Close your pretty eyes, p.13
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       Close Your Pretty Eyes, p.13

           Sally Nicholls
 
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  “I don’t!” I shouted, and I swung the bat at her – I stopped before the bat touched her arm, but only just.

  Harriet flinched. I could see her tense. Her shoulders hunched, her head turned, her chin pressed itself down into her stomach to make herself as small as possible. She cowered.

  “Stop it!” I shouted. “Stop looking like that!”

  Harriet gave a little gasp. She didn’t move. I took a step towards her.

  “You’re crazy,” I told her. “I don’t know why I ever wanted to be your sister. You’re a boring, stupid, whiny, little crybaby.”

  I looked around the room for something to show how stupid she was.

  “Look at this piece of crap,” I said, and I dragged her doll’s house out from beside the bed. I kicked it. A dent appeared in the wall.

  Harriet made a strangled noise.

  “Stop it!” she said. “Olivia! Stop it!”

  I kicked the doll’s house again. My shoe made a Godzilla-sized footprint on the wall. I swung the rounders bat with all my strength, straight into the doll’s house roof.

  Harriet screamed. She forgot she was scared of me and started tugging on my arm.

  “Olivia! Stop it! Olivia!”

  Smash. Smash. Smash.

  Harriet started to cry.

  “Daddy! Daddy!”

  Thud. Smash.

  Jim came into the room behind me and lifted me up and away. I kicked and howled, and swung the rounders bat back, trying to connect with his legs. Harriet was shrieking. Daniel was standing in the doorway. He looked appalled.

  “Daddy!” screamed Harriet, but it was too late. The doll’s house lay on its side, a rounders-bat hole in the roof.

  They’ll have to get rid of me now.

  THE ONLY QUIET BABY IS A DEAD BABY

  Jim didn’t know what to do. Harriet was sobbing like I’d just eaten her kitten. I stopped struggling, and he relaxed his grip a little. I waited to see what would happen next. What would Jim do? I don’t care what he does, I thought, but I did. Of course I did.

  “Olivia—” Jim said, but Harriet grabbed his arm and sobbed, “Daddy—” and he turned back to comfort her.

  I charged forward, out of his arms, threw the rounders bat on to the floor and ran down the stairs. Jim let me go. I ran through the kitchen and into the yard. I didn’t want to listen to him lecturing me about how he had to keep Harriet safe. What about keeping me safe?

  “You know we still love you, sweetheart. You’ll always be our little girl, whatever happens.”

  That’s what Dopey Graham said when he dumped me. Dopey Graham. I saw him maybe twice after that, I think. I scratched YOU WILL DIE into the side of his car with his car key, and he never came back.

  “I think you scared him off,” said my social worker, when I asked her when he was coming. I was nine. I was pretty horrible to him, but he still should have come back more than twice.

  I wondered if Jim would say something like that when he dumped me. I didn’t think he would, but if he did, I thought I really might kill him. I could do it, I bet. I put my hand on the knife, still there in my cardigan pocket. They wouldn’t be able to send me to someone like Violet if I killed Jim. They’d have to put me in prison. Violet couldn’t get me in prison, and I bet no one else would either. I’d be the eleven-year-old murderer, and no one would dare do anything to me in case I killed them too. And I would kill them. I’d strangle them like old Amelia used to. I’d strangle them all.

  But would Amelia follow me to prison?

  The farmyard was empty and boring. I wandered out into the garden. The patio at the back of the house was thick with weeds – evil-looking nettles and thistles and sticky burrs. I walked straight through them, not caring when the nettles slapped against my bare legs. They couldn’t hurt me. Nothing could hurt me, because I didn’t care. I didn’t care if Jim dumped me. I didn’t care if they made me go and live with Violet, or someone even worse.

  The grass on the lawn was up to my thighs. I waded through it. Once upon a time, this garden must have been beautiful. Was it beautiful when old Amelia lived here? I came to the end of the lawn and out into the flower beds at the other side, the ones where Harriet thought Amelia’s babies were buried. I bet she was right. I bet there were dead babies there. Those flower beds always gave me the creeps. It smelled different here; wet and mouldy and rotten. Bushes grew out of the earth, clogged with nettles and dandelions and weeds.

