This is just an earlier version of parts 1 and 2.
You can read the complete story here:
I heard his boots clump up the stairs. I heard him bang on our door and I heard him whisper, “Get rid of her.” in Mum’s ear.
Austen’s here again.
He pushed past her at the door to our attic, lowered his head where the ceiling slopes, swept my book off the sofa and sat down. He leaned over me for the remote and switched off the TV too; I smelled engines and bonfires. I held my breath; I didn’t want to breathe him in.
Mum peeked out the window, “There’s no one outside. You can wait out there.” She grabbed my arm and pulled me up.
Austen stretched his legs into the space where I was sitting and drummed his fingers on the arm of the sofa. I wanted my book. It’s got lots of pictures of birds inside, but it was by Austen’s boot and Mum was already pulling me out the door.
In her bare feet, she took me down the two flights of stairs, out of the big green door with a knobbly black handle to the back of the house. “Sit here,” she said plonking me on an upside down plastic box with the smiling face and bonille.com on the side. They’re the only words I know; they’re on everything.
I think any other mum would have given me my book, but she’s not my mum, it’s just what she told me to call her. Sometimes I try to remember if I have a real one. I scrunch my eyes tight and squeeze my brain to make something pop out, but it just makes my head hurt.
The criss-cross cranes point across the sky and the box Mum gave me to sit on is where I kicked it. Bonille’s face grins at me, pretending to be kind and a raindrop from the roof lands like a marble on my toe. I hug my knees and tuck my feet in.
Just a little way above my head, Mrs Goring’s kitchen window is open. The wall underneath it is cold and hard against my back but my knees are warm against my chest.
Listening to Mrs Goring in her flat sounds like a home.
When Mum brought me to this place, Mrs Goring was standing at her front door swinging a kettle, “When you’ve got that lot in, come and have a cuppa. It always takes me a day or two to find the kettle when I move house.”
Mum said, “We know where ours is, thank you. Come on, you’ve got some homework to do for school.” She took my hand and dragged me up the stairs. I didn’t know what she meant by ‘school’, I’ve hardly been.
“I expect you’ll be going up to the secondary soon. That’s what they used to call it in my day. The name’s Goring, by the way, Mrs, though I haven’t had a mister in a while.” The old lady laughed and a big dog brushed against her legs. His tail wagged so hard I could feel the draught.
I glanced down before we turned to go up another lot of stairs. Mrs Goring lifted the kettle and gave it a little shake, “Anytime you want a bit of company you know where we are – me and Bill.” She patted his side and he woofed, agreeing with her. “Always got the kettle on. And you can call me Sheila, sweetheart.” She was practically shouting by then. Mum almost yanked my arm out of its socket.
The first time Austen came and Mum had to put me outside while they talked, she was there again, ready for us with a tea cloth hung over her arm. “Sure you don’t want that cup, love?” I felt Mum’s hand at my back, pushing me past.
I always think of Mrs you can call me Sheila Goring sitting in her flat with her hands in her lap and lots of cups of tea lined up on a little table in front of her, waiting for us. We could call her Sheila, but of course I’m not allowed to call her anything.
She’s making tea now; the kettle’s whistling on the gas. “Alright, alright,” she says, “I’m coming.” The spoon drawer rattles when she pulls it out and crashes when she pushes it back in again. A cup lands on her worktop with a thud, water glugs and a spoon chinks against the china. Out here, damp is seeping through my clothes and goose bumps are popping up on my arms but I feel cosy.
“You still there, Dawn, love?” She pushes the window open wider.
I don’t know how she knows I’m here when I try so hard to hide like I’m supposed to, but she does. I slide my bum across the grit, so I’m right under the open bit. Bill barks. I’d love to play with him but I’m only allowed out when there’s no one else around, not even the dog. Mum says we don’t know who any one is nowadays.
I’d love a cup of tea. I can’t remember drinking one so I don’t know what it tastes like but I imagine it’s good. Mum only gives me water. I have to eat this vegetable stuff with hard bits in it like gravel. It tastes like sludge. Mum says it’s got everything I need but I’ve tasted chocolate biscuit and I think if someone gave her one she’d change her mind.
That’s another reason why I like sitting here.
Mrs Goring shakes a box of biscuits for Bill. “Sit!” she says.
I imagine him, sitting up to attention; his tongue hanging out one side of his mouth, taking a bone-shaped biscuit in his teeth while his wolfy tail brushes the kitchen floor.
Now it’s my turn. “Dawn love, you there still? I expect you are. Here you go then.”
A little basket under a rainbow-balloon taps my head and dangles low enough for me to feel inside for the package nestling inside. “I know you’re not allowed to say anything,” says Mrs Goring from inside her kitchen. “But I’m here if you ever need a shoulder to cry on.”
I do want to say thanks. I want to look up and see if Mrs Sheila Goring has got over her sink and is leaning out of her window, smiling at me. But I daren’t. Instead I take out the tea towel parcel and unwrap the two chocolate biscuits.
