Telling tales

Today is a woolly day, the sort I hate; we have to go visiting. First, Mum in hospital, then Dad at the prison. They’re quite similar really, all clangy-sounding and they smell of wee and bleach. I hate it because it’s all pretending: with Mum looking all frail and bandaged, and with Dad that it’s all fine and I’m not scared.
Some days are bright and sharp and I’m at school as if nothing has happened. Miss Reynolds is smiley and I get what she’s on about. I can even do maths. At lunchtime I play with my best friend, Destiny, and we talk about when we are old enough to go out with Harry and Liam from 1D. To be honest I don’t think Destiny has much of a chance because she has nits and she’s going to do even worse in her SATs than me. I have really nice hair and Dad says that actually I am beautiful, which is probably why Mum can’t stand me.
On the woolly days, I hide inside myself where no one looks anyway. Miss Reynolds looks colder and greyer and just says “ Bwah, bwah, bwah Annalise?” I try hard to understand her, but it’s best to keep quiet and still and do my drawings.
It’s all about stories: Mum’s, Dad’s, Nana and Grandad’s, even the social worker’s, but no one is interested in my story.
Mum’s story is all poor little me, faint and fragile in the hospital bed because that bastard tried to kill me with a hammer – look! I’m still shaking from the trauma. I know she’s shaking cos she can’t get a drink in there.
Dad’s story is short and silent, no comment. But I know why.
Nana and Grandad keep on telling their story over and over. “We should never have let her marry him, I blame myself…” I don’t think they have ever really blamed themselves for anything.
Miss, sorry, Ms Gimlett the social worker has cold hands that feel like those alien baby toys. She never looks at me properly and I think her story is all in her head about saving poor little me from this terrible life. I don’t want saving, I want hearing.
Apparently the date everyone has to go to court has been announced – not to me obvs. Ms Gimlett did explain that then Dad would stay in prison, Mum would come home and we could all be a proper family. She seemed really pleased and smiled at my left shoulder. “After all, it’s just that man’s word against Mummy’s!” Finally she has done something useful, now all I need is someone who isn’t clammy to help me.
A new person has come to see us. She says she is a Family Liaison Officer and her name is Annalise too. I think it might be a Sign. This one doesn’t have a story; she looks and can see me. Even better she asks me for my story.
See, I was at home all along, at home and awake; like you can stay asleep when Mum’s kicking off. When she was getting ready she’d been sniffing up that foul tasting white stuff and sucking down the vodkas she gets from the Polski Sklep. Then she was off well before Dad got back from work.
I think that’s what made him angry, too angry to be careful. You don’t say anything to upset her when she’s been on it, you just keep quiet and keep your head down and hope she doesn’t shout and hit too much. But Dad forgot to be safe, and I was sitting up the stairs, watching in the wonky hall mirror. I could see her go for the kitchen knives, see Dad scrabbling backwards throwing anything he could get his hands on, until he threw the hammer. It hit her head with a clang like in a cartoon, and she went down, stayed down. Silence quivering.
Of course Dad called 999, then they all stomped through the house thinking they knew what the story was right up to the unhappy ever after.
When I stopped talking, she looked at me for a really long time. “Why hasn’t your father told anyone this?” I felt bad, telling Dad’s secrets, but there really isn’t another way. Besides, how could he tell those police men that he was afraid of his wife; how could he admit that he couldn’t protect us from her. Now it is up to Annalise to save us.

 

Melanie Richards