Reason I Don't…
'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
'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.
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
'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
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
'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
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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