A measure of growth
It was tradition, that’s how he put it to Michael. It was something all the men of the family had done since time immemorial, used the cloth tape measure of Great Aunt Joyce to measure their…progress. He couldn’t say it direct, because it might get back to Mum. This way he had deniability – I meant measure his height, mother. He’s lifting weights now, it was girth of the biceps I was on about.
Seeds sown, George left Michael in his bedroom gazing with wide eyes at the fraying cloth of the tape measure of Great Aunt Joyce. He went down the stairs whistling cheerily, making music with the loose change in his pockets.
Cynthia was at the dining room table nursing a gin and tonic with no ice, or tonic.
He slid into the chair opposite.
‘What’s up, duck? And what’s with the sunglasses?’
Cynthia lifted them a little to reveal one eye rimmed red.
‘We’re having Mexican for dinner?’
Cynthia returned to staring into her glass.
‘Great Aunt Joyce?’ Michael said.
Cynthia had the look, one of weary shell shock.
It was another tradition – once a year Great Aunt Joyce would stay for a fortnight. She put the battle into axe, and then she put the axe into anything and everyone. He was having a slightly easier time of it this year, because Cynthia was getting married.
‘Of course…the shopping trip.’ George topped up Cynthia’s glass. ‘Was it terrible?’
‘Were there tears?’
‘In every shop.’ Cynthia lifted her glasses to stare earnestly at him. ‘She made a mannequin cry, I swear!’
Cynthia shuddered then gulped some gin. ‘And of course, no one can measure properly these days, so she’s going to do it later.’ She shuddered some more. ‘Ugh, with that awful tape measure, and the way she has of running her tongue along it each time.’ She looked across at George. ‘Who does that? I ask you.’
George was feeling chills, memories of all those Christmases martialled against the wall to be measured for trousers and socks and shirts, dry rustle of the tape and the damp slither sound of her tongue moistening the edge. He went for his sister’s glass and took a gulp.
‘Exactly,’ Cynthia said.
George sat back, arms folded, grin on his face.
‘I have a scheme to make it bearable, might make up for all those awful years.’
‘Think how it will feel, out pops her tongue but you’ll know what that tape was wrapped around half an hour ago.’
‘It’s a boy thing,’ George said. ‘Everyone measures. So why not subvert that to our cause, and it’s for Michael’s benefit too. I told him to be scientific – measurements at different points, and repeat with different parts of the tape measure. I guarantee it – there is no single spot on that tape measure she can lick that won’t have been pressed up against a teenage boy’s genitals.’
Cynthia stared for a moment.
She said, ‘That’s disgusting.’
‘She deserves it.’
Cynthia raised her glass.
‘I will drink to-‘
Her glass thumped the table, a look of horror spreading across her face. She took off her sunglasses and pointed to her red eye.
Faintly, she said, ‘I had my own plan. I had the tape soaking overnight. A solution of pepper and white chill oil.’