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First pages

Chapter 1

Jude stood by the postbox, the simple white envelope in her hand. It was now or never.

Half poking the letter into the wide rectangular mouth she stopped, her fingers unable to release it, transfixed with indecision.

Ruby, hanging from her chest in her baby carrier, gave a sudden wriggle, those little feet drumming into her pelvic bone made Jude jump and drop the letter into the box.

Well that’s decided it then, she thought and gave Ruby a quick squeeze. She’d done it, no taking that back now.

But she was pretty sure Spider wouldn’t be happy about it, and that was putting it mildly. Should she tell him what she had done or wait until, or if, she got a reply?

She really needed to talk to Lisa, and now.

Fumbling about in the voluminous multicoloured handbag hanging from her shoulder, which was difficult because she had to do everything round Ruby’s busy little body, and the cluttered state of her bag, she found her mobile wedged with her keys at the very bottom. Selecting Lisa’s number she listened to it ring.

‘Hi,’ said Lisa.

Jude let out her breath.

‘Hi, it’s me. I’ve posted it. Are you in?’

‘You have? Wow. Yes, yes I’m home. Where’re you to?’ said Lisa, her burring Bristol tones a deep comfort to Jude so that she found herself grinning as she looked around for a familiar landmark.

‘Top of Stokes Croft near the crossroads, you know, by the deli bakery,’ she said.

‘Okay great, I’ll put the kettle on. See you in a mo.’

Putting her phone away she nipped into the deli and bought a couple of honey oat flapjacks by way of celebration, or to calm the butterflies churning her stomach, she wasn’t sure which. Then she made her way in long easy strides along Ashley Road, crossed near the bottom into the borough of St Werburghs and then to Lisa’s house.

-

‘Hi, you gorgeous thing,’ said Lisa to Ruby when she opened her front door, a deep turquoise and green affair, just repainted that spring. Ruby squealed a greeting and kicked her chubby legs.

Lifting Ruby out of the carrier Jude followed Lisa up the dim Victorian hallway to her cosy incense scented sitting room. She loved the smells in Lisa’s house, she would have the same in her own only Spider loathed any of those ‘fake stinks’ as he put it.

‘Camomile okay?’ said Lisa as she settled herself on her battered floral sofa and lifted the lid of the rotund lime green teapot to check its steaming contents.

Nodding, Jude put Ruby down on the floor and watched as her youngest child crawled with stout determination across the room to a neat stack of colourful magazines.

‘Ruby, no,’ said Jude.

‘Leave her be,’ said Lisa. ‘They’re for the recycle bin anyways.’

So while Ruby attacked the glossies with loud squeaks of joy, Jude and Lisa sat together on the sofa and shared out the camomile tea and flapjacks.

‘Are you going to tell him?’ Lisa said, her bangles jangling as she pushed up the sleeve of her pink kameez top and poured tea into mismatched mugs.

The one she handed Jude had a 1980s depiction of Charles and Diana on it. Jude raised her eyebrows.

‘Charity shop, Bedminster,’ said Lisa. ‘Couldn’t resist it.’

With her free hand Jude started tugging at the small silver earring piercing the tip of her left ear. ‘I feel so mixed up about it. Did I do the right thing?’

The doorbell rang. Jude and Lisa looked at each other and then Lisa got up to answer it.

Taking a bite of her flapjack Jude brushed at the crumbs that fell into her lap. In the distance she could hear Lisa talking to someone on her doorstep and further off was a siren’s insistent shrieking, coming into focus and gradually fading as it bore off.

She thought about Spider. They’d been married for almost a year, although they’d been together for a lot longer than that. Their wedding had been a beautiful event, on top of Glastonbury Tor with all their friends around them.

But her eldest, Ben, had got drunk and they had spent the last early hours of dawn comforting him while he vomited his guts. She frowned at the memory; it seemed that had been a forerunner for her son’s teenage rampage of binge drinking and drug experimentation.

‘Jude, this here’s Penny,’ said Lisa, as she came back into the sitting room with a small red haired woman with a pale pinched face. ‘Penny wants to join the Women’s Aid phone line centre. I’d said she could call round anytime to chat about it. Well, as you’re here, she gets to pick two brains.’

