The Bridge of Aspiration

"I’m an addict.
Ballet is my morphine."

Six months after the death of her father, Erin Weir's mother commits suicide. Orphaned, she is taken to London in a bid to escape the guilt-ridden village of her childhood.
There seems to be no way out of the cycle of depression she's plunged into but then she discovers ballet, a gift that may be powerful beyond anything...


1. 1

I stand on The Bridge and look down at the grey burn below. The flurrying water throws the dark density of building storm clouds back at me. The murky rivulets of water are merely a charcoal projection of the expectant sky.
 The Bridge marks the end of my kingdom and the gateway to the world beyond and I stand there, caught between two worlds. My kingdom – I call it this although I can claim no genuine ownership of it – is green and wild and it covers the steeply sloping field, the stream, and the squat line of trees above that crouch to shelter from the wind. I look out at my world and see the amber tones of late summer creeping among the green and the colours seem intensified under the weight of the approaching storm. Today my world will be toyed with like string in the paws of a storm cat and the sky will open fire, sending thousands and thousands of ice bullets to tear at our sagging roof.
The other world is different; beyond the bridge there is a footpath that leads to the churchyard, that’s where you first see the difference: in my world nature is in control and we obey its commands, in the other, men have the upper hand, for now.
Beyond the old stone church there is a road, rutted with bad weather and tractor tyres, which makes its winding way out of the glen, twisting between the old farms and cottages until it reaches the main road. I used to go there, there and beyond. dad used to take us on holidays and sometimes, if I had a bad day at school, he would take me out in his car and we would drive forever and then we’d stop wherever felt right. Sometimes it would be in a town and we would clamber out of the car and go have cakes in a café and then I would drag him around the shops to look at shoes. Other times it might be in the forest and dad would pull the car over to one side and we would get ourselves lost in the woods building dens and playing pretend games. Or we’d just end up by a lonely loch or at the end of some deserted glen and dad would pull a box of ice-cream out of the boot and we’d sit and eat the whole tub, smothering the cold, loneliness of the place in curls of sweet fluffiness.
 And I used to go to school in the village and we would go to church every week and I would watch dad singing so happily, as we trawled through the hymns, that it seemed he had entered another world. He would sing his way around the farm too, as though he found it exciting to dig the ground beside the squat buildings or to chase the chooks across the yard.
Then that piece fell out of the complicated jigsaw of life and we retreated in upon ourselves. Mum shut us off as though that way we could hide from the pain, the way that we could hide from the sympathy of the village. I haven’t been as far as the main road since.
Today is a Sunday, it is nearly five a.m. and if things were still the way they’d been before I would still be in bed, catching dreams for another two hours at least. I glance down again at the burn, and see how close I am to the swirling water and wonder at how my entire physical world seems somehow distant from me.
I take a breath and step off the end of the bridge onto the dirt track; it’s gritty and my converses are greyed by dust as I hurry along to the church. I pause and take glimpse through the doorway as I stumble past and it looks sad and dead in there. I look along the pews and locate the spot where dad used to stand, singing at the top of his voice, and I can almost hear it echoing off the walls like an afterthought. In four hours’ time the church will be full again and the congregation will be singing whilst the rain crashes down around the old stone walls, but somehow it will never again be complete without dad in the pews, singing like the world depended on it.   
As I run on, the rain begins to fall in steadily thickening drops until the cracked mud at the side of the road is swirling around my feet with a mixture of brown water, stray strands of straw and animal poo. It feels like it hasn’t rained for years and at first it is nice to feel it once more on my face like cold kisses. I reach the sharp bend in the lane and clamber over the fence that bars the gap in the hedge. I jump down, still cradling the boxes under my arm – 3 boxes of precious eggs; smooth and fragile and speckled brown, nestled into the cardboard boxes that are going floppy in the rain.
I run across the deserted field, my feet slipping and sliding out from underneath me, and feel the muddy water soaking through the holes in my old shoes. I reach the other side of the field and let myself through the gate that hangs sort of sideways off its hinges. Through the gate is the stable where three horses stand and look at me from their split-across-the-middle doors. There’s something ironic about the way that the place they live in looks sturdier and more waterproof than the place I live in but I don’t know if I really care about that anymore…
“Why do we live in a house full of holes?”  I ask as Dad and I walk along the overflowing street in front of the peach painted houses and the shiny store fronts.
