Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Novel opening

I know I haven't been about much recently, but I have been working (honest!)
Here is the first bit of the new novel. It is quite a long extract, so those of you that have the time and energy to read it are much appreciated and any comments welcomed.

Should point out that this was the first novel I planned but due to the research that needed to be done it has languished in outline form while Tumbling Through Life took over.

It is VERY rough and so there may be a few continuity issues which I am in the process of fixing, I am hoping to edit and polish the first three chapters and then see if I can get any interest. Happy reading!

Chapter 1

The shower was an oasis of calm, the warm water allowing her five minutes’ peace from the chaos downstairs - upset breakfast bowls, spilt cereal and shouting children, all drowned out by the high pressure power shower. For just a moment she could forget that it was the twins’ first day, that Annie was bound to need changing before they even left the house and that Jake seemed more sullen today than usual. She hurried to get out of the shower and dress; she knew that any second she would hear the sound of approaching footsteps, usually accompanied by a whinge as it came through the door.

It was still there though, the lump just under the skin on the left side, still didn’t hurt though. Annie had been breastfeeding until a couple of months ago and she knew that your body could change after having a baby but it hadn’t happened after the others. Still, if it wasn’t hurting she’d leave it alone for now; she had other things to deal with at the moment. Sure enough, just as she pulled a t-shirt over her head, the predicted footsteps could be heard. Melissa hurried towards the door and motioned the children down the stairs in front of her, trying to dodge the questions they were hurling in her direction.

‘Mum, Mum, why can’t I be in the same class as Lily?’

‘Mum, do I have to take all this stuff today? I haven’t even got a locker yet.’

Annie joined the general cacophony as she wriggled restlessly in the high-chair, face still decorated with smidgens of breakfast. Melissa sighed but as she was about to start shouting responses the reassuring sound of the 8.20 rumbling past momentarily distracted her from the bedlam that her house had become.

Where was Claude when she needed him? At a breakfast meeting, of course. He had probably rolled past the house about half an hour ago, just one of many standing precariously perched in a sardine tin on wheels – still, eminently preferable to the day she was facing. Her heart had lurched at Daisy’s question, knowing whatever answer she gave would be judged inadequate. The twins didn’t want to be separated and any attempt she made to assuage their sense of injustice would be found wanting.

‘Not now, Daisy,’ she muttered, and then gesturing to all the children still sat around the table, bickering amongst themselves, she said: ‘Come on upstairs, clean teeth and off we go.’

She took a breath as the twins and Jake all rushed for the stairs together, narrowly avoiding a collision that would have ended in tears. She took the brief respite as an opportunity to check her own appearance in the hallway mirror. Tired around the eyes - that was Annie’s fault, up three times last night as another tooth fought its way through the gum. Still slim enough, and the smart new coat she had bought ensured that the shabbier clothes underneath stayed relatively hidden. No longer did she wear smart clothes around the children: she had learnt her lesson after several ruined outfits.

She glanced up at the clock and knew she could no longer put off the inevitable.

‘Time to go, girls,’ she yelled and within seconds her cry was rewarded with another stampede on the stairs. She looked at the two girls who stopped in front of her, mirror images of one another, neat blonde plaits, bottle green tops with the golden logo of a cross on the right hand side and bottle green book bags, each with a label, one read ‘Lily Graham Class 1’ and the other ‘Daisy Graham Class 2.’ Swallowing the lump in her throat that was threatening to bring tears to her eyes, Melissa forced as much sunshine into her approving smile as she could manage. She turned and began the battle of getting Annie into her coat and then bundled into the buggy. The girls were in their jackets; same style, different colours- yellow for Daisy and white for Lily, a little predicable maybe - but it might help the teachers tell them apart.

Just as Melissa opened the front door, the whirlwind that was Jake steaming into his last year of secondary school stormed past them; bag slung over his shoulder, shirt already looking as if it has been worn for a term, tails flapping behind him as he ran.

‘Laters, losers!’ he yelled, his usual parting cry as he left the house these days. Raucous laughter from the twins, and Annie usually followed, but today was different. Today was the first day the twins were going to spend the whole day apart, separated by a classroom wall. Melissa could just hear the 830 passing as she ushered the children and the buggy, thankfully a lightweight one, out of the door. A fifteen minute walk lay ahead them, plenty of time to build up tension, trepidation and guilt.