Out of Penny’s view Lisa mouthed ‘sorry’. Jude smiled and lifted her shoulders in a small shrug.

Lisa told Penny to make herself at home and went to fetch another cup from the kitchen.

Jude put her half eaten flapjack back on the plate on the low pine coffee table and Penny sat down beside her.

‘How long have you worked on the helpline?’ asked Penny.

‘Lisa and I started together about eight years ago,’ said Jude shuffling herself round to face the woman beside her. ‘We’re only part-time, most people are, it’s just too much otherwise. It can be very hard, listening to other women’s traumatic home lives.’

Penny nodded, her face taking on a pained look of concern. ‘You must hear some terrible things. How do you let go of that when you go home?’

‘You’ll get training, and we always work in pairs so you’ll be able to talk to the other volunteer to get it off your chest if you need to,’ said Jude and added when she saw the other woman’s frown, ‘Everyone’s very supportive and we try and keep the atmosphere as relaxed as possible.’

‘Why did you get into doing it?’ said Penny.

In her mind’s eye Jude saw Atticus’s beautiful face twisted ugly with aggression just millimetres from her own as he whispered with chilling calm that he was going to punch her teeth into the back of her throat. In that brief moment she relived the cold fear that held her immobilized while he did what he wanted with her.

But she wasn’t about to share any of that with this stranger. So she said that women’s rights were very important to her and she wanted to make a difference, as much as she could, even if it was in a small way.

Lisa returned with a mug for Penny and poured a tea for her friend while the three women discussed the Women’s Aid call centre and how to become a telephone counsellor to women suffering domestic abuse.

‘I got a call once from a woman who was hiding in a cupboard. I could hear her husband in the background shouting as he was looking for her,’ said Lisa. ‘I could hardly hear her because she only whispered. It was terrifying.’

‘Usually they ring after their partners have gone out,’ said Jude.

‘Or when they’ve crashed out, dead drunk, because they’ve exhausted themselves beating them bloody,’ said Lisa.

Jude thought Lisa’s friend looked ill, her natural pallor a light shade of green. If this woman was intent on working for the help-line she’d better get ready to hear a lot worse, she thought.

Ruby, bored of the glossies, had started to grizzle. Jude decided it was time to go. She needed to get the supper on and Ruby down for her nap. Putting on the baby carrier harness she smiled as Lisa helped lift Ruby in to it, not an easy task as she was definitely getting too big.

‘Nice to meet you,’ said Penny smiling up at her. ‘And I love your hair, is it hard to look after?’

Jude pushed her long blond dreadlocks back over her shoulder and pulled a few free that had got caught under the carrier harness. ‘No,’ she said. ‘I’ve had it like this since I was a teenager, so I don’t really think about it any more. Saves money on hairdressers though,’ she added with a smile.

Lisa walked her to the door. ‘We didn’t get to talk,’ she said, her voice pitched low so only Jude could hear.

‘It’s okay. I just panicked.’

‘Listen,’ said Lisa gripping Jude’s wrists in her warm strong hands. ‘You did the right thing, in time Spider will see that too.’

The two women hugged goodbye and Jude set off for the fifteen minute walk to Montpelier and her home.

-

Opening her front door she squatted to scoop up the usual junk mail lying on the mat and took it through to her bright kitchen at the back of the house, where she plonked it on their large wooden table.

Fishing out a tub of leftovers from the fridge she warmed them in a saucepan on one of the gas rings. While it heated she hooked the baby table seat back onto its usual spot before pulling a wriggling eager Ruby out of the carry harness and transferred her straight into the baby seat. Tipping the tiny meal in a plastic bowl she placed it in front of Ruby.

Ruby set into her mashed sweet potato and round green peas chatting nonsense to her food as she ate.