“Why not? Mum thought it would be a special feature, other people have skylights, why shouldn’t we have lots of little ones?” He says and somehow that is so funny that I laugh and I don’t care that the houses in the town look big and smooth and too perfect to touch like those shoes I saw in the shop window…

I watch the water running down the horses’ noses and I wonder why they are so friendly that they stick their proud heads over to see me even when it makes the short soft hairs on their face heavy and streaky.  I walk on past them and they lose interest, maybe I would stroke them if my hands weren’t so full of treasure… 
“Eggs aren’t treasure, how can you say that? Treasure is gold and sparkling not brown and mottled” I say.
 “How do you know?” asks Dad “Have you ever seen a proper treasure that isn’t just a coin? There’s more to treasure than gold dust.” I frown and think to myself but I can’t think of anything better than that handful of coins that the girl handed over in the shop…

The farm house is big but little at the same time, it is big on the outside but when you go inside it somehow fells like there’s not enough air. We used to go there at Christmas and it would be stifling and crowded and the rooms would smell in a sticky, sickly way of pine needles and hot Ribena. I would look at the presents under the tree and feel so jealous that I had to sit on the stairs and try and breathe in the air that somehow wasn’t there.
I haven’t been inside for nine months but every Sunday I take my treasure to the doorstep and knock on the door. I step up to the door and knock three times and then I step back because I feel kind of ashamed of standing on the step, like I’m not really good enough to stand up there on the bristly boot mat, pretending that I belong there.
The door is opened quicker than normal and this time it is their son that opens it. I remember him last Christmas eating a mince pie and laughing at me…
“Are you hungry?” I ask.
“No, not really” he says observing the delicacy in his palm with faint interest as though he had only half realised he was putting it to his lips and I look at him in wonder. Why is he eating a mince pie without even being hungry for it?...

Rich people eat for the sake of it. I know that now.
He takes the eggs and his hands fumble over the flimsy boxes and he almost drops them. Fear shoots through me like I’ve slipped on an escalator; I imagine them splattering on the carpet and all there worth becoming meaningless. Then it is OK because he gets a better grip and takes them down the corridor. He returns with two carrier bags and my desperate hands stumble over the handles because there’s something sacred about those weekly carrier bags. I think they’re worth a lot more than the 18 eggs I pay for them but perhaps, to him, they’re nothing but cheap plastic full of cheap white bread and cheap tins and cheap cereal.
“Can you manage them?” he asks “They’re a bit heavy for a ten-year-old”
“I’m not a baby.” I reply angrily and then I feel pathetic like I’m one of those soggy cardboard boxes and I have a strange feeling like my insides are trying to cry but my outside won’t let them.
He looks at me properly then and maybe he sees then that my hair is plastered to my head like a dog out of the river and that my face is lined with inlaid grime and summer dust that cold washes can’t remove and maybe he sees that the sole of one of my shoes is peeling off and the bottom of my t-shirt is unravelling from my battles with the chook fence because he asks if I want a biscuit.
Mum says we are not a charity and we don’t take presents, only enough to get by. I say that we look like those charity kids that I saw on TV at Annabelle’s house and the clothes we wear look too ragged to come from one of those charity shops that we used to walk past when dad took me into town and the house we live in is a battered wreck that we’ve never had enough money to repair. Does that make you eligible for “charity?”
The boy walks away and returns with another bundle “here” he says piling the bundle into my arms. There is a whole packet of chocolate biscuits and a blue waterproof coat.
“Won’t your mum mind?” I ask incredulously but he shakes his head.
“I grew out of that coat years ago, and if I hadn’t given you the biscuits I’d‘ve eaten them myself so she hasn’t lost anything.” I try to take it in and say thank you like a normal person but the words don’t quite fit out of my mouth so I can only smile damply and turn and run back the way I’ve come.
I slide the coat over my shoulders and wonder what I will do with it when Mum sees me and how I will be able to explain why I’m wearing it. Hiding a packet of biscuits should be easy but a coat is more difficult to conceal. Since when did Mum look at you in enough detail to take-in a coat? I question myself and I answer with ease. Not anymore.