  I crouched down and dug my hand into the soil, enjoying the wet mud against my fingers. Jim would want me to wash them, but I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t do anything anyone told me to, ever again.

  Amelia was there.

  I could smell her. Tobacco and alcohol and milk and old, dry skin. And a sense of evil. Of hatred. I remembered: this was where she’d found me, that first day when Daniel and I fought and I ran into the garden. If the babies really were buried here, this was where Amelia would be strongest. This was where she’d be able to hurt me most.

  It was a dark day. It was supposed to be summer, but the sky was grey, and the sun was hiding behind the clouds. I clenched my fists in the earth, waiting.

  I heard a noise. A woman, laughing. I looked over my shoulder. Nothing. Then the same laughter, from the other side of the garden. I scrambled to my feet and backed away, keeping my eyes fixed on the place where the noise was coming from. The laughter again, this time from behind me. I spun round. Nothing.

  I could never escape her. Never. Wherever I went, she’d be there.

  I clenched my fingers tight. “Go away,” I said, out loud. “Please. Leave me alone.”

  Laughter again, closer. I closed my eyes, and then opened them quickly, because not knowing what was coming was worse. And then I felt it. A hand, touching my neck. Cold, dry skin against mine. I could feel the calluses under her fingertips. I could feel the rough fabric of her skirts, brushing against my back. Her hand on my neck. The world swayed, blurring in and out of focus.

  “Leave me alone,” I said again. I thought she wasn’t going to answer, and then I heard her. Amelia Dyer, or was it Violet? Or my mum? I couldn’t tell the difference any more. It was simply someone who hated me.

  Laughing.

  The front door was still open. I tried to sneak back into the house without Jim noticing, but he was in the kitchen, on his laptop. He stuck out his hand as I went past.

  “Olivia.”

  “Let me go!”

  “Olivia, calm down.”

  “I am calm! You’re the one making me not be calm!”

  “It’s going to take a long time to fix Harriet’s doll’s house,” said Jim. “So you owe me—”

  “I don’t owe you anything!” I shouted. “You owe me! You owe me all the toys Daniel and Harriet have! You owe me a bike, and a skateboard, and karate lessons, and all those books in Daniel’s bookcase, and—”

  “It must be hard—” Jim said, but I shoved him. I didn’t want him to be sensible and sympathetic. I wanted him to punish me.

  “Olivia, you need to go to the dining room now,” Jim said, very quietly.

  I opened my mouth to say no and suddenly I was back at Liz’s house, the day she threw me out.

  “I’ll kill you!” I say, and I punch her as hard as I can in the stomach.

  “Olivia, go to your room,” says Liz, but,

  “I won’t!” I say, and I punch her again.

  “Olivia?” said Jim.

  I couldn’t bear it.

  I backed away and ran out of the kitchen, down the dark little passage into the living room. The walls pushed against me. I’d been locked in the dark. Everyone was happier when I wasn’t there. I could hear my mum singing, and Hayley laughing, and everyone having a good time without me.

  “Let me out!” I shout, but someone’s covered my mouth with parcel tape, and nothing comes out. I try
to wriggle, but someone’s taped up my arms, and I can’t breathe, and. . .

  “You belong to me,” says old Amelia.

  I crammed my hands over my ears and banged through into the living room. Grace was sitting by the fire making a house out of university prospectuses for Maisy. She looked up when I came in and scowled at me.

  “Hello,” she said, in a hello-you-little-toerag voice.

  “Shut up!” I yelled. “Don’t say anything! Shut up!”

  “Look,” said Grace. “I’ve had enough of this. I don’t care what happened to you. You can’t just—”

  “Leave me alone!” I screamed, and Maisy started to wail.

  “Now look what you’ve done!” said Grace. She picked Maisy up and started joggling her. I crammed my fingers into my ears and buried my head under the sofa cushion, but I could still hear the screaming.

  “Now look what you’ve done, you little monster.”

  I’m in a room, a dark room with no carpet and chunks missing from the walls. It might be one of the flats we lived in with Mum, I’m not sure. It’s cold and damp, and smells of something rotting. I’m on the floor. Somewhere, a baby is crying.