Jude knew she should eat something too but despite what she’d said to Lisa she wasn’t okay, she was still churned up about the letter she’d just sent. She’d been over it endlessly with Lisa, whether or not to make contact. It felt like she was betraying Spider, and she was, only she just needed to know something or at least someone from his past. He was like a blank sheet, a half-finished puzzle and she just couldn’t rest until she knew the whole of him. Lisa always made it sound so easy. ‘Just ask him, Jude; it’s not as if he’s got anything to hide, has he?’ But it was never that simple. Sometimes it was like walking on eggshells, trying to coax him round to talking about his past, he would get so moody and tetchy. It was her fault too, she just seemed to pick up on people’s feelings and the emotions they radiated would tie her in knots, closing her mouth from words. She knew it was left over fear from the violence of her first marriage, she just couldn’t seem to stop her automatic response to threat, however slight it was.

Spooky, Jude’s big black neutered tom, meowed a hello as he slid himself though the cat flap from the back garden. He threaded his big baggy body round her legs and made plaintive high pitch cries that seemed so incongruous compared to his size and menacing appearance.

‘Okay, okay,’ she said and found him some dried food in a large own store brand box which for some reason was being currently kept amongst the breakfast cereals. Bending to fill his bowl she found she was still wearing the baby harness. Struggling with its hooks she finally undid it and hung it off the back of a chair. They had a motley selection of wooden chairs, mismatched and battered like most of their furniture.

They had too much stuff and not enough space in their cupboards, and that was true of the whole house, and the large shabby shed that dominated the end of their long narrow garden.

As they were both artists Jude and Spider held with the belief that everything should and could be turned to some other use somewhere down the line. So very little got thrown away and a lot of odd and peculiar looking things got salvaged from skips and street corners and brought home as prize finds.

Spider had taken on workshop premises just off Station Road up by the top of Cheltenham Road where he created moulds and translated his customers’ and his own work into cold cast resins. The business was proving successful, but that meant less time for him to do his own artwork, a situation that had him wound up and edgy like an over-heated boiler.

And his nightmares had started again.

He disturbed both their sleep when he whimpered and moaned in the dead of night, frightening childlike cries rising in pitch until she comforted him with whispered soft words and gentle hands. He never fully woke, just went back into silent sleep as if nothing had happened. He claimed not to remember what his dreams were about in the morning and just said it was something he ate.

She did her textile work from her studio in their attic when ever she could steal a spare moment, so she sympathised with Spider’s frustration. The problem was a catch-22 situation, the business was doing well, everybody wanted moulds made and reproductions pulled from them, so Spider didn’t want to turn work away, but at the same time he wasn’t making enough from the business to employ someone to lighten some of his workload.

Spider, her beautiful tattooed man, a convivial person full of fun, was fast becoming tired, bad tempered and uncommunicative. And communication was at the heart of their present difficulties, including the momentous step Jude had just taken in writing to his mother, Audra.

She had never met Audra and knew almost nothing about her because Spider refused to discuss his mother, or his childhood. It just seemed wrong, thought Jude as she wiped a bit of orange sweet potatoes from Ruby’s hair. They had this beautiful little girl and if Spider had his way, Audra would never be given the chance to meet her because of some stupid family argument.

Only it was more than that, she felt it deep in the core of her, like an unreachable itch.

Ruby was asleep, her podgy arms stretched out along the table and her cheek on a soft pillow of discarded mash. Digging her mobile out of her bag she took a picture, then texted it to Spider with the caption, ‘Someone who knows how to take a break!’

‘Aw, sorry, baby,’ she said as she lifted a grumbling Ruby out of the table seat. Giving Ruby’s face and hands a quick wipe at the sink, she dried her off with a clean dishcloth before carrying her upstairs and bedding her down in her cot.

Ruby was asleep before her head touched the mattress; even so, Jude rewound the cot’s mobile that hung over her baby on a white plastic arm that reminded Jude of a miniature crane. A soft tinkling tune filled the room and bright coloured fish spun round in spangled lazy circles.

It was now about half one and she judged she could get an hour’s artwork done, and then start supper before Ruby woke up and her elder two children, Ben and Immy, got home from school. She thought she would just make a quick hot drink, lemon and ginger tea, to take to the studio. Calming for her stomach and nerves. Promising herself she wasn’t going to think about the letter at all she headed back down the stairs.