 It feels good having something over my shoulders like a suit of armour that stops the rain from getting to me.
The handles of the plastic bags are slippery and taut across my hands and they seem to be cutting through my fingers but I only have to think of what they contain and then the pain stops. Food. A weeks’ worth of food that stops the crunching pangs of hunger that I couldn’t have imagined six months ago. Food that will line up in cans on the table and make the house more like a home.
 Before dad died we would grow vegetables and we had our eggs and the rest would come out of the money that dad got from the shop he worked in. We weren’t rich but it didn’t matter because there was always something in the food cupboard and there was always money in the pot on the kitchen table. I used to be ‘hungry’ after school, but I wasn’t really hungry, just hollowed out by the long walk home, and sometimes dad would let me take a slice of bread out of the packet on the counter.
When he died people would come round every day bringing casseroles that nobody had the strength to eat and it makes me sad now because we threw it away and returned the empty dishes with empty thanks to match their empty sympathy. It seemed wrong to think of food back then. 
I would kill for a casserole now.
After a while they stopped coming because they decided that we could manage on our own; we had the veg patch and the chickens, but they must have been wrong because I feed the chickens and collect eggs and the veg patch lies untouched, strangled by weeds in a mess of dry earth. Mum doesn’t do anything anymore.
She goes for long walks up around the valley holding the pot of dad’s ashes as though taking him sightseeing; you would have thought he might have been sick of the valley by now.
When I get back to the church, the rain thickens and I can feel grime running down my face like earthy war-paint and my feet feel like they will never be warm and dry again. My outsized clothes are heavy and clingy underneath the clammy coat and my hair hangs in knotted strings around my face. I have a strange feeling inside me that somehow compels me to enter the old, sad building. The thick door creaks behind me and it is dark and cold inside. The rain has splattered the stained glass window and the clouds have eradicated the light of the early dawn but at least inside the church it is dry. I take off the coat and wonder if God really cares about anyone. Normal people seem to care so much more than he does, God killed my dad but the boy at the farmhouse gave me biscuits and a coat for nothing. Am I allowed to stand in a church and think that? Am I allowed to look at that stained glass image of a man on a cross and say that he deserved it?
 “You never cared” I shout at the painted image. My voice scares me as it echoes around the dusty rafters “You wouldn’t have done this to me if you loved everyone like they told me you did.” The lack of response annoys me. I know it’s just and window but I want something to shout back, to confirm that there is something there.
 I shiver and wrap my damp arms around me as the light deteriorates further. I put the plastic bags on one of the pews and start to take off my shoes without really knowing what I’m doing. The same instinct which brought me inside makes me undo the unravelling laces and brush my hair back out of my face. The dye in my shoes has run in the rain and my bare feet are stained inky because of it, I point one foot out in front of me like I saw that girl in the shop do. Pushing hard along the floor and gradually peeling my foot off into an arched line with only my toes left on the cold flagstones. I trace a circle with my toes, holding all the muscles that I have to in order to make my leg stay turned out like that girl did. She put on those pink satin shoes and they looked like they were made especially for her, it seemed almost like they were just a second layer of skin which transformed her feet into the most beautiful things in the world. Ever since that day I’ve wanted shoes like that. Shoes like the ones that hung tantalisingly in the window between two different tutus. I wanted to be like that beautiful, graceful girl who tried them on and had enough money to pay for them. I don’t think it was the dancing I was attracted to – it was the beauty, the prettiness and the elegance of the unknown girl I associated with it.
 I shut my eyes and imagine that I am her; imagine that whatever I do will look perfect. I don’t stop to think or to worry that it will go wrong; I just dance because there is no one to see me. I just dance because it feels like the right thing to do even though I’ve never learned how; the moves come from my inside. They come from some place that I never knew existed but now realise was always there. It’s a kind of stifled natural instinct which is allowed to venture out for the first time. I seem to separate from the world so that I am just dancing and everything else peels away. The hurt, the cold, the anger – I can’t feel any of it, I can only feel that my body is moving in a way that it seems it has been wanting to for a long time. I don’t know what I am doing, maybe if I could see myself I would laugh because I would see a little bird trying to fly. I don’t know where the music comes from but I know that, although the church is silent, some internal rhythm is pulsing through every particle of my body.