The picture on the towel is a beach with a big white bird flying over it. Not a grey pigeon but a white and squawky seagull. Across the top there are some words. It says ‘a’ then a word beginning with ‘s’ then ‘from’ then a word I know because it’s in my bird book, ‘Swan.’
“Pop the cloth back in the basket, Dawn, love. This one’s my favourite. It’s from Swan Bay. Me and Mr Goring had a nice little business there before they closed us down. If I shut my eyes I can still smell the salt in the air and feel the water rippling through me toes on the beach. Ooh, it was lovely. Always thought that’s where I’d retire…”
I tuck the two biscuits into the pouch on the front of my top, fold the tea towel as nicely as I can and put it back in the bag. It gets sucked back up through the window.
The front door clicks open. I shuffle on my bottom to the edge of the back wall and peep round the corner.
Austen comes out of the house first; Mum stands on the step. He turns and tilts her face up with his finger. “You’ve done well with the girl, Tamara.” His voice is stiff and cold, “Any day now, this nightmare will soon be over…” for a moment he lays his hand on her arm.
“... or only just beginning,” She says and her head droops like a dead flower.
Austen removes his hand, turns away from Mum and looks directly at me, like he knew that’s exactly where I’d be. Behind his beard, his lips part to speak… or shout.
I can’t move. For a few seconds that feel like forever, he locks me here with his eyes.
I shut mine tight but I can still see him in my head. I shuffle back behind the wall and put my hands over my ears. I shouldn’t be spying on them; I should be sitting on my box with the rubbish. I curl up small and wait for the yank on my arm, the drag up the stairs and words spat in my ear
Beyond the gate an engine growls into life.
A hand brushes my shoulder. “Come on,” says Mum and walks back to the open front door. She doesn’t tell me off for being too close to the house. She doesn’t tell me off at all. I follow her inside. She pads across the boards in the hall and trudges up the first set of stairs.
She ignores the key turning in Mrs Goring’s door and Mrs Goring’s “Everything hunky dory?” Mum doesn’t speed up to avoid her like she usually does. She doesn’t even bother when I turn back and smile at Mrs you can call me Sheila, on her doormat, holding a plate of biscuits with Bill by her side.
I follow Mum slowly up the stairs.
When we reach the top Mrs Goring’s door bangs shut and my hope sinks.
I smell Austen as soon as I walk in but there’s only the squashed cushion where he sat on the sofa and the space in the air he left behind.
Mum gives me my bird book. “Here you are. Take that in the turret, while I tidy up.”
She holds back the curtain. Silvery light from the hole in the roof shines through the darkness. Mum reaches in and switches on the light. A raindrop lands in the bucket with a plop. She lets the curtain fall back into place. The light bulb dangling from one of the wooden struts flickers and slowly brightens up.
The turret roof and walls are the same thing, they curve round getting smaller nearer the top. It’s just like a big cupboard, ’cept Mum only puts me in here.
I sit down on the mattress and pull the blanket round my arms; it prickles. I put my book in its special place on the floor and let it fall open at my favourite page, the one of the pigeon taking off. It’s mostly grey apart from round its neck where there’s a flash of bright green and purple. I like the bit of bright amongst the dull. Like this place, almost all dull and grey except for the hole where even when it’s raining and the day is as grey as a bird, I can put my eye up to the wood and see blue. There’s always a patch of blue.
I hide one of Mrs Goring’s chocolate biscuits behind a strut where the wallpaper has come away, and nibble at the other. The crumbs stick to my lips and I lick them up. I don’t want to lose any; they taste delicious.
Through the curtain, I can hear Mum’s feet padding round the flat. She plumps the cushion, rustles papers and every now and then sniffs and catches her breath.
I have to wait until she says I can come out.
The raindrops have stopped. I close the book, and crawl over to my hole. I slide the bucket across the boards, carefully so it doesn’t splash. The wooden slats in the ceiling are soft and flaky where it’s damp. I stand up, get as close as I can without touching the rotten wood and see blue.
On the other side of the curtain, the flat is quiet, apart from the sniffs, but she hasn’t let me out.
A door slams on one of the floors below.
“Mum!” Is she still there?
Boots stomp about on the stairs. A man starts shouting and Bill barks. I can’t hear what he’s saying but it’s hard and angry. The house judders, little lumps of damp plaster fall on my face. A lump of something blocks my hole. There’s a cry, it sounds old, like Mrs Goring. I brush the bits out of my eyes and call again, “Mum, can I come out?” My stomach’s juddering too now.
I peek round the curtain. Mum’s sitting in Austen’s place, with her head in her hands.
“Can I come out?” The biscuit churns inside me, the crumbs in my throat make me want to cough.
She nods but doesn’t look up.
The house is alive with boots. Doors slam; the building trembles. Every bit of me wants to get out. I run to the flat door, it’s locked, of course it is. I try the window.
What am I thinking? I’m too high up; the roof is too steep. In the yard two floors below me, the pile of thrown away stuff has grown. I feel a kick like the solid toe of a boot in my belly.
Bill lays stretched over the rubbish in the middle of the garden. His tail is still and the box is upside down again, streaked with red.