-

She had just poured the boiling water over her teabag when she heard the front door slam. Glancing up she saw Spider striding down the corridor towards her.

He knows, she thought, tugging at the little silver ring in the top of her ear.

‘What’re you looking so guilty about?’ said Spider as he caught hold of her hips and pulled her towards him.

‘I thought you had a rush on?’ she said. He was grinning and his mouth brushed a warm tickling breath on her face.

‘I got your text,’ he said and kissed her.

‘It was a picture of Ruby, she looked cute, not an invitation for sex.’

‘Do I need an invitation?’ he said, his dark eyebrows raised. ‘I reckoned, Ruby asleep, the others at school so…’ he didn’t finish the sentence, just pulled her towards the stairs.

-

They were still in bed, enjoying a quiet moment together, Jude’s dreadlocks fanned out around her on the white pillowcase. Spider had one in his hand and he was toying with it, holding it like a pale knotted paintbrush as he drew invisible shapes across her breasts.

Studying the numerous tattoos that snaked and entwined across his torso, she noticed how some were in colour and others just black line drawing fading to blue here and there with age.

She ran her finger round the inked shape of a swallow on his chest. The design looked to be one of his first judging by its lack of clarity, the bird dimmed to an indigo blue of Chinese willow pattern, was depicted mid-flight, roughly over the area of his heart, its head was thrown back and its beak was wide open in song. But it was the song of death because an arrow pierced its body.

‘What’s this one about?’ she said.

He tucked his head into his chest to look at the design. ‘Swallow,’ he said.

‘I can see that, but why?’

‘Sailors used to have them. It’s a promise that one day they’ll be back. Like the bird, they always return to the same nest each spring.’

‘But why has it got an arrow sticking through it?’

‘’Cause I ain’t ever going home,’ he said.

Her throat tightened. ‘It was such a long time ago, you must have both changed so much by now?’ she said wriggling closer to him. But he dropped her dreadlock, his body losing the relaxed softness of a moment before.

‘Jude, let’s not get into that again. Okay? Far as I’m concerned it’s history, just drop it.’

He sat up and reached down for his jeans crumpled on the floor somewhere out of her field of vision.

‘I just thought…’ she started but was cut off when he snapped.

‘Well don’t.’

And he was gone, off to the bathroom slamming the door behind him.

She felt the lump in her throat growing huge and constricting causing a catch in her breath.

How could he be loving one minute and switch so fast to this other horrible person who made her feel so unwanted? Especially just after making love. She wanted to cry.

Some of it was being a new mum, she knew from experience that made her softer, more emotional and easily hurt. But some of it was frustration. How was she ever going to get through to him if he wouldn’t talk to her?

Hearing the loo flush she pulled the large feather duvet over her nakedness and turned on to her side facing away from the bedroom door, pretending to look out the window. It was a beautiful day outside, warm bright colours of the houses opposite straight in her view. But in here it felt cold.

The mattress shifted as he sat down on the bed. She could feel him moving about as, she assumed, he put on the rest of his clothes. Then he was still for a moment. Neither of them spoke. He lay down and reached his arms around her, duvet and all, and nuzzled the back of her neck.

‘I’m a grumpy bastard,’ he said.

‘Yes you are.’

‘And you’re a pushy posh bitch.’

The words were harsh but she could hear the smile in his voice.

She wriggled round in her duvet cocoon to face him and lay in his arms nose to nose. From the next door room she heard the unmistakable sounds of Ruby waking. They looked into each other’s eyes for a long moment. Spider’s so dark she could see her own eyes reflected back at her.

Ruby let out a wail.

‘I’ll go,’ he said and she felt a pang of loss when he let go his tight grip of her and rolled himself off the bed, up and out of the door.

 


Chapter 2

It was the start of the summer school holidays. Ben had blagged a tenner and gone off trials biking with his friends along the long expanse of cement steps outside the Lloyds building, near the city centre. Jude had agreed to take Immy, her eldest daughter who had just recently turned eleven, to the city museum. It went without saying that Ruby went too.