In a different world my legs hurt. In a different world my wet feet stick to the floor and my saturated clothes chaff my skin and in a different world there is helplessness and hunger and fear.  
A roar of thunder overrides the music inside and I freeze causing reality to surge back into me. I see a spear of lightening cleave the sky into two pieces and for a moment the stained glass window is illuminated, revealing raindrops clinging to the other side of it. Then I am on the floor pulling on my shoes roughly, wondering how I forgot Mum, the food, the swollen burn. I fling my coat on and it feels disgustingly chilling on my hot, damp skin. The carrier bags feel heavier, my legs feel tight and tired, and I have no idea how long I spent dancing – it could have been minutes, hours, days.
I run out of the church and slip and slide across the glistening grass across the graveyard. I hear the heavy door slam shut behind me and I wonder whether anyone in the congregation will notice damp foot prints skating their way down the church when they sit there later. The wind is picking up and it buffets me, making my coat flicker and twist as though trying to escape my shoulders and still the rain falls. The sky is darker than ever and water pours from it with such solidity that there seems to be thick layers of glass stretching across the sleepy glen. I force myself to run even though it makes my legs hurt and the bags swing awkwardly and I can feel water and mud splashing up over my feet in a claggy mess. I reach the bridge and the river is rising rapidly as it swirls, hungrily sweeping up twigs and clumps of grass and stones by its edge. If it rains all day it will burst and seep into the field already claggy with the day’s precipitation. The field climbs sharply above the bridge and I have to stop running because my chest hurts in a way I didn’t notice when I was in the church and the grass might as well be ice for all the grip I can get on it. I follow the line of battered hedge up to the point where the ground levels slightly before continuing in a scree slope. The flatter ground is disturbed by boulders poking their jagged faces out of the marshy earth. Home is nestled against a stack of grey rock in a tired way, as though leaning on it for support. The wind chases a peeling shutter which swings half off its hinges and tugs the corners of the plastic tarpaulin that is tied over one of the larger holes around the window frames. The walls are grey stone, once strong, now crumbling from neglect like an ancient castle from an old school history tour. The roof slated and slipping apart so that some pieces of dark grey hang at crooked angles like monstrous teeth. In front of the house there is a crooked, paved yard which separates the door with cracking blue paint from the ugly, box-shed which is surrounded by a high, chicken-wire fence. As I pass the squashed enclosure I can see the chickens crouching under the corrugated metal roof like children in the African slums on Annabel’s TV. The broom and old bucket are propped up against the strange shed looking darker than normal under the storm clouds. Dirt is collecting in puddles in the holes in the yard and the dampened-green weed-heads poke from the gaps. Letting myself through the fence, I grab the sodden sack of chicken feed up from the ground wondering wildly if the chickens will still eat the water-swollen food, and force it roughly into the storage space between the struts of the shelter and the slanted roof. It is heavy with the absorbed water but I barely feel it, the rain might be summer rain but it still has a freezing quality as it bombs the world. 
I slip back through the flap the serves as a gate and walk towards the house, past the veg patch. It looks sadder than ever in the rain as even the weeds stoop and cry and the once ordered trenches of soil swim and slide sluggishly. The door is stiff but manageable and I ram it shut behind me into its frame which has warped slightly with the weather. It never used to be like this. We could never repair it but, between us, we kept it tidy. Mum would never have allowed the layer of dust and grime to settle on the rug across that lies on the un-swept stone floor, or on the window ledges or on the shelves and the counter. We had always had mismatched furniture but it used to look homely, especially when you could feel the heat of the portable fan heater and smell something in the oven – you could almost have believed that it was deliberate. Now it looks sad, like a junk sale or a homeless shelter and there is never anything in the oven because Mum doesn’t cook anymore.
I empty tins into dented pans and turn up the faulty power on the rings. I feed chickens, I sweep the yard, I make sure that I wash our clothes under the hot tap, I play Mum and she plays baby except it’s not a game. 
