired after Frank’s death but felt inadequate beside the tall, well dressed and impeccably groomed Felicity.

The presentation had no loose edges, it was carefully judged, finished with discreet, expensive jewellery and a very good haircut.

A fine surface fully sealed.

Her greeting seemed glacial and hit as a shock.

If there was no opening for me, why had she suggested meeting?

She told me she had something to say.

She was still finding it hard to forgive my making some claim on Frank – clinging on she called it.

Although I’d only met her that one time, she’d seen me biking slowly past on several occasions and hated my intrusion.

Frank had been part of her all her life.

I barely knew him and he had, after all, left me.

He had sex with a girl his cousin introduced and came off the bike after being with her.

Felicity had pre-packaged her accusations. She wished to hand them to me and no longer wanted them going round and round.

At the time I couldn’t think to say that if her thoughts stayed so fixed, maybe they were the problem.

What was the compulsion to refuse Frank having significance for me, even if he wasn’t my twin?

We parted more quickly than expected and I ran and ran – as if running back into my own words.

An echo from five years before was loud – I knew that cry, “I loved him too.”

Maybe Felicity could not live more generously with her brother’s death, but by showing that wish to slice me off from Frank, her tightened heart opened mine – in resisting Felicity I re-found Frank’s power.

 I tumbled and fell face down on the grass.