They walked along quietly, each of them lost in their own thoughts, the girls wondering what life would be like without their other half, Annie babbling quietly to herself and Melissa wondering how to fill this day which already seemed to have spanned a week, her first full day without the company of the twins.

‘Will we hear the trains from school Mum?’ Daisy broke into Melissa’s thoughts.

‘I doubt it, you’ll be in class most of the time and I expect the playground will be too noisy.’

‘How will we know everything’s alright then?’

Melissa smiled as Lily joined in:’ Yes, cos you always say if we can hear them, everything’s ok, you know, cos if the trains going, nothing bad has happened.’

‘Guilty as charged,’ Melissa acknowledged. When Claude was working late the trains had helped the girls feel better. She had told them that one of the trains they could hear would be bringing their Daddy home; now the trains meant everything was OK. ‘Still, even if you can’t hear them, you’ll see them passing by now and again, but you should be doing what your teacher tells you!’

Daisy and Lily laughed, and seemed content with the answer. Always keen to have the last word it was Lily who nearly started the tears again; ‘I’ll think of you Mummy when I see the trains, and you’ll think of me won’t you -cos I’ll miss you’
Melissa simply nodded and as they crossed the road and entered the cul-de-sac where Holy Cross Primary School was situated, her sense of dread deepened. There were two classes in each year, but it seemed as if at least a million children were pouring through the gates. Melissa pushed the buggy into the playground; her self-assurance left her as they passed through. As she surveyed the playground she realised how vast it was. There were children racing around, greeting each other enthusiastically, some were trading the latest game cards and nearly all of them towered above her girls, some of them could look her in the eye she realised!
Sensing their Mother’s hesitance both girls welded themselves to Melissa’s legs in a single fluid movement. Despite knowing they would be OK, Melissa had to fight the urge to turn around and take them back home, keep them in the protective bubble the house offered and never allow them to grow up! She forced herself to look around the playground hoping to make eye contact with one of the other Mums, but they were all too busy talking to people they already knew, fussing over their children or talking into mobile phones. Not having the confidence to approach one of the knots of parents engrossed in conversation Melissa inched deeper into the playground, being careful to avoid getting in the way of some of the more exuberant games. Still she hadn’t spotted anyone like her, on their own with the words ‘new parent’ etched into the anxious frowns on their faces.

Her attention was drawn to a little girl, bigger than the twins but shouting angrily at her father. This man didn’t yet know it but Melissa had decided he was going to be her first grown-up friend at Holy Cross Primary School.

‘Come on girls’ she said thrusting the buggy before her and marching them across the playground, trying with all her might to act as if she and the twins belonged there; and had some idea of what they were doing.


‘I want my Muummmmyy!’

‘Sophie, come on now. Daddy’s here – we’ll go and find your friends and Mrs Wallis is such a nice teacher.’

‘I want my Mummmmmyy!’

The little girl, was unmoved by her father’s attempts to calm her down. A second girl standing on the other side of her Daddy was quietly holding onto his hand gripping it so hard that her knuckles were white, eyes wide and swaying ever so slightly.

‘Short straw, huh?’ Melissa said approaching the stricken man with a friendly smile. The smaller girl on the left looked about the same age as the twins and as Melissa approached she shrank further towards her Daddy if that was possible.

‘Something like that’ the man said gruffly; he didn’t look up so her smile went unreturned. The distraction of a new person had however stopped the older girl from screaming and yanking her Father’s arm. Curiosity always seemed to get the better of children, even those in mid-tantrum.

‘Hi,’ said Melissa, crouching down so she could make eye contact with the younger girl, ‘I’m Melissa, pleased to meet you...?’

The question hung in the air unanswered until the girl, having looked to her Daddy for approval, received the nod.

‘I’m Hope.’

‘Well, Hope, I just wanted to say how pretty I thought the bunches in your hair were. These are my little girls Lily and Daisy, they like having their hair in bunches too.’

Hope regarded the two girls with suspicion.

‘Why do you look the same?’ she blurted out eventually. The twins giggled; even at the age of four they were well used to the question having been asked it many times before.