To my surprise, the house is empty. Mum’s coat is gone and her boots are no longer on the mat by the door. The pot of ashes on that normally sits on the table is also absent and I look at the clock wondering how long I have been. 6:30. The bedroom is greyish, the sheets rucked like the skin of an old man and my camp bed looks tired and shabby, pressed against the wall. I walk through to the bathroom; chipped tiles, chipped bath, mould ingrained around the taps. I hold my breath as though that will prevent it from reaching me. Under the bathroom sink there are three plastic buckets, not nearly enough for all the drips in the house but two, at least, to put in the bedroom and one for the leak over the armchair. There is something cold about the plasticity of the bathroom and I retreat rapidly, feeling a water droplet slide down from my shoulder.
I unpack the carrier bags and take a slice of bread from the packet. It is flimsy and white like the plastic toilet seat but it is food and I am hungry enough to eat almost anything. I have to fight the instinct that tells me to gulp it down because I know that food is more filling when you eat it slowly. I find myself absent-mindedly planning this week’s meals in the back of my head. Now that I don’t go to school I spend my life thinking about food. Where it’s going to come from and what I’ve got to make it cover. When I will next be able to eat something and whether it will be enough to keep my stomach dragging through. It’s not that I’m being actually starved but you never realise how hard it is living from barely anything until you have to. You get tired and angry and your whole life seems to be spent waiting for the next meal. I didn’t think I would miss school but I do because when I was at school I had to think about things, I had to stop thinking about dad and about Mum falling apart and about the depleting line of tins on the shelf. At home there is nothing else to think about.
I still went to school for a bit after dad died but the world had changed and when I would try and recreate the old days by asking my friends around, Mum always said no. One day Annabelle had come up to me at lunchtime and sat next to me like before and she had shown me pictures of her dog’s puppies and asked if I wanted one. It wasn’t really real, I knew it wasn’t, she had that fake voice on which spoke louder than the words she said – I’m only talking to you because Mum says I have to, I have to be nice to you even if you’re no fun now, so I’m standing here awkwardly, wondering why I have to talk to someone who I don’t even know anymore. All the same, I talked to her and I thought that maybe if I talked enough and was interesting enough we could reverse the clock. I said yes and she said I could chose a puppy then next time I stopped round, even though she knew that I never “stopped round” anymore. So then I got carried away and asked her back to mine to play and she agreed, perhaps because she remembered the last time she had come when we still allowed visitors and we all made pancakes in our ramshackle kitchen. They were good, those pancakes, I’ll never forget them. Maybe they weren’t the things that were good; it was the feeling of warmth, and love, and being full.
We were in the yard, collecting eggs when Mum returned from her daily pilgrimage up the hill to the spot where he used to like to sit. She hadn’t been normal since Dad died but the sight of Annabelle there; laughing in that childish, problem-free, way seemed to make her break. It seemed to transfer all her grief into wild rage. I’m not that sure what happened but then I was lying in the mud cradling to my chest a broken egg shell and then the next day at school Annabelle had a bruise on her face and announced at lunch that my mum was a witch.
I stopped going to school after that, Mum wrote to my teacher and said I would be home schooled. I’m not, but nobody is brave enough to come and check what is happening. Instead I do as much housework as I can and then sit outside on the grass and stare beyond the bubble that my life has become while Mum spends her days up with dad trying to cry him back from the dead.
Is it right that she is more interested in the incinerated corpse of my father than she is in me? Me. Her real, living daughter. I didn’t think that parents were meant to forget that they had children.
I cross the room and put the light on. It’s not bright; it’s a dim, hazy, grey colour but the room looks more real with a glow illuminating the ceiling. I try again to stretch my feet like the girl in the shop and even though my legs protest, it feels good.  Once more I feel that tingling happy sensation of flying, skimming with my toes just brushing the cold floor. There is no one to tell me that I’m doing something wrong so I do what feels right and it somehow feels more natural, more comfortable, than walking despite the cramps in my legs and feet. Cramp doesn’t seem to matter much when I’m dancing. I suppose you would call it dancing, dancing is what I imagine that I’m doing but perhaps in reality I don’t look like I’m doing anything like that. Perhaps in reality I am slipping, and stomping and spinning like an absurd mechanical toy, my limbs flailing in a way I believe is graceful.
