Flesh and blood

Flesh and blood

When I was in my 30s, unmarried and broody, my niece was the centre of my life.

I was thrilled when she was born and insisted that my sister use the name I had for her, which is why the poor girl ended up with three first names on her birth certificate.

I wrote columns about her, we spoke on the phone every day and I kept photographs of the milestones of her life.

From the time she was a baby till she was nine, I visited her almost every year in the United States. It was my favourite time and hers too.

She would write me welcome notes which she'd paste around the house for me to discover. She'd plan midnight feasts which we ended up having soon after dinner and not at midnight, because she couldn't wait.

Or she'd squeeze into my bed and pester me to read Watership Down because she was dying to discuss the adventures of the rabbits (I never got beyond the first chapter).

She turns 17 in December and I last saw her two years ago, when my sister's family visited. She was no longer a little girl and wanted her own bedroom. She spent a lot of time inside, behind a locked door.

These days, we hardly talk on the phone. The last time was maybe three months ago. It was for two minutes or so when I asked her things like how she liked school.

She was, as always, sweet, and made appropriate cooing noises when I updated her about my dogs. But after a while I - we - ran out of things to say.

The only news I get from her are through my sister, or when I look at her Facebook, which she updates rarely.

Her brother, who turned 11 yesterday, is even more of a stranger to me. We never were that close when he was younger and when he was here two years ago, he got along better with H than with me.

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