‘Now Hope – don’t be rude,’ chided her Dad. Melissa noted the hypocrisy and couldn’t help thinking that perhaps he should be setting a better example. Maybe she had made a mistake coming over on a whim, presuming that he needed her help.

‘I’m sorry, I’m Doug,’ the man said, ‘First day back, you know how it is, Hope’s first day and Sophie’s first day in the juniors.’

Sophie had quietened during the exchange; her face, still blotchy from the recent tantrum was gradually resuming its usual colour and she seemed more at ease now.
At that moment a bell rang, first inside the school and then echoed by a hand-held brass bell that Melissa was sure was older than her. At the sound, groups of children raced across the playground to form neat bottle-green crocodiles, the first day excitement ensuring that most were eager to get in and get started on a new year. The twins stayed beside Melissa; they had to wait until the older children had disappeared into school and then they too would be summoned.

‘Go on Sophie – look, there’s Megan,’ said Doug, encouraging his eldest daughter to join the correct crocodile.

‘I’m not going. I want my Mummy,’ the girl’s eyes flashed and colour bloomed back into her cheeks, demonstrating her defiance.

‘You know that’s not going to happen,’ Doug replied to his daughter in such a level tone and with such self control that Melissa was amazed.

‘It’s not fair!’

‘I know,’ he agreed with her, ‘I miss her too, Sophs – but school will help, it’ll make the days go quicker.’

Melissa could see that Sophie wasn’t convinced by her father’s words, but head down accepting the battle was lost for now, Sophie allowed herself to be led away by her classmate Megan, who held her hand consolingly - as if she, too, had seen this routine before.

‘Where’s your Mum, then?’ Melissa heard Daisy asking Hope. She never missed a trick that one, and so nosy, thought Melissa. She opened her mouth to reprimand her but was stopped from doing so by Hope’s reply;

‘She’s dead- a car did it.’

Melissa looked at Doug and the grief she saw etched in his furrowed brow and his eyes now struggling to hold back tears confirmed that the girl was telling the truth. Her simple words having the impact of a mental car crash on her father, uttered so honestly and matter-of-factly left her speechless. Melissa didn’t know what to say, where to look or even how to re-assure the twins that everything was alright; she could feel their eyes boring into her, waiting for her comforting smile.
Fortune intervened...


‘Have I missed it? Have they gone in?’

A well-dressed woman dragging a boy behind her seemed to be addressing her questions to Melissa.

‘Do you mean Reception?’

‘Yes! Oliver,’ at this point she pulled the boy in front of her, in the same movement encircling him protectively as she did so, ‘Oliver is in class two and – well, I’m running late.’

‘Ah, same class as Daisy.’ Daisy, ever confident stepped forward and shook hands with Oliver who looked horrified to be confronted with a girl. He shrank away as though Daisy had some sort of germs on her.

‘Oh! Twins! How cute’ said the new arrival. Melissa’s heart sunk a little. She knew twins weren’t that common but they were still people with feelings, not lapdogs that performed tricks just because they looked alike. ‘I’m Holly by the way.’

‘Melissa,’ said Melissa and shook hands with her, not wanting to be rude.

‘Doug’ said Doug, his eyes watching the line Sophie was in, enter the school before making eye contact with Holly.

Just then a teacher called the parents and children to attention. Names were called and soon two new lines were formed on the playground. The smiling enthusiastic teachers urged the children to wave goodbye to the anxious faces trained on their every move. It wasn’t long before the children were out of sight, the parents suddenly bereft began to drift away; some with blotchy faces or dabbing handkerchiefs at their eyes. Most left quickly in the same small groups that they had been standing in before. Only three remained on the playground in the positions in which they stood; Holly, Melissa and Doug.

At the very instant Oliver had waved goodbye to his mother and disappeared from view, Holly dissolved into a puddle of tears. Not wanting to appear unkind, Melissa and Doug stayed with her. They wanted to help resolve this unexpected outpouring of emotion. Doug, his children safely ensconced in school, began to shift restlessly, not knowing the right course of action in this sudden awkward situation; he did nothing except stare at his shoes. He was visibly tense and Melissa could practically feel his desire for the white lines in the playground to roll back and swallow him.