They took the bus, the 75, to the city centre, got off and walked across the busy roundabout and then up Park Street, stopping here and there to point out things of interest in the shop windows.

Once in the museum, Immy made a beeline for the gypsy caravan on the first floor. Jude wanted to see what new exhibition was on in the ground floor art gallery, only she agreed to wait until Immy had paid her usual visit to the caravan.

Immy had an unusual talent, ‘a laying on of hands’ Jude called it. Immy would put her hands on an object and relay the story it told her.

Jude had bought her an A4 notebook to keep her ‘stories’ in, as she thought Immy had a brilliant imagination and wanted to encourage it. The gypsy caravan had proved to be a deep well of stories with vivid characters that inhabited them.

Running up to the caravan Immy put her slim arms along its painted wooden sides and pressed her ear to the wood, listening.

Reaching out from her baby carrier hung from Jude’s chest Ruby chuckled and patted the bits of colourful wood within her reach. Oh not another one, thought Jude, their house would be bristling with stories and strange illustrations. She grinned and hugged Ruby tight.

Once Immy had had her fill of the caravan, they trooped around the stuffed British wildlife cases while she explained the latest tale she had ‘received’. It seemed to centre on a small boy who had broken his arm in a riding accident. She got very animated describing the child’s fall and what a broken arm must feel like. Jude made faces of horror and disgust to show she was listening.

After they had seen enough on the upper floors Jude took them downstairs for a drink and cake at the museum café. Then they had a quick look round the art gallery, nothing special today, followed by a trip to the ancient but beautiful Victorian toilets, avoided the gift shop and then off down Park Street again.

As they were walking past College Green, near the bottom of the street, Immy pointed out Ben sitting with a group of other boys, his trials bike lying abandoned beside him.

Jude started to raise her hand in greeting, but the shout of ‘Hi’ died in her throat when she saw the furtive movement of a joint being passed from one of the lounging youngsters over to Ben.

Ducking his head Ben used the wide brim of his red ‘skater’ cap to cover the roll up from view. Brow down for a couple of seconds and then he too passed the joint to his neighbour, taking care as he did so to cup his hand to keep the white roll up cigarette out of public view. Fourteen and he already thinks he’s a man, thought Jude, he knows he needs to hide it though, idiot child. She felt cold anger creep up from her stomach to tighten her throat as she watched him lean back on his elbows, tip back his head and exhale a thick plume of dirty coloured smoke. Coughing hard, a sound which turned into laughter, he fell onto his back on the tight mown lawn.

One of the youths called Ben’s name and passed him a kaki green canvas rucksack. Ben sat up and tipped the bag up to his mouth and took a long swallow.

Jude realised with a jolt that the bag must contain alcohol. It was the needle she needed to get her moving, turning on her heel and unheeding of the stares of other teens nestled in groups dotted around the lawns, she marched with long strides across the green.

Ben hadn’t noticed her until she was within feet of him, Immy scurrying to keep up. For a moment he stared up at her; then she saw the dawn of knowledge enter his eyes. He scrabbled, comical for a moment, to get his long legs in co-ordination, tossed the rucksack to his friend, grabbed up his bike, and within seconds was gone.

A sniggered laugh brought her round to face the others lounging at her feet. The one who had the joint was lying back looking at her with squint eyed nonchalance, smoking openly without bothering to hide it.

Snatching the kaki rucksack she tipped it out before any of them had time to react.

They all jumped yelping as a cheap litre bottle of cider fell and squirted its contents around them. The boys shouted protests and insults, and Jude shouted right back at them. Most of her anger, she knew, was impotent frustration because Ben had run from her.

When she became aware of Ruby’s crying she turned and marched off down the last strip of Park Street towards the central roundabout and the bus stop, ignoring Immy’s questions as she trotted beside her. Anger simmered and jumbled her thoughts, why was he doing this, why couldn’t she stop him?

-

Jude sat on the top front of the 75 bus unaware of Bristol in all its panoramic glory displayed for her from this perfect vantage point, she saw nothing as her view was an internal one.

