Close your pretty eyes, p.11
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       Close Your Pretty Eyes, p.11

           Sally Nicholls
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  “It’s not my fault I don’t feel safe!” I said. “People keep chucking me out!”

  “Mm-mm,” said Helen. What that meant was, Of course it’s your fault. If you were a nice little girl like Harriet, everyone would want to keep you.

  “Olivia,” Helen said, “you weren’t born like this. All these problems . . . flashbacks, dissociating, hyper-vigilance . . . they’re just symptoms. Your body developed them as a way of coping with the situation you lived in when you were little. I know they help you feel safe and that’s important, Olivia, but you don’t need them any more. They’re all things you can change, but you have to do the work. If you just come here every week and glare at me, we aren’t going to get anywhere.”

  I glared at her. Problems! They weren’t problems. They were superpowers. I wanted to smack her so hard I broke her nose, but I sort of knew she was a bit right too. Helen had said things like this before, but never so clearly. I honestly wasn’t sure what I thought. Part of me really, really wanted to be a dopey little girl like Harriet. But the other part of me – the bigger part – knew that I wasn’t safe here, not now, not ever. I probably wouldn’t be truly safe until I was grown up, and maybe not even then. So how could I possibly relax?

  “If you could have any superpower in the world,” I asked Liz, that Saturday, “what would it be?”

  “Can I have a TARDIS and a sonic screwdriver?” said Liz, which was cheating. Doctor Who is not a superpower.

  Harriet said she would do magic like Harry Potter and fly like Mary Poppins. I told her she could only pick one, so she said she would do magic, and one of the magics she would do would be flying like Mary Poppins. Daniel said he would fly and be invisible and be super strong.

  “That’s not one superpower!” I said. “That’s three! That’s cheating!”

  Daniel said in that case he would have the power to grant unlimited wishes to anyone, including himself.

  Grace said if Harriet was going to be Harry Potter, she was going to be God.

  “Being God is not a superpower,” I told her. “If you ask for God you get nothing.”

  Grace said in that case, she would have the power to change “the underlying economic underpinnings of society”.

  “The what?”

  “The way the rich have everything and the poor have nothing. I’d make it so people couldn’t earn billions of pounds, and if they did, they’d have to give it away to people who had nothing. I’d magically take the money out of their bank accounts and give it to Amnesty International or someone.”

  “That’s stealing,” I said. I didn’t think superheroes should steal. Probably.

  “Yeah,” said Grace. “But how would anyone ever know it was me?”

  “They would if they asked me,” said Daniel. “I’d have to tell them. Then you’d be screwed.”

  “No, you wouldn’t,” said Harriet. “I’d save you.”

  Jim was the only one who took it seriously. He thought for ages, then he said he would have the power to heal people.

  “You should have been a doctor if you wanted to heal people!” I said. “Not an IT consultant!”

  But Jim said there were already plenty of doctors healing the sort of things doctors healed. “I’d heal the things that don’t have real-life cures,” he said. “The people who are sad and scared and lost. I’d let them be the people they were meant to be all along.”

  “Eugh!” I pulled a face. What a yucky superpower!

  Jim smiled a little sadly and put his arm around my waist.

  “What would you pick then, SuperOlivia?”

  “Laser deathrays,” I said.

  But I wouldn’t. I’d pick the ability to make people do whatever I wanted them to. I’d make Jim and Liz love me like a real daughter and adopt me, and Daniel and Harriet like me and do whatever I told them to and never argue, and Violet jump off a big cliff into shark-infested water, and my mum come home and love me like she loved Hayley and Jamie, and Hayley ditch her new mum and dad and be my sister, and no one ever hurt me ever, ever again.

  Mine was obviously the best superpower, but I didn’t want to say in case someone else stole it. I didn’t think it would work if more than one person had it, because what would happen if we wanted the same person to do different things? The universe would probably explode, is what.


  School broke up for summer. The long holidays started. Grace stopped stressing about exams and started stressing about exam results, which was nearly as bad.

