Read Close Your Pretty Eyes Online

Authors: Sally Nicholls

Close Your Pretty Eyes (12 page)

THE BABY

And then it all went wrong.

Maisy was crying. On and on and on. I couldn't bear it. I yelled, “Shut up! Shut up!”

“Shut your mouth,” Grace shouted. “Do you have to deal with her? No? Then shut the hell up.”

 

“Shut the hell up, you little moron. What are you doing here, anyway? Who wants you? Do you know what we do to little creeps like you?”

Someone's hand comes down on my face. Someone's foot punches my stomach. I'm drowning. I'm dying. I can't ever escape.

Somewhere, a baby is crying.

“Why can't you just leave me alone?”

 

A baby was crying.

I was back in the living room. Grace had moved. Before, she was standing in front of me; now she was by the window, holding Maisy. My heart was pounding. I felt it again, that piercing sense of being hated, but I couldn't tell if it was the woman in my memory who was doing the hating, or Amelia, and if she was hating me, or the baby, or both of us. I remembered the women in the stories Harriet had told me. There was the lady who tried to gas her children to death, and the other lady who killed her baby and left it on the doorstep. Was that what Amelia wanted? Did she think it was still her job to kill babies? Or to make me kill babies for her? Mostly, she just seemed full of anger. Like she wanted to hurt someone and anyone would do.

I could understand that.

“Leave me alone!” I shouted. “Just leave me alone!”

Grace rounded on me. “If you don't shut the hell up right now, I'm going to make you.”

 

“If you don't shut the hell up, I'm going to make you.”

A woman's hand over my mouth and nose, stopping me breathing. The smell of her sweaty fingers and the metal taste of rage in my mouth. I bite on to her palm. She swears and picks me up so my feet kick in the air. Somewhere there's a baby crying. Somehow the crying is my fault.

“I'll make you pay for that, you little monster.”

 

“I'll make you pay for that,” I yelled. I launched myself on to Maisy, still cradled in Grace's arms. If I could shut Maisy up, the woman in my head would go away. If Maisy stopped crying, old Amelia wouldn't bother me any more. I grabbed the nearest bit of Maisy I could reach – her leg. Grace pulled back.

“What the hell do you think you're doing? Get away from her!”

Jim came into the room. He looked at us – Grace with her arms around Maisy, screaming at me, me pummelling them with my clenched fists. He grabbed me and dragged me away.

“Olivia, calm down. Calm down.”

I could hear the panic in his voice.
He's scared of me
.

Grace and Maisy went out of the door. Jim put me down. He sat on the chair by the fire, watching as I kicked and raged.

“I hate you, I hate you. I wish you were dead. I wish you were
dead
.”

Sometimes, when I threw fits, I did it to annoy my foster parents. Sometimes I did it because I was so angry I had to let the anger out or explode. But now I did it because it was either that or listen to my thoughts.

He won't let you stay here now you've tried to hurt the baby. You'll have to go.

 

Afterwards, he tried to talk to me.

“You know that must never happen again?” he said. “Olivia?”

There's a ghost in this house and she's trying to kill Maisy.

“I didn't do anything.”

“Olivia. I'm serious. Maisy is only little. You
mustn't
try and hurt her.”

I think I'm going mad.

“Or what? If I smack her in the nose, what will you do?”

Jim looked at me steadily.

He'll send you away. He'll send you away.

“You can't hurt a baby, Olivia. It's against the law, for one thing.”

“Would you call the police, then?”

“I wouldn't let it get to that stage,” said Jim. “If I honestly thought you were going to hurt Maisy, I'd have to make sure you weren't in a position to do so. I'd have no choice.”

He doesn't love you. He doesn't even like you. He likes Maisy more than you, and Maisy can't even talk.

“Would you chuck me out?” I said. “Mr For Ever And Ever? Would you?”

“If I had to,” said Jim. “Then, yes. I would.”

WOULD YOU?


Would you chuck me out? Mr For Ever And Ever? Would you?


If I had to,

said Jim.

Then, yes. I would.

When I lived with my mum, I could always tell when she was going to hit me. When she'd had a bad day, when she'd run out of money, when she'd had just the right amount to drink – enough to make her angry, but not enough to make her fall asleep. I used to watch the anger building and building. The waiting would get so bad that I'd try and hurry it along. I'd ask annoying questions, or sing, or look happy, or sad, or do bouncing on the mattress when I'd been told not to. Anything, so the getting-hit would happen and I could stop worrying about it.

