The Reason I Don't…

by Deborah Rickard



'The reason I don't talk is 'cause I'm dumb, see!'  Lauren sketched a zig-zaggy pattern on the earth-dusted floor of the wooden shed with her young fingers.  'Daddy says if I don't start talking soon I'll have to go to stupid people's school.  He wants me to be a proper little girl and go to proper school.  He says if I'm really good, he'll buy me a leather purse on a long strap to go over my shoulder and keep my hankie and dinner money in.  But first I've got to stop being dumb.  Daddy doesn't like stupid people.'

      'But you're not stupid! I know you're not.'

      This place, hidden behind the dense fir trees at the bottom of the garden, was Lauren's favouritest of all places.  Silence here was wrapped in a soft blanket and the wood of the hut smelt warm and friendly and sometimes the dark scent of the tightly packed trees wafted in.  There wasn't much to see, just some old stuff of her father's, like his record player.  He had a new one now.

      'Something he calls a … steereeo … gram.  Yes, that's it.  Daddy says it's the latest thing.  It's like a cupboard with speakers at each end that the music comes out of and he's got one record that, if you sit xac'ly in the right place, sounds like a train crossing right from one side of the room to the other.  Tommy'ud like that … Not that he'd be allowed to play with it.'

      The shed also housed the tools her father used to make the garden neat and tidy; secateurs to prune the roses and the brand new motor-mower he'd take out, regular as clockwork every weekend, to cut the grass into stripes like the stripes on the suit he wore to work.  Then he'd take his long-handled shears and patrol the edges of the lawn like PC Pollard on his beat, clip-clip-clipping as he went.  And then there was the knife he used to take cuttings - a really fancy thing it was - which sprung open if you flicked a button on its side.

      'Tommy used to like playing with that …’

      Lauren stood up, took the knife from its hook and pressed the button.  The silver blade flashed in the shaft of light breaking through a jagged hole in the dirty grey window.

      'I remember when Tommy broke that window, but he hadn't meant to break it … It was the day I stopped speaking … He’d made a catapult, see, from the branch of a tree and found a stone to put in it.  He pulled the 'lastic back and aimed at the round knob on the end of the shed roof.

      'I tried to stop him.  I knew what'ud happen and he'd be for it, as usual.  I begged him to aim for something else.  I pulled at the sleeve of his grey pullover, the one Mummy knitted him for school, and my fingers caught in the hole where he used to suck the wool.  He liked the taste, he said.'  Lauren could feel the wool again, could feel herself pull as if pulling him from the jaws of a lion, but it was no good.

      '"Gerroff," Tommy growled, like brothers do.  "You can't stop me!" and he tugged his arm away and let go of the 'lastic … I wish I could've stopped him.'  A tight pain reached up and Lauren pushed it back down - deep inside her secret well.

      'Tommy never did get what he was aiming for, but he was always full of such dreams and adventures see.  He was my brave big brother.'

      The noise of breaking glass had had their father tearing out of the back door.  Lauren, her knees mangled together and both fists pushed into her mouth, chewed the skin around her fingers and waited for what she knew would happen.

      'That's it!' her father had yelled and Lauren's heart lurched, even now.  'I've had enough of you, boy!' and his huge hand swiped sharp as an axe across Tommy's ear.  Lauren felt it as if it had been her own ear.  Tommy fell backwards into the rose bush.  He struggled up from the rain-sodden earth, his arms flailing like a windmill, and Lauren forced herself not to run and hug him, not wanting to make matters worse.  She watched, helpless, as the roses bowed their heads and dropped deep crimson petals, like blood from a giant's hand, onto the dark earth.

      'Get upstairs,' their father said, 'and don't come down till tomorrow morning.'

      'Daddy's face was as red as the apples hanging over the fence from next door's garden, and his eyes were nearly as round.  Tommy should have known though.  He wasn't stupid like me.  He shouldn't have said what he did to Daddy.  He shouldn't have pulled his shoulders so high and said; "I don't care."  Daddy's hand flew up in the air again then.  I felt sick.  I tried to make him stop, but everything jammed.  I tried to yell; Please, Daddy! …'

      But the words had stuck like cardboard to Lauren's tongue … and she hadn't uttered a word since.  She sat back down on the floor, sniffed and pushed her unruly fringe off her forehead.

      Her mother wanted her to learn sign language but her father wouldn't have it.  'We can't give in to this nonsense!' he'd said.  'That girl talked before and she'll talk again if I've got anything to do with it.'  Lauren didn't really want to learn sign language anyway; at least now she wouldn't say the wrong thing.

      'Was Tommy all right?'

      'He showed me one of the bruises, at the top of his leg under his school shorts; the ones he didn't like because they made him itch, just like the school blazer and cap Daddy made him wear, even on Sundays when we'd drive to Weston-Super-Mare for a walk along the promenade.  It was like a huge blue-black marble dotted with red spots like the speckles you get on a bird's egg.  Mummy tried to sneak Tommy up some toast and honey for tea but Daddy caught her by the wrist and stopped her. "You fuss over that boy too much, woman!  He'll grow into a Mummy's boy.  Just you leave him to me.  He needs to learn who's boss around here."

      'Well, she can't fuss over Tommy any more.  He's gone.  Gone to dust.'  Lauren flattened her hand on a pyramid of dust, shooting its powdery mist up in the air.  'Dust to dust.  That's what the vicar said when those horrid green curtains opened and Tommy's coffin slid into the black hole. "Dust to dust.  Ashes to ashes."

