Any comments on how to improve the characterisation are more than welcome!
I had leant on the newspaper so long my forearms were stained black with the print. I rubbed them absentmindedly as I continued to stare at the article on my dining room table. My reaction to the story had more than slightly heighten my heart rate; the hairs on my arms were pointing skywards and I could feel the prickling heat in my cheeks. Why? Why had I reacted so strongly to this article, despite the numerous stories that had hit front page news in the past year that were in the same vein?
Something is not right.
It was there in my mind playing over and over. It was the reason my body had reacted as if it had been thrown into an oven at 200 degrees. I felt claustrophobic; my breathing became shallow; beads of sweat gathered quickly along my upper lip. I licked them, freeing them from their dry skin casing. I knew that each of these bodily reactions meant I could only be feeling one thing: fear. The fear had been intensifying inside me ever since the news stories began. It wasn’t that these “new” children were anything to be afraid of, if anything they should be more afraid of us – in most cases since; in fact there had been evidence to support this theory.
No, what was steadily growing inside of me was not the fear of the actual children; it was the new phrasing that had begun to appear in the newspapers that referred to them as: “remote-children” and even one tabloid called them “lab kids.” There was only one direction this was heading; it was just a matter of how long it was going to take to reach the steps of Holliwell.
The kitchen clock ticked, filling the silence as I continued to stare at the article on the table. Well there wasn’t much I could do about it sat here was there? The world can’t wrong itself in a day, as my mother used to say. I sighed, avoiding the inevitable was my speciality apparently, and I think Lea was heading in the same direction.
Lea! That was the jump start back to reality that I needed. Focusing on the clock for the first time since picking up the paper I realised the time. 7.25am: school!
I jumped from my well-worn seated position and took the stairs two at a time; each foot fall echoing throughout the house: “you sound like a bleeding elephant,” a fleeting memory that never fails to leave me whenever I get to this part of the house. It’s funny how rooms can hold memories of those closest to you; it’s as if their essence is ingrained in the walls, her voice held in the fabric of the furniture. It is the only reason I moved back to the family home in Holliwell: I can’t leave her behind. The pain in the arse that she was does not negate the fact that my mother was the best role model I ever had, and if I set just half as good an example to Lea as my mother did to me, then I’ll be a happy woman!
“Lea? Lea honey are you awake?” I knocked quietly on her bedroom door, the outside completely emblazoned with her latest craze: rodents. Tens of them in various positions with numerous backgrounds covered each inch of her once white door. It made me cringe whenever I thought too much about them, I thank god every day, since this new craze began, that she hasn’t asked for a pet mouse. At least not yet.
I slowly edged open the door, the purple curtains still shut tight; only allowing a minimal amount of light to cascade over her immaculate room. I knew I was lucky to have such an organised little girl. How long it would last was anyone’s idea, but I keep my fingers crossed. Each toy, teddy or magazine had a specific place; whether on display on a simple shelf or in on an open bookcase, Lea had managed to retain that new gleam that so often fades once the item leaves the shop. I stepped further into the room, caught by the only item out of place, her multi coloured toy rabbit. A present, or should I say the only present, from her father lay tightly clasped in her delicate fingers. Each slender finger turned white by the intense grip she held to the teddy.
“Lea honey, whatever’s the matter?” Her deep brown eyes are wide like that of a deer caught in a car’s headlight. She stares fixedly at her wardrobe where her freshly pressed uniform hangs ready to be worn.
I make my way towards her bed where she cowers in the corner holding her now squished teddy firmly against her chest. As I sit on the bed I hear her softly mumble, “I’m sick, I can’t go.” I sigh deeply, this was only to be expected; I should have anticipated this.
“Come on now what did we discuss last night?”
“I can’t remember.” Her response isn’t sullen, far from it, her words seem to escape her mouth before she realises. As she recognises too late the words have been spoken, she buries her face deep in her strangled teddy.
“Lea, its ok to forget things, but what is not ok is missing your first day at school.” I brush her thick fringe out of her face and gently lift her chin up so that she is looking at me. I know she hates it, her eyes shift uncomfortably around my face trying to avoid my eyes.