Outside the rain continues to fall, it builds up and falls away over and over again like a strange kind of rhythm and it’s one of those days where you wonder if it will ever be dry again and the grass is stained silver and the ground is black. It doesn’t stop raining until nearly six in the evening by which time I can almost feel the weight of the water sitting in the hollowing roof above me. It could give in any time. Mum is not back.
Mum does not return all night. It fails to surprise me – it is not the first time. She loses track and comes back tearful, confused and wretched in the morning and then she sits at the table and starts taking slices of bread out of the packet and I never know what to say because I don’t want to stop her because she is hungry and she forgets to eat sometimes but I don’t want to let her eat it because without it I have no breakfast.
There is a knock at the door, I wonder why she is entering her own house like a guest but I go to open it quickly. I have got used to being alone and mostly when Mum is here I wish she wouldn’t be, but I am still relieved every time she reappears because her absence makes me realise how much I hate the silence of a lonely house.
I tug at the door and it swings open. The man from the farmhouse is standing there; next to him is a policeman.
I run back into the room and into the bedroom where I lean against the wall beside the door. I don’t know what makes me do it, fear, realisation, defiance, refusal to hear. Like a kid with hands over my ears – refusal to acknowledge, refusal to let my brain work things through. I start working through my feet very fast, rising and lowering like a springy toy. I hear them come inside, helping themselves to my hospitality. I don’t really care, my house means pretty much nothing to me but I don’t appreciate the intrusion, the way that they will approach me gently and explain quietly what I have already guessed.
“Erin?” The man from the farmhouse pokes his head around the door. “What are you doing?” I turn away, pressing my side into the wall. “We need to talk to you, can you come through?”
“I’ll think about it.” I say quietly and he sighs and returns to the kitchen area. I have no doubt about what they are here for now. Policemen do not just pop in for a hot drink, to check up how you’re doing. The farmer maybe, but not policemen. Policemen come when something has gone wrong and there is only one thing left to go wrong. Policemen come to have painful talks with you and tell you things you don’t want to know.
 If they had acted differently, perhaps I could pretend that they were here for some other reason, some menial community reason, but if that had been the case they would have asked to see Mum, they would not have stood there looking at me in pity. They would not have said in that soft way “We need to talk to you” or called my name with such concern.
I sit on Mum’s bed and it feels cold, like the church. The church where we had a funeral. The church where I wasted time dancing.
 Mum. Yesterday morning. It’s my fault; I was out when she left. If I’d been there she wouldn’t have gone, if I’d been there I could have stopped her, told her the weather was too bad. Locked the door on her. If I hadn’t lost track in the church there would be no policeman in my kitchen, clattering as he attempts to heat a kettle. If I hadn’t been drawn in by the dance, Mum would be there instead. Mum. I savour the word and taste it’s inferences on my lips – safety, protection, comfort – but she’d run out of them long before her body ran out of life.
I don’t really know why I go through. Maybe it is stupid, maybe it is me giving up, maybe it is me confessing my responsibility.
“Sit down.” The policeman says, pouring hot water into three cups. I don’t drink tea. Besides that is dad’s mug.
“Please sit down.” I do not move.
“You can’t use it, the mug, it’s not yours.” He looks taken back and puts it back on the table.
“Let’s not worry about who drinks from which cup,” he begins with a patronising tone.
“What happened?” I demand, louder than I expect and my voice cracks “How did it happen?”
“Look, I’m really sorry.” He responds cautiously as though choosing his words carefully and picking his way around me. I do not like being patronised, does he not realise that I know? Does he not realise that I have survived hell and am being chucked there a second time? Does he not realise that his soft voice and careful manner make it worse?
“What happened?”
“I hate to tell you this but your mother has passed on.” The silence is loud. The reality of the words is harsh despite my guesswork and blunt despite the gentle phrasing.
“Mr Jamison found her body down in the valley when walking his dog this morning. I believe that she may have fallen from a considerable height, the mountain paths are very dangerous in bad weather.” As if I didn’t know that. dad had told me since I was tiny of the dangers of being stuck up in the mountains when the cloud comes down. mum had too.
