My room could be measured easily. In one direction I could lie twice from head to toe and in the other direction it was head to toe once, plus another length with my legs bent at the knee. 1 ½ Maries by 2 Maries.
I lay squarely between the soft fabric of my bed, then after a few moments turned to tickle the soles of my feet and then my back with the cool flatness of the wall. I always woke at the same time and I knew that outside the sun would be creeping above my window and soon a thin ribbon of heat would investigate my face. I knew that outside my window the day would begin again, the same as yesterday. In between the buildings the sky still touched the ground, the leaves on the tree were fifteen dainty shades of green and Mrs Humphries who was permanently sweating would have her window open.
That it was My Birthday today came quickly flooding in to my head, overflowing my thoughts and spilling down through my body. I forced myself to hold my eyelids closed tight until this idea settled and swelled somewhere behind them. I was on the edge of double figures. Today was going to be different. I steadied myself with the knowledge that until I emerged from behind the dark safety of my closed eyes I was still nine. But when I open them and let the world in, the view that would face me would be the thread bare waves of the blue rug and the new day would start. I would be forever in double figures. To savour the excitement that was collecting inside my belly I pinned my arms and legs down to the mattress, and held myself firmly in place. The heat from the sun increased, and surged through the thin gap in the curtains. It pressed against my eyelids; gathering strength till it broke through the papery thin defence and made little suns in the corners of my vision.
Downstairs the sound of my Mother preparing for the day beckoned me into my tenth year. I could hear the muffled banging of biscuit tins, and if I really thought hard I could feel the slide of the butter in between the knife and the bread. The kitchen radio was playing an old song that my Mother was humming along to; its tune was making my shoulders move underneath my sheet. Every year on My Birthday a promise was upheld. Me and my Mother would drive to the beach, I would sit in the front seat and hold the map making note of where we see anything interesting: animals, other green cars or strange looking people on their way somewhere else. When we got there we would unpack the car together taking out the blankets and sun umbrellas, and there would always be the one basket that only my Mother would carry. This was our picnic of delicious sandwiches, oranges, and always a very complicated cake in the shape of a parakeet or pineapple or something else wonderfully exotic that my Mother would have made just for the two of us.
“Marie, don’t come downstairs yet”
I could picture my Mother looking beautiful in her dress with leaves and roses painted on it and two large sewn pockets onto the front. She would be balancing one hand on the banister, the other hand holding a jar of caramel and leaning up on tip toe to call up the stairs.
“Don’t come down for another five minutes, Happy Birthday Marie”
“Happy Birthday Marie. Happy Birthday Marie. Happy Birthday Marie.” Every muscle tightened, I burrowed down into my bed like a small crab in a bed of sand. My toes were excited by the prospect of the hot sand forming itself around their indents, between my fingers and under my back.
If I stayed for much longer in my Marie sized room the delicious oily, fat smell of fish being fried would drift up the street towards our flat, then the diesel from the buses would combine to make an acrid taste at the back of your throat.
Now I was in a dilemma, I had to wait for five more minutes which meant I needed to keep my eyes shut, but it was as if my ten year old self was trying to turn me inside out in order to escape.
I could hear the basket being packed. Still with my eyes closed I edged to the boundary of my bed; the blue rug felt like it was moving away from me as I reached over it and drew back the curtains. With my face to the window I could not avoid the full extent of the sun. My eyes were pulled open as the light expanded into my little room. Everything confirmed it the blue rug and the green leaves, Mrs Humphries’ open window and the heat melting the street into little lines, I was 10.