Waiting For Light
The snow is falling much heavier now, a vanilla softness on the ground. I won’t go much further. Silly me, forgetting to bring my hat and gloves. Mum’s going to be well cross. You’ll catch a death of cold, she’ll say. But I won’t stay long; just long enough for them to realise. They’ll know then that arguing isn’t important, not when they have a daughter missing. They’ll see how much time they’ve wasted on accusing and remember what is was like to be happy. Then it’ll all be ok again. I know it.
I can’t pinpoint the moment it started. I can’t say it was when such and such happened. It’s been more of a blackness slowly smothering us, like it was lurking in the corners all along waiting to creep into our lives. Just like those spiders that skulk in the corner of your bedroom.
Dad works away, travels a lot. He says it’s the only way to get the business off the ground and that Mum should understand. He says it won’t be forever. Mum stays at home, always has done since having my big brother. Then I came along. A real shock I’ve heard them say, although they do call me their miracle mistake. I quite like that. It’s like I’ve had a purpose from the beginning.
I remember being happy. Like really happy. Everything just as it should be. Mum and Dad rowed sometimes, but that’s normal isn’t it? Ceri says her mum and dad are at each other all the time, shouting and smashing stuff. She’s probably exaggerating though, she usually does. Right drama queen she is.
But then things changed. It became quieter. Less arguing. Just quiet. That’s worse. No one saying anything. My brother’s never at home, always round his friend’s house, so I have no one to ask.
Sometimes at night, I lie on my bedroom floor in the dark trying to hear them. Do you ever do that? Really not wanting to know something, but can’t help yourself finding out anyway? It’s crazy mad I know. But I still do it. I listen hard and try to understand.
Last summer I heard Mum say, ‘After we get back I want you to pack your bag and go. Not now, I won’t ruin this holiday for Elsie, but as soon as we get back, that’s it. I can’t do this anymore.’
I was only seven then. We went on our holiday, in the caravan. The best week of every year. We had a great time and I forgot all about the blackness as I played on the beach. In the evenings, Dad took me to the fairground and Mum stayed in the caravan reading. We’d get back really late, like ten or something, and the caravan would be dark and we’d giggle because we knew Mum hadn’t gone to bed, but had stuck the match through the wick of the gas lights and burnt it, and would be sitting there with her little torch trying to see the words. She’d be angry to start, but once Dad had the lights on again, she’d laugh with us.
After the holiday, everything was better. Dad didn’t stay away as much and there was talking. Then one Saturday it all started again. We were going out for the day, me, Mum and Dad. I was in the back of the car ready and Dad got in and started up. I thought Mum was taking her time with her make-up and that Dad was getting impatient. But he reversed the car right out of the drive and kept going. I didn’t say anything. I felt too silly to say, ‘We’ve forgotten Mum.’
On we drove until we got to Shentworth. We parked and Dad still hadn’t said a word. He asked where I wanted to go and I shrugged. He smiled and we went to the toy shop.
‘Go on, go and choose something,’ he said.
I walked around, uneasy, unsure. I picked up a few things and put them back.
‘Have you chosen?’ he asked when he came to find me. I shook my head and he frowned, lines burrowing his forehead. ‘A teddy, you like teddies. Let’s choose a teddy.’
Sometimes I think Dad’s forgotten that I’ve grown up. Even when I remind him that I’m in Year Four, he just kind of looks blank. But I suppose that doesn’t really mean anything to him. I don’t think he’s ever been to parents’ evening. He doesn’t do stuff like that.
The little black puppy sat in my lap in the car. It had two beady little black eyes and looked like the saddest soft toy I’d ever seen. I fought back the tears and tried not to sniff cos I didn’t want Dad to know. Later I put that puppy in the bottom of the chest and I never looked at it again.
On the way home, we stopped at the Halfway Inn. The open fire was blazing and the cheery chatter should have been welcoming, but it felt all wrong. Dad ordered a sandwich and a coke for me. The thick bread stuck in my throat and Dad must have forgotten that I hate coke. Dad didn’t eat.
When we got home, Mum was sitting in the dark. No burnt wicks this time. She muttered ‘straight to bed’ then forgot to come up to say goodnight. I think that was the worst day of my life.
Nothing was said after. No one explained why Mum hadn’t come. I never asked and they never said. Strange isn’t it, how everyone knows it’s there but choose not to see it. Mum smiles but the redness around her eyes can’t hide it and Dad’s laughter never reaches his eyes.
