Chapter 7 Normalcy
I took Sabre for a walk. It seemed like a natural thing to do, and Sabre was more than up for it. The moment his red lead was dangled in front of him, his furry tail wagged ecstatically and he barked. Nanny told me not to go very far, but I didn’t remember enough of the place to know how far was too far. The dirt road seemed to go on forever, the long, twisting branches of the trees split the sunlight streaking it across the road. Nanny’s house was at the top of Bellerose which was a long road. Only a few other houses lived this way, and most were hidden behind the dark expanse of trees. Sabre trotted quietly at my side, if I watched him for a long length of time, I saw him glance up at me from the corner of his large brown eyes. He felt like my protector, Nanny had been right about that. His white paws patted the ground softly; his silky fur flopped around him.
We walked until we reached a fork in the road. I didn’t remember where each way went. I didn’t feel safe, despite having Sabre who wanted to go left. I turned, pulling on Sabre’s lead so he would follow. As I did so, facing the dark road again I heard a rustle of leaves and the snap of broken branches. The noise was too distinct for it to have been the wind or a bird. I stared into the mass of green and waited for more, more sound to affirm what I had heard. Someone was watching me. Sabre realised it as I had, he growled low in his throat. I felt him tense against my leg, his fur standing on end.
“H-Hello?” I called, but no-one answered. The bright day had become suddenly very dark, as if my eyes knew that something bad was going to happen. Sabre started to tug his lead, urging me to go left, away from the noise. But I had to find out what or who was there.
I trudged forwards into the opening of the trees. I was scared; the air was cold in my lungs, my heart twisting and knotted in my chest. A logical side of my brain was in utter protest, but my feet worked me forward. Sabre followed hesitantly. When I stopped it was from bolt right fear, a flash of something black darted through the trees, and it looked like hair, long hair that fell behind someone as they ran. As soon as my eyes had seen it, it had gone but the sounds of the footfalls were still distinctive. Sabre was barking now, one after the other. He tugged on the lead but now, I was too scared to follow.
“There was someone watching me...in the forest.” I explained. Nanny frowned, she looked doubtful. Stupidly, I wished that Sabre could talk, he would back me up. He was lapping at his water bowl, pretending to ignore me.
“Why would someone watch you?” Nanny poured me lemonade, and set the yellow jug next to me. I didn’t have an answer, obviously.
“I think maybe the light was playing tricks on you...” Nanny shrugged.
“I saw a girl...or someone with long hair? It was black.” I said, hoping she would recognise that very vague description.
“No, Honey. I think you were – maybe you were a little tired? How are you feeling?”
It was clear Nanny didn’t believe me. I sighed, and lied pretending she was probably right and that I felt absolutely fine. She seemed satisfied with this, and went off exclaiming about her apple trees thriving.
Nanny had told me that I would draw or read in my spare time. I was afraid of trying to draw; I thought that if I couldn’t, I’d know there is something wrong with me. What if I couldn’t think of anything to draw? What if my talent was lost? I took a book from my overflowing bookshelf without looking at it and headed towards the garden. Nanny had said that I had read every book on the shelf at least twice, but as I turned the thickly covered book in my hands I couldn’t remember it. Sabre followed me outside; it seemed he did this all the time. I didn’t mind. My eyes were used to looking at him, my skin used to the feel of his fur against my ankles.
The sun was just as bright as the day before. It hung almost in the middle of the sky, telling me it was noon. Nanny’s garden was bigger than I expected, a large expanse of lush green grass with daisies scattered everywhere. It was beautiful. “Whenever you’d leave your daisies in your bedroom, I would throw them out of the window...so that they would grow out here” Nanny had told me.
The sun kissed my skin as I lay down on the cool grass. I rolled onto my stomach and opened the book. It was called Petals in the Ashes by Marjorie Newman. I read the blurb again and again trying to familiarise myself with the story but it wasn’t clear. I started to read it flicking through the pages one after the other until I got bored with it. The slow prose was not what I thought I would find interesting at all. I sighed and closed the book, laying it next to my head. I could hear Sabre breathing next to me; his brown eyes swivelled around the garden, watching the white butterfly that was dancing in the air.