“Because you need to meet new people, learn new things, have fun!” I exclaim. Come on Alice it’s not a bleeding sales pitch this is your daughter! I silently scold myself before continuing.
“What I mean is, school is where we learn about the world and what you want to become when you’re older so that you can get a great job and look after mummy.” I go for the joke approach.
“But you don’t need looking after.”
“Not know, but when I’m older I might do.”
“Why? Are you going to get ill?” I was heading for dangerous territory, I couldn’t frighten her even more; I changed tact.
“Of course not, I only want you to be happy and do well. Look I know how you feel; the first day is always scary even for adults.”
“Even for you?”
“So you’re scared today too?”
“I am a little nervous about my first day definitely.” Wow, I pause. Until this very moment, speaking those words aloud to my four year old daughter, I hadn’t even given my new job a second thought. There were so many other things to consider before we even got to this day. The funeral, the move, transferring all accounts, leaving all our friends and family behind; the list was endless. But now that was the past, and today, today was the present. I honestly never thought we would get to this moment. I couldn’t see a way through the maze of stress and torment of the past few months. We did it. The thought had suddenly occurred to me.
“Mummy, are you ok?” Lea has pulled herself onto her knees and is inches from my face searching my eyes which not only moments before she chose to avoid. My jolt back to reality must have been recognised as she quickly retreated to her curled position behind her teddy.
“Yes honey I’m fine, sorry. Look Lea we both have to make a good impression today, today we get to start a fresh. You can be anyone you want to be.”
She frowned. “But I can’t be anyone else but me.” Her four year old mind had misunderstood my comment.
“I just meant you can be quiet or happy, or smiley or loud. You can choose how you want to act, as long as it doesn’t offend anyone else.” She seemed to consider that for a moment, the chance to start again. She understood.
“Can I be like I was before?”
“Of course you can Lea, you are prefect just the way you are.”
“The other children didn’t think so.” Again the emotionless tone caught me off guard. There was no sadness to her voice, just the fact.
“Well what do they know? They were just mean, nasty children who just weren’t as clever as you.”
“Will the children here be different then?”
“You’re lying.” How did she always know? I had never been able to lie to Lea, she always seemed to work it out; like the time when I told her there were no mushrooms in her spaghetti and even before the plate was on the table in front of her, she looked at me and stated in a tone that I can only describe as disappointed: “Mummy why are you not telling me the real.”
“You mean the truth darling?”
“Yes why are you not telling me the truth?” I felt like I was the child, chastised by my own mother. I honestly had no answer for her, other than the truth.
“I wanted you to at least try mushrooms before you say you don’t like them.”
“But I already know that I don’t.”
“That was a while ago, you’re taste buds might have changed.”
“They haven’t.” She stated.
What come back could I have had to that? What do you say to a three year old to convince them that lying, sometimes, is a good idea? All I could come up with was, “sometimes adults have to tell lies to protect children, and it’s not a bad thing, just a little trick to help you be a good grown up.”
I have not the slightest inclination or belief that she accepted this as a reasonable enough answer: her slight frown and small murmur was all that I could gather from my rather old headed three year old daughter.
By the time the conversation is over and Lea is quite speedily putting on her new school uniform I happen to glance around at the clock. Shit, I mumble. Now I know if I don’t get a move on I’ll also be late!
What a fantastic first impression Alice, I scold myself, and on your very first day. “What an example!” This time my mouth feels the need to chime in with the chastisements. I whip on my conservative, not too sexy, but need-to-look-good-in-front-of-a-bunch-of-teenagers skirt; a rather plain fitted blouse; a quick to and fro over the cardigan or the jacket. Argh decide, decide! Jacket! Run the toothbrush vaguely over my teeth. As I am pulling the brush hastily through my hair, Lea already has grabbed my car keys and is heading for the door. It’s a good job we are both heading to the same building!
“Let’s go mummy, you said five minutes ten minutes ago.”
“I know honey I’m sorry.” Clutching my hand bag, that would better suit a name that represented its sheer size to a closer degree, I throw it onto the passenger seat [Lea refuses to sit in the front].
“Ok, let’s get through the day.”
“Ready when you are.” Replies my four year old. There’s another brief moment in which I have to remind myself that she is only four, despite what her seemingly large vocabulary suggests. OK day one.