  Jim was going camping in Cornwall for a week. Harriet told me all about it. They went every year, apparently, and there was a beach and a disco and an island with puffins on it. At first, I wasn’t sure if I was invited or not, because sometimes foster families dump you in respite when they go on holiday. Apparently I was, though, and so were Grace and Maisy. But before that, there were five long, empty weeks of summer.

  Summer frightened me. Islands with puffins on them frightened me. I knew I wouldn’t get to keep them.

  I used to watch Daniel and Jim, trying to work out if they hated me yet and if so, how much. Sometimes, when I was bored, I’d go up to Daniel’s room and try and get him to talk to me. Most of the time, he’d come and do things with me, but sometimes he’d be drawing or reading or something, and he wouldn’t want to. I couldn’t bear it.

  “Daniel,” I’d say. “Dan-iel. Do you want to come out on your bike?”

  “No,” Daniel would say, and carry on with whatever he was doing. I’d feel the cold fear sink into the bottom of my stomach.

  “Come on,” I’d say. “Let’s play on skateboards. Let’s watch a DVD. Let’s go and annoy Grace. Let’s—”

  “Not now,” Daniel would say. “I’m reading.”

  And I’d start to feel sick.

  He hates you, but he’s too nice to say so. He’s always hated you.

  Why wouldn’t he? I’d hate me, if I had to live with me.

  I hate being on my own. I told you that, didn’t I? I start thinking everyone’s forgotten me, and I’ll probably just keel over and die of bubonic plague or something. No one will even notice. Or maybe they’ll notice how much nicer it is without me and decide they don’t want me in their family any more, or they’ll suddenly go off on a hot-air balloon ride without me, or take a boat to Africa or something. I’m not just being stupid saying that, either. My mum went off and forgot about us loads of times. And I’ve been in plenty of foster families who used to dump me in respite care and then go on holiday without me. Sometimes they wouldn’t even tell me they were going to do it, either. I’d just get home from school and my bags would be packed and everyone else would be off to Disneyland without me.

  So when Daniel and Harriet were busy, I used to go and bug Jim. Jim didn’t like me any more than Daniel did, but he had to be polite because he was supposed to be my dad.

  This time, Jim was in the kitchen, chopping things.

  “What are you making?” I said.

  I could see what he was making – spaghetti bolognese. But I wanted him to talk to me.

  “What do you think I’m making?” he said.

  “Ice cream sundae,” I told him.

  “That sounds nice,” he said. “Maybe you could make us some for pudding?”

  “Why should I when you’re already making it?” I said, and Jim smiled.

  “Of course. Silly me. Is this the sort of sundae you like?”

  He was laughing at me. I hate it when people laugh at me.

  “Why are you putting mushrooms in ice cream?” I said. If I’d asked Grumpy Annabel something stupid like that, we’d have had this whole argument:

  “I’m making spaghetti bolognese.”

  “No, you’re not. That’s ice cream.”

  “It’s mince, Olivia!”

  “And that’s sprinkles

  “They’re onions! And this is a tin of bloody tomatoes.”

  But Jim just smiled and said, “What do you think the answer is?”

  Stupid Jim pretending to be clever. I didn’t say anything.

  There was an awful empty silence. Jim went chop, chop, chop like I wasn’t even there.

  “Why do you have that rubbish beard?” I said.

  “Why do you think?”

  “How should I know? I wouldn’t have a beard like that if you paid me.”

  “You’d look a bit silly with a beard,” said Jim.

  I scowled. “You always look silly,” I said. “You look like an idiot. I’d hate to look like you. I’d rather look like a sea monster than look like you. I’d rather be dead!”

  Jim didn’t answer, but I could smell him readying himself for something bad to happen. He was afraid. Or – not afraid, but wary. Like I was a bad thing he’d rather not deal with.

  I hated him.

  “Why are you so horrible to Dad?” Daniel said. We were sitting in the tree house, legs dangling over the edge. He didn’t say it in a mean way. More . . . just curious.

