Mary Ann’s blue dress was a different shade entirely from the blue of the sky, but they seemed to belong together, she and the firmament; each as close, and each as far away. Every time our noses touched, we giggled.
We were swinging on one of the gates in my parents’ driveway. Backwards and forwards, forwards and back, the old gate squealing on its hinges as it described an arc from the driveway and all the way out over the pavement of the street.
Mary Ann was standing up on one side of the gate and I was on the other side facing her, making it swing. I used my foot against the ground to push us one way, and then, as the gate turned the half circle back into the driveway, I used my hand against the wooden fence to push us back. We were six years old.
When we’re big, I said, laughing, we’ll get married.
Yes, she said, and our noses touched again. The blue of her dress was like a promise, and I wondered then if I should tell her that I loved her.
We’ll live in a big house, she said, with our own telly. And a dog and a cat.
Yes, I said, and a red car.
And lots of babies.
Hang on tight!
I kicked hard against the pavement and followed her smile as we curved back into the driveway, my hand out ready to push us back.
When my finger broke there was no noise, but I felt it snap. The gate stopped swinging, and it’s motion dissipated in a quick exchange of energy which left it vibrating. Everything else was sudden and still, except for the sound of someone crying.
I looked for Mary Ann. She was standing in the street, a million miles away, her head tilted to one side, watching. The angle she made against the sky wasn’t right, as though she was about to leap into space and zoom off back to her own planet. The look on her face might have been fear. Or disappointment.
I was lying on the ground. When I looked at my finger, the third on my right hand, it was swollen and already turning blue, a different blue from the blue of the sky and the blue of Mary Ann’s dress; a dark, inky blue, almost black.
And it was starting to hurt with a pulsing kind of pain, sharp and annoying, like an unwanted third person joining the game. I had to bite my tongue, but I made myself stop crying before I got up off the ground, though there were still tears in my eyes when I looked at her again.
Is it broken? She pointed at my hand.
It’s your own fault. You shouldn’t swing on gates.
It’s alright. Come on, let’s keep playing.
I clambered back onto the gate, carefully with one hand, but I winced when I lifted the other one on to the top rail. I waited for her.
She shook her head. My dad says its stupid to swing on gates. Anyway, I bet your finger is broken.
No it isn’t.
You’d better tell your mum about it. Tell her it was your own fault.
Come on, let’s play.
But she walked off. I watched her as she stopped at the kerb and as she looked carefully both ways twice before crossing the street to her house. My finger was throbbing badly and it seemed then that maybe it was all my fault, that there was no-one else to blame, that I deserved everything; a broken finger, the embarrassment of tears, loneliness. I kicked the gate.
I’m not going to marry you anymore!
She shrugged and walked on.
Get lost, I shouted, a small angry boy under a blue sky. I hate you!
I never told anyone that my finger was broken. I pretended it didn’t hurt much, and Mum was happy to be spared the bother of taking me to the doctor’s. She put a bandage on it, and some ointment that she kept in the cupboard. Later, when the finger began to bend sideways at the first joint, my father said I should go the doctor. That I’d broken it, and it was mending crookedly. He said that the doctor would break it again and set it straight for me. But I wouldn’t let him take me, and in time the crooked finger became for me a kind of companion, dependable and constant, like the blue of the sky.