In search of adam, p.1
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In Search of Adam


  In Search of Adam

  Caroline Smailes

  Praise

  ‘An utterly riveting tale from a word magician who truly knows the beat of the grieving human heart.’

  —Elizabeth Baines, author of Balancing on the Edge of the World

  ‘Staccato prose that crackles with experience.’

  —Danny Rhodes, author of Asboville

  ‘Original, authentic and technically brilliant, Caroline Smailes’ In Search of Adam is a debut of remarkable quality and devastating power.’

  —Nicholas Royle, author of Antwerp

  ‘Caroline Smailes has done for child abuse what Mark Haddon did for autism.’

  —Lynne Hatwell, dovegreyreader review

  ‘An engrossing and touching read from a new talent.’

  —The Big Issue in the North

  ‘Caroline Smailes’ writing combines a unique and compelling lyricism with a truly courageous authenticity. In Search of Adam is a beautiful, brutal and highly original novel. It blew me away.’

  —Megan Taylor, author of How We Were Lost

  ‘An accomplished, courageous and insightful debut novel.’

  —Damian McNicholl, author of A Son Called Gabriel

  ‘In Search of Adam is a profoundly affecting book. It deals with the horrors of a damaged childhood caused by a mother’s suicide, a father’s neglect and child abuse. Dark stuff, but it is handled with a deep sensitivity and realism by Newcastle-born author Caroline Smailes.’

  —The Journal (Newcastle).

  ‘A stunning insight into the disturbed mind of a girl living in the North-East. It has re-defined what writing can do for the reader—it can change the way you look at people.’

  —Terry Deary, author of Horrible Histories

  ‘I think it [a novel] should impart emotional energy. Not every good novel will do this, but most will. In Search of Adam is one of them. By the end of the first chapter, I was saddened and uncomfortable. The book has an emotional engine that Smailes guns mercilessly. The story succeeds as a study of disconnection, contamination, and the loss of momentum in a young life.’

  —Spike Magazine

  For my Gary

  Table of Contents

  Cover Page

  Title Page

  Dedication

  Epigraph

  1980

  1981

  1982

  1983

  1984

  1985

  Ever After (1992)

  Happy Ever After

  Thoughts

  Afterthoughts

  Acknowledgements

  About the Author

  Praise

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and

  thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy

  desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

  Genesis 01 : 003 : 016

  The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea

  In a beautiful pea green boat.

  Edward Lear, 1871

  1980

  On March 26 1980, I was six years, four months and two days old. I was dressed and ready for school. It was 8:06am on my digital watch. My mother was still in bed. I went into her room to wake her. I found her lying on top of her duvet cover. She wasn’t wearing any clothes. Her ocean eyes were open. She wasn’t sleeping. And from the corner of her mouth, a line

  of

  lumpy

  sick

  joined her to the pool that was stuck to her cheek. Next to her, on her duvet I saw an empty bottle. Vodka. And there were eleven tablets. Small round and white. And I saw a scrap of ripped paper. There were words on it.

  jude, i have gone in search of adam.

  i love you baby.

  I didn’t understand. But I took the note. It was mine. I shoved it into the pocket of my grey school skirt. I crumpled it in. Then. Then I climbed next to her. I spooned into her. Molded into a question mark. Her stale sick mingled and lumped into my shiny hair. I stayed with my mother, until the warmth from her body transferred into me. We were not disturbed until my father returned from work. At 6:12pm.

  Exhibit number one—my mother’s note.

  In the days between my mother’s death and her funeral, I noted that someone from every one of the thirty-one other houses in my street came to visit. Some just stood in silence in the hallway. Some drank coffee at the wooden kitchen table. Others sat with my father in the lounge. Smoked cigarettes and drank from tin beer cans. My father liked these visitors the best. There were some neighbours who came each day. Just to check on my father. And between them they decided on how best I should be cared for.

  I was six years old. I was more than capable of taking myself to school at 8:30am. My father left for work twenty minutes before I left for school. 8:10am. That was fine. I loved those twenty minutes. I was alone in the house. I was king of the castle. I spent the twenty minutes sitting. Sitting on the bottom red stair. Staring at my watch. Glaring. Terrified that I would be late for school. I loved those twenty minutes. School was a ten-minute walk away. Over only one main road. But a lollipop lady watched out for me. They’d had a word. Then coming home from school. I could manage the walk. But. But they thought it best that I wasn’t at home alone. My father came home from work between 6:10pm and 6:17pm. So together. Those smoking drinking neighbours and my father. They decided where I should go each night.

  Monday. (Numbemr 30) Aunty Maggie.

  Tuesday. (Number 19) Mr Johnson.

  Wednesday. (Number 14) Mrs Clark.

  Thursday. (Number 21) Mrs Roberts.

  Friday. (Number 2) Mrs Hodgson.

