I drift now, from doorway to doorway, gazing through windows into the warmly lit houses, all changed. We all do, on occasion. But it wasn’t always like this, this life spent in the shadows. Once there was a place for me. Once I was welcome.
‘What is it? I’m busy.’
‘I can’t find my shoes.’
‘You’re old enough to look after yourself now, just look in the usual places, under the bed perhaps or by the back door.’
‘But mummy, I can’t find them.’
‘Right, I’ll do everything then’ and with this she rushed upstairs and burst through my doorway, an impatient look upon her face. Without saying a thing she searched my room with a thoroughness that made me proud, she was very good at being a mummy. She knew how to search a room.
‘Here they are, silly.’
She had found them, at the back of my wardrobe under a pile of jumpers. Now I remembered where they were, but it was too late. The kettle was boiling and the smell of burning toast was wafting up to us.
‘Now look what you’ve done,’ she said, and ran out of the room and downstairs.
I could hear her scraping the toast and dared not go down until I was called. It wasn’t my fault though, I really couldn’t find my shoes. I finished dressing and brushed my hair, taking my time, waiting for the call.
‘Sarah, come down now and have something to eat, you need to be off in a minute.’
‘OK,’ I shouted and with that I ran across the landing, leaping two steps at a time down the stairs, through the hallway and into the kitchen.
‘For Christ’s sakes slow down!’
I didn’t answer, but sheepishly sat at the kitchen table and munched on the charred bread. It was OK, I liked burnt toast. I sipped at my tea and watched mummy doing stuff, clearing surfaces, wiping things, and then, buttering bread as she made my sandwiches.
I thought she was beautiful, with long brown hair, soft lips and large, gentle pale green eyes. I used to spend Saturday evenings curled up beside her, watching a film or two. Often I would find myself shifting my gaze from the TV to her face and I would look intently into her eyes. There was so much to see, wisps of green imaginatively laced about the stark blackness of her pupil.
‘Right, here’s your lunch, make sure you eat it and here is a pound just in case.’
In case of what I was unsure but I was certain to find a use for it. ‘Thank you mummy,’ I said, packing my bag, slinging it casually over my shoulder and I rushed off to the front door.
‘Don’t I even get a kiss.’
‘Oh, sorry, mummy,’ and I retraced my steps, tilting my head back as she bent towards me, her breath hot on my cheek, her slightly damp lips leaving an impression on my skin.
‘Byeee.’ I said and slammed the door behind me.
I waited at the gate for Jenny. She was late. In the mortar of the large redbrick gatepost there were gaps, caves, perhaps filled with small things living a life that we can’t see. My imagination led me to the centre of this tiny world, daydreaming away the minutes until I heard ‘Hiya.’ It was Jenny and she was running towards me. ‘Hey, you’re late,’ I said.
‘Sorry, mum couldn’t find my shoes.’
‘Really, I had the same thing happen, mum got a bit wound up and burnt the toast.’ I laughed although really I shouldn’t have, not fair on mummy.
We walked briskly towards the bus stop, kicking bottle tops and twigs, avoiding the puddles. Jenny was a year older than me. She knew so much more, well, stuff. She was pretty too, and the boys seemed very much to like her.
‘So, are you gonna ask him today?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘You know what I mean, are you going to ask him?’
‘Mark, you mean? Don’t be silly. I don’t want him near me. His hair is so curly,’ and with this Jenny laughed and skipped on ahead.
Now I am shunned. If ever they catch sight of me they run, they seek the company of others. I have done nothing to deserve such treatment. None of us have. We are different although I can’t quite understand why. We live separately, that’s true, but do we look so unfamiliar as to affect those who live in the light so?
I heard a screech. A howling that grew, sending a shiver through my body, from my feet to the top of my head. I was flying. Spinning. For just a short moment I saw Jenny turn and her face. I remember her face.
‘I, help… mummy…’
‘Oh Sarah, stay still, breathe deeply, oh god.’
‘I’ll go and fetch her.’
Jenny ran off and left me. She left me. But I was not alone for long. First I could see a girl standing over me, then a boy and then another. I didn’t recognise them and remember thinking that this was unusual as I knew all of the children in the village. They were about the same age as me but I had never seen them at school. They scared me. There was something about them, perhaps their eyes which were just staring at me. I tried to get up but I couldn’t. I just wanted my mum. I could feel that my breathing was wrong, too short and too fast, gasping.
Then a man came and he gazed at my face. He touched me, laying a hand on my forehead, then said ‘I am a first aider, don’t worry, my name is Peter, try to calm down.’
I couldn’t answer. I was starting to feel cold, dizzy. I was trying to understand, understand what had happened but to this day I can make no sense of it all. I could feel something moving. Peter was moving me, feeling me. My legs, arms and body. His touch felt deep, as if his hands were sinking into me. I didn’t want Peter touching me. I wanted mummy.
The girl that I had seen, just after Jenny had gone to fetch mummy, she returned. I could see her clearly, squatting beside me, looking at me. She moved closer and I could see that her eyes were not like mummy’s. They were dark. I liked her though; she was definitely someone to trust. I think that I must have looked startled when she raised her arm and held out her hand. I had tried to move before but couldn’t. I tried again and it was easy. I could move again. I grasped her hand and she pulled me up. She lifted me so easily. It just seemed like the right thing to do, to walk off with her.
After a good few paces I turned. We had managed to walk a long way. Looking back from the top end of the street I could see quite a commotion. Peter was pushing at the floor, there was a car parked up on the pavement with steam hissing out of the front of it and I could see mummy and Jenny running.
But the girl tugged and I knew that I had to go with her.
The girl and the boys are mine now. We live together. Mummy has moved away and Jenny too. The people that I knew have all gone. But we stay.