I flipped onto my back and let the sun bake my face. It was a familiar situation, to have the sun brightly visible through my eyelids, the grass pressing into the skin on my arms and legs. I lay there for minutes at a time keeping my thoughts on the things that kept me here. Nanny and Ryan, their kindness, their touch, their knowledge – both of them never wanted me to leave. Both of them made me promise. The wind around me started to falter, I felt it become heavy and change as though there were someone else with me.
Well done sweetie a faint female voice whispered. I wouldn’t have heard it at all if it were not like the wind had blown the words into my ears. I sat up in shock, the eerie feeling in the air had gone and a dark blue car was pulling up at the front of the house. Sabre barked and ran towards it, his tail wagging behind him.
I couldn’t believe that was the voice I heard, had I really heard it? The memory of the words were slowly dissolving in my mind. I couldn’t hold on to them to check. Had my mother called me sweetie? What had I done well?
Ryan got out of the blue car that had pulled up, heading immediately for me as I waved towards him. He was wearing brightly floral printed shorts, with a green t-shirt with the words “SHABBA” written across his chest. Although I didn’t know what the word meant it made me chuckle as he got closer and closer. Sabre followed him, but then darted off landing inches from the white butterfly.
“Hi” I said squinting up at him. His head was directly next to the sun when he stopped in front of me.
“Hey” he pulled my hands up so that I stood next to him. Again it was so strange to see his face, it was unbelievable that he really existed; his beautiful face was so perfect to me. It was hard to believe he was really mine.
“How’s your day been so far?”
“Mmm...” Ryan’s hand wound around my back, bringing my face closer to his, I felt the heat of his skin scorch mine, and then he whispered “It’s getting better” before his lips brushed with mine.
“Hey you two!” my grandmothers voice bellowed from the kitchen window. “I’ve made lunch” her voice hinted giggles as she closed the window with a crunch. I heard the kitchen door slap shut as Sabre flew through it.
Ryan sighed into my face; his hand brushed my hair away from my face and behind my ear. I wanted to forget that Nanny had spoken; I wanted his lips on mine again. But just as he read my smile and lent forward again there was a quick tap, tap, tap on the window and Sabre barked.
“Great timing” I breathed, taking Ryan’s warm hand in mine and dragging him towards the kitchen.
Nanny was humming to herself, which I guessed was another usual habit of hers. One I hope I did not also have. She turned and smiled serenely at Ryan as he came around to her. To my delight he walked around the counter to kiss her cheek, she blushed and batted him away lightly with her spoon. I could smell batter, sweet and sickly. The smell made my mouth water.
“I am hungry” Ryan said, sitting himself down and grabbing three sandwiches in one hand. My memory flickered to other days when Ryan had come round; I sat next to him and sipped my glass of water. I could hear Ryan chewing, but there was a heavy silence setting over the kitchen. It was hard to know what to talk about. I could tell that they both wanted to ask me questions but they couldn’t word them. They exchanged polite happy smiles over their food but continued to eat in silence. It was driving me crazy; I had to break it.
“So does everyone know that I'm – I'm back?” I heard Ryan swallow his food and Nanny slurped on her drink.
I knew Ryan would be the first to speak. “Err...yeah, yeah news like that moves around pretty quickly, but it’s fine. Everyone is really happy that you’re back” Ryan’s hand rubbed the top of my thigh affectionately, Nanny nodded.
“Who do you mean by ‘everyone’? Do I have friends?” I was looking at Ryan when I asked, his eyes widened a little when I asked this and I knew he wasn’t expecting me to ask. I sighed and looked at my hands. I tried to remember, I really strained for a face to call a friend.
“Yeah, you have friends” Ryan said slowly. His hand on my thigh tightened. “But we’ll talk about it later ok?” I wondered why he wouldn’t talk about it with Nanny but I had a more pressing question that I wanted to ask.
“What happened to my parents?” the question came out louder and bolder than I expected. I felt myself shrink away from it as I waited; Ryan looked upset as he looked at me. Nanny had started clearing the plates although it was clear neither she nor I had finished. She turned her back on us to place them in the sink. Sabre’s eyes followed her, but then he went to his sofa in the conservatory and sat down.
I felt the change in the air. I understood why Nanny probably did not want to talk about it; it was obvious that we would be breeching the subject of her daughter’s death. Ryan took my hand as I stared at her back. He was leading me away when I called “Leave the drying up, I’ll do that”
“Ok hon” she replied quietly.
