Part One: Alone
In The Beginning
Beyond the great iron doors, I can hear the ghostly wail of sirens. I'm familiar with this noise from school when watching old films about World War 2 and the Blitz. Only this is here and now, and I'm on holiday in Scotland with my family. Surely this must be part of the exhibition? I've never seen Dad so scared. He's terrified and has grabbed Harriet around the waist to get her away from the doors. He's pushing David along at his side. His face is grey - I swear, it's grey. I know from the decisive way he moves that this is no joke, he's genuinely frightened by what's happening outside the bunker.
Standing by the entrance I can see it's overcast and oppressive out there and at first I assume it's just bad weather. But the darkness in the skies has a solid, dark quality. It's like nothing I've ever seen before. As the blackness sweeps through the sky, it shuts out all light. I can't understand what's happening. Even at night there's a glow thrown off by street lamps or passing cars. But this has a finality about it, it's not to be questioned. Suddenly, the heavy iron blast doors, which at first seemed set and fixed, begin to groan and close very slowly. I call out to mum to run faster; they're going to shut before she reaches me.
Dad propels Harriet and David down the long concrete corridor - a combination of pushing and almost throwing them. But this is the action of a man who is the most petrified I've ever seen anybody in my life. It's funny how you notice these things at times like this. In movies, people act alarmed and make all sorts of shouting and screaming sounds. But in real life being scared is a feeling, a terrifying sensation that is played out in silence, inside your head.
As the blackness dominates the sky and casts its deathly shadow over the entrance of the bunker, I call out to Mum as she runs towards the closing doors and I know it must be too late. I hear her calling ‘Dan!’ but her voice trails off. She's been shut out and we are trapped underground. I have become separated from everybody in the panic. I'm alone in this strange place. Something terrible is happening outside this bunker and mum is caught out there with no way to escape.
I can’t really remember why we decided to holiday in Scotland. Things have a habit of coming out of nowhere when you live in a big family. One minute Dad has a great idea and then David knocks something over at the dinner table. Dad curses, Mum tells him off (does she really think that we don’t hear those words at school?) and Harriet gets covered in whatever it was that just went flying. And, out of the brawl and mayhem that follows, somehow we manage to discuss Dad’s great holiday plan, and before you know it he’s on his laptop entering the competition.
Yes, this wasn’t a conventional holiday for the Tracy family. We couldn’t afford a normal holiday. Dad had given up work two years ago, ‘Because I’m so old!’ he’d joked with us at the time. In actual fact, it was all my fault. I’d had what the teachers referred to as ‘difficulties’ at school. These ‘difficulties’ involved hushed conversations among teachers, worried chats long into the night between Mum and Dad, and regular visits from a very unusual man called Doctor Pierce. I remembered him because he wore a brightly coloured tie which had a curious metallic logo embossed on it at the bottom. That struck me as rather strange for a man who was called ‘Doctor’. It all ended with me staying at home to be educated.
‘Home ed’ they called it. Basically it meant that, for me, everything that I’d experienced between the ages of five and fourteen was now over. I got up after Mum had gone to work and, when I did get up, Dad was there. Dad, who’d gone to work before I left the house for ever since I can remember. Usually he was in his pyjamas with a cup of tea at his side and working on something at his laptop. Most days I joined him at the kitchen table about nine o’clock. They let me sleep in later because I lay awake at night. I don’t know why that was. I was tired, and I wanted to sleep … but I couldn’t. So I was awake until well after midnight usually. I enjoyed the world at that time of night, it was quiet and demanded nothing of me. I love my family, but sometimes, in the middle of the night when the rest of the world is asleep, there is a silence I could inhabit forever.
I preferred home ed because I got to see more of Dad, but I still missed Mum being about during the day. Home ed was funny because very little education took place. I just did what I felt like doing most of the time. And I got along fine like that. All that anger from being at school just seemed to go. In fact, sometimes it was hard to remember what had caused me to get into trouble in the first place. I could remember the rage and the fury – I could recall lashing out at those kids – but I couldn’t remember how I’d got from how I am right now to that state where I was so out of control. And I was out of control at school. It’s scary to feel that way. But now I feel totally calm, and I can’t picture what would make me get that way again. So most of the time during the day it was just me and Dad in the kitchen. And Nat of course, but Nat wasn’t actually in the kitchen with us.
When Nat Died
I was thirteen when Nat died. I don’t really recollect it as an accident. I remember what people did and how they reacted. And I remember the funeral most of all.
Nat was such great fun and the funeral didn’t seem to capture any of that life at all. Mum and Dad remember exactly what happened. I can see it in the sadness when they look at pictures of our family as it was. It comes in an instant, usually when a random photo flashes up on a laptop screen as it switches to screensaver. Then, one minute later, it’s almost as if Nat was never in our lives, like that place at the table had always been David’s.
But dead people leave a space. It’s not a physical space. It’s a part of our life that remains in a vacuum. And the smallest thing can let the air rush into that vacuum, filling it with life, memories and feelings, as if the person has never been gone. All it took was a photo and Nat was back at the table with us.
We were twins. I don’t think you’d know it now because we weren’t identical twins or anything like that. Mum and Dad say ‘You were so alike’, but we look like two different people to me in those photos. And if Nat was alive now, I’m sure we’d be so different. For a start, our personalities were opposite. And we wore our hair differently, even at that age. I left mine as it was, Nat was much more adventurous. We were different even then. But always, we were twins – until Nat was killed in an instant by that black car and our lives changed forever.
rest in unison on my forehead.