‘Coffee?’ Melissa yelled. For a few seconds the sobbing stopped and Holly nodded her agreement.

‘Doug?’ Unable to ignore the ever so slightly wheedling tone in Melissa’s voice he nodded. He had no excuses to allow him to escape and nowhere better to be. He had been telling himself from the beginning of term that Hope’s new start was a new start for him as well. For the girls’ sake he knew that he needed to make friends; many of the parents in Sophie’s class had kept their distance after he had lost Sally, feeling awkward themselves. As a result Sophie had missed out on the play-dates and parties that would have come her way had the tragedy not happened. This was his chance to make things right for Hope and might even make good some of the damage caused to Sophie. Time to unwrap the cotton wool from the children, let people into their lives again and take a chance.

The three of them trailed off to the gate, they were the last to leave and Melissa was amazed how empty the playground seemed now that the children were in their classrooms and the assorted parents, grandparents and childminders had ebbed away to jobs, housework or shopping.

‘My car’s just over there,’ Holly pointed to a new looking 4x4. Doug visibly blanched; Melissa, who was well aware of Annie’s capabilities of making a mess, was also reluctant to climb aboard.

‘May as well walk – save paying for the car park, your car’ll be OK here for a couple of hours.’

Doug’s shoulders dropped as he realised that he wasn’t going to be forced to travel in a strange car; he usually relied on his feet or public transport since he had lost Sally. Holly was still struggling to compose herself, truth be told driving probably wasn’t really the best move in the circumstances.


As they headed towards town Melissa realised that unwittingly she seemed to have been nominated person in charge. Doug and Holly followed her into town and into a coffee shop, chosen simply because the other two in the high street had been victims of Annie being bored. Having ordered coffees and a cookie to keep Annie occupied they found a table near the window.

‘I’m sorry,’ Holly began, ‘I’m sure you’ve both got better things to be doing than making sure some mad woman doesn’t present a danger to herself or others!’ Doug and Melissa looked up and as their eyes met and they realised that they didn’t have anywhere else to be at that particular moment they all laughed.

‘It’s a big thing losing your baby to school,’ said Melissa, moving forward and patting Holly’s shoulder. She couldn’t help noticing that the jacket was very good quality and must have come from a shop a cut above from her usual haunts.

‘At least your little boy went in,’ Doug broke in. ‘I thought I was going to have to shove Sophie through the door. You know if it hadn’t been for you... sorry, I seem to have forgotten your name...’


‘If it hadn’t been for you, Melissa, I think she’d still be screaming in the playground, she misses her Mum so much.’

‘Oh, where is she?’ Holly asked, and Melissa remembered that she had missed the earlier conversation between the girls.

‘Dead! Car accident! Eighteen months ago,’ the starkness of the statement stunted the conversation. All three of them took long sips from their respective coffees, their eyes fixed firmly on their cups, except for Melissa who was watching Annie, ever on the alert for the onset of behaviour likely to cause embarrassment. As they each took another long swig of coffee, the silence ensured that you could practically hear their brains ticking over, searching for something uncontroversial to say-

‘So, Melissa-‘

‘Call me Lis, everyone does.’

Ok, so Lis, you must be busy with the twins and this little cutie- pie?’ They all looked at Annie who gave them a big, chocolate filled grin.

‘You could say that; I also have a teenage son.’

‘Wow! Respect!’ Doug chimed in.

Holly’s eyes had once again acquired a glassy look.

‘I would have liked a big family, but Oliver – well, he’s my one and only.’

Wordlessly the other two both realised why Holly had been so upset. Oliver going to school was a reminder that Holly now had no-one else to make demands on her time. If they were honest, coffee had provided them all with a welcome distraction, ensuring they could put off the time they had to return to near empty houses.

The conversation had faded again and they all seemed to have realised that they were supping coffee with two strangers with whom they were only connected by the fact that their children had started at the same school at the same day.

‘So what does everyone do?’ Lis asked, ‘I’m a stay-at-home mum but I used to be an architect. We were lucky enough to be able to build our own home before the twins arrived and I gave up. Hopefully once Annie’s at school I’ll freelance, see what happens.’