  “I’m not horrible!” I said. “He’s horrible to me! He’s the one who’s always telling me to go sit in the dining room!”

  But I could see Daniel didn’t believe me. I didn’t believe me either, really. I wanted to explain it properly, so he’d understand and maybe not hate me. But I wasn’t sure it made sense to anyone who wasn’t me. I didn’t think even Daniel – who was about the most understandingest person I’d ever met, after Liz – would get it, and that would prove I really was crazy.

  What I’d have liked to have said was:

  “I don’t have power over anything. Not where I live, not whether I get to keep my stuff when I move, not who my mum and dad are, not anything. And it’s horrible. It’s . . . like panicking, all the time. So anything I can do to make me feel safe, I do. And having power, being in control of something, even if it’s just how pissed off Jim is with me, feels safer than feeling like I’m about to sink.

  “Because there’s nothing in my life that’s solid. I don’t have a home. I don’t have a family. I don’t have anyone who loves me. So I have to have something to hold on to, or I’ll drown.”

  Jim didn’t love me. I knew he didn’t. I watched him, dancing Maisy round the room.

  “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream.”

  Maisy swayed from side to side in his arms, dancing along. She looked happy. Happy and loved.

  “Why does Grace love Maisy?” I said.

  “Because she’s her mum,” said Jim.

  It wasn’t a good enough answer. Not all mums love their kids.

  “Would Grace still love Maisy if Maisy was evil?” I said. “If she was a killer psycho baby?”

  “Babies aren’t evil,” said Jim. But he was wrong. I was an evil baby. I made my mum sick, and screamed all night and threw up over her stuff. She told me about it. Often.

  “Maisy’s dad doesn’t love her,” I said. “He’s never come and visited, not even once.”

  “I don’t think Maisy’s dad is any of your business, do you?” said Jim.

  “Yes, he is,” I said. “Because if Maisy’s dad doesn’t love her, why does Grace?”

  “Well,” said Jim. “Because when a baby is born, a mother’s body releases chemicals which help her love the child. Those same chemicals get released when Grace plays with Maisy, or feeds her, or holds her. And also – well, love is a good thing, Olivia. Grace gets a lot of joy from loving Maisy. Most people want to love, and be loved.”

  I didn’t. I didn’t want to love anyone, ever, ever, ever. Love was for wimps. If you loved someone, then when they stopped loving you, they destroyed you. I was never going to love anyone ever again. But I would have liked someone to love me like Grace loved Maisy. If you could make someone love you and never leave you – make sure they never stopped loving you – I’d like that. That’s what Maisy and Daniel and Harriet had, I reckoned.

  “Do you love me?” I asked Jim.

  “Well,” he said. “Love takes a while to develop.” He tried to put the arm that wasn’t holding Maisy around me, but I wriggled away.

  “I like you,” he said, but I didn’t believe him.

  “How do you make someone love you?” I said.

  “You can’t,” said Jim. “It’s just something that happens. Though not throwing food in their face certainly helps.”



  And then it all went wrong.

  Maisy was crying. On and on and on. I couldn’t bear it. I yelled, “Shut up! Shut up!”

  “Shut your mouth,” Grace shouted. “Do you have to deal with her? No? Then shut the hell up.”

  “Shut the hell up, you little moron. What are you doing here, anyway? Who wants you? Do you know what we do to little creeps like you?”

  Someone’s hand comes down on my face. Someone’s foot punches my stomach. I’m drowning. I’m dying. I can’t ever escape.

  Somewhere, a baby is crying.

  “Why can’t you just leave me alone?”

  A baby was crying.

  I was back in the living room. Grace had moved. Before, she was standing in front of me; now she was by the window, holding Maisy. My heart was pounding. I felt it again, that piercing sense of being hated, but I couldn’t tell if it was the woman in my memory who was doing the hating, or Amelia, and if she was hating me, or the baby, or both of us. I remembered the women in the stories Harriet had told me. There was the lady who tried to gas her children to death, and the other lady who killed her baby and left it on the doorstep. Was that what Amelia wanted? Did she think it was still her job to kill babies? Or to make me kill babies for her? Mostly, she just seemed full of anger. Like she wanted to hurt someone and anyone would do.