  I was back in the living room. Maisy was howling. Grace was walking around the room, holding her, saying, “Shh, shh.”

  “Make her stop!” I yelled.

  Grace rounded on me. “This is your fault, you idiot. Be quiet!”

  “This is your fault,” says someone. Someone is a tall, dark shadow against the wall, with meaty hands and a black bonnet. Someone smells of tobacco and sweat and fury. “If you don’t make that kid shut up, I’m going to drop you over a bleeding railway bridge.”

  Maisy’s howls were growing louder. Grace was muttering to herself as she rocked her. My mum used to mutter just like that. It meant something bad was going to happen, probably to me. I stuck my hand in my cardigan pocket and found my knife. I eased it out of its cardboard sheath, and gripped the handle.

  A way out.

  The room smells of coal and burnt wood and something wet and rotting.

  “If you don’t make that kid shut up,” says Amelia, clear in my head. “I’m going to drop you over a bleeding railway bridge.”

  I leapt.

  BLOOD AND THUNDER

  There was blood everywhere.

  There was blood all over my red cardigan that Liz gave me, and blood all down Grace’s back. Grace was yelling at me. Maisy was screaming.

  I don’t know why. I hadn’t hurt her at all. I hadn’t even scratched her. I meant to, but Grace got in the way.

  Then Jim’s arms were around me, pulling me away. I fought and kicked and howled, while Maisy screamed, and my knife was sticky with blood, and Harriet stood in the doorway and cried and cried.

  Jim lifted me up and carried me into the yard. Then he locked the front door. I hammered on it with my fists. Then I kicked it. Thud. Thud. Thud. It rattled in the hinges, and I wondered if I could kick it down. I could smash the kitchen window in, but once I thought that, I knew I didn’t want to go inside. I was too worried about what I might see.

  He was going to throw me out. What choice did he have? I’d stabbed Grace. I’d tried to kill Maisy. I could feel the panic fluttering in my stomach. Who would they send me to next? Another Violet. A children’s home with big kids who would beat me up. Prison.

  Thud. Thud. Thud.

  There was blood everywhere.

  I was an attempted murderer. What was going to happen to me now?

  Jim’s friend Alison arrived, and Jim and Grace went off to the hospital with Maisy. I got scared when I saw them coming, and went and hid behind the barn door. Grace was covered in blood. So was Jim. But Grace was walking out to the car, so I figured she couldn’t be too hurt. And Maisy had stopped crying. Jim was holding her under one arm, and his other arm was around Grace.

  He didn’t look round to see if I was there. It was like he’d wiped me out of his head, the way my mum, and Mummy and Daddy, and Annabel and Graham did when I left. This morning he was supposed to be my dad, and now I wasn’t even worth a glance.

  I went down to the garden with the fountain and the flower beds and Amelia’s ghost. I waited for someone to come and find me, but nobody did. I kept expecting the police to turn up and haul me away, like they did that time I punched Liz in the stomach, but they didn’t. I crouched down in the weeds and hugged my knees.

  Nobody came.

  I wished I was dead.

  After what felt like for ever, Daniel came down the garden path. I sat there with my arms around my legs watching him. I could see Alison’s face looking out of the window, watching me. I stuck my finger up at her, but she didn’t look away.

  “Hello,” he said uncertainly.

  “I wouldn’t get too close,” I told him. “I might kill you too.”

  “No, you won’t,” said Daniel. He crouched down beside me and picked up a handful of gravel. He tossed it from hand to hand, thoughtfully. “Dad phoned,” he said. “Grace needed six stitches.”

  That sounded like a lot.

  “Does she hate me?” I said.

  “I don’t know,” said Daniel. “They’re coming home, Dad said. Are you OK?”

  “Of course I’m OK,” I said. “Why wouldn’t I be? It wasn’t me! It was Amelia!”

  “It looked like you,” said Daniel.

  “Well, it wasn’t.”

  It was. Of course it was.

  Daniel let the gravel trickle out of his hands. “Don’t you care about Grace at all?” he asked.