“Would you chuck me out? Mr For Ever And Ever? Would you?”

“If I had to. Then, yes. I would.”

Waiting for Jim to chuck me out was like that. I could feel it
looming
like a monster waiting to pounce.
It's not safe to keep Olivia in a house with a cat. It's not safe to keep Olivia in a house with a little girl like Harriet. It's not safe to keep Olivia in a house with a baby.
I'd heard the same words, or words like them, said by all sorts of people who thought they loved me. They were probably true.

So if Jim was going to chuck me out, why didn't he just do it already?

“If you're going to chuck me out, why don't you do it already?” I said to Jim at breakfast.

“Who says I'm going to chuck you out?” said Jim.

“You are,” I told him. “You
are
.” And I threw my bowl of Coco Pops at his face.

I expected him to get angry. I
wanted
him to get angry. But he just carried on eating his porridge with milk dripping down his cheeks and into his beard.

“You look stupid,” I told him. “You
are
stupid.”

“That must be hard,” said Jim. “Living with someone you think is stupid.”


Yeah
,” I said. “It
is
. You're stupid and pathetic and
horrible
, and I wish I lived with Liz instead of you.”

“I'm sorry to hear that,” said Jim, calmly. He didn't even
care
.

I picked up the milk bottle from the table and threw it at him, as hard as I could. I hoped it might break, but it didn't. It bounced off his face and rolled across the floor, spreading milk in a white puddle. Harriet squealed, and Grace said, “Olivia!” I stared at the puddle with a mixture of glee and horror. What was going to happen now?

“What the hell do you think you're doing?” said Grace. “Are you
insane
?”

“All right,” said Jim. He stood up. “Come on, kids, let's let Olivia be. Harriet, bring your Coco Pops upstairs if you haven't finished them.”

They all stood up and went upstairs. I followed.

“You're such a loser, I said. “I hate you. I
hate
you!”

They went into Jim's room and shut the door. I tried banging on it, but he wouldn't let me in.

“Why don't you just send me back to Fairfields?” I yelled. “I wish you would!”

And then I went downstairs and poured the contents of the teapot into Jim's coat pockets, just to make myself feel better.

 

Somewhere close by, a baby began to cry. It wasn't Maisy, because Maisy was still in Jim's room with Grace.

“Go to sleep, my baby, close your pretty eyes. . .”

“Shut up!” I yelled. “Stupid ghost baby!”

“Angels up above you are peeking through the skies. . .”

I could
feel
Amelia in the kitchen beside me. I could
feel
her anger. It tasted sharp and metallic in my mouth, like blood. It pounded like blood in my ears.

In the bedroom upstairs, Maisy started wailing.

“Make her stop!” I yelled. I ran upstairs and started kicking the bedroom door, like they do in films.

Maisy's wails increased. I wanted to smash her stupid face into the wall. Would that do it? Would Amelia leave me alone if I shut Maisy up for ever? The thought excited me and terrified me at the same time. I really would be a monster. Everyone would know how awful I really was. No one would ever dare try and love me again.

“Leave me alone!” I yelled. “Why don't you ever just leave me alone?”

“Great big moon is shining,”
Amelia was singing in my head.
“Stars begin to peep. It's time for little babies to go to sleep.”

BLOOD MAGIC

I went into my room. I pulled open the drawer of my bedside cabinet, unzipped my pencil case and took out the knife, the one I'd stolen from school. I tested its edge with the tip of my finger, and the blade cut through the skin. Blood pooled on my fingertip: deep, dark, thick and red. Like a magic potion. Like a magic spell. Like witchcraft.

Still sharp.

I think I might be a witch.

The knife didn't have a sheath, so I made one for it out of a cereal box and Sellotape, the way the big girls used to at Fairfields. Then I put the knife into the pocket of my red cardigan that Liz bought me, and buttoned up the pocket so nobody would know it was there. Liz's cardigan was big and old and woolly, and had been washed so many times it had pockets as big as the Doctor's in
Doctor Who
. Nobody could see the knife from the outside, but I knew it was there.

It made me feel safe, knowing my knife was nearby.

If I needed it, I'd be ready.

HOME NUMBER 7

JACKIE

I was five when Hayley and Jamie and I were taken into care for good. My mum had gone off, the way she did sometimes, only this time she hadn't come back. We'd been on our own for four days. We'd eaten all the cereal, and Jamie had drunk all his milk, and now he was crying because he was hungry and I couldn't make him stop. I was terrified that my mum really had forgotten us this time and was never coming back, but I didn't know how to get out of the flat. The door was a big metal one with no windows, and Mum had locked us in and taken the key. I could have shouted for help, I suppose, but I was worried about what Mum would do to me if she came back and found out what I'd done.

