Prologue (The Playroom)
My nose scrunched up at the funny smell coming from my Mummy. She never smelt like the other mummies I’d seen in the playground the couple of times I’d been allowed to go. As I sucked my thumb into my mouth, I wondered if it was because their clothes always looked clean and ours didn’t.
Mummy often said it was a waste of time to wash stuff when it would only get dirty again. I secretly thought it would be nice to have things that smelt better than dirty socks, but I’d never tell my Mummy that. The last time I’d said something silly, my bottom had hurt for days after the spanking she’d given me.
Sniffing, I wiped my nose on my sleeve as the pains in my tummy got worse. The smell was the worst ever. Every time I opened my mouth it seemed to sneak in and make me feel sick. Lifting my hand, I covered my mouth. Sighing softly, I took careful steps over the creaky floor. Making a noise when Mummy was sleeping was another rule I tried not to break, especially after the man with the horrible teeth and smelly breath had been.
I don’t know what’s in the little bags Mummy gets, but it isn’t good. It changes my Mummy. Her eyes go all bright and shiny right before they become mean.
When I’d seen the man come, I’d hidden in the attic, knowing Mummy wouldn’t want to walk up all the stairs to see where I was. I must have fallen asleep because it was light when I went up into the attic and now it was dark outside the window.
Hesitantly, I took another step closer to Mummy, looking down at her. She liked to sleep on the floor sometimes. We didn’t have beds. We slept on the lumpy couches that were scattered about the rooms in the house. Mummy had found this place for us when the men came and said we weren’t allowed to stay in the last building. I’m not sure how many buildings we’d been in, but it was a lot. This one was darker than the others. I supposed that was because of all the boards covering the windows. I was just happy it was warmer than the last few places. There were no holes in the windows or the roof. Maybe that helped?
I bent closer to Mummy, my chest hurting from holding on to my breaths. Mummy wasn’t moving. My hands trembled as I squinted at my Mummy. Should I touch Mummy? Chewing on my lip, my belly jumped faster than when I played hopscotch.
Was Mummy facing up or down? My eyes hurt from trying to see my Mummy’s face. The way her body was twisted funny and her hair was covering her face, I couldn’t make up my mind if she was facing up or not. Was Mummy pretending so she could spank me again?
A shiver raced over my skin. No, I’m going to wait for Mummy to wake up. I stepped back and sat on the floor. It was better to wait till she woke up.
I tried not to squirm against the bare floorboards, but my bum felt funny and I couldn’t feel my legs because I’d been sat for so long. Maybe I should get up? When I looked at the window, the light coming through the boards had changed. The sky was getting lighter through the tiny gaps in the wood covering the window. My belly was really sore, the pain worse than before.
I rubbed at my wet eyes and tried not to whimper. I looked at the cupboards and then back at Mummy. Would Mummy be cross if I got something out of the cupboard?
Sucking on my thumb, I tried to breathe through my nose. The coughs started and I couldn’t stop them. They came a lot and Mummy always said to stop the racket. Releasing my thumb, I slapped my hand over my mouth. No, no, don’t make a noise.
My body wasn’t listening to me and I started to cry. The coughing was hurting my chest and making me feel sick. I watched for Mummy waking up just in case she woke in a bad mood. When I could swallow without coughing, I wiped my eyes and blinked slowly. Mummy didn’t wake up.
I couldn’t get the air in my chest, something was stopping it. Was Mummy okay? I crawled over the dirty floor. My nose didn’t like the smell Mummy was making. Ohhh, dat’s bad.
Something inside me said Mummy was very sick. My hands were shaky but I still shook Mummy’s bare arm.
“Ewwww,” I muttered under my breath. She was so cold, it hurt my fingers. The iciness of her skin felt weird.
Why was Mummy blue? I crept closer and made an effort not to breathe. I pushed the hair away to see her face.
Sobs suck in my throat and I couldn’t move, my eyes staying on Mummy.
The unseeing eyes stared back at me and gave me the shivers. I willed my legs to move. My chest was moving so fast it felt funny.
Something told me Mummy was not going to wake up, even though her eyes were open. She wasn’t awake and she wasn’t asleep, no, she was dead. I’d seen one of the men in one of the houses we’d lived in looking like this. Mummy had said, “Once you’re dead, you’re dead.” The words rang through my head.
“Mummy’s dead. My Mummy’s dead. Oh, Mummy,” I snivelled, snot pouring out of my nose. I sat on the floor and cried. I hugged my arms around me and rocked back and forth. What am I going to do without my Mummy?
I was not stupid. I knew this was not good and that nobody would care about me now that Mummy was gone. Not that Mummy really cared. She often said I was more of a nuisance. But I’d never had anybody else so I’d got used to it, even when it hurt my chest to hear her say it.
The sky got brighter as I sat there, not sure what I should do. My Mummy never let me go out on my own, even though she’d left me many times alone in the house. I was told never to go out on my own.
What if the bad man comes back and finds Mummy? Would he take me away and do the same things he did to Mummy?
I’d seen through the door crack what the bad man had done to my Mummy. The memories of the horrible noises she’d made as she’d cried out in pain got me onto my feet. I wiped at my wet face and snotty nose with my sleeve.
On shaky legs, I slowly walked to the door. I looked back over my shoulder. It’s too late for Mummy. Leave before the bad man comes.
Not needing any further urging, I went to the front door and reached up to unlock the small latch Mummy had fitted to stop people getting in. The door creaked open and I gazed back to the empty doorway, chewing on my lip. Would Mummy come and stop me from leaving?
Stop it, Mummy’s dead.
Not sure why that made it easier, I stepped out and looked up and down the street. I shivered as the icy wind blew down the empty street, right through my clothes. My body moved every time the wind hit me. I looked at my long-sleeved, grubby T-shirt, then back at the open door. You don’t have a coat, just go.
Seeing no one around, I took a big breath of the cold air. It cut into my chest, making the shivers worse. I hesitated at the top of the stairs leading down to the curb. Go, it’s not safe here without Mummy.
I listened to the voice because it seemed to have answers I didn’t. I gripped the rusty, metal railing and walked down the steps. Once I hit the bottom, I kept walking. My hands balled into fists before I wrapped them around my body, hoping it would help stop the wind from hurting me. When snot dripped from my nose, it forced me to move my arm to wipe at my face. The wind tore at my clothes. What am I going to do now? Keep walking and find someone to make it all better.
Not arguing with the voice, I kept walking and hoped the voice wasn’t going to get me into trouble.