  I didn’t know what to say. Of course I cared. There just wasn’t enough space in my head to care about me and Grace and Amelia all at the same time.

  “What’s your dad going to do to me?” I whispered.

  “I don’t know,” said Daniel.

  It was late when Jim got home. We were supposed to be in bed, but I had my light on and horrible Alison hadn’t told me to switch it off. Probably she was scared of me. She hadn’t shouted at me about Grace. Nobody had. Somehow that made everything worse. It was like everyone was afraid to talk to me, in case I stabbed them too.

  I lay awake and listened to Jim and Alison talking in low voices. At last I heard the clunk of the front door shutting and Jim’s footsteps on the stairs. I waited for him to come into my room, but he didn’t. I heard his footsteps in the bathroom, the sound of water running. Surely he wasn’t going to ignore me? He must be able to see my light.

  The footsteps came down the hall. They stopped outside my room. I waited. The door opened, and Jim’s head appeared.

  “Turn that light off, Olivia,” he said. “It’s time you were asleep.”

  “I can’t sleep,” I said. “Read to me!”

  “Not tonight,” said Jim. “Come on, now.”

  “What’s going to happen?” I said. I didn’t mean to ask, but it just came out without my planning it.

  Jim hesitated.

  “Let’s talk about this in the morning, shall we?” he said. “Get some sleep.”

  “No!” I was properly frightened now. “Tell me. Are you going to chuck me out?”

  Jim didn’t answer.

  “You are!” I said. “Aren’t you?”

  “I’m sorry, Olivia,” Jim said. “I can’t let something like this happen again.”

  “Where are they going to send me?” I whispered.

  “I don’t know,” said Jim.

  It was honest, at least. If he’d said Everything’s going to be all right, I think I really might have killed him.

  HOMES NUMBER 2, 3, 4, 5 AND 6

  CATHY AND BILL

  Hayley and Jamie and I lived with my mum until I was five, but lots of times before that we got sent to live with other people for a little bit, when she was drinking too much and couldn’t look after us.

  I don’t
remember exactly how many families we lived with before we got taken into care for good. Liz looked it up for me once and said there were five, but I can only remember three. There was an old lady with a house full of old things – china ladies, and leather books, and cups and plates all different colours, and a piano that she used to let Hayley and me make up tunes on.

  There were two ladies who lived together and took foster kids too small to go to school. The house was always noisy, and there were always loads of toys everywhere. They were always shouting:

  “Stop hitting your sister!”

  “Leave that alone!”

  “What did I say? Did I say no? Did I?”

  The family I remember best was the one we went to just after Jamie was born. They were a mum and a dad, and they lived in a little village, which I remember as being sunny all the time. They didn’t have many toys, but it didn’t matter because they had this enormous garden with a climbing frame, and a tyre swing, and trees to climb in, and a big patio that they used to let us draw on with chalks, and two cats who used to climb into my bed at night and keep me safe.

  The mum’s name was Cathy and the dad’s name was Bill. They used to call Hayley “Sweetiepie” and me “Trouble”, but in a nice way, like they didn’t mind me being naughty and thought it was kind of funny.

  “What’s up, Trouble?” Bill used to say, and I’d tell him all the things I was going to do that day. If they were things he didn’t want me to do, like climbing on the roof or eating all the ice cream, he’d say, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, Trouble. I might get hungry and gobble you up!” And he’d make biting noises and pretend to eat me up. At first I thought he was serious, but when I realized he was only playing, he used to make me giggle all over.

  Bill had a big bike with a child seat on the back of it, and when he cycled anywhere he used to strap me into the seat and take me with him. I’d sit there with the wind blowing through my hair and my bare legs dangling down on either side, and I’d pretend that Bill was my daddy and we were going to live there for ever. When I got angry, he used to hold me – firmly, but not too tight. I usually hate it when people hold me, but with Bill I didn’t mind. Perhaps because I was so little and he was so gentle. Sometimes when I get angry, it’s terrifying, because it’s so big and so horrible; because I stop being Olivia and turn into some sort of monster, and I don’t know what the monster wants to do or who it’s going to hurt. But in Cathy and Bill’s house, the monster was never bigger than Bill’s arms.

 
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