Child and mother? Or sister and brother?
A photographic studio, in best clothes, matching mustard and apple green?
Or just two holiday-makers on the pier, forced to pose in uncomfortable fancy-dress in a shabby photo booth?
Charlotte unprised her hand from that of her brother, Peter, his puffy hot fingers, sweaty with the heat of the sunny day. Checking that her mother wasn’t watching, she wiped her own hand on the front of her best holiday cardigan – the pretty blue one with the daisy ribbons and yellow buttons.
‘Charlotte!’ her mother chided. ‘Charlotte, you must keep hold of Peter’s hand at all times. This pier is a dangerous place. Full of criminal types. We must trust none and suspect all.’
She looked at her daughter once again. ‘And, young lady, what on earth is that stain on your Sunday Best?’
Charlotte looked down at her own garment and the brand new sticky pink stain. She grabbed Peter’s hand and turned it over. Rock. He’d been clutching a broken stick of peppermint rock.
‘Oh Peter, you worm,’ scolded Charlotte, and Mother hurried her two children towards the water fountain, first pushing away a tousled urchin who was cooling himself. She forcibly rinsed the palms of both her children.
‘I have a wonderful surprise for you both, Peter and Charlotte,’ announced Mother as she recklessly dried their hands on the outside of her own artificial silk jacket.
Charlotte’s eyebrows twitched a little and her lips pursed.
‘Mother, please don’t make us go into the photographic studio, again…’
‘Oh, but darling Charlotte, you loved it last year.’
Charlotte shook her head and began to walk towards the painted carousel. There was never any point arguing with Mother, but she hadn’t loved it. She thought her behaviour afterwards may have given Mother the correct clues. It had been Peter who had loved every part of dressing up and posing. Hands dried, he scurried after his big sister with his thumb in his mouth, but started at the yawp of a far-too-close seagull then stumbled face-down. When his face re-emerged, his lips and thumb were covered with quickly bruising toothmarks and blood.
Charlotte scooped up her brother before he had the chance to begin with the almost inevitable tears. ‘Come on, Peter, let’s get our photographs taken,’ she said with as much fake jollity as she could muster.
‘But I thought you said…’ protested Mother.
‘I didn’t like it. But we’ll go for Peter. He loves to dress up, don’t you, little brother?’
Peter smiled up at her, bloodied face and fingers forgotten until Mother took her handkerchief from her jacket pocket, licked it gently, and proceeded to clean up her little boy’s already crusting wound, despite his vigorous, wriggling protest.
‘Come on Peter,’ said Charlotte, gaily, as she stopped him wriggle by tickling his armpit, ‘Let’s run to the photographer’.
The 15 year old girl and her 7 year old little brother ran happily to the studio. But, as soon as Charlotte neared the window and Peter began to shriek happily, Charlotte’s face fell as she viewed the heavy satin and silk clothes in the window mock-up. There was nothing she disliked more than being too hot and covered with very heavy clothing. Apart from being too hot, covered with very heavy clothing, and being forced to stand still for a very, very long time almost without breathing. Last year at Blackpool pier, the photographer had just taken the third picture of Charlotte and Peter dressed as an ancient king and queen of Britain, when she felt so faint that she fell and cracked her head on the tiled ornamental fireplace. She didn’t want to go through that again.
‘Charlotte, Charlotte!’ came Peter’s shrieks as he pointed manically towards one of the display photographs that had been framed for display around the shopfront: a photograph of a young boy, with mustard shirt and turquoise trim, and an older girl with a skirt of the same colours. Both wore black hats. ‘Cowboys, Charlotte. Please may we be cowboys?’ His big sister looked at the costume, all slinky and cool-looking, with bare arms too, then nodded and smiled and the pair of them walked inside.
Mother sighed momentarily and leaned against the studio’s window. She picked up a postcard. ‘Holidays by the Sea are Such Good Fun’. She sighed again and followed her children inside.