Every morning Andy would count to ten before he got out of his warm forgiving bed and while he was waiting, he’d usually count his luck as well.
He’d always been the type of soul who walked the line on the lucky side but he had to accept that things happened to you when you were forty seven years old. The way the radio sounded quieter in one ear than it did in the other, so he was going deaf as well as losing his ability to see words clearly.
The news programme annoyed him to the same degree as it ever did. Why he listened to it was anyone’s guess. All they did was try their best to wipe the smile from his face: sick economy, rising unemployment, new terrorism – why did they never try looking at the positive for a change? Tell a good story about families who were working hard to save their kids. He knew why - because it didn’t make news.
He was becoming sick of it all- fighting every day for each and every step. Yet like millions of others across the land, he would get up and start his day with the best will in the world that he could muster. He’d grit his teeth like all the other dads and just get on with it.
Most of his life was a habit but it was a habit that he wrapped around himself like a warm blanket. God help him if it ever disappeared, his wife Sara and the kids were the only reason he’d got up.
He loved his wife the way that you do after twenty five years of marriage, more than ever and less than before. She was his sun, his moon, his stars and his major pain in the butt from time to time. And the kids? Well the kids were part of him, sure they had their moments but jeez they had made this world bearable and they were his breath.
So he got out of bed on the count of ten like he did every day and he slid his feet across the floor like he did every day, and he shaved and showered like he did every day. He had a cup of coffee like he did every day – except for one thing, this wasn’t every day.
Sara very rarely stirred from her bed until he had got up. Every day it was the same, she could almost hear his brain counting to ten. But up he’d get without fail. He’d never had a day’s illness except maybe that time when they had just moved to this house, to this area and that must have been nearly twenty years or so.
He was a good man and she loved him, truly loved him – she’d never looked at another in all that time. She knew how he was feeling and what he was thinking even if he was clear over the other side of the county. It was that close, it was that much love.
He was a decent father to their kids, never a harsh word to say to any of them and yet they kept in check. They were good kids and they would make good parents themselves, everyone said so.
So why did she feel so lost? Like she was drowning, when all this was everything she dreamed of. It wasn’t the menopause, that had been and gone and she’d coped with it all. There was an empty ache at the core and it wouldn’t go away – no matter how hard she tried.
What can you say about a child who’s been murdered? The year it happened was the year that Tommy joined the Police force, it would be more correct to say because it happened is why he joined. Twenty years later and no one had been caught not even a hint. Sure there had been talk and names mentioned, some having to leave to avoid the whispers, but there had never been good solid evidence to point the finger at anyone.
The police had interviewed almost every male in the town at the time but either the Police were incompetent or the killer was very clever.
Tommy had watched the victim’s family disintegrate, that was the only word to describe it: disintegration.
The girl’s mother and father no longer lived together and even the same town wasn’t big enough, perhaps seeing each other brought back the horror of that night.
The night she went missing, the night that the girl’s mother knew she was dead. Before the Police had informed the family, before the body was found, before even her husband had grown worried about Tracey being late. A mother knows and she felt her daughter saying goodbye inside. That was what she told the Police the next day. The mother had even been a suspect at one point but like all other leads she had been not considered a serious contender.
Back then Tommy was just a guy, plain and simple, and the night that Tracey went missing he helped along with all the others. He searched the undergrowth, the garages, down by the old canal and at the side of the once used rail track.
Poor Tracey’s little battered body had been found a couple of miles from where Tommy had been looking. He wasn’t sure if he’d wanted to be the one to find her or not.
We separated about two years after the death. For better or worse we’d promised each other at the Church but they hadn’t mentioned anything about your own beautiful little girl being taken. That was the worst of the worst no one could get you through that.
My darling daughter, my little one who I had read to, cried with, laughed with, run with, wiped her nose and her bum had gone.
I and her mother supported each other for as long as anyone humanly could - but the heart scars don’t show up, not at first anyway. They seep through the skin and poison everything around them, they seep into laughter and birthdays. They taint the very kindness of people. Until you grudge everyone their happiness. The fact that the world continues to turn makes your head literally spin.
I think the hatred started with the people on TV. They still made jokes, they still acted in plays, still read the news, still sung their songs. All I wanted was one of them to stop and speak through the screen:
“I am so sorry Mister and Mrs Andrews, on your loss”
But they didn’t they just kept on singing.
Then one night I looked over at my wife and thought - why didn’t they take you and leave her and I knew I was finished.