  I had my key. Tied to a piece of string and fastened with a safety pin inside my brown parka. That key was to lock the door each morning and only for emergencies at night. That key would allow me to escape from my neighbours.

  During those days. Between my mother’s death and her funeral. I used to watch my neighbours slowing down as they passed by my mother’s house. I could sit on my bed and watch them from the window. I could open the window. Just slightly. Just enough to let their words fly in. They didn’t look up to me. I was already invisible. They never saw me. They never looked for me. Some neighbours would stand talking. Curlers in their hair. Slippered feet. Dressing gowns pulled across their chests. They would point at my mother’s house and they would chitter and chatter and yackety yacker. Gossip. Gossip. Gossip. Always about my mother. My precious, my beautiful mother. She was in the tittle-tattle. She was in the chitchat. Her demise. My demise. My mother’s house, Number 9 Disraeli Avenue was the centre of the universe. Front page gossip. The neighbours talked of a pure evil that was within my mother. They spoke of her lack of motherly instincts. They talked about a murderous past. I didn’t understand their words. But. But they were tinged and tanged with mean-sounding twangs. They talked. I listened. I heard them. Through the open bedroom window.

  On the day of my mother’s funeral. Five days after her death. My father told me to put on my school uniform. A grey skirt. A blue blouse. A blue and yellow stripy tie. My blouse was creased. Crumply and worn. My tie was stained with baked bean juice.

  My mother’s coffin was in the box room. The lid had been removed. She looked so beautiful. Her long blonde hair had been styled. She looked like a glamorous film star. She was covered in a white sheet and her bare feet were poking from beneath it. I crept into my mother and father’s bedroom. I took my mother’s favourite shoes from her wardrobe. I also took a blouse and hid it under my pillow. Her scent still clung to it. Combining Chanel, musk and Mary Quant. Then. I returned to the box room. I took her purple stilettos. I lifted the white sheet to see her ankles. I
placed her purple shoes onto her blue feet. Touching her skin sent a throbbing ache into my stomach.

  I feel sick. I feel sick.

  I fought my weakness. I stopped myself from being sick. I needed her to be wearing shoes. I didn’t want her feet to become raw. She was off to hike through foreign lands. My mother was not smiling. Her face was blank. As I looked at her I realised that all expression came from her eyes. I longed for those ocean eyes. Open your eyes, please open your eyes. Just to connect with her one last time. My hair was tangled, still matted with her sick. So I sat on her hairdressing stool. Next to her coffin. In the box room. And I counted each stroke as I brushed my hair. One…two…three…four…five…six…seven…eight… I needed my mother. I needed her to get rid of the tatty tatty clumps. I reached into the coffin. Her coffin. I held her cold hand. I heard people laughing and chatting downstairs. Ding dong. Ding dong. Chatter chatter. Laugh laugh laugh. Aunty Maggie from Number 30 had brought rice, Mrs Clark from Number 14 had brought a platter of sandwiches and with each ding dong my father poured drinks and welcomed his guests. I sat. Holding my dead mother’s hands. Wishing that she had taken me with her on her journey. Downstairs they talked loudly. And then. Then hushed and whispered. She hadn’t left a note, she was so very selfish, how could she be so cruel to little Jude. They talked badly of my mother. I wanted to go and scream at them. To stop their evil gossiping. My father said that he wouldn’t speak ill of the dead. But. Sarah was an evil whore and ahm glad that she’s deed. And. She’d been threatening te dee it for years. And. She was an evil lass. A selfish murdering whore. She divvnae care aboot anyone but horsell. I hated my father. I hated that he fed the neighbours lies. I didn’t understand. Liar liar. Pants on fire.

  My mother loved me. She did care about me. I didn’t understand why my father was telling lies. My mother was magical. She was beautiful and she loved me. Right up to the sky and back. She was thirty-two. She was clever. She was just going to explore the world a little. She would come back when she was done. She had gone in search of Adam. Her explanation was simple. I had no idea who or what an Adam was. She would tell me all about it when she found it. She’d come back then. She’d come back and carry on being mine. I’d wait. I’d always wait. I stroked her long slender fingers. She was cold. Too cold. Back into my bedroom. A hot water bottle. I took it into the bathroom. Turned the hot tap till it was burning. Burning. I filled my plastic hot water bottle. Then I returned to my mother. I placed it under her sheet. I gave her the shiny fifty pence that Aunty Maggie, Number 30, had given me the day before. Just in case. She may have time to buy herself a treat. An ice cream and a ten-pence mix up.

  My father shouted for me. I stood. Over my mother’s coffin. I looked at my mother. The last time. She did not look back at me. Her eyes were closed. Sleeping. Sleeping Beauty. I would not cry. I could not cry. I had to be brave. They would think badly of my mother. My father had told me. He had warned me. Big girls don’t cry. Do you hear me? Big girls don’t cry. I bent down and kissed my mother. She did not wake. I was not magic.