‘That’s quite funny – we’re in similar lines of work– I’m an estate agent,’ said Holly. She laughed as both Doug and Melissa simultaneously gave a pantomime hiss. ‘Actually, we’re going through a tough patch at the moment.’

‘I can imagine,’ said Doug. ‘Well, I don’t work, except for the occasional stint in the local hospital radio station. They tried so hard to... to save my Sally. I’m having a break trying to keep the girls grounded- they need someone around. I’ve always worked with children though, I was working as a social worker for bereaved children- how ironic...’ his voice trailed off, his thoughts returning to past, better times.

The conversation lulled for a third time and they were all rapidly coming to the dregs at the bottom of their cups. As they all studied them intently the aromas of coffee yet to be drunk filled their nostrils, the sound of cups being filled and the murmur of conversation filled the gaps of their own silence. Lis shuffled her feet and started fussing around Annie, until her attention was caught by Holly.

‘I just want to say thanks to you both; I don’t really know anyone else, you’re the first people I had the courage to talk to, and the only ones who seemed friendly, all the other people seemed to be in groups that weren’t taking newbies.’

‘No problem, I think I was as nervous as the twins about meeting new people. I thought you might all be a bunch of loonies.’

Doug, who had been quiet during this exchange, busy twiddling his cup around the saucer finally spoke; ‘I think I’d qualify as a loony, I have to admit I was glad you came over, Lis, I was at a bit of a loose end with Sophie being so unco-operative.’

‘Well,’ Lis replied, ‘I think I should thank Sophie, if it hadn’t been for her I would probably still be in the playground staring at my feet. I’ll keep an eye out for you both, we can help one another through this rollercoaster called school.’ Lis concluded as Holly suddenly dived into her cavernous bag, returning with a mobile phone attached to her ear. She muttered something about being stuck in traffic and blushed as the sound of the coffee machine went off nearby, quickly she snapped the phone shut and grabbed her coat;

‘Got to run, I’m meant to be doing a viewing, see you later,’ she gabbled and raced towards the door as the others waved her off.

‘I’d better be going as well,’ said Melissa pushing herself to her feet, ‘before they start charging me for carpet cleaning.’

Doug followed her gaze to Annie’s face now completely coated with several layers of chocolate chips and mushed cookie.

‘Well sweetie, you certainly know how to enjoy your food’ he said to her, finally cracking a genuine smile as Annie rewarded him with an excited squeal.

Face wiped, and Annie safely deposited in her buggy, Melissa could now see the worst of the mess. As a member of staff was rapidly approaching to clean away their cups, Doug and Melissa agreed it was time to make a strategic exit. They fell into step as they walked back towards the school. Doug lived within five minutes of the school and as they neared his home he thanked Melissa again for helping him with Sophie.

‘I didn’t really do anything, you know,’ she said waving away unwarranted praise.

‘You know, it must be hard on your own, any time you need help, just shout in my direction.’

‘I will,’ Doug promised but Melissa wasn’t sure he meant what he said as much as she meant her offer of help. She walked the rest of the way home alone reflecting on her strange her morning. She had made two new friends in a playground of complete strangers, comforted one of them, although she was sure there was something else going on with Holly. Doug seemed unfathomable. Still, at least it had taken her mind off her own problems. She neared home and as she did she could hear the sound of a train clackety-clacking, she put her hand to her breast and hoped the twins could hear the train too.

The girls were full of their first day when they rushed headlong into their Mothers arms. Pictures drawn, counting to ten, lots of new friends, that left Lis feeling for a while as if her head would spin all the way off as she turned it left and then right to hear the twins competing accounts of their days. Clearly competition for her attention was going to be fiercer now they were having separate experiences. As they walked home in the autumn sunshine, cars buzzing by and the twins jabbering non-stop and Annie babbling away to her favourite teddy Lis mused how good life could be when things were kept this simple. She had managed to complete her household chores in record time despite the unplanned coffee trip. After a summer filled with children, noise and as many parks as they could cram in on sunny days the house had suddenly seemed a lot bigger without the twins. Lis had picked up the debris the twins had left in their wake, clothes they had discarded, toys they’d left where they’d finished with them and DS games missing their cases were returned to the safety of their plastic protective houses.

