by Sandra Crook
“So what you do,” said my cousin, tossing her enviably long blonde hair over her shoulder, “is break each stick into pieces about an inch long, like so.”
I watched as she flexed her slender wrists several times before dropping the broken pieces of hard liquorice into the glass bottle.
“How do you know how much to put in?” I asked.
She paused momentarily, in that way she did when she was making it up as she went along.
“Easy, I’ve seen Tom make it. Now, what we need is some fairly hot water.”
I followed her into the kitchen where, after checking that no adults were about, she ran the hot water tap and filled the bottle to the neck. Then carefully inserting the cork stopper she began to shake it vigorously.
The clear water began to turn muddy brown, and I regarded it doubtfully.
“Are you sure it’s safe to drink it?” I said.
She stared at me scornfully. “Of course it’s okay, idiot. Me and Tom have drunk it loads of times. It’s just like dandelion and burdock.”
She continued shaking for a while, before hiding the bottle at the back of a cupboard.
“We need to let it ferment now”, she said confidently, “so let’s go and have a look at your bridesmaid’s dress again.”
The candy-pink organza concoction hung from the back of my bedroom door, resplendent with frills, bows and silver ribbons. An alice-band, heavy with silk flowers lay on the bed. Everything was ready for the great day tomorrow.
Susie seized the alice-band and threaded it through her hair. I felt a stab of envy as I saw how much nicer it looked on her silky blonde locks than on my frizzy red curls, and I snatched it from her jealously.
This was the first time that I’d ever had anything that Susie wanted, and whilst I’d been pleased, I was also uneasy.
As she began to stroke the folds of the shimmering pink dress, I resisted an overpowering urge to smack her hands away from it. It was mine! I was to be the princess this time. My godmother had chosen me, though deep down I suspected this was probably because she hadn’t seen my cousin. Anyone in their right mind would have chosen Susie.
“Come on,” I said urgently, “let’s go and see how the drink is doing. What did you say it’s called?”
Casting a lingering look at my dress, Susie followed me downstairs.
“Tom says it’s called ‘spo’” she said, “but I just call it liquorice juice. You’ll love, you’ll see.”
I wasn’t so sure, but at least now it did resemble dandelion and burdock, with a thick creamy head on it.
Susie tasted it briefly, smacked her lips.
She handed me the bottle, and I took a cautious sip.
It had quite an appealing flavour, I thought. I’d only ever used these ‘ha’penny spanishes’ for licking and dipping into sherbet, but they did make quite an appetising drink. It wasn’t hard to imagine it was dandelion and burdock.
Our games that afternoon were punctuated by generous swigs on the ‘spo’ bottle, and Susie was uncommonly generous in letting me have the lion’s share of the concoction.
Susie made a lovely bridesmaid the following day, they said, and my godmother was delighted to have such a pretty emergency stand-in readily to hand.
By the time everybody got back from the wedding reception I’d emerged from the bathroom where I’d been closeted since the early hours of the morning. I was so drained, I didn’t even care when Susie danced in, a pink and silver cloud of magnificence.
“Because Susie suggested it,” I said in response to my mother’s terse enquiry as to why I’d ingested so much liquorice.
“Really?” she responded acidly, “and if Susie suggested you jump off the roof, would you?”
Probably, I thought, before bolting for the safety of the bathroom once again.
Sandra Crook lives to write, and is thankful that it isn’t the other way round.