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Authors: Tammy Cohen

First One Missing

BOOK: First One Missing
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Title Page


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53


About the Author

Also by Tammy Cohen


First One Missing

Tammy Cohen

las guapas
: Rikki, Mel, Juliet, Fiona, Roma

This time yesterday none of this was real. This time yesterday she was only missing. Hope and possibility still breathed inside me like a thing hiding in the dark.

This time two days ago, none of it had happened. The sun rose on a world that was still normal, and she was standing by my bed whispering, ‘Get up, Mummy, Mia is crying,’ and because the world was still normal and none of it had happened, I felt tired and impatient for my lost sleep.

This time a week ago I went with her on her school trip to the city farm in East London, and I watched her sitting with her friends eating the lunch I’d packed carefully into different-sized plastic boxes decorated with cartoon characters and realized for the first time that she had a separate life now, that she would never again be fully known. Just one week ago, her life stretching tantalizingly ahead, as she sat on a blanket on the damp grass eating honey sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

This time yesterday, I was still me.


Thursday is rubbish day, make sure the recycling box is outside the gate or they won’t take it. Jemima? Rounders today, PE kit washed and next to her school bag (shirt getting far too small, must order a new one), ingredients for food tech neatly stacked in the fridge. Damn, Caitlin’s violin needs a new string. Must remember to pick one up at Maitland’s and drop it into school before her lesson. What time is it? 4? 4.30? Nancy’s turn to pick up from ballet, thank God, so there’ll be time to do a proper dinner. Roast chicken? Or what was that thing Jemima had at her friend Violet’s last week that she said she liked? Tagine of something? Could try that.

Lost in her litany of thoughts, Emma was only vaguely aware of the alarm sounding.

‘Can you turn that
thing off?’ said Guy’s back. He emphasized the ‘fucking’, like a child self-consciously trying out swearing for the first time. Funny how his back seemed to have taken on a personality all of its own now Emma saw it so often. It was intractable, solid, unyielding – she imagined it to be like Marlon Brando in
A Streetcar Named Desire
, all brooding muscle and tense resistance. Unlike Guy himself whose presence settled around the house like fine mist, everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

She swung her legs over the side of the bed and levered herself slowly upright as though being winched. Could there really have been a time when she threw back the covers and leapt headlong into the oncoming day? She tried to think back but her mind was blank.

Perched on the edge of the bed, she picked up the neatly folded pile of clothes from the creamy sheepskin rug. The wool felt soft and soothing against her fingers and she had an urge to put her face to the floor to bury her nose in it.

Instead, with minimal movement, she shrugged off her pyjamas and wriggled into her clothes. Her back was to Guy – if he had turned round all he would have seen was a ridge of spine, a sharp angle of shoulder blade, before the shroud of her loose-fitting grey cotton-jersey top descended over her wide-legged white linen trousers. ‘The Western equivalent of a burka’, is how Guy once described the clothes she wore nowadays. His tone was sarcastic, but his expression sad, as if he were recalling someone who’d died, someone he’d known well but hadn’t seen in a long time.

Although it was early, the sunlight was already burning through the white curtains, illuminating the distressed French-armoire-style wardrobes and the calico-covered armchair with the cream embroidered cushions. In the opaque frosted-glass morning light, it seemed as if Guy, lying on his side in the king-sized bed in a nest of white pillows and duvet, was floating on a cloud, like an overgrown cherub. Only his back, tense and scowling, told her he was awake.

Padding softly along the landing, she nudged open the door to Caitlin’s room and lingered for a moment in the doorway. When Emma gently shook her foot, Caitlin’s eyes shot open, the exact yellow-brown of mulched autumn leaves, and she blinked rapidly, although Emma knew she couldn’t yet see her. She was still back in whichever place she visited in sleep, chasing her dream down echoing corridors in her mind. Finally she began to focus and Emma knew she was coming back to her. It was this moment she relished most of all – when Caitlin returned from wherever she had been, becoming, briefly, hers again.

‘Hello, pudding,’ she greeted her, neutrally, sitting on the edge of her bed and grazing the soft cushion of her cheek with the back of her fingers. Of course, what she really wanted to do was crush her youngest daughter to her chest, climbing in beside her and snuggling under the duvet. But, a short time before, she’d sensed those morning cuddles were making Caitlin uncomfortable. ‘I’m too hot,’ she’d complained, making her still-soft body go stiff and resistant. ‘You’re boiling me up.’

On this particular morning Caitlin seemed to shrink back even from the mere touch of her mother’s fingers.

‘Did you get the string for my violin?’ she wanted to know, her gaze direct and unblinking.

‘Sorry, darling, I forgot. Silly Mummy will have to bring your violin to school.’

Caitlin frowned, her still-flushed cheeks dimpling with displeasure. Not so long ago, she would have joined in with the game of mock chastisement. ‘Yes,
Mummy.’ But now, at nine, she was merely cross. ‘You
forget things.’