  I sat next to my father in the large black car. I lowered my head and tried to name all the foreign places that I could think of. My fists were clenched. I recited names. I could think of only five.

  Spain…

  France…

  Scotland…

  America…

  London…

  Spain…France…Scotland…America…London…

  Spain…

  France…

  Scotland…

  America…

  London…

  I tried to picture my mother in these countries. The Tower of London. Loch Ness. Disneyland. The Eiffel Tower. On the beach. Sunbathing. And in my head I could see her smiling. Her eyes twinkling with excitement. As she grasped her sketch book, charcoal and lead.

  The funeral ended. Mr Johnson, from Number 19, took me to school in time for lunch.

  Mashed potato.

  Peas.

  And carrots.

  Mixed together.

  Fish fingers.

  One, two, three.

  Jam sponge.

  Custard.

  The afternoon of the funeral passed quickly at school. Children avoided me. My teacher cried at the front of the class. I sat at my small wooden desk and held my tightly clenched fists in front of me.

  Spain…

  France…

  Scotland…

  America…

  London…

  Spain…

  France…

  Scotland…

  America…

  London…

  Spain…

  France…

  Scotland…

  America…

  London…

  I would not cry. I did not move during afternoon playtime. Teachers walked past the classroom window and peered in at me. My nails dug into my palms, but my knuckles were fixed and I concentrated through the pain.

  Spain…France…Scotland…

  America…London…Spain…

  France…Scotland…America…

  London…Spain…France…

  Scotland…America…

  London…Spain…

  France…

  Scotland…

  America…

  London.

  I didn’t draw an Easter card. I didn’t practise my writing. I didn’t listen. I didn’t speak. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.

  The final bell rang.

  I left my desk. Children moved out of the way. Terrified that a touch from me would make them catch the evil eye. I had the evil eye. Mothers at the school gate turned their backs. Talked in packs. Always in hushed tones. No one wanted to look at me. No one could find the words. My mother was fresh in the ground. I was at school. The neighbours were drinking. Eating. Celebrating. I had to walk home alone. Alone. Alone. Alone.

  It was a Wednesday. But Mrs Clark was at my mother’s wake. In a pub called The Traveller’s Rest. A wake. The neighbours were trying to wake my mother. I had tried that too. Given her a kiss. It hadn’t worked. She needed a handsome prince. The neighbours would wake her. They were old and clever. Aunty Maggie was nearly one hundred and ninety-five years old. She was the oldest person in the world. She had to be the wisest person in the world.

  I used my key and let myself into my mother’s house. It was cold. It was silent. I rushed to the box room. Ran up the red stairs. Quick quick quick. Just in case she was still there. But. But the room was empty. She was gone. I went into my mother and father’s bedroom. I opened my mother’s wardrobe. It was empty. She had taken her clothes with her on her travels. She had packed. She had gone. I went downstairs. Into the kitchen. I found her things. Next to the door. Waiting to go into the garage. They were in black plastic bags. Waiting to be thrown into the garage. Ready for the bin man. One bag for her clothes, one bag for her secrets. For her stuff. I took her secrets. A bag full of letters and beads and books and her sketch book and a box. I took that bag. I hid it in my room. Buried within a basket of teddies and dolls. I would keep it for my mother. I wouldn’t look. She could show me when she came back. We could take it with us. When she took me away. When she had found herself an Adam.

  When it was time.

  I took my mother’s blouse from under my pillow and held it to my nose. I tried to sniff in her smell. But. But already it was fading. I was forgetting. I curled onto my bed. Onto my blue duvet. I curled into a question mark. I held my mother’s blouse tightly to me and I stared out of the window. I stared up to the sky. I watched the day fall into night. My father and some of the neighbours returned home. I heard them chatting and laughing and cheering and singing. I felt their happiness. It kind of stuck into me like a fork. They sat downstairs, smoking and drinking beer out of warm tin cans. They didn’t come into my room.

  Life entered into a robotic routine. I existed. I grew. I was quiet. A thoughtful child. I had no friends. I carried the world inside my head. I carried the world on my shoulders. In my hands. There was no room
for play. There was no way of playing. I sat. I thought. Always about my mother.

  Aunty Maggie gave me a shiny fifty-pence piece. Every Monday evening when my father came to collect me. I saved all of them. And eventually. I was able to buy an Atlas. I held the world in my hand. It was a large hardback book. Glossy. The pages stuck together. New. Crisp. I learned of new places. Unsure if my pronunciation was correct.

  Spain…

  France…

  Scotland…

  America…

  London…

  Libya…Malta…Tibet…Victoria…Boston…

  Greenland…

  Spain…

  France…

  Scotland…

  America…

  London…

  Libya…Malta…Tibet…Victoria…Boston…Greenland…

  Spain…

  France…

  Scotland…

  America…

  London…

  Libya…

  Malta…

 
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