She reached her aunt’s house about half an hour later. She had a key, and was able to let herself in. Kerry had spent the entire walk home trying not to think about clowns, and fighting the feeling that there was someone following her.
She walked through to the living room, dumping her bag in the doorway and leaving her coat on the arm of the sofa.
Auntie Jo poked her head round the door to the dining room. ‘You’re back early,’ she said before disappearing again.
‘I know,’ Kerry called out vaguely.
After a moment, Jo appeared again, stepping into the room properly this time. ‘And you smell of chips.’
If one wasn’t used to being around Auntie Jo, she was quite something to behold. She favoured brightly coloured shawls, which she often knitted herself. She also liked to wear breezy tops, corduroy skirts or trousers and knee-length black leather boots. Her hair was black and curly, coiled around her face like snakes. Jo was young enough, but she has those facial lines and that yellowish complexion that came with a lifetime of smoking.
Kerry looked nothing like her Auntie Jo. Her hair was dull and brown, and refused to shine or shimmer no matter how much conditioner she drowned it in. Her green eyes were nothing like her aunt’s bright olive peepers.
Auntie Jo was an unusual guardian in other ways too. She constantly smoked, although for Kerry’s sake she often went outside to light up, or at least stuck her head out of the window. She also collected cacti, which she named herself. Her favourite was an agave cactus called Dylan, which has beautiful red spines running along its sides. Kerry liked a dumpy little Golden Barrel cactus called Quigley best, especially in the summer when it sprouted cheerful golden flowers.
‘I got some chips on the way home,’’ Kerry explained. ‘I had to duck out of there early, it was pretty bad.’
‘No, the clown thing.’
‘Oh, right. I’m sorry.’
‘No, it’s fine,’ Kerry reassured her, settling down on the sofa. ‘I didn’t have a strong physical reaction. Just a bit of crying.’
‘Is that all? That’s not too bad.’
‘It was a bit embarrassing. I had to duck out of the tent with my face covered.’
Auntie Jo was hovering in the doorway. It was something she did. Kerry waved a hand, ushering her in, and she sat beside her.
‘Well, you did it, anyway,’ Jo said. She started rooting through a gaudy red leather handbag for her cigarettes and lighter.
Kerry switched the television on. There were still a few horrible clown-shaped silhouettes dancing around in her head, and somewhere further off, she thought she could make out the haunting strains of ‘Pierro Lunaire’. It was probably her imagination.
‘You should have brought me back some chips,’ her aunt was saying, trying to get her lighter to work (it was temperamental).
‘Sorry. We could get chips tomorrow night. We’ll have a nice Sunday night in, have some chips, watch something maybe.’
‘That sounds like a good plan.’ The flame sparked and she lit the end of her cigarette.