Read Close Your Pretty Eyes Online

Authors: Sally Nicholls

Close Your Pretty Eyes (15 page)

AMELIA AND THE DEAD BABY

Daniel and Harriet and I dug the soil out from all around the baby.

“We should tell the police,” said Daniel.

“Why?” said Harriet.

“Well. It's a body. It's a crime scene.”

“No, it's not,” I said. “It's . . . archaeology.”

“You don't know that,” said Daniel. But I did.

“We should tell Dad,” said Harriet, but, “Let's dig it out first,” I said. Once Jim arrived there would be explanations and tellings-off and calling-Andy-and-Chrises and punishments, which wouldn't come from Jim because he wasn't my dad any more. I liked digging things with Daniel and Harriet. I wanted to pretend they were still my brother and sister for just a little bit longer.

The baby was a perfect skeleton, lying on its side in the earth, still wrapped in the remains of a muddy grey blanket. Under the blanket, you could see raggedy bits of old clothes, half-rotted away and covered in earth.

“What do you think her name was?” said Harriet.

“Maybe she didn't have one,” said Daniel. “Maybe she was just born.”

“She was older than that,” I said. “She's nearly as big as Maisy.”

“We
should
tell Dad,” said Daniel, and he stood up before I could argue.

“Me too!” said Harriet. “I want to tell him too!”

They ran off and left me there with the baby. I sat and looked at her. She was small and dead and not very human-looking.

As I sat there, I heard something in the trees. Something like a sigh, the sort of sigh you might make when you sat down at the end of a long walk, or laid something heavy to rest. The trees rustled, and then took up the noise, and for a moment it was as if the whole garden around me was sighing.

Or maybe it was just the wind.

I touched a piece of the baby's blanket, which was stiff with earth. The baby smelled of mud and wet leaves and something old and musty and sad. She didn't smell of Amelia. I couldn't smell Amelia anywhere – just the trees, and the flowers, and the wet-garden smell, and Andy and Chris's child shampoo.

She's gone
, I thought.
Amelia's gone.
And I knew I ought to feel happy, but all I felt was quiet and sad and defeated.
They still don't want me
, I thought.
Even if Amelia's gone, nobody wants me here.
And I just felt like crawling into the earth with the dead baby and never coming out again.

HOME NUMBER 1

MUM

I left my mum when I was five, but I can still remember loads about her. She was tall and skinny, and she had dark hair like me, only hers was longer and scragglier. She wore loads of rings and bracelets. She had a tattoo of a butterfly on her right arm.

Sometimes my mum was nice and sometimes she was horrible. When she was nice, she was lovely. She used to put on loud music and dance around the house, and we all had to dance with her. She'd sing, “Baby, can I hold you tonight?” and swing me up in the air. My best thing in the world was sitting in her lap while she plaited my hair, and told me stories about the beautiful house we were going to live in when she was rich, and all the toys she was going to buy us, and how happy we were going to be.

“How much do you love me?” she'd ask Hayley and me, and we'd spread out our arms as wide as they'd go and say, “
This much!

I loved my mum so much, but she hated me. I was evil. I was a devil baby. She loved Hayley, and my baby brother Jamie. They were little and sweet and funny. I wasn't.

Other people's mums were lovely all the time. But other people's mums didn't have to look after me. I was so bad, it drove her crazy.

“You're so
stupid
!” my mum used to yell at me. “Why can't you just
die
and let me be happy?” She tried to beat the badness out of me, but it didn't go away. She used to hit me with an umbrella, or a shoe, or anything she could grab. I knew she was going to do it, but I was still bad. So it was my fault I got hit.

When my mum was done hitting me, she used to lock me in the cupboard and push the bed in front of the door, so I couldn't get out. It was very dark. Sometimes she left me there for hours and hours and hours. I could hear her singing, and Hayley and Jamie laughing. They always had lots of fun without me.

I knew I was five, because that's what Mum told the lady in the suit, who sniffed, and sometimes took us away to live in other houses. Five was quite big, but I never had a birthday party, or a cake, or presents. I asked my mum why once, and she said, “If you want a party, you'd better bloody behave yourself, hadn't you?”

I think probably my mum forgot when my birthday was. She was very forgetful. She forgot to buy food, and she forgot to change Jamie's nappy, and then shouted at him for crying.