What she saw was a flickering slide show of a boy with tousled russet hair shoot through his life to date at breakneck speed; her personal home movie stopping here and there to focus on a moment, a played out sequence in time. What Jude was looking for was that parental age-old problem, that eternal question – just where did I go wrong?

She was so absorbed in her thoughts that she missed their stop and it was Immy’s insistent voice pointing out that they should have got off that got her moving.

‘It’s okay,’ she told Immy. ‘We need some things from the Co-op anyway.’

They picked up a few items and headed home, she preferred to shop at the Real Food Store in St Pauls, all organic and additive free, but right now there was too much on her mind, so the local supermarket would have to do. She was still angry, but now she had a plan. She had suspected Ben of drinking and taking drugs for a while but didn’t have any concrete proof, this is what she had needed to see.

Since getting so drunk on her wedding night Ben seemed to have got a taste for it. She couldn’t say for sure what he had been up to, but any occasion where there was alcohol present, Ben would be whining to be given a drink too. Spider was of the view that it was a good idea to let Ben have a small amount of alcohol on occasion, to get him used to it and encourage sensible drinking later on. She wasn’t so sure.

There were times when Ben had come home flush faced and loud, other instances when she had noticed his dilated pupils and odd behaviour, grinding his teeth and talking nonsense, his voice robotic and sounding like a tape cassette player with the batteries winding down.

When she tried questioning him about what he did when he was out with his friends or what his opinions were regarding drink and drugs, he would shrug and give non-committal answers. Getting to the point of the matter felt like trying to nail a puddle to the floor.

Now she had irrefutable proof and she intended to jump on it with both feet, hard. She smiled and felt a rush of excitement, she was going to make a difference and pull Ben back from the edge before it was too late. She wasn’t going to let him go the way of his father, or her mother.

As soon as they got in the house she put Ruby down for her nap and asked Immy to go and write her latest caravan story in her book. Jude took the stairs two at a time to Ben’s room.

Before she started she tried his mobile. Her call was redirected to his voicemail, no surprises there. She sent him a terse text telling him to come home ‘NOW!’ She didn’t expect a response to that either, but at least he couldn’t say she hadn’t tried.

Looking around his room she wondered how one person could make this much mess. Shifting through the piles of clothes dumped on the floor, and the textbooks, the comics and just ‘stuff’, each time she came across an electrical item she put it on his bed.

Glancing up she felt the accusation from the many eyes staring at her from the posters cramming his walls. Manga cartoon characters competed with computer game heroes for her undivided attention. She wanted to tear them all down.

Piling up all Ben’s electrical items, Xbox plus the games and controller, computer games, Nintendo and assorted games, CD player and music, she felt there was no end to them. Had she really bought him all this stuff? She went and found a large plastic laundry basket and piled it all in, then put the whole lot, at the back of her wardrobe.

Next she changed the password to the internet on the family computer. Ben had his own login account so she changed the password to that too.

Satisfied, she went to make supper and wait for Spider to come home. Ben, she knew, would be home late.

-

She was in bed, but very much awake when Ben came home. Jude and Spider had talked about him for ages. Spider thought that she needed to lighten up, that her anger would just drive Ben underground with his drinking and drug taking. She disagreed. She felt that something had to be done, and now before it was too late.

‘It would be better if you gave him space to talk about it. At least you would know what he was up to,’ Spider had said, rubbing at the back of his neck.

Sitting at the kitchen table, just the two of them, Immy was talking nose to nose with Spooky on the floor of the telly room and Ruby was in her cot. Jude had been on about Ben and what had happened at College Green since Spider had walked in the door at six, and now it was eight. She felt they were on a huge roundabout of ‘what ifs?’ Nothing either of them said seemed to help or get them any closer to a solution.

‘No it wouldn’t,’ said Jude pulling at her earring hard enough to make Spider wince. ‘He’s fourteen, he’s just a child. Even though he likes to think he’s so grown up, how can he possibly know what’s best for him. That’s our job.’ She pushed the half empty plate in front of her into the middle of the table in one sharp motion, the knife and fork rattled and slid off smearing lentils and sauce on the table. ‘Fuck,’ muttered Jude, but she didn’t pick them up.