“I wish to ask you a few questions.” I do not reply because he will interrogate me regardless; maybe he will catch up with my excessively and horrifyingly productive mind at some point.
“Were you here when she left the house?”
“She was down at the farmhouse probably; she comes down on Sunday mornings to deliver us eggs.” Mr Jamison interjects and I nod, grateful that I do not have to explain myself. The policeman takes note.
“Why did you not call the emergency services when she did not return?”
“I never had to before. Besides; our phone got cut off two months ago.”
“You mean,” he pauses to try and cover his shock, “she’s been out for long periods before?”
“Four times, overnight.”
“Do you know why?” I refuse to answer. Perhaps Mr Jamison senses this because he quickly steps forward.
“Ay, I can guess. She was still holding half of a broken jar.” He breaks off and I notice that he is sort of leaking; tears are welling up on the corners of his eyes like bubbles and then overflowing themselves and snaking down the cracks in his weather-beaten face. “You see, Mrs Weir hasn’t been the same since her husband died. I’ve seen her sometimes, taking that same jar for a walk, I don’t think she ever saw me, looked right through me, she did.”
The policeman is scribbling furiously now, his lined pages filling with spidery writing.
He looks up at me and asks “How would you describe your mother, after your father’s death?”
I could say so much in response, I could pour out my hardships, the hunger, the loneliness but I have no wish to share it with a policeman.
He draws several faces on his notebook “Which face best depicts it?” He asks as though I am far younger and have not yet learned how to express myself.
“She was sad… obsessive… obsessively sad.” I say, slamming the notebook shut.
“Thank you.” He says finally “I would just like to clarify. Your mother was a local, familiar with the area?” I nod “And she was fully aware of the dangers of bad weather in the mountains” I nod “And she had been in a state of depression since the death of your father.”
Maybe now he has caught up, maybe he has finally reached the conclusion that I let myself predict before the questions even started. It wasn’t an accident; Mum would have known better than to go out if she wasn’t going out for some purpose. She was sad, her brain was messed up, maybe she did make a mistake, slip and slide in the wet and dark some internal voice argues desperately, hoping that it can shift the situation into a light which makes it look better. But no light makes suicide look better.

Time runs strangely after that. I sit, frozen, at home while everyone runs around like maniacs trying to sort my life out. They call different people I don’t try to guess or ask who, I just know that they are not my parents but they will try to be. There is a funeral to arrange, a funeral which nobody is quite sure they want to be involved with; nobody wants to be known as a friend of the Weir family because nobody wants to acknowledge that they ignored what happened to us. Nobody wants to take in the Weirs’ daughter because she will remind them of everything they failed to look after. The villagers said after dad died that they would do their best to keep me and mum safe; then they stopped bothering and now they realise the guilty repercussions of believing things to be fine.
Who can really say where the responsibility lies. I am guilty. But the rational part of me admits that I think it lies with all of us; me for being out and unable to stop her, the village for being too afraid to intervene with what they could see happening, dad for leaving us behind. It turns out that most people knew that mum was ill, most people knew she had given up; they just decided to sit back.
The policeman puts down the phone and smiles at me; I do not like him any the more for it.
 “We’ve found you a place. There’s a couple in London who’ll have you.” Did they really have to search that far to find someone willing to take an orphan like me? I nod because I know I am supposed to be enthralled. I’m not devastated by it, I’d rather not stay here anymore, but I don’t know how I can smile about some people hundreds of miles away consenting to pretend to be my parents. He catches my face, “Oh no, you mustn’t think that they were the only people – you see we contacted relatives – your father’s sister – and they said they wouldn’t be able to take you but they gave us contact details for these other two so I spoke to them and they seemed ideal. They’ve got two daughters and they’re more than happy to take a third.” They sound like collectors – I’ll be a doll, made to sit on a shelf alongside the first two of the set. “They’re called Natasha and James, next time we ring up they can talk to you. It’ll be a long procedure, going through the adoption process, but your father’s sister said she’d look after you short-term, just while we’re sorting things out, seeing as it’s an emergency.” Am I in an emergency? Weren’t emergencies meant to be crazy, fast-paced, somehow exciting?
 “You can come back for the funeral.” He says studying my face. I nod but on the inside I know that I’m never coming back.

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