She felt their absence once she had finished the washing, piling it up ready to go into little piles and caught herself about to yell for Jake, Lily and Daisy, instead she shunted their piles along to a corner of the utility room. Ironic really she thought, she had designed the perfect family home, study, a conservatory that got the sun during the day, a playroom (not that it ever seemed to hold much of the twins paraphanalia,) a suite for Jake so had some privacy and a suite for her and Claude, and a large shared bedroom for Lily and Daisy. Annie had the room next to her parents and there were even a couple of spare rooms, partly in preparation for when the twins no longer had such a special bond that they felt they needed to be in the spare room. The large family room right in the centre of the house seemed to dwarf them and Lis had found herself pleased to see the clock hitting two thirty so she could busy herself getting ready to collect the girls.

As she has been waiting for the twins both Doug and Holly had joined her. There was still some awkwardness, feet were shuffled, hair was played with and Holly repetitively smoothed her clothes. Despite this, they still felt the bond of standing together, a threesome, safety in numbers. As they stood there and the various perfumes mixed in the air and the sound of anxious parents filled the playground.

‘Do you think they’ve been OK?’ Holly asked the others adding to the general buzz of conversation.

‘They’d call if they needed us.’ Doug had said; ‘Trust me, they’re not backwards in coming forwards. When I sent Sophie in – a week after, well you know, they sent her home every day for a fortnight because she was crying, what did they expect? She was grieving and I sent her to school for normality.’

‘O...K...’ said Holly uncertainly, Doug seemed quick to fly off the handle, she had edged away a little further from him and nearer to Melissa. Not as insensitive as his gruff exterior and deep voice would lead people to believe he realised he had overstepped the mark in a fledgling friendship.

‘Sorry, I meant to reassure you, not have a go, it’s just well, I was a little upset about it.’

‘No problem’ Holly had smiled and it was that moment that all the children were released from their orderly lines and into the freedom of the playground, the majority of them hurling themselves straight into their parents waiting arms.

When they had reached home the twins had demanded drinks and food. Jake had arrived not long afterwards and followed a similar route to those that had preceded them – to the fridge. He did listen patiently to the twins clamour as they rushed to tell him about their teachers, friends and how many different coloured books they had.

The twins refused to change out of their school uniform, they both wanted to wear it for as long as possible. Jake on the other hand, was changed as soon as he had managed to extricate himself from the twins. He then managed to find a myriad of excuses not to do his homework, he felt it was unfair to have been given homework on the very first day of term. Melissa tried her best to find out what he had been doing and even what his timetable was like but he wasn’t in the mood to talk about something he regarded as a necessary evil;

‘How was school?’


‘How is your new teacher? Did you like her?


‘What do you want for tea?’


‘Can I have pasta Daddy? With tomato sauce?’ Hope piped up earning a scowl from her sister. The door slamming indicated that Sophie had left to go to her bedroom.


Blaming her Dad for her Mother leaving them had become Sophie’s favourite past-time – as the eldest she expected her sister to do the same. After all, she was three years older than Hope and she was in the juniors. Hope was only an infant – all she did all day was colouring in, counting to ten and nursery rhymes. At least she could read and write, she had a much better view of what was happening – and clearly her Dad made her Mum go out that night to that party. Mummy had been tired, she’d said she didn’t want to go, she’d prefer an early night in front of the television, but he- he had said;

‘You should go. I can handle the kids, go on, dress up and have a great time, you deserve it.’

So she’d gone because of him. He’d made their tea while Mummy had got dressed up and put make-up on. She had smelt nice when she had come to say goodnight to them before she left, she’d used some of her special perfume that she’d yelled at them for spraying on their teddies. Daddy had even taken a picture of her before she’d left, a copy of that photo, with her Mummy looking so pretty had now become one of Sophie’s most treasured possessions. She had made a frame for it herself, yellow reflecting her mum’s favourite colours. She’d decorated it with dragonflies in the top corners and frogs on lily pads in the bottom. Her mum’s favourite season had been spring and she would walk the girls to their local park to show them. If they were really lucky they would spot a dragon fly or two dancing through the leaves, sunlight shining from their translucent wings.

