Authors: Sally Green
By Sally Green
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First published in the United States of America by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, 2014
Copyright © 2014 by Half Bad Books Ltd
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11th January, 2013
Location: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA—Land of the Free . . .
We’ve been in the USA for five days now. We came to Manatee County, Florida, two days ago and yesterday Dad found us a house to rent outside Bradenton. The house is cute in a small and old and battered sort of way, which is fine because that means it’s a house within our budget—well, if I’m honest, I have a strong suspicion that it’s still over our budget. But I like it. I don’t mind small or old or battered if it’s ours for more than the usual few weeks. We’ve not stayed in anything but cheap (and smelly and damp) hotels and motels for nearly ten months, and we’ve never stopped in the same place for more than a week or so. Dad thinks we can stop moving now—he thinks it’s safe: no one is chasing us.
Still, I was wondering if Dad would change his mind and grab our bags and set off again ten minutes after we’d got the key, but he walked into the house, opened a bottle of red wine he’d got from somewhere, sat on the back step, drank the lot, and fell asleep.
He was still asleep this morning when Gab and I went to have a look around the town. It’s a nice place, and much prettier than I was expecting. There’s an artistic community, which Mum would have loved. She was a great painter—though I have to admit Dad is even better.
We wandered around all afternoon, but one shop stood out as its window was full of pink—pink balloons, pink lamps, pink mugs, pink vases, and there was a notebook with lots of pink ribbons on the cover. I told Gab that it was ridiculous and girly, and made fun of it. Then later this evening what should I find on my bed but this notebook with the cover of pink ribbons—he knew all along that I liked it.
12th January, 2013
Gab and I went into town again this morning. Gab said he’d treat me to lunch out (not sure where he got the money from—I’m never sure where he gets the money from). We looked in the windows of a hideous café (diner? with microwave food) and a trendy café (with vegetarian food) and a whole food artists’ café (serving only whole food artists). We even tried a bar but you have to be 21 with ID to get in (Gab already has a fake ID—how did he get that?). He went in, came straight out again, and said, “
In the end we bought a few things in a small supermarket and walked home. It was nice to just be with Gab, without Dad, though we ended up talking about him, with me saying how completely useless he is.
Gab said, “He does his best, Michèle.”
“Well, his best is not very good, is it?”
“He’s in shock still, I think.”
I’m sure Gab’s right and I guess we’re all trying to get our heads round what’s happened. And I don’t want to think bad things about my dad, but I need him to be good and strong and the head of the family. Gab’s the strong one, though. Dad’s like a lost child. I’m not sure what I am. Lost too at times. I miss Mum.
13th January, 2013
Gab and I drove into Tampa, which is bigger than I expected, and it has all the sounds of America (loud voices, engines, and music). Gab wanted coffee and bookshops, and of course I wanted clothes and music, so I managed to persuade him that I’d be quite safe on my own for the afternoon. I found a mall, but it was horrid and depressing so I left. Gab said he’d meet me at a quiet coffee shop called the Bean Counter and I went there early and got talking to the barista guy, Sam (he had a name badge—this is America). Sam gave me a free chocolate chip cookie and told me where some of the better shops were when I complained about the mall.
15th January, 2013
Just caught Gab throwing out empty wine bottles from Dad’s “studio” (the room at the back with all the windows).
I said, “I thought he was going to paint, but all he does is drink.”
“He’s doing both, Michèle.”
“Do you think he’s OK?”
Gab shook his head, then asked, “Are you?”
“I’m not sure. I miss her. I wish she was here.”
Gab hugged me and dropped a bottle, which smashed on the floor. I cringed and looked at the studio door, expecting Dad to come out shouting, but he didn’t. Gab said, “He’s asleep in there.” (Where “asleep” = “unconscious.”)
I thought I might miss Mum less with time, but I sometimes think it gets worse. And I’m sure it’s the same for Dad. It might help if he would actually talk or be part of the family, but he’s in his own world. Gab says I shouldn’t blame him, says it’s not Dad’s fault that Mum’s dead, but I do blame Dad.
