Mum: You were both at home together, weren’t you?
Daniel: Yes. (He pauses before letting the burdening and guilty truth burst forth) but I was angry with her so I left and when I came back… (He blanches) I can’t. Please, stop it. I can’t.
Dad: Hey, Danny Boy; it’s not your fault. It wasn’t you. Yeah? You know that don’t you? She isn’t dead because of you.
Daniel: (desperate, self-deploring) I told her to go away and then I left. If I’d been there, if I was a better brother, if I could have not minded about the air fix model… No one could have come and hurt her. I let them hurt her.
Mum: No, no you didn’t Daniel. You were trying to calm yourself down like we always told you to. We should have been there; it was-
(The doorbell rings with such coarse abruptness that all three of them seem to quiver like leaves on a pond ruffled by wind. The boy called Daniel’s mother crosses the infinity of carpet and opens the door)
Woman on the doorstep: Sorry to er disturb you at er… well, I just thought you wouldn’t want to be worrying about cooking right now… (She sways from foot to foot with the mushroom risotto extended like half an embrace.)
Mum: Oh, you didn’t have to do anything, Marianne.
Marianne: It was no biggy, honestly! I spend my day cooking anyway so an extra here and there isn’t a problem. (The dish is still anticipating gratitude that no one is capable of and Marianne’s hands quiver around it in desperate humiliation.)
Mum: (muttering in a way that is cold like a penny) it’s very kind of you to think of us…
Marianne: If you need anything else, please let me know.
(Daniel peers around the door and sees the Pyrex change hands. He wishes it didn’t have to invade their house with its burn stains and its greyness. He doesn’t eat grey food.)
Mum: Take care.
Marianne: And you.
(The women shut down the door and almost turn the lock. They cannot leave one another fast enough and yet they both wish they could find solidarity in the other’s sympathy. Instead they only find the ancient discomfort that comes from apologising to the bereft you do not understand.)
Dad: (calling from the crater he’s made in the sofa) another one? Who was it this time?
Daniel: It was the butterfly woman.
Daniel: She looks like a butterfly.*
Mum: It was Marianne Witten; it was very nice of her, don’t you think? Given that we’ve not ever really spoken.
(The boy called Daniel’s dad tenses visibly.)
Mum: What is it? (She passes her husband the risotto as if hoping he might realise the generosity of it upon touch.)
Dad: It’s blood money, that’s what it is.
Daniel: (looking at the food with a combination of interest, repulsion and the tired apathy that has recently consumed him) what’s blood money?
Dad: It’s just an expression. It means something paid in compensation to the family of someone who has been k-killed-
Mum: We have little reason to suspect that our daughter is the victim of anything other than circumstance-
Daniel: But why do you call it blood money if it’s not blood and it’s not money?
Dad: (too broken to be patient) it’s what it symbolises, Daniel, it doesn’t matter.
Mum: (to her husband) what exactly are you getting at?
Dad: I mean that I’ve made a real mess of things.
(These words part the tension like they are Moses over the red sea. They seem to soak all other noise out of the air.)
Dad: I lost it, I’m sorry, she – marianne’s daughter – swore at Danny and I just couldn’t… (hushed and strained) Ellen, she called him retarded. (He tries to shield Daniel from the word but the child is so beside himself as he rocks in his chair that he fails to even hear the exchange) It was my fault. I made her furious; I could see it but I just carried on… Oh, I was so angry-
Mum: (in a voice that is not quite loud but certainly not calm) am I right in thinking that you insinuating absolute drivel?
Daniel: (momentarily overlooked and now pleading for attention as he taps on the table seven times) Stop shouting, please.
Mum: Sorry Daniel, (stroking his skinned knuckles before turning back to her husband) I really didn’t think you’d stoop so low to insinuate… to believe…
Dad: I know it.
Mum: You’re not saying a teenage girl murders another teenage girl because of an argument? Do you not understand ANYTHING?
Dad: I can’t think of any other suspects. Who else do we know in this place who’d do something like that? We know everyone here but the two families who live either side of us! None of our friends would have done this.
Mum: (hollowed) I really don’t want to have to talk like this… I – can’t we please - who says it was someone from round here?
Dad: (without having listened) she told me her father was in prison – like father like daughter.
Mum: (horrified at this expression) Jeremy!
Daniel: I can’t, I can’t, I can’t
Dad: You hear about it all the time don’t you; teenage violence, teenage criminality –one teen murders some other teen for supporting the wrong football team. (As he says it, he forges a flippancy into his tone as if it is worth pretending that such things do not hurt him)
Mum: (wet-eyed and barely finding the energy to breathe) but why Jasmine then?
Dad: They always say that kids these days have no concept of mortality. They live in a video-game world where your goal is to kill off the bad guys but when you die you always come back. Death is an annoyance.
Mum: You’re being irrational. An argument does nor equal a murder and a grudge does not equal war.
Dad: (storming) YOU KNOW WHAT, ELLEN? SOMETIMES IT DOES.
Daniel: stop it, just stop it!
Mum: I’ve lost just as much as you have, Jeremy, but I’m not blaming it on the last person I picked a fight with. Your version of events is just self-pity and a desire to be wrong about yourself. It’s almost as ridiculously far-fetched as that other theory around the village – half our friends seem convinced that it was the man next door simply because they’ve never spoken to him. I saw the police arrive at their house yesterday. Murder accusations can’t just be fabricated and flung around willy-nilly. People don’t work like that. I don’t believe that Marianne’s daughter did this to our daughter so you can stop yelling. For God’s sake – are you really so paranoid that you can’t accept that your daughter might just have fallen. (She pauses to breathe in air that is attempting to escape her) I highly doubt that this is what Jasmine wanted. Us arguing so hard about how she died that we forget to care for anyone but ourselves!
