Break in

ONE

Blood ties can mean trouble, chains and fatal obligation. The tie of twins, inescapably strongest. My twin, my bond.

My sister Holly, sprung into the world ten minutes after myself on Christmas morning with bells ringing over frosty fields and hope still wrapped in beckoning parcels, my sister Holly had through thirty years been cot-mate, puppy-companion, boxing target and best friend. Consecutively, on the whole.

My sister Holly came to Cheltenham races and intercepted me between weighing room and parade ring when I went out to ride in a three-mile steeplechase.

‘Kit!’ she said intensely, singling me out from among the group of other jockeys with whom I walked, and standing four-square and portentously in my way.

I stopped. The other jockeys walked on, parting like water round a rock. I looked at the lines of severe strain in her normally serene face and jumped in before she could say why she’d come.

‘Have you any money with you?’ I said.

‘What? What for?’ She wasn’t concentrating on my question but on some inner scenario of obvious doom.

‘Have you?’ I insisted.

‘Well… but that’s not…’

‘Go to the Tote,’ I said. ‘Put all you’ve got on my horse to win. Number eight. Go and do it.’

‘But I don’t…’

‘Go and do it,’ I interrupted. ‘Then go to the bar and with what’s left buy yourself a triple gin. Then come and meet me in the winners’ enclosure.’

‘No, that’s not…’

I said emphatically, ‘Don’t put your disaster between me and that winning post.’

She blinked as if awakening, taking in my helmet and the colours I wore beneath my husky, looking towards the departing backs of the other jockeys and understanding what I meant.

‘Right?’ I said.

‘Right.’ She swallowed. ‘All right.’

‘Afterwards,’ I said.

She nodded. The doom, the disaster, dragged at her eyes.

‘I’ll sort it out,’ I promised. ‘After.’

She nodded dumbly and turned away, beginning almost automatically to open her shoulder bag to look for money. Doing what her brother told her, even after all these years. Coming to her brother, still, for her worst troubles to be fixed. Even though she was four years married, those patterns of behaviour, established in a parentless childhood, still seemed normal to us both.

I’d sometimes wondered what difference it would have made to her if she had been the elder by that crucial ten minutes. Would she have been motherly? Bossy, perhaps. She felt safer, she’d said, being the younger.

I walked on towards the parade ring, putting consciously out of my mind the realisation that whatever the trouble this time, it was bad. She had come, for a start, one hundred and fifty miles from Newmarket to see me, and she disliked driving.

I shook my head physically, throwing her out. The horse ahead, the taxing job in hand, had absolute and necessary priority. I was primarily no one’s brother. I was primarily Kit Fielding, steeplechase jockey, some years champion, some years not, sharing the annual honour with another much like myself, coming out top when my bones didn’t break, bowing to fate when they did.

I wore the colours of a middle-aged princess of a dispossessed European monarchy, a woman of powerful femininity whose skin was weathering towards sunset like cracked glaze on porcelain. Sable coat, as usual, swinging from narrow shoulders. Glossy dark hair piled high. Plain gold earrings. I walked towards her across the parade-ring grass; smiled, bowed, and briefly shook the offered glove.

‘Cold day,’ she said; her consonants faintly thick, vowel sounds pure English, intonation as always pleasant.

I agreed.

‘And will you win?’ she asked.

‘With luck.’

Her smile was mostly in the eyes. ‘I will expect it.’

We watched her horse stalk round the ring, its liver chestnut head