Perhaps needless to say, I didn't find anything out as regards Dad, and I didn't attempt to question Mum, who utterly confined herself to her room for a whole week. I did call once, and she replied something in a high-pitched excited Japanese accent. But I shouldn't be publicising my mum's peculiarities. I don't usually. I'd rather keep them to the mercies of my family. Family of three, and we're all slowly going insane, if we aren't that already.

I might add that Dad was away overnight after he quitted the house swearing at me. I must own I did worry a bit. I slept better than usual, however, falling asleep about three in the morning having been waiting for Dad to come in. He was back when I came in from school, with purple bags under his eyes, which were sinking into his head like stones, and his nasal jowls more enhanced than usual. He looked old.

My pictures for the competition were ready for the first week in February, as promised. I had to take them to the neighbouring town of Traughley for the annual competition. I got Dad to write me a note to excuse me from school on Friday, and late that Thursday night I began to wonder how I was to get myself into Traughley.

We didn't have a car. We never had a car, even when my sister was alive. Parking is difficult in Douitchurch, for one thing. For another, neither of my parents had ever taken driving tests. Vere had intended to start when she was seventeen, but she didn't live to see the day. We took the bus everywhere. Or walked.

I'd have to get the bus. It was my only option. I got the bus to school when I couldn't be bothered to walk. It was no hardship, I told myself, standing in the dark in my room, snarling at the rain dripping down through the creeper on the green windows. I asked myself when I had last opened that window. Five times three hundred and sixty-five days ago and more, most likely.

The six large canvasses stared back at my musings. My confidence dropped lower. How was I to transport these great things on the bus?

But it had to be done.

And my feet were wandering. In despair.

They took me to the back room, which looked out through the creepers at the yard out the back, shared with several other houses. Not one inhabitant of any of the houses ever went out into the yard. It would be frowned upon, just as everything in this blasted town is frowned upon.

The back room had belonged to Vere, and I hadn't seen it in ages. I had used to come here when it got hard, and talk to Vere and tell her everything. But now I felt an intruder, and I was less sure of her hearing me, and completely doubtful of her being able to help me. I used to think she told me what to do; now I know that it was just me trying to comfort myself with some inner voice. Vere doesn't hear me. Vere doesn't help me.

Vere is dead.

The room was thick with dust, but I liked the atmosphere. It smelled very vaguely of...a smell. A smell that reminded me of someone. Someone obvious. But I couldn't rest my mind on that someone's identity. It wasn't meant to be.

Soon my fingers began to twitch, and unconsciously I was dismantling the bed. I dragged the six canvasses into the room, shut and locked the door with a satisfying rusty click, and by the next morning I had to my credit a strange wooden structure that held all six pictures in some way or other, secured by the wires inside the mattress, two straps of the mattress fabric to be looped over my shoulders and under my opposite arms.

It gave me pain to behold the wreck of Vere's bed, as I came to my senses with the dawn, but I was proud of my handiwork, and, grabbing a tin of canned peaches, my most detested food besides microwave soup, but all that seemed to be lying around that morning, strapped my invention to my back, and set off for the bus stop.

I caught the first bus available on a Friday morning at dawn.

The End

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