• • •
Gab has just returned this journal to me, saying he found it on the kitchen table. I suspect he’s been reading it. If so—KEEP OUT!!! and I LOVE YOU!!! but mainly THIS IS PRIVATE. KEEP OUT!!!
If this is a private journal then you shouldn’t leave it open in a place where I can see it.
PS Can you call me Gabriel, please? You know I hate Gab.
This is a PRIVATE JOURNAL, whether it’s open or not.
27th January, 2013
This year my New Year’s resolution was to be nice to Dad, but every time I see him it all goes horrible. Having said that, I hardly see him as he’s always in his studio. Gab is right that Dad is both painting (paint on hands and clothes) and drinking (slurred voice, breath of the devil). This morning was a classic example of how Dad and I get on.
He was standing on the back step, surveying the backyard (an overgrown grassy square), having a cigarette for breakfast. I was sitting at the kitchen table, eating my Cheerios (I make them healthy by adding banana—it’s impossible to get muesli here!). We didn’t speak. In my head I was asking him questions: “What are you doing?” “Are you going to help me take the sheets to the Laundromat?” “Have we enough money for the Laundromat?” “How much do your cigarettes cost?”
He dropped his cigarette stub and put it out under his bare foot, then walked through the kitchen to go to his studio and I blurted out, “Where did you get the money for paints and canvases?” (It has to be Gab who got them as Dad never leaves the house.)
Dad stopped and said, “I’ll sell the paintings.”
And maybe he will—he’s a great artist—but in the meantime he has turned his son into a thief.
I should say as well that I spoke English and he replied in French, which is exactly how he and Mum communicated (or didn’t) at their worst. But at least I didn’t swear at him or call him names—that’s what this diary is for. I can call him whatever I like in here:
all of the above
Your typical male Black Witch.
14th February, 2013
It’s a year since Mum died. Dad’s in his studio. He’s been drinking and now he’s asleep (passed out) on a mattress in there.
Gab and I spent today together. This morning while Dad was still sober he gave us each a tin containing letters. I got the letters that Mum sent to Dad, and Gab got the ones Dad sent to Mum. We read them all from the oldest to the most recent. They’re love letters and we were both smiling but crying too at the end. Mum’s are good, but Dad’s are truly beautiful and special. Who would think that a drunken misery-guts like him could be so poetic? But then again maybe that’s what poets and artists are like.
I said to Gab, “He loved her so much and still does and she loved him. It should have been perfect. How could it all go so bad?”
“You know how.”
And of course I do.
Mum had fled from England. She and Nan were among the first to leave when it got really bad, when Marcus was at the height of his killing spree there. Mum and Dad first met at a gathering when they were just twenty. They saw each other across the crowded room and that was it. Love.
They married, had us kids (Gab and then me a year later) and it was a good marriage for a few years, but one of my earliest memories is of them arguing about “her.” Dad was (still is) incredibly handsome, like Gabriel, so women would virtually throw themselves at him, and he fought most of them off—but not all.
So eventually they split up and we lived with Mum and my nan outside Marseille and Dad lived in Switzerland with a string of increasingly younger women. Mum seemed happy but was never interested in other men, still hoping Dad would come back. She didn’t have any boyfriends until Finn, who turned out to be the worst possible choice. Finn started off sweet and thoughtful, but soon his little jealousies became big ones and then they developed into huge all-encompassing green-eyed monsters.
I was in my bedroom when I heard Mum and Finn arguing downstairs. They’d argued the day before when Mum called him Raf (Dad’s name) and I have a feeling she’d done it again because I heard Finn shouting, “You never stop thinking of him!” There was silence. Then, “Do you think I’m him? Do you want me to be him?” and finally lots of name-calling and swearing. I went out onto the landing to listen, hoping to find Gab, but he wasn’t there. Neither was Nan, which was a relief.
I strained to hear what was going on, but their voices had gone quieter. Then I heard a bang and then another. I thought Mum was throwing things. I wasn’t surprised—she always was fiery. There was more shouting and banging, then silence. I hurtled downstairs, through the hall and into the kitchen, where I slid to a halt. Finn was standing over Mum, holding the wooden chair he’d hit her with. Mum was splayed on the floor, the side of her skull broken open.