It was afternoon on the fourth day when someone started banging on the door. Hayley and I ran into Mum's room and hid under the bed, but Jamie started crying, so they knew we were in there.

“Open up!” a man shouted. “It's the police!” Then I knew they weren't going to go away, so I shouted through the door that we didn't have a key and they went quiet.

I don't remember how they got the door open, but I do remember them coming in in big fluorescent jackets, and talking on their walkie-talkies, and looking round our dirty, half-empty flat and shaking their heads. Mum sold the furniture when she ran out of money, which was often. Then they took us to a police station. Someone took Jamie away, but Hayley and I had to wait for hours and hours and hours, in the corner of this big office. I thought we were going to prison, because Mum always said I'd go to prison if I carried on being so bad.

Eventually, a new lady came and told us she was going to find us a nice home to stay in. I said I wanted my mum, and she told me Mum wasn't very well and couldn't look after us right now. I only found out years and years later that she was in prison. She hadn't even bothered to tell the police about us being locked in the flat. They only found out because we were on her file, and one of the policemen asked where we were.

The lady took Hayley and me in a car to a flat with a big fat lady called Jackie. I said, “We're supposed to be with our brother,” and the lady said Jamie was staying in a different home, and we'd see him soon, but I never saw him again.

I said, “We want our mum.”

And Jackie said, “You'll see your mum soon, pet,” but we didn't. We didn't see her again for weeks and weeks, and then it was only for about an hour.

Jackie gave us a bath, and made us stand in the cold while she wrote down all the marks and bruises we had. It took for ever. Then she gave us some soup, which was brown and had horrible slimy bits of spaghetti floating in it. I hadn't eaten in over a day, but I felt more sick than hungry. The soup tasted gross, but I was scared to say so in case she hit me.

Afterwards, she made us go to bed in big T-shirts that had belonged to other kids before us, and were all thin and faded with too much washing. They made me even more frightened, because if she stole things off other kids, maybe she would steal our clothes too and we'd never get them back.

I didn't want to sleep in a bed on my own, so after she'd gone, I crept in with Hayley.

“Do you think we'll ever see Mum and Jamie again?” Hayley whispered.

“Course we will,” I said.

“Are we living with this lady now?” said Hayley.

“Yes,” I said, but I was wrong. Jackie was only an emergency foster carer. We stayed with her for a few days, until another social worker came along and said we were going to live with Donna and Craig now. Just until we went back to our mum.

SNAP

Something changed.

I stopped trying to be friends with Daniel and Harriet. I stopped trying to be nice to Liz. I stopped caring about what Grace said to me, and I stopped worrying about whether Jim liked me or not. I didn't care about any of that any more.

I snapped at Harriet when she asked me if I wanted to play dressing-up. I shouted at Daniel when he asked me if I wanted to go out on my bike. I screamed at Grace when she had a go at me for snapping and shouting and screaming. And Jim. . .

I was horrible to Jim. Totally, definitely, absolutely, utterly, completely horrible. I knew I was, the whole time I was being horrible, but I didn't stop. I spat at him. I threw things in his face. I kicked and screamed and bit when he tried to get me to go into the dining room, or sit down and put my seatbelt on, or do whatever it was he wanted me to do today.

“I
hate
you!” I said to him, over and over and over again. “I
hate
you!”

I watched Daniel and Harriet moving further and further away from me. I watched them tense whenever I came through the door. I heard them talking about me in rooms where I wasn't. I could
feel
them whispering in the spaces I left behind. It was terrifying, how easy it was to push them away.

Jim fought, but he couldn't win, and he knew it. I could see it in the way he looked at me, the way his back clenched when I glared at him, the way his eyes flickered towards Harriet when I came into the room. I could see it in the slump of his shoulders when he told me to go into the dining room and I just laughed at him.

I was more powerful than thunder.

Jim tried to talk to me about it.

“Olivia, where did all this anger come from? What's happened?”

I wouldn't answer.

Daniel tried to talk to me too.

“Olivia, you know Amelia's ghost isn't real, don't you? It's just the man who runs the pub teasing Harriet.”

“Teasing!” I said. “Murder and people killing themselves, teasing!”

