My fingers find the sofa, digging deep into the green chintz. There are always crumbs trapped between the cushions. Once, when I was about six, Violet got me to gather up as many as I could and stick them together with melted butter, to see if there were enough to make a whole new biscuit.
There weren’t. But I’d been crying. She wanted to distract me.
I’m distracted now.
A pulse throbs in my throat. I want to get her phone, but I don’t want to touch the foxglove. We’ve got them at the London house, in the little strip of garden out back. My roommate bought a pot of them. I wanted to uproot the bastards, but they keep growing, even when the cold weather came.
I shake my head. Focus. Focus. I blow on the foxglove; it rolls off to the side. When I click her phone on, I can’t open it, of course – just texts and texts, missed calls, the lot. I slot it into the back pocket of my jeans. It’s enough to know that nobody can call me with it.
The clock on the mantelpiece ticks into the silence. It reminds me of a tap – drip, drip, like the one in mum’s en suite, when I found her against the bath.
My head swims. I push my way out of the room, slipping on the embroidered rug, leaning against the doorframe. I leave the front door open – what does it matter? – and half-fall out into the dark, trampling through the grass.
I do what I did nine years ago.
I go to Gran.
Except it’s three in the morning, and I can’t focus, and I keep meandering from the path. Twigs crack and snap; rabbits dart in front of me. My left hearing aid has gone askew; the ear mould isn’t tucked in properly, but I can’t stop to sort it out.
The sky is pinkening by the time I clamber over the fence. I almost knock, then I remember that she’s almost as deaf as I am, nowadays, and she can’t get out of bed on her own. I find the spare key in a tin of salt next to the door. Faers can’t use keys, but the salt stops them from stealing them.
I let myself into the house, turning the light on. My reflection looks out of the smeary mirror at the end of the hall, whiter than the walls.
“Gran?” I call. It doesn’t sound like me. Louder: “Gran!”
I hear a muffled shoutfrom the back of the house and make my way towards it, slapping more light switches as I go. When I open the door to her bedroom – green wallpaper, a waft of lavender – she’s sitting up straight, eyes staring out of her raisiny face.
“What the devil?” she says. “What in the bloody hell are you playing at?”
“I’m sorry,” I say. I hold up Violet’s phone. “I didn’t know what to…she’s gone. I kept getting calls, but she wasn’t there when I…I don’t understand what happened. They took her.”
Gran is silent for a moment. I expect her to set her lips and draw a breath in, the way she did when our cousin went missing. The way she did when I came to her, dizzy with shock, red all over my hands. Right, here’s what we’re going to do, she’ll say. She might even put her hands on my shoulders.
But she doesn’t.
Her hands go to her lips, instead. They’re trembling. The spark has vanished from her eyes, and she looks as pale as I did in that smeary mirror.
“Gran?” I breathe. “What is it?”
She rubs a thumb across her lip. “Where did they take her from?”
“I don’t know.” I swallow. “The house. Her phone was in the house, and the door was – not locked, a bit open. There was a foxglove on it. The phone, I mean.”
“They took her from the house,” Gran whispers, more to herself than me. “How could that...?”
I stare at her. “Did you know something about this?”
A sharpness comes back to her eyes. “What’s that tone for? You think I let her get taken, is that it?”
“No! You just– I dunno what’s going on, that’s all! You’re not acting like I thought.”
“How did you think I’d act?” Gran’s voice veers upwards in pitch. “Coming to me at – at bloody three in the morning – and she’s gone, snatched right from her own home—”
A dull horror hits me. Gran’s voice skips and catches, and then there are tears dripping down her cheeks, veering down the rivulets in her skin. I almost back away – I’ve never seen her cry, not ever, not even after Mum—
She grabs hold of my hand, anchoring me to her. Despite everything, I grip her back, while she screws her eyes up and weeps.
“Gran,” I say, my own voice shaking. “What’s the matter? What’s going on?”
“I don’t know,” she whispers. “It’s – it’s something to do with your mum. It must be.”
The room spins. “What do you mean?”
I have to lower myself onto the bed, because my legs are trembling. Gran’s hand clasps mine, crushing the bones in my palm. It’s a drowning grip, not a tender one – nails digging into driftwood when the waves are trying to drag you down.
“There’s something I didn’t tell you both about, after your mum…” Gran’svoice shakes. “You was young – I didn’t think that…and it wasn’t anything worth troubling. She left a note.”
"Bit grand to call it that, really,” Gran says. “It was only a few words. I think she wrote it while she was...it wasn’t finished, is my point. All smeary.”
I try to remember if I saw a note that afternoon, but looking back at the memory is like staring over the edge of a cliff, pulled forwards by vertigo. I dig my fingers into the slippery quilt to ground myself.
“What did it say?”
“‘I had to’,” Gran recites. “And there was the start of something else - ‘they want to take—’. But it wan’t finished, or it was all scribbly.”
“I don’t- what does that mean?”
“Never knew, did I? She never told me anything.” She shakes her head. “I knew her, though. Always going off down the Road into the Faerlands, bold as brass. I knew she’d got herself in trouble, round about when you were born, but she never said anything about it. Didn’t want me to say ‘I told you so’.”
My brain is at half speed. It always is, whenever Mum comes up in conversation. A lot of the memories are pushed so deep that they turn out crumpled whenever anyone drags them out.
“But what’s that got to do with...?”
“She killed herself ‘cause she had to. ‘Cause they’d take someone from her, otherwise.” Gran spreads her hands. “I reckoned it was your sister, right from back then.”
“But the note didn’t say someone--”
“It’s always someone, with faers,” Gran says hoarsely. “Felicity loved your sister more than anything. She’d never have let them take her.”
Gran’s certainty – the certainty that it had to be Violet - stings a little, but I’m too numb with shock to mind. She’s probably right. Gran understands faer stuff, if nothing else. Violet’s too savvy to get snatched at random.She carries offerings, washes her clothes in salt water, sticks to all the paths. And she was in the house when she was taken. No faer could trespass like that, not without planning.
“Why do they want her, though?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” Gran says. She rubs her face. “But you have to get her back.”
For a moment, I think I’ve misheard. Her eyes meet mine.
“You heard me,” she said. “Your mum killed herself to stop them taking her. They waited ten years to try again. Faers an’t got long attention spans, so what’s got them stuck on her? Nothing good, that’s for bloody sure.”
“You can’t - you can’t be serious,” I say. “I’m not- she could be anywhere by now. I’m going back to London tomorrow.”
“Running back, more like,” Gran snaps. “All the looks of your mother, none of her guts.”
“It’s the Road! I’m a deaf bloody– I wouldn’t last two minutes out there!”
Gran’s hard stare passes over me, tears simmering in her eyes.
“No,” she says, with an air of finality. “I suppose you wouldn’t.”
She turns over, pulling the covers up to her chin. Her breaths are slow, as if she’s dropped straight to sleep, but the set of her shoulders says otherwise.
I wait a minute, testing retorts in my head. Then I get up to leave.