It’s summer now, but in my memories it seems like winter. Cold glass bottles stand like sentinels on the gravel, and my milky memories smear across the years, back to the thought of fresh milk, delivered in bottles with foil tops. In this scene, I am watching through the leadlight window of my gabled-roof room. The slap of hoof on road floats up to my bedroom eyrie, as the milk cart delivers its morning load.
The bottles of milk would be set down on the edge of our driveway as the first light of morning was arriving. At times, the milk was a little warm when we brought it in, the icy coldness having melted down to cool. The cream at the top was sometimes a little clumpy, but a shake was all it needed. The pint bottles became 600ml bottles, but my memory of the foil lids has stayed the same.
At some point in our childhood years, our milk began disappearing. Not the lot of it, just a bottle or two. Most weeks there would be milk taken, and eventually a pattern emerged. Who was making off with our milk? So we devised a little suburban espionage project: we’d catch these milk thieves in the act, and solve the mystery of the disappearing milk!
We lay in wait in our garden early one morning, one person at the tap, another on the hose end, and others in readiness for pursuit. Our cousins were staying, so our troops were bolstered and our bravado boosted. We heard voices coming around the side fence, and crouched low in readiness for the ambush. It was a long front boundary, and as we stayed silent under our trees, we heard the male voices talking. ‘One or two bottles today?’
Time passed in slow motion as they got closer to their target, the four glass bottles set down on the garden’s edge. I glanced across at my brother on the tap. We were all frozen. I held the hose end tight and readied myself to spring from under the overhanging branches of my leafy dugout. As the thieves bent down and helped themselves to our milk, we set the hose off at full strength and ran charging towards them. ‘Give us back our milk!’ we yelled, as the water sprayed them, and they bolted away past the park with a stream of youngsters pursuing them. ‘Milk thieves!’ we screamed, and the bottles crashed to the footpath, shattering and throwing milk skywards. I see this in slow motion now, but it was at full speed then. We had spotted our prey and we were hunting them.
As they ran, their get-away car came around the corner, and slowed to collect them. The little white car had an apt number plate: G-O-M 140. ‘Got Our Milk!’ I yelled. They were marked now. I felt like a character from the Famous Five, as our little gang of brothers and cousins brought this mystery to an end. Our milk never went missing again, but we continued to see the white car in our neighbourhood. ‘Got our Milk!?’ we’d yell.
In my memory I see this gang of milk thieves, running from the kids in the bushes. We were younger than teenagers, they were old enough to drive. They ran from us and off to new adventures, beyond the realm of early morning milk bottles. My own children now roam the streets on bikes in a seaside town, their teenage boundaries opening up, their adventures widening. One just called to ask me ‘Mum, can I buy a milkshake?’ Sure, shake it up. I am watching them run off into their own lives, cracking the bottles open as they go.
As the summer holidays draw to a close, I wonder if the gang of beach friends will soon be cracking the tops off stubbies, and drinking in the dunes, a long way from the clip clops of horses’ hooves and my milky childhood memories. They will be marking their own memories in the sand, as the tides move in and out, and the froth blows off the tops of the waves, the wild horses tossing.
© Anna Sublet 2018
Published in The Guardian February 2018 as ‘Watching my children, I think back to a particular suburban mystery.’