“Well, stories, then. There isn't really a ghost here. I don't know why you hear things that aren't there, but I don't think it's Amelia Dyer. Maybe it's just . . . memories. Bad memories that won't be forgotten.”

But isn't that what a ghost is?

 

Liz talked to me on Saturday, in Pizza Hut, after the football.

“I wonder if you're acting like this because you're worried Jim's going to ask you to leave,” she said. Wondering Aloud was another Liz thing. Jim did it too, but only when he remembered.

“I don't care if he does ask me to leave,” I said. “I don't like him anyway.”

“He likes you,” said Liz.

“No, he doesn't.”

“Why doesn't he?”

This was why I hated Liz sometimes.


Because
,” I said. “Can I have potato skins?”

“Because what?” said Liz, ignoring me. I don't know why she kept going on at me for being rude. She was nearly as bad.

“Because!” I shouted. I didn't mean to shout. It came out louder than I'd expected. “You know why. Because I'm evil.”

“Olivia,” said Liz, and I suddenly wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. “You aren't evil. You're
hurt
. Lots of bad things happened to you, and because of that you need to do things to make yourself feel safe, and that's
OK
, Olivia. That's what people who are hurt
do
.”

Liz had said things like this lots of times before, but I never believed her.

“If it's OK,” I said, “then why did you always punish me for doing it? Why do you keep telling me I have to be different for Jim, if it's not bad?”

Liz laughed. “That's a good question,” she said. “It's because you might not be in control of your feelings, but you
are
in control of what you do with those feelings. All those tools we talked about – remember? I think life would be easier for you if you used them when you felt angry or scared, rather than just flipping out. I think you'd feel safer.”

Huh. Helen kept going on about tools too. Stupid things like
use your words
and
count to ten
. They worked all right when I lived with Liz, but when I lived with Jim I was too frightened to remember them most of the time. When you're frightened, you don't have time to think
Is Daniel really saying he hates me, or does he just want to read his book?
You think
Daniel hates me!
and then you panic.

“So if I don't use my tools, am I bad?” I said.

“No,” said Liz. “You're just scared. Everyone gets scared. When you're scared you make mistakes. And what I try to do is to help you find better ways of dealing with that.”

“I don't make mistakes!” I said, furiously. I hated the smug way she said that, like I was just some stupid kid getting things wrong. “I do bad things
on purpose
. Because I
want to
.”

“Well, then you're someone who does bad things,” said Liz. “That doesn't make you a bad person. Actions are bad, but people are always more complicated.”

Sometimes Liz just talked
nonsense
. I
hated
it, because I wanted her to protect me, and how could she do that when she was so wrong?

“There
are
bad people,” I said. “There
are
.
Evil
people. Amelia's evil. Violet's evil. So's—” I stopped. I wasn't sure if my mum was evil or not. I
loved
my mum. “
I'm
evil,” I said instead.

“Well, I know that's not true,” said Liz. She ruffled my hair. I pulled away.

“Listen,” she said. “Violet did some evil things. Things which should never have happened to you. But . . . she's not the things she did. She's a human being. Maybe she was ill. Maybe she was hurt herself. Look, I know you don't want to hear this, but it's important that you try. Jim likes you. He wants you in his family. And Daniel and Harriet like you too, and they want you to be their sister. I know it's hard for you to believe, but it's true. But, Olivia, Jim can't keep you in his house if it's not safe for Harriet and Maisy. That doesn't mean you're a bad person. It means Jim has to look out for all the kids in his house. OK?”

“But it's not
me
,” I wailed. “It's Amelia.”

She's trying to make me hurt Maisy. I don't want to, but I don't know how else to get her to leave me alone.

I wanted to say the words, but I couldn't. They really would chuck me out if I said that.

Liz waited. Then, when she could see I wasn't going to say anything else, she sighed. It was an Olivia's-being-stupid-and-annoying sigh.

“Look,” she said. “Let's not fight. I love you. And I think you're a wonderful girl, and I'm sorry you're finding things so hard right now.”

I hated it when people gave me stupid lying compliments like that.
Hi, Olivia, just wanted to tell you that the guy who's supposed to be your dad thinks you're so evil he doesn't want you in the same house as his family. But don't forget what a great kid you are!
And I hated, hated, hated that Liz was doing it worst of anybody, because now she was lying to me like everybody else.

“Shut up!” I shouted. “Shut up, shut up!” And I tipped the table up and over, spilling everything on to the floor with a
clatter, clash, shatter, crash, smash
.

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