“Shut the hell up screaming!” She used to get drunk and forget that I was in the cupboard, and sometimes she went away for days and days and locked us in the house and forgot all about us.

I had to look after Hayley and Jamie, but I wasn't very good at it. I couldn't stop Jamie crying, and I couldn't make food for us. Once, I cut my hand trying to open a can of beans and got blood all over the floor. I tried to wipe it up but it didn't work and my mum beat me with a leather belt when she came home. But usually there wasn't any food, and Hayley and Jamie would cry because they were hungry, and I didn't know what to do.

I always knew when my mum was going to hit me. I could see her getting angry, dropping things, going, “Crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap, crap.”

Usually when she ran out of cider, I got hit.

The waiting was the worst part. When I knew it was going to happen, I always tried to hurry it up, so it was over.

These were the things I could do to make her hit me faster. I could:

Ask questions.

Whine. Like, “My
shoes
hurt,” or “I'm
hungry
.”

Crying was good too. So was looking sad, or looking happy, or making noise when she had a bad head.

“You're not my daughter.”

That's what my mum said. Sometimes I thought she was right.

The things about me that were different from Hayley and Jamie were:

Hayley and Jamie were pretty and yellow-haired. I was skinny and dark-haired and ugly.

They made my mum smile. I made her angry.

I wasn't like the other children at the schools and nurseries our foster mothers took us to. I didn't know what to do with dolls or train sets. I didn't know how to listen to stories. The other kids played with each other, but they didn't play with me. I didn't understand their games, and I always got them wrong.

Sometimes I thought that I wasn't a real person. I was an alien, or a witch, or a monster in a human body. But deep down, I knew this wasn't true. I didn't look like Hayley and Jamie, but I did look like my mum. I expect when I grow up, I'll be just like her too.

I don't want to be like my mum, but I don't know how else to be.

BABIES IN THE FLOWER BED

It wasn't one of Amelia's babies who was buried in the flower bed. It was five.

“Five babies!” said Harriet. This was later. She and Jim came to Andy and Chris's house to see me. She was bouncing up and down with excitement. “Five babies in
our
garden. And we never knew!”


I
knew,” I said.

“Olivia,” said Jim. He knelt down beside me so his face was level with mine. “You didn't really know. Harriet and I both told you that was probably where Amelia would have buried her babies. It turns out we were right, that's all.”

“But I
could
feel
her!” I said.

“I know you thought you could feel her,” he said. “But—”

I didn't want to hear any more. “You don't know what you're talking about!” I said. “So just shut up!”

I expected Jim to get angry, but he just sighed. “You're probably right,” he said. “Here. I'm sorry.” He went to put his arm around my shoulder, but I pushed him away.

“Don't touch me!” I said. “Don't you even
touch
me!”

 

There was a proper police camp up at Jim's house. Policemen and Do-Not-Cross tape and dogs and all sorts of stuff. They stayed for days, until they'd found all the babies.

I didn't get to see most of it, because I was still living with Andy and Chris. I got to hear about it though, because Harriet kept ringing me up and giving me the latest body count.

“There's a reporter wants to talk to us!” she squeaked. “But Dad said no! And the police keep asking us questions.”

“They think your dad did it,” I told her. “Or me!”

The story was on the local news, and in the newspaper. It was totally unfair. The one time in my life I had the chance to be famous, and it was ruined by me living at the wrong house. If I'd still been living at Jim's, I bet I would have got on TV.
And
in the newspaper. Probably the story of my tragic life would have been written about in newspapers all across the country, and some rich family would have decided they wanted to adopt me. I never even got to see the crime scene, just pictures of it on the telly. I wanted to go and visit, but Andy and Chris said no.

The police talked to me too, the day after we found the bodies. A man and a woman.

“Tell me in your own words what happened,” the woman said.

“Well,” I said, “I knew there was something in the flower bed because Amelia kept going mental whenever I went near it.”

“This is the baby farmer?”

“Yeah. Amelia Dyer. She's this woman who used to live in Jim's house in Victorian times. She murdered over four hundred babies, and then she was hanged for mass murder. She used to haunt the house, and make me try and kill Grace's baby. She's gone now, but probably not to heaven, because she was evil. Though Liz says people aren't evil, they