  I could understand that.

  “Leave me alone!” I shouted. “Just leave me alone!”

  Grace rounded on me. “If you don’t shut the hell up right now, I’m going to make you.”

  “If you don’t shut the hell up, I’m going to make you.”

  A woman’s hand over my mouth and nose, stopping me breathing. The smell of her sweaty fingers and the metal taste of rage in my mouth. I bite on to her palm. She swears and picks me up so my feet kick in the air. Somewhere there’s a baby crying. Somehow the crying is my fault.

  “I’ll make you pay for that, you little monster.”

  “I’ll make you pay for that,” I yelled. I launched myself on to Maisy, still cradled in Grace’s arms. If I could shut Maisy up, the woman in my head would go away. If Maisy stopped crying, old Amelia wouldn’t bother me any more. I grabbed the nearest bit of Maisy I could reach – her leg. Grace pulled back.

  “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Get away from her!”

  Jim came into the room. He looked at us – Grace with her arms around Maisy, screaming at me, me pummelling them with my clenched fists. He grabbed me and dragged me away.

  “Olivia, calm down. Calm down.”

  I could hear the panic in his voice. He’s scared of me.

  Grace and Maisy went out of the door. Jim put me down. He sat on the chair by the fire, watching as I kicked and raged.

  “I hate you, I hate you. I wish you were dead. I wish you were dead.”

  Sometimes, when I threw fits, I did it to annoy my foster parents. Sometimes I did it because I was so angry I had to let the anger out or explode. But now I did it because it was either that or listen to my thoughts.

  He won’t let you stay here now you’ve tried to hurt the baby. You’ll have to go.

  Afterwards, he tried to talk to me.

  “You know that must never happen again?” he said. “Olivia?”

bsp; There’s a ghost in this house and she’s trying to kill Maisy.

  “I didn’t do anything.”

  “Olivia. I’m serious. Maisy is only little. You mustn’t try and hurt her.”

  I think I’m going mad.

  “Or what? If I smack her in the nose, what will you do?”

  Jim looked at me steadily.

  He’ll send you away. He’ll send you away.

  “You can’t hurt a baby, Olivia. It’s against the law, for one thing.”

  “Would you call the police, then?”

  “I wouldn’t let it get to that stage,” said Jim. “If I honestly thought you were going to hurt Maisy, I’d have to make sure you weren’t in a position to do so. I’d have no choice.”

  He doesn’t love you. He doesn’t even like you. He likes Maisy more than you, and Maisy can’t even talk.

  “Would you chuck me out?” I said. “Mr For Ever And Ever? Would you?”

  “If I had to,” said Jim. “Then, yes. I would.”


  “Would you chuck me out? Mr For Ever And Ever? Would you?”

  “If I had to,” said Jim. “Then, yes. I would.”

  When I lived with my mum, I could always tell when she was going to hit me. When she’d had a bad day, when she’d run out of money, when she’d had just the right amount to drink – enough to make her angry, but not enough to make her fall asleep. I used to watch the anger building and building. The waiting would get so bad that I’d try and hurry it along. I’d ask annoying questions, or sing, or look happy, or sad, or do bouncing on the mattress when I’d been told not to. Anything, so the getting-hit would happen and I could stop worrying about it.

  “Would you chuck me out? Mr For Ever And Ever? Would you?”

  “If I had to. Then, yes. I would.”

  Waiting for Jim to chuck me out was like that. I could feel it looming like a monster waiting to pounce. It’s not safe to keep Olivia in a house with a cat. It’s not safe to keep Olivia in a house with a little girl like Harriet. It’s not safe to keep Olivia in a house with a baby. I’d heard the same words, or words like them, said by all sorts of people who thought they loved me. They were probably true.

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