‘Grounding him, taking away his stuff, stopping communication with his friends will just make him more hostile than he already is. You’re closing the door when you should be opening it,’ said Spider.

She raised her eyebrows in disbelief, she couldn’t see why he didn’t get it, this was no time to play liberal best friend dad.

‘He’s a teenager. His brain’s more like a toddler’s. How’d you think Ruby would react if you took her toys away?’ said Spider.

‘Yes, sometimes he’s just like a child in a tantrum,’ she agreed.

Spider sighed and put a hand on the back of his chair in readiness to get up.

‘But,’ said Jude, stopping him mid movement. ‘Just like a toddler he needs firm boundaries. Children like to know what their limits are.’

And they had gone on like that, swinging back and forth, neither agreeing or coming to any concrete conclusion until Immy came to say she was tired and wanted to show Jude her story. Spider took the chance to escape saying he was going to relax with a beer and watch TV. Jude went upstairs with Immy to look at her new caravan story.

Immy was still so loving and easy-going. Why, Jude wondered, did everything go from the straight forward black and white of childhood to such complicated grey areas of teen-hood?

She sat on Immy’s bed while her daughter changed into her pyjamas. Looking around the room she marvelled at the contrast with Ben’s. She hadn’t encouraged any particular gender differences with her children, they had just gravitated towards those things all on their own. As much as Ben’s world was filled with fighting games and hero characters, Immy’s was pink and fluffy. She had a unicorn obsession at the moment and Jude smiled when she saw an A4 picture, which could only have been drawn by Immy, of a unicorn complete with wings flying across the page with the words, ‘I know you are out there’ written in a careful large script beneath. Immy had stuck the picture on the wall in direct view of her bed.

She wasn’t as messy as Ben, not an ingrained couldn’t care less kind of mess like he had, but she had her own special disarray of collected junk. Tiny objects all piled up on every inch of surface space, making it impossible to get at anything. Jude leant forward and picked one up at random, a small plastic pink and cream rabbit styled on a female baby version of Bugs Bunny, horrible and cute at the same time, she grimaced.

‘Where do you get all this stuff?’ said Jude holding out the toy.

Immy came over and took it from her. She shrugged her shoulders and put the rabbit back on the shelf. Sitting down next to Jude she picked up her exercise book and opened it on the latest page.

‘You’re supposed to be looking at this,’ she said.

Smiling, Jude looked at the book with Immy, the whole page was covered with drawings and small bits of writing as explanation where drawings alone wouldn’t serve. 

After half an hour of looking at Immy’s drawings, Jude decided she felt exhausted so went to bed early to try and read. It wasn’t Immy’s book that had drained her so much as the whole evening of events; she had just had enough of everyone and needed some space. When she heard Spider coming up the stairs she turned off her bedside light and pretended to be asleep.

But she didn’t sleep and she knew she wouldn’t until she heard Ben come home.

When she finally heard the telltale creaking of the corridor floorboards she tussled with herself. Should she confront him now or in the morning? Squinting at the illuminated dial of their bedside clock she saw it was Midnight. Ben would be tired and confrontational; she would wait till morning for the inevitable explosion from both sides.

 


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Jo Ullah grew up in a small village in Dorset, where she was fed on a regular diet of horror and the supernatural by the inventive mind of her mother. Being dyslexic, reading and writing were always a difficult mountain just waiting to be scaled. Luckily the view from top is much better than it was from the ground. She lives in Bristol with her family and other creatures great and small, practising her writing, gardening and love of art.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I dreamt the plot, place and title, even so it took three years to write.
Q. Why do you write?
A.
I love the process of gradually finding the characters and building the plot. It's slow, but incredibly satisfying. I find myself thinking about them and coming up with dialogue and plot events in the most unusual places - usually when there's no pen to hand!
Q. When did you decide to become a writer?
A.
There are so many stories in my head I just needed to start getting them out.

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