Sometimes, at night, I sit at my window and stare at the crab apple tree at the bottom of the garden. You see there’s a door on the trunk, half way up, no bigger than my thumb. I once tried to tell my brother but he laughed and said there’s no such thing as fairies and Santa. Well, I’m not stupid. I know there’s no Santa, because if there was he would bring me the present I wish for wouldn’t he? But fairies? I don’t know. Why else would there be a door on our tree?
Anyway, I sit with my eyes closed and wish myself to the fairy kingdom inside my crab apple tree and I make little wooden trinkets with the Crabble Fairies. I imagine leaving a beautiful gift for Mum to find and she’ll think it’s from Dad, and she’ll realise that he does love her really and the blackness will go away and the laughter will come back. You probably think I’m stupid too. I know how it sounds. But it doesn’t stop me.
I didn’t go to school yesterday, I wasn’t feeling too good. I lay on my bed reading and I could see Mum unpacking Dad’s suitcase to do the washing. Dad’s like that. Then she suddenly sat on the end of the bed and started crying, sobbing into her hands. I wanted to cross the landing, sit next to her and hold her hand and tell her everything’s going to be ok. But it was like I was frozen to my bed, my whole body too heavy to move.
I don’t know how long we stayed like this, me and Mum. Eventually she went downstairs and I breathed. I stayed in my room waiting. I don’t know what Mum found in that suitcase, but I knew something bad was going to happen. You just know, don’t you? It’s like something shifts, like the air changes or something and it makes you feel sick.
Dad came home really late and I must have fallen asleep for a while because when I woke up they were already shouting.
‘How could you? How could you lie to me? All this time I confronted you, and you denied it.’
‘I’m telling the truth. Mike asked me to bring them in case Angie found them. You know what he’s like. Angie’s told him the next time will be the last, but that doesn’t stop him. Anyway I forgot all about them. Why would I leave them there for you to find? Besides, look, they haven’t even been opened.’
‘You liar! How many have there been Sean? There’s been no action in our bed for months so they’re certainly not for us are they?’
‘Will you just listen. I’ve told you they’re not mine. There have been no others. I know things are strained between us, but I wouldn’t do that. It’s tough for you, with me being away so much … and maybe it’s coming back? The depression -’
‘Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare turn this on me. This isn’t my fault. Just go Sean. Go to whoever she is.’
‘You’re being irrational. There’s no point talking to you when you’re like this. I’m going to sleep in the back bedroom. I’ll be leaving early in the morning. We’ll talk when I get back tomorrow night. In the meantime phone Mike. Ask him. He’ll tell you.’
I listened as Dad climbed the stairs heavily and closed the door behind him. I heard Mum crying, deep heavy sobs. I cried too. Silent tears soaking my pillow.
When I woke up this morning I decided to fix this. No one else is going to. I’ve thought about it all day. I told Mum that Ceri asked me for tea and that I could walk over there and her mum would bring me home about nine because it’s the weekend tomorrow. She said ok, but never looked at me.
I had to leave quickly, that’s why I’ve forgotten my hat and gloves. But we never get much snow. It’s sure to stop soon. Like I said, I won’t go much further. When I get to the woods I’ll sit and wait and I’ll look at my breath in the air for a while and then when it’s getting dark, I’ll go home. I know Mum and Dad will be worried sick, they’ll probably call the police and everything and I’ll be in major trouble, but it’ll pass and I won’t be living in the blackness anymore because they will have realised their mistakes and we’ll be happy. I bet we’ll go on holiday next summer even though Dad sold the caravan. He’ll probably buy another one, one that has an electric hook-up so Mum can do the lights.
The sky looks full to bursting but I’ll be alright. I don’t need to stay long which is just as well ‘cos I can’t even feel my fingers and toes. I can’t see the houses anymore but I know my way. Mum always tells me not to come up the fields by myself. She says I’ll get lost in the woods or fall into a ditch and break my leg. She’s a right worrier like that.
The darkness comes quickly. I’ve no idea what time it is and I don’t have a torch. I didn’t think. My footsteps have been covered up but I know I only have to go down to get home. It’s really slippery and I keep losing my footing. Every time I fall the snow soaks through my clothes. Mum’s probably right about catching a death of cold.
Again I slip and I try to grab something but there’s only snow. I’ve hit something hard and pain shoots through me. I can’t think right. I can’t move and I hurt and the snow still falls its softness on me.
But they’ll come soon and there’ll be light again …