Tracey was my friend and now I don’t sleep so good. My mother says not to worry as it’s only bed sheets. You can always wash bed sheets she says, but I feel embarrassed.
Tracey was my pal and now I don’t go out. Not because I’m scared, just because I don’t want to.
Tracey was my best buddy and I cry most nights.
My name is Andy and every morning I count to ten before I get up and then I count my luck.
They haven’t caught me yet.
She eventually found her mother.
bobby stevenson 2014
She awoke, as she did every morning to the sound of the muffled, shouting voice and the door being unlocked before being repeatedly kicked.
Slivers of sunlight were all that her young eyes could understand until she reached for the old spectacles that were her only possession.
She was in the garden shed, this was where she lived.
There was another kick, usually when her father had just finished his rollup cigarette.
She reached up to remove the old stinking blanket that covered the window. The morning light did what it always did - the shock of it burned her eyes at first. Sometimes the blanket was just her window curtain, but on frosty, snowy night it was a life saver. It just meant that she would awaken with her father’s face looking through the window – her privacy gone.
In the kitchen, her father and grandmother danced around each other; the dance of the bully and the gentle old lady. When the old woman’s daughter had disappeared, she had decided to wait on her return. As the months became years, she still had hope burning in her heart. The bully knew better, he didn’t expect his wife to come back.
The grandmother was limited in what she could do to keep her granddaughter safe but leaving was not an option. They had tried that and he had tracked both of them down, and both were badly beaten.
He took them to the hospital afterwards and told the doctor that they had been attacked by a burglar. The doctor knew from the bully’s eye’s what the truth was.
If it was a particularity cold night, the grandmother would take the young girl into her room for a few warm hours. By the morning, she had to be returned to the shed; the young girl’s sin being that she reminded the bully of her mother.
The little lost girl in her dishevelled clothes would leave her shed and look through the kitchen window. When her father was reading the newspaper, her grandmother would signal that she could enter and come to the table.
The young girl would sit very still with her arms by her side and wait to be told when to move.
Her grandmother would place toast beside the girl and then ruffle her hair.
The little lost girl would eat the dry toast as her grandmother would leave a glass of milk for her granddaughter. But on this morning as the little girl reached for the milk, she knocked it over.
The quiet old lady and the little lost girl watched as the milk ran towards, then under, her father’s newspaper.
The bully jumped, screwed up the wet newspaper, threw it at the little girl, knocking her from her stool.
Before she left for school her grandmother stuck a plaster on the cut on her forehead. The bully long gone, she kissed her granddaughter and ruffled her hair then gave her a few coins to spend.
On the bus she sat alone drawing pictures in the window condensation.
As three older girls passed her, they laughed, held their noses and then spat on the little girl. A kindly woman took out a paper handkerchief and handed it to the little lost one. The little girl wiped the spit away, then put the hanky in her pocket.
In the class, she sat as she did at the breakfast table with her arms by her side. She sat alone.
The teacher handed out exam results to each pupil and behind the little girl, a classmate held her nose letting everyone know of the smell.
The class laughed until the teacher told them to quieten.
The teacher placed the young girl’s result on her desk: 10 out of 10 – ‘excellent’.
The girl behind her stole the paper and threw it around the class. One boy ripped the paper into pieces.
When the class emptied, the little girl put the pieces of her exam result in her pocket.
At lunchtime, the young girl walked to the cafe and bought chips with the money her grandmother had given her. The woman in the cafe smiled as the little girl smiled back.
Hungrily the girl walked and ate her chips before bumping into someone. It was one of the older girls who snatched the little girl’s food and threw it to her friends. One tipped the chips on to the street then they walked away laughing.
The little girl picked up her chip paper and put it in her pocket.
Later that day, the little girl sat in the kitchen at the table with her grandmother. She drew a beautiful picture with her crayons.
Then a door slammed and the grandmother motioned her granddaughter to go out the kitchen door – quickly.
In the shed the young girl hung the blanket over her window once more, just as her father put a lock on the shed door. He made sure it was locked solid.
Under her bedding was a torch which the young girl switched on. She then took the papers and hanky from her pocket and the plaster from her forehead.
With a little pot of glue, all these things were stuck to a larger object.
The object was made up of bits of this and that. The little lost girl had built something out of all the badness that had come her way.
As she shone the torch up towards the object, she smiled at what she has made.
She had built an angel which reached to the roof and watched over her.
She eventually found her mother.
Perhaps it was more correct to say that her mother had found her, having traced her daughter through a friend. The mother had been in contact just before the girl’s 21st birthday.
