Ketchup clouds, p.20
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       Ketchup Clouds, p.20

           Annabel Pitcher
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  My bed was a heap of rugs in the corner of a draughty room and, as I dropped my backpack onto the floor and looked out of the window, I saw a woman kill a chicken with her bare hands. She’d done it thousands of times, I could tell, holding the chicken upside down and snapping its neck as she laughed at a baby who was playing with a stone at her side. Now it’s possible that chickens aren’t birds in the way that spiders aren’t insects, but either way I bet you’re pretty much appalled. I was too, don’t get me wrong, but I was glad to feel horrified. Here was something so far from my experience, my jaw actually dropped. Home felt a million miles away. Mum. Max. You. You all sort of faded away, which is what I needed because remembering hurt too much.

  But then this baby with the reddest cheeks I’ve ever seen pulled himself up to standing by holding onto his mum’s skirt. He was wobbly, his chubby legs unsteady. His mum dropped the chicken and crouched down, gently taking the baby’s hands. Shuffling backwards, she helped the baby walk, and she was grinning and the baby was grinning and then the dad appeared and he was grinning, talking excitedly with his wife. Of course I couldn’t understand the words but I knew full well what they were saying.

  Look at him go! Can you believe it? Oops, be careful! Who’s a clever little boy?

  The baby tottered right into his mother’s arms and she held him tightly as the man kissed the top of both their heads before going inside, and my stomach ached with disappointment at the familiarity of it all. Humans. We’re all the same. There’s no escaping it. Doesn’t matter if you’re a bald English guy burping the alphabet, or a woman killing chickens in the middle of the Andes. Doesn’t matter what language you speak or what clothes you wear. Some things don’t change. Families. Friends. Lovers. They’re the same in every city in every country in every continent of the world.

  I want you to take your place among them, Bird Girl. You – the most exuberant, most vibrant, most beautiful person I know, the girl who writes about Bazzlebogs and makes happiness out of croissants – deserve to live. The day I left for South America, I came to the library to see you. Who knows what I was going to say, but when I got there and saw you stacking shelves, I decided against it. Your back was to me, but I could tell you were upset. Your movements said it all, the way you lifted the books as if they were heavy and paused regularly, one hand on your hip, your shoulders rising and falling as you sighed. I’d sighed like that myself a thousand times since the night by the river. I knew how it felt. The sad weight of your heart. The gnawing guilt. The desperate desire to hide away from prying eyes and be alone. When a lady came up to you to ask about a book, you didn’t smile and you barely spoke, just pointed up the spiral stairs with a finger that drooped. I almost ran over to grab it, to make it stand firm and to look in your eyes, urging you to forget what happened and live.

  I didn’t, of course. Talking to you at all would have made things worse, reminded you of things you were desperate to forget, and besides I knew if I got too close I would cave, wanting to hold you to take your pain away and to tell you I love you, because I do, Alice, deeply. Instead, I said goodbye under my breath and turned to leave, and those five steps to the revolving door were almost impossible to take. When I reached the place we’d kissed in the rain, I stood there for the longest time, remembering how your lips had burned against mine and how wrong it had been but how right it had felt, and then I was gone.

  It goes without saying I’ll never send this to you. It wouldn’t be fair and I’d be too afraid of someone reading it and discovering the truth of what happened between the three of us. When it’s finished, I’ll tear it up and throw it away, just like I’ve done with all the rest. And when I get back to England and see you again, whenever that may be, I won’t say anything that will make it impossible for you to move on. I won’t tell you how much I love you, or how scared I am of being without you, or how I need to hide away from everyone because no one will ever compare to you . . . I will simply let you go. True love is about sacrifice, after all, and if I want you to be free of the memory of Max then you need to be free of me.

  Mr Stubble and Mr Bald have left. Light is fading and the traffic has died down and there is just me and the parrot trapped in its cage. That’s not how you’re going to live, Bird Girl. Not on my account. Spread those strong wings of yours. Fly.



  This book took a long while to get right. I am so grateful to my editor, Fiona Kennedy, for giving me the time I needed, despite looming deadlines. Thank you for your patience, understanding, guidance and editorial expertise.

  Thanks too to Nina Douglas. You continue to work your magic in building up a buzz around a book! The whole Orion team is fantastic and if space allowed I’d name each and every one of you. I feel genuinely lucky to work with such passionate, hard-working and skilful people. Thanks also to everyone at Felicity Bryan. I am so happy to call you my literary agency and always proud to say I am one of Catherine Clarke’s authors.

  A special thanks has to go to my writing buddy, Liz Kessler, for all the encouragement with TFB. You dropped everything to read the manuscript when I needed a second opinion and gave me some great advice. I owe you one! I also want to thank my mum, Shelagh Leech. You always make time to read my stuff and you’re not afraid to tell me what you really think. Thanks to you and Dad for always, always being there.

  I am indebted to all my family and friends, for their love, support and the happiness they bring. In particular, I want to reserve my biggest and most heartfelt thanks for my wonderful husband, Steve. You did all the practical stuff that can be named – listened, proof-read, advised – and hundreds of other things too special to write here. I couldn’t have done it without you.

  Annabel Pitcher

  West Yorkshire

  July 2012

  Also by Annabel Pitcher

  My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece



  First published in Great Britain in 2012 by Indigo.

  This eBook first published in 2012 by Indigo.

  Copyright © Annabel Pitcher 2012

  The right of Annabel Pitcher to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the copyright, designs and patents act 1988.

  All characters and events in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published without a similar condition, including this condition, being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

  A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

  ISBN: 978 1 78062 032 9


  The Orion Publishing Group Ltd

  Orion House

  5 Upper St Martin’s Lane

  London WC2H 9EA

  An Hachette UK company



  Annabel Pitcher, Ketchup Clouds



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