      'I wish I'd brought Mr Muffles with me.'  She wiped a hot tear from her cheek and sketched an oblong box around the zig-zaggy pattern.  'And I wish Tommy was here.  But at least he's safe now.  Safe and happy … so Mummy says.'  She stared at the sky through the grey window.

      'How long is it since Tommy died?'

      'I don't know xac'ly,' Lauren went back to her doodling, 'but I know it was just before last Christmas and I'm not looking forward to next Christmas.  Neither is Mummy.  We'll remember Tommy lying on his bed and feeling sorry for himself.  It wasn't like him; he was always running about like a … der…vish in a … whirl.  And doing stuff.  Getting up to mischief, Mummy said.  Getting up to trouble, Daddy said.

      'I was looking in Tommy's bedside drawers for his Christmas stocking so's I could hang it up for him and Santa could leave him lots of presents … to make up for everything.  That's when Tommy told me about the marks.  His voice was all shaky and his face was all shiny.  They were small and dark red; the marks.  I thought Daddy had been doing something to him but Tommy said not.  "Most of the time Dad just looks like he's going to hit me," he said, brave as one of his tin soldiers.  "He wouldn't hit me too much 'cause I'd hit him back, see!"  I knew what he meant about how Daddy looked.  When he got angry with Tommy he'd go all puffy and red, just like Tommy's toy steam-engine which puffed and hissed so much I was frightened it would explode.

      'I went and got Mummy and showed her the marks.  She wanted to call the doctor but Daddy told her she was fussing again; "Just do as I say or that boy'll never grow up!" … Well, he won't grow up now.  They said it was Men … in … something.'

      'I'm hungry.  Are we going in for tea yet?'

      Lauren tilted an ear toward the house.  'I can't hear any more shouting so it might be all right.  Anyway, I want Mr Muffles and he's in my bedroom.  I want to bring him down for tea 'cause I won't be able to talk to you then - but I mustn't let Daddy see.  He says proper little girls don't have dolls to tea … But I get lonely, see ... I'd better shake this dust off too.  Just look at my white socks!'

      Lauren stood up, brushed her small hands over her pink gingham dress and white socks, and noticed the fancy knife lying on the dusty floor.  She picked it up.  The blade shot spears of light through the darkness.  She turned it this way and that, backwards and forwards and round about, mesmerised by the kaleidoscope of white shafts playing on the black roof.

      Snap – she clicked the blade back into the handle, and reached up to hang it back in its place … just like Tommy used to do.  She could see him now, his dark eyes shining like coal and his laughter echoing round the shed. 'Dad won't catch me …'

      Lauren took a deep breath, swallowed hard and the lump in her throat sank down to her secret place where she wrapped it up, warmed it with a few tears and rocked it to sleep.  Then, with head bent low, she padded over the soft lawn.  Thin blades of grass criss-crossed each other like the roof of a miniature forest, shielding all the tiny creatures down below. If only she could scurry about like they did, she thought.  But she had to be a proper little girl.

      At the back door she pulled off her shoes - she mustn't walk any dirt into the kitchen - and, pressing her ear against the door, clutched the handle.  Yes, it was all quiet now.  Slowly, and soundlessly – but she was good at that – she twisted the doorknob, pushed the door open and stepped inside.  It was very quiet, apart from the drip-drip-dripping of the tap making a stain on the shiny, white sink.

      There was Daddy!  Reading his newspaper at the kitchen table; his back towards her.  She longed for Mr Muffles.  She needed Mr Muffles.  Would Daddy turn round?  Surely he could hear her loud heart beat-beat-beating?  Her white socks slid silently over the pale blue lino as she inched past the tall fridge, its low hum making the quiet more intense.


She'd done it!  She was in the hall.  Lauren breathed freely at last and skipped up the stairs.  One, two, three, she counted as she went.  Mr Muffles was on her bed and she nuzzled her tender lips deep into his furry cheek.  But where was Mummy?  She crept out of her bedroom and into her parents' room.  There she was, curled in a ball on the bed; the pale green nylon frills of the counterpane framing her pretty blonde curls.  Lauren could smell the faint scent of lavender as, stepping closer, she saw her mother's hands; white and still and gripping a bundle of tissues pushed tight into her mouth.  Her eyes were red and piggy and didn't seem to see anything.  Lauren reached out her small fingers and stroked the stiffened hand.

      Her mother gasped, and gave a gentle smile.

      'It's all right, Lauren love.  I'll come and get tea now.  Where on earth have you been?'  Knowing there'd be no answer, she stood up and wiped her red eyes.  She rested a hand on Lauren's shoulder. 'I'd better get myself straight first though,' she said and went to take the comb from her dressing table.

      But Lauren grabbed her hand and tugged and tugged again, pull-pull-pulling at her mother just like she'd pulled at Tommy.  In desperation she mouthed soundlessly, come … come.  Lauren's mother gave her a puzzled look but followed where the silent girl led.


Downstairs in the deathly quiet of the kitchen, mother and daughter stood hand-in-hand, staring at the bright red pool of blood in the middle of the floor … and at Lauren's father, lying by its side.

      Lauren's innocent eyes looked up and, like a nightingale's song to her mother's ears, her tiny voice finally broke the silence; … 'Daddy's dead, isn't he, Mummy?'

©2010 Deborah Rickard

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