It had been a dark time when the girl had returned for her grandmother’s funeral. Her father had spoken to her that day, perhaps for the first time in years. He had screamed at her from time to time but on this sad day, as her grandmother’s coffin was placed in the ground, he whispered “She’s joined your mother”. She was seventeen by then and she didn't want to believe him. She didn't believe him.Her father had shrunk since last she’d seen him and the drinking had taken its toll; he was barley forty and comfortably wore the body of an older man.
It had only been three years since the girl had gone to school and simply never returned home. She had taken the first bus that was leaving town and had paid for it with her grandmother’s lunch money. She’d been skipping meals to save up - what was the point anyway? There was always going to be someone to take the food away from her.
Only when the bus was on the highway and the town was a distant church spire did she begin to relax. She dumped her school clothes in a bin at the first comfort stop then dressed into a sweater and jeans.
Her grandmother had given her an address in the city, “just in case” she said. “In case I go, sooner rather than later.” The address was meant for an emergency and this is exactly what this was. She felt sorry that she had abandoned her grandmother to that madman but she could take it no longer. She had given them all a thousand chances: the school, the teachers, her classmates, even her grandmother, to change things and no one had.
Then one morning when she awoke in the shed for the hundredth time, the angel gave her a look as if to say, ‘it’s up to you, no one else is coming to help’.
The address had taken her to a Mrs Beverly Smith of Harrow, London - a kindly woman who had once been a beauty and had once been her grandmother’s bridesmaid.
“Just call me Bev, love, everyone does.”
She lived on her own with a cat called Lennon. Her husband, Stanley, had ‘been taken’ five years before.
“I’ve got me son, ‘Arry, he’s a doctor in Aberdeen. Works for one of them oil companies. I’ve got two grandchildren, Sarah and Stanley. That’s enough for me, thank you for asking.”
Bev let the girl stay in Harry’s room, “Don’t suppose he’ll be wanting it anytime soon.”
Bev knew a woman who knew the manager of the local supermarket and got the girl a job on a Saturday. She proved such a dependable hard worker that after a month, she was taken on full-time.
“If you don't mind me saying. I’ve seen them drawings you do, love. You’re too good just to doodle. I reckon you could be an artist.” Bev also knew a woman who knew a man that ran an art course at the local college in the evenings. Bev managed to get the girl on a course that ran over the winter.
By December, the girl’s art teacher was recommending that the girl go to Art School – “You are that good.”
At weekends when she wasn’t working at the store, she was working on her portfolio. She painted Lennon as a thank you for Bev and it hung on the wall next to a photo of Stanley, her husband.
The following September, the girl was accepted into Central Saint Martin’s College of Arts and Design. This wasn’t just any art school, this was the best.
When the girl worked in the supermarket she had kept to her own company, always expecting someone would take everything from her but at college she was spotted by a young girl called Leonetta, who befriended her.
“Just call me Leon.”
Leon was studying fashion and was in her second year. Her boyfriend was a footballer and insisted that Leon watch him every Saturday – so she took the girl along as company.
One Saturday evening after football, Leon and her boyfriend came to Bev’s for something to eat. The girl had never had friends home before or for something as glamorous as a meal.
The girl met a boy at one of the football matches. Eddy was his name, he was an electrician.
“You hold on to that one” said Bev, “Electricians are never out of work.”
And she did hold on to that one. She didn’t tell him of her past life, something like that would keep for another day. But one day when they were walking along the High Street, she laughed out loud and then she realised that she was laughing for the very first time in her short life.
Eddy made her eyes smile.
In her final year at art school, Eddy asked her to marry him and she accepted.
A week before the art show, she went back to Bev’s for a change of clothes, all the students had been working day and night and basically sleeping at the college.
When she walked into the front room, Bev was sitting with a woman.
“She’s your Mum.”
Bev left the two of them to talk.
“I was younger than you when I left. I couldn’t cope. He wasn’t a bad man, not at first. He just used to come home drunk and lock me in the shed out back. You know the one?”
The girl nodded that she did.
There were several roads that the girl could have taken that day but the one she took was to place her arms around her mother and they both wept.
She invited her Mum, along with Leon and her boyfriend, to the graduation show but pride of place was kept for Bev, her other mum.
Along with the girl’s drawings of Bev, Lennon and Bev’s family was a statue she had made from glued paper.
It was a tall smiling angel and underneath it were the words:“Everything is going to be alright.”
bobby stevenson 2014