Ryan sat me outside on the porch swing, nestling my head into the dip of his shoulder like always. The sun was still high and strong in the sky. It beat down on the soil surrounding the house - Ryan’s dark blue car reflecting it off the bonnet.
There was no wind today, the air was thick with the heat and it clung to everything outside it. Ryan’s skin was the only thing hotter, but I would never complain. I curled myself closer to him and waited for him to talk. He was taking deep breaths, his chest falling and rising beneath my hand that lay on it.
“Your Nanny doesn’t really like talking about your parents” he began, he cleared his throat and I could feel him looking down at me. I continued to look out across the porch. “When we were six, we used to go and play hide and seek like every other kid y’know?” his fingers were tracing the skin on my arms and I was remembering the game, playing with Ryan in my head. Ryan sniffed and continued “We used to go through the Silvanus woods, which is just through those trees” he pointed behind his car, to the trees “where it was cool to run around.” I remembered it as the words were formed on his lips, the woods were dark, the trees stood close together. “And then one day...we were playing, you were hiding and I was seeking. You were always better than me and it took me a long time to find you and whilst I was looking I noticed a huge tower of smoke billowing up into the sky” his head looked up to the porch light, he was remembering it “the smoke frightened me, but I was drawn to it, I thought maybe that you were near it...but when I got closer I realised that it was not just a fire, but it was a house on fire. The wood from the porch was black and there were flames shooting up into the sky. I could hear crying nearby and I knew it was you I-I...” he faulted in his words, but he didn’t need to say anymore. The memory was so clear to me now that new sobs were erupting from my throat. I covered my mouth with my hand.
I bolted upright and ran as fast I could into the trees, following my childhood memories to that house. Ryan called after me again and again and I could hear him not far behind me. I could hear Sabre’s barking. The broken branches on the ground snapped beneath my trainers, the soil was soft and thick. I remembered where to turn left and where to go right until I was right outside it. The place where my parent’s house had been was flat, undisturbed soil. No efforts had been made to rebuild the house, but the remains had gone. I remembered this now that I had reached it, remembering that I returned to this place secretly on the day of their deaths every year. The pain of loss didn’t feel as though it were mine as I knelt to the ground in sobs, I cried in the mind of the six year old Olivia, who lost her parents. When I had seen my childhood home in flames and the feeling of helplessness was so raw in my gut it broke new sobs from my throat. Sabre caught up with me immediately, he panted next to me as I cried. His wet, cold nose pressed into my hands that covered my face.
Ryan burst through the clearing seconds later. He bent beside me, holding me to his chest, he told me how brave I had been, how Nanny had taken me to live with her. He told me, although it only made me cry harder that they loved me very much.
My mother’s name was Anita and my father’s was Ray. They got married at the age of nineteen and like Ryan and I, were friends all of their lives. Anita was a nurse and Ray was a construction worker. They were really good people, people who everyone liked. My memories of them are sluggish, returning to me whenever Ryan said their names.
We sat facing each other, our legs crossed. I picked at the dirt around us as he spoke looking up and smiling whenever a memory emerged through the fog. The sun was beginning to dip behind the tallest trees; I wondered how long Ryan could stay with me. His hand came up to my uninjured cheek and he said “Is it like reliving everything over again?” Sabre had wandered off around the trees, I watched him sniffing the ground and then turning his head.
“Yes. Everything” Ryan’s hand stroked down my arm the yellow bracelet on my wrist, which he removed, and tied around my other wrist. I watched him in exasperation. Even Nanny hadn’t told me it was on the wrong wrist. “Food...food tastes different, I'm not sure I like tea and Nanny says that I like it. Books that I’ve supposed to have read completely bore me” I threw my hands around myself in annoyance “and I can’t even remember which wrist my bracelet goes on”
We sighed together. “Things will get easier Liv.” I looked at Ryan’s handsome face in the sunlight, his tanned skin over his strong bones. He licked his lips, playing with this words “Think about how much you’ve uncovered already I'm mean, I don’t want to scare you...but when you-when you were gone the doctors said that your brain was...it was irreparable.” Ryan swallowed hard; took my hand and dragged me up.