The reproach stung – more so for being well deserved. Emma tried to recall if she had always been a Mummy Who Forgets Things. Fleetingly, she was allowed a glimpse, before the shutter slammed down, of a life marked out with highlighter pens and colour-coded calendars and little brightly coloured notepads with ‘Note to Self’ stamped across the top. But had these really been her? Perhaps at heart, despite the Post-its and the calendars, she had always been a mummy who forgets – the kind who bursts in late and sweating into a near-empty classroom to collect an angst-ridden child on early-finish Friday, the kind whose daughters turn up empty-handed on cake-sale day.

Down a short flight of stairs on to the next half-landing, she hesitated before knocking gently on Jemima’s door. Jemima was so prickly these days, with her newly acquired thirteen-year-old attitude, so at odds with her still childlike body.

Jemima was already awake. Emma could hear her muttering savagely behind her door. She would already be yanking clumps of clothes out of drawers, sifting through them for that one elusive thing that was going to make her friend India seethe with jealousy, or Finn from the other class notice her. Later Emma would go into her room and pick up the discarded clothes, folding them neatly back into drawers. Guy hated her doing that. ‘How will they ever learn if you do everything for them?’ he’d snap, not understanding that she did it for herself, not them. To feel closer.

By the time she got downstairs, Caitlin was already at the kitchen table, hunched over a bowl of cereal, her mass of dark hair concealing her face. Next to her on the table was a box of loom bands, and Emma’s heart sank in anticipation of the tiny plastic elastics she’d be picking up from the floor later on.

Thursdays.’ Jemima had thrown herself into a chair and was glaring at her mother as if Emma bore sole responsibility for Wednesday not flowing seamlessly into Friday. ‘Double maths, double French

From the way she was still glowering, Emma understood this too to be her fault.

She switched on the radio, wishing just for once they could listen to something other than Radio 1.

‘Are you sure those shorts are really the right thing for school?’

She made her voice deliberately casual but even so it was the wrong thing to say. Jemima’s chin wobbled and her green eyes were immediately stretched wide with affront.

‘Well, if I
some clothes to wear, then maybe I could pick and choose, but seeing as you never buy me anything, I don’t exactly have much choice, do I?’

When did she become so angry, this daughter of hers? How could Emma have gone so quickly from being the centre of her world to Enemy Number One?

She turned away so as not to show that she minded. Shows of weakness only enraged Jemima more.

Trying to ignore the denim shorts over black opaque tights combo that Jemima had decreed appropriate for a day at school, Emma pulled out an obscenely thick butcher’s block from a special alcove within the wall of sleekly fitted cupboards and started preparing the packed lunches. As ever, she had to prepare two completely separate meals – Caitlin liked butter but not mayonnaise, ham, tomato but not cucumber (‘uck, slimy’). Jemima was houmous (she took Emma’s refusal to follow her into vegetarianism as a personal slight) with lettuce (but not the crunchy, white inside leaves). One liked green apples, the other seedless clementines. One favoured salt and vinegar crisps, the other would eat only ready salted. On rare occasions when Emma got the lunchboxes mixed up, her daughters’ condemnation had been absolute. ‘Thanks a
! I had to
all day.’

This morning Emma was careful to keep the lunches separate, using the colour-coded lids of their Tupperware boxes. Jemima: green; Caitlin: blue.

On the radio, the presenter made a joke about the weather, which had finally turned warmer and brighter after months of sluggish grey mornings, the sun already pooling on the decking in Emma’s back garden. For a moment, she gazed out on the neat strips of wood in their rigidly regimented rows, which had replaced the wild and formless garden that was here when they’d bought the house (could it be nearly ten years ago? When did time start passing in decades rather than days and months?). All the houses in their North London street – large red-brick Victorian terraces, with stained-glass panelled doors and newly restored tessellated front paths – had the same decked back gardens. In Emma and Guy’s neighbourhood people had become expert at covering over their rough, unsightly patches. Of course it hadn’t been completely the same since it was pulled up during the search. Emma knew she shouldn’t blame Guy for that, yet she did.

‘Mummy, isn’t it true that Frannie said I’d be ready for a
part in the play next year?’ Caitlin asked, insistently.

Even though she’d had years to get used to it, Emma still found it strange to hear her children addressing their teachers by their first names. At the progressive private school both girls attended, its rolling green lawns within stroking distance of the vast open space of Hampstead Heath, it was felt first names broke down unhelpful barriers between staff and children, but for Emma it just seemed confusing, and only by careful study of the context could she ever tell if her girls were talking about adults or their peers.

‘They might let you be a tree or something,’ Jemima sneered, carefully sifting through her muesli, separating off the unwanted bits of dried fruit into a small mound by her bowl.

‘Mummy, tell her I’m not going to be a tree.’ Caitlin’s expression was one of wounded indignation. ‘Tell her what Frannie called me. She said I had a lot of vi … vi … vi …’

‘Vision.’ Emma came to her rescue. ‘She said you had tremendous vision for someone so young.’

‘Yeah, but what does
know?’ Jemima interjected. ‘Aside from being a teacher she’s only ever been in some Andrew Lloyd Webber thing. It’s not like she’s
or anything.’

BOOK: First One Missing
5.12Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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