(She inhales sharply)
Mum: Daniel’s suffered more than we have. He’s just better at not shouting.
(There is a lengthy pause that seems to extend beyond the limits of the kitchen. Everyone breathes; still practising the art of living.)
Dad: (now crying) Danny, my Danny Boy… I’m sorry.
*A SHORT NOTE
Daniel has always thought of Marianne Witten as the butterfly woman. This is not because he thinks that she is pretty because butterflies, he has noticed, and rarely beautiful when you see them up close. Marianne Witten is a woman who has dipped herself in rainbows to try to find a solution to the beiges of her life. She is warding off the predators with her technicolour coat. Underneath she is lines and the kind of frail that can be crushed in a fist.
• The Boy Called Daniel is finding it difficult to keep his thoughts tidy. It used to be easy, effortless, seamless. Now he realises that it is hard work to contain everything within bullet points and
• some thoughts just insist on spilling over.
• He starts to obsess over a number.
• Each idea must be put into seven.
• Keep himself counting in repeat, keeping safe.
• No more, no less than that meagre
• No, it is too difficult; nothing is organised anymore; on the outside he keeps up a pretence but inside he is like a bombed city with bits and pieces flown from their accepted place and scattered across all the cell pathways and the streets. He can no longer play join-the-dot constellations with the things his mind stumbles upon. He sweeps clear the highways but the houses are like split teeth and they let themselves slip awry.
• Outside, his hands are 99.9999997% bacteria free and the late-day sky is like soup and the splattering droplets of clouds make his fingers ache to wipe it all away.
• His bedroom is still perfectly tidy – all is unfractured and untouched – and he takes it in hungrily, hoping it might overwhelm
• his mess
• of thoughts. The pens on the desk are all 7mm apart – regimented like soldiers – but checking them with a ruler cannot help his mind, just like a firework cannot realign the stars when they chose to explode and spasm.
• He sits on the bed and tries to forget his broken sister but he looks at the stars that hang above him and imagines them all cracking up the ceiling like the girl who put them there.
Dad: How are you doing Danny Boy?
Daniel: (confused) How am I doing what?
Dad: Don’t worry – I was just checking that you were alright but thought that it would be stupid of me to ask if you were and now I realise that what I did ask was equally pointless.
Daniel: A bit.
Dad: We’ll be alright.
Daniel: (not accusatorially, simply stating something that troubles him) Everything’s different.
Dad: (heavily) I know, I know Danny.
Daniel: I can’t make it go back to normal. I just want it all to go back.
Dad: Maybe we’re not supposed to. Maybe we can’t be normal anymore – we just have to find a new kind of normal.
(Daniel says nothing but his doubt is visible in his face)
Dad: I mean, maybe we just have to start to find new ways of doing things. We have to make it work without Jasmine.
Daniel: (speaking unexpectedly so that it surprises even him) Nothing works without Jasmine.
Dad: (sadly) I’m trying Danny Boy, you do know that don’t you. We’re trying really hard. (His voice cracks) I think maybe you’re right – nothing works the same way now that she’s not here.
(Daniel almost speaks but he looks at his father and decides that he would not understand.)
Dad: (prompting) Yes? Danny?
Dad: Maybe we just need to try doing things.
Daniel: Like what?
Dad: Anything, I don’t know. We could do that moon chart or something.
(Daniel nods reluctantly)
• The garden is a thick shade of black – so dense that the heat of the day has been muffed in its clouds and so still clings to the window panes and the criminalised patio.
• Dad and The Boy Called Daniel are stood in the open doorway, unable to decide whether it is hotter inside or out, while the stuffiness of the night steams their breathing and fogs into their lungs. It is too hot and too tight to move.
• They remain in the doorway, unsure whether they are languid because of the oppressive climate or paralysed because of the patio and the girl that was scraped off it by a stretcher.
• Dad puts his hand on his son’s shoulder, although the effort required for the simple action is gargantuan. The pair look at each other and turn back into the house. They make the decision without consultation – we cannot cross the patio – it is unanimous.
• There will be no creeping down to the furthest fingers of the garden tonight, no attempt to scribble down the moon’s secrets in the darkness, no sacred observation of the blindly beating stars. The sky is veiled and the garden does not forgive them their sins.
• Daniel clutches his notebook closer to his chest. Last summer it was full of sky and he cannot decide if the memories it preserves are better forgotten or treasured. He cannot decide if he wants to re-open that page and attempt to live the life he lived before. Perhaps he is a little relieved that they will not pay the stars their respects tonight. He does not have to decide.
• After all, how is the boy who climbs the stairs to an accompaniment of sevens meant to know how to exist without his sister when he never got his head around it before she broke?
• He doesn’t even know how to talk to other nearly-twelve-year olds, or how to leave the bathroom after one hand wash, or how to let carrots and peas lie next to each other on his plate. He doesn’t know how to process information unless he puts it into notes and rolls each note into the drawers and shelves of his mind.
• He stops, halfway up the stairs. He realises that he is closer to being twelve than he had thought and that his birthday is six days away now.
• He has not written a list of requests or scheduled himself a perfect day but these things cease to matter. What matters is that this means that it is also nearly Mum’s birthday.
• Daniel cares more about Mum’s birthday than his own, not because he is selfless, because he wants more than anything in the world to be able to set a finished air-fix model down on her place at the table.
• The boy called Daniel sits on the seventh step and cries for the first time since