Dad had tried to take them there this spring, to Mum’s place – but it wasn’t the same. Sophie only wanted to do this special thing with her Mummy. She’d got into terrible trouble for running off and hiding in the wooden playhouse but she didn’t care. She hadn’t even cried when Daddy had shouted at her. He’d told her she must always stay with him and all she could think while he was saying it is that he had sent her Mummy away and now he was making her stay with him. She wished she could have stayed hidden, she wished he had never found her at all.

If she was honest though she was scared, she didn’t want to love Daddy because he scared her. When he thought she and Hope were asleep she could hear him crying. He would sob into his pillow, a couple of times she had sneaked into his room and stood there as the bedclothes shook with her grief her father was pouring out into the sheets. He cried for longer than when she’d fallen out of a tree and hurt her arm, she’d had to go for hospital for that and she had cried a lot so Daddy must have really hurt his heart. He’d told her it was broken and she knew from school that hearts had to work properly. She didn’t want Daddy just to leave her like Mummy had but she also wanted Mummy back, and she needed Hope to be on her side to help her, to stay with her and make sure they were always together. Maybe if what Daddy said was true, when he was crying, Mummy would come back from sleeping with the angels.
Daddy talked to Mummy, she’d heard him telling her how well she had been doing at school, how he was worried about Hope finding friends at such a big school, (which was just silly because Holy Cross wasn’t big at all!) most importantly though he said he’d do anything if she’d come back. After weighing everything up Sophie had decided that the best way forward was to be naughty – then Mummy would have to come back and help Daddy, she wouldn’t let Daddy suffer. She knew Daddy would forgive her when Mummy was back and she apologised to him and told him why she’d been so naughty. She turned back over on her bed and stared at the ceiling at the dolphins stencilled on, Mummy had done it and she smiled as she looked at them.


‘Dinner Sophs’ Doug called.

He was used to her ignoring him now, after all, it was becoming commonplace, but he had no idea how to get through to her. He had considered sending her to see a counsellor, but he knew most of them as they had been his colleagues and the pity in the voice on the other end of the telephone demonstrated that Sophie may not be able to get the objectivity she deserved. They had driven to a clinic the other side of the town, and the first person they had seen was a girl, not much older than Sophie come out of the door tears coursing down her cheeks.

‘Please don’t make me go in there.’ Her small voice had said gripping his hand and the car door. He’s looked into her eyes – ready to persuade her that it was in her best interest, that she could tell the nice lady anything and everything that she couldn’t tell him. Her pale, pinched face with its brown pools wide and scared had silenced him, the words stuck at the back of his throat. He’d hugged her tightly, trying to tell her with his cuddle that he was there for her, would help her through this terrible time and then he’s started the car and thrown it into reverse.

‘I’ll be good!’ she’d said as they’d arrived home. A promise that currently she showed no sign of keeping.

‘Sophie...Now!’ Doug yelled again- a thump as then a door opening before she appeared at the top of the stairs. She looked down at him and stomped down each of the stairs slowly and deliberately. She sat at the table and waited while a bowl full of pasta was placed in front of her, she took a couple of mouthfuls and declared herself finished. Over the last few difficult months Doug had learned to pick his battles carefully and in this instance eating all her dinner wasn’t worth fighting over. He was well aware that at Sophie ate when she was hungry and allowing her to have school dinner ensured that most days she had a full dinner. Hope dutifully munched her way through her pasta as Doug attempted to find out about her first day at school. When bedtime came he was thankful. He had no idea how to get through to the girls, how to help them. The sense of responsibility weighed heavily on him. He’d been so desperate to get the social worker assigned to help him and the girls to leave them alone, so sure that he could manage with his bereavement training, that he’d convinced everyone he was coping. Now the idea of asking for help, having to jump through hoops, risking even more disruption to the girl’s lives was impossible to him.

He spent the evening as he had spent the evening before that, with a glass of red wine. Then he had a chat with Sally before drifting off where he sat until Hope climbed onto his lap having had another of her nightmares. He took her back to bed and settled her, shushing her until she fell asleep. He went to his own bed and slept, all too soon the alarm clock called him from his dreams to begin once again at the bottom of an uphill struggle.