Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.
I don’t mean to go back to the house, but that’s where my feet take me. By the time I emerge from the not-quite-woods, the sun is half-risen, throwing buttery light over the roof tiles and the trellises. The front door is shut.
But not locked, so I go back inside. I check every room, heart thumping wildly in my chest, clinging to some hope that Violet will be returned – perched on the sofa, sipping coffee at the breakfast table, dozing in bed. But each room is empty, and the bells trill from time to time. That’s not unusual, given how close the house is to the Road, but it makes my guts seize.
I pour myself a glass of water and drink, slowly, watching a beetle track across the kitchen window. The glass bumps against my teeth. In the garden, the fronds of the willow-tree hang curtain-like in front of Mum’s grave.
A note. She left a note. I had to.
I plonk the glass down on the worktop, and then I’m in the hall, on the stairs, and the floorboards are creaking, and I’m pushing open the door to mum’s room. Violet hasn’t kept it the same, because she’s moved a lot of the dressmaking stuff downstairs, but the forget-me-not walls and tasselled rugs stir an ache in my chest. The bed hasn’t moved in ten years, and I don’t know if the sheets have been washed either. In the weeks after the funeral, Violet spent most of her nights between them, because the pillows still smelt of mum’s rose shampoo.
I dozed in here once, but the scent kept waking me up. I felt like an intruder.
I feel like an intruder now. My fingers trace the chipped wood of the doorframe. A memory: stumbling towards the bed, probably a few months before the meningitis, to pluck at the mattress and mum’s hand. I’d had a nightmare.
Can I come in your bed? I’d asked, or something along those lines.
Mum didn’t open her eyes. It was just a bad dream. Go back to your room.
I didn’t. I went to Violet’s. Her bed was barely bigger than mine, but she gave me most of the pillow and performed an ‘enchantment’ to keep the nightmares out. I remember her pinching my nose and making me shut my eyes one by one, then putting her hands over my ears and mouth so the bad dreams couldn’t sneak into my head from any entrance. Then she tickled me under my chin until I shook the bed, because ‘giggles’, she said, ‘are the ultimate nightmare Kryptonite.’
My throat tightens. I dig my nail too hard into the wood. It’s not that painful, but I swear anyway, and keep swearing – fuck fuck fuck fuck—
I shamble towards the dresser, combing through the drawers to distract myself. Old jewellery and perfume bottles and Russian dolls that Violet didn’t have the heart to throw away. I find mum’s work notebook in the second drawer and leaf through that. Quick sketches of dresses, notes about seams and measurements, fabric samples stuck in with Pritt. Her handwriting slopes likes mine. She’s stuck photos in too – there’s one of me and Violet either side of a chiffon dress, holding the sleeves out so you can see how the fabric drapes and pools to the floor. I must be about seven, squinty and unsmiling. Violet’s shouldering her way into the mid-teens, with her big grin and acne.
We don’t look like siblings. I’m scrawny, freckled, white as milk, with a shock of ginger hair. Violet is tall and dark-skinned and nearly beautiful, with her charcoal curls. At school, people didn’t always realise that she was mum’s child too.
But the shot is angled towards her. I’m cut off at the left shoulder, out of focus.
My hands find the top of the page, and then I’m tearing, ripping, tearing, scattering flakes of paper, hurling them onto the floor. The bells on the curtain rail begin to chime, but I don’t get up to look – I pull my hearing aids out and toss them aside, and then turn straight back to the book, not stopping until all of the pages are gone.
I can smell leaves.
I don’t remember falling asleep. Don’t remember clambering onto mum’s bed, pressing my face into the duvet. The cover is wet – was I crying? - and daylight burns on the top of my scalp, streaming in from the window. Can’t hear anything, other than the usual keening tinge of tinnitus.
I open my eyes.
My insides jump. I scramble off the bed, dragging the cover with me, and press my back against the doorframe. My heart stutters in my chest.
The bed is covered in foxgloves.
No, not covered – it's sprouting with them, spearheads of pink and purple and cream pushing up through the mattress around where I was sleeping. Some aren torn from where I rolled off the bed, bell-petals scattered across the floor like confetti. The smell of vegetation presses over my nose like a damp towel.
Where faers go, foxgloves grow. Gran always said that, and the teachers, and everyone in the damn village. I can remember a few mornings where I found them blooming out of the sink or in the corner of my room, and I’d shiver with the realisation that a faer had passed through the house, silently, unknowably, when none of us were awake to see it.
But this – this is a neighbour’s horror story. It’s waking to find the baby gone and a riot of flowers in the cradle. It’s a stranger taking an axe to a hawthorn.
I was mad to sleep here.
I crouch down to grapple for my hearing aids – one beneath the bed, the other knocked all the way over to the dresser. My hands shake. As I scoop them up, I notice something else.
The pages from mum’s workbook are in pieces, just as I left them. For the most part, it’s a wild, senseless drift of yellowed paper and strips of glossy photograph, scattered across the carpet like dead leaves.
But a space has been cleared in the centre. And inside it sits four scraps of paper, each bearing a single word.