Finn looked shocked. I don’t think he meant to do it. He put the chair down carefully, but then Nan came in through the back door. She’d been gardening and still had pruning shears in her hand. She threw them at him, though they didn’t kill him—they missed by a mile and almost got me. It was the flames from her hand that killed him. She kept them on him and he screamed and staggered around, then collapsed. I wanted to ring for an ambulance, but Nan said, “Don’t be so stupid. Your mother’s dead.”
Gab came home an hour or so later. I was sitting on the stairs, waiting for him, but I couldn’t speak, and Nan had to tell him what had happened. He kept his arm round me the whole time. Late that evening he said, “I’ve got to ring Dad. Tell him.” Dad said he’d be with us as soon as he could.
The next day Finn’s body was still on the kitchen floor with a sheet over him. Nan had insisted that Gab and I help move Mum’s body to the dining room. She laid Mum out on the table and had been alternating between cursing Finn and doting on her dead daughter, arranging her body.
Dad arrived late in the afternoon and it was only a few minutes before he and Nan were shouting at each other: Nan blaming Dad for Mum’s death, Dad blaming Nan for not protecting Mum. Nan started sending flames out of her hand around the room. The kitchen units started smoldering; the sheet covering Finn caught fire. I know Dad was thinking, “She’s going to kill me too.” And I have a feeling he was right: Nan was a powerful witch and despised Dad, as she did all men.
Gab was trying to pull me out of the room as it was filling with smoke. But I wanted Dad and Nan to come. I was scared. I grabbed at Nan and a flame leaped across at me and my jacket caught fire. I’m sure she didn’t mean to hurt me, and I was OK. I ripped my jacket off and Gab stamped on it and then put it over Finn’s body, trying to smother the flames, but the whole kitchen was burning by then and the smoke was getting thick. Gab pulled me down to crouch low, where the air was clearer, and we scuttled to the back door, but Nan was standing in our way.
Dad shouted, “Let them out!” And he charged at Nan. He had a large kitchen knife in his hand and then the knife was in Nan’s chest, her heart, and then her body collapsed to the floor and under the layer of smoke I saw her lying there, eyes wide open. Gab scooped me up in his arms and took me outside. Dad didn’t come out for a while. He was collecting the few things that he could save while I watched the house burn. Then Dad threw us into his car and we left.
And now here we are. Dad thought the only person who might come after him was a friend of my grandmother’s called Penny Black. Finn had no friends who cared enough to chase us. Before we came to Florida, Dad heard that Penny Black was dying (she’s very old), so now we’re safe.
• • •
I snuck into the studio this morning. Dad was still asleep. I looked through the paintings he’s done since we’ve been here. There are five—all of Mum.
15th February, 2013
I’ve just read yesterday’s entry and now I want to write about happy memories of Mum. I’m forgetting things. She’s becoming less clear in my head. Some days I don’t think about her at all.
One of my favorite moments with her was the last time she made a potion with me. It was when she’d started seeing Finn. I was 14. Mum showed me how to make a simple happiness draft. She made one and I copied her, with the idea we’d end up with two identical potions. We’d spent the days before collecting the ingredients: daisy, sorrel, nettles, a purple pansy, a song-thrush feather (hardest to get). She chopped an ingredient and I watched how she did it and then I did the same thing (as best I could, but she chopped much finer than I could). She boiled ingredients and I did the same, stirring them at the same speed, in the same direction. Mine didn’t look too different from hers when we got to the final stage, a bit lumpier maybe. She added boiled nettle water and I repeated the chant she’d taught me, but I stumbled over the words. Mum said not to worry, that if I had a talent for potions she’d be able to tell from what I made.
We smelled her potion and it made us smile. I remembered how wonderful it was just to breathe it in: to inhale the smell was the best, most special thing in the world. Mum poured it into a jar and put the stopper in it. I hoped she’d give Finn a sniff of it.
My potion just smelled of old socks, though that did make us laugh.
18th February, 2013
I’d like to write in my journal but I can’t think for all the banging and drilling! Gab is making the outside of the house into a climbing wall. He complains to me that the US is full of great climbing spots and yet Dad has brought us to the flattest state in the country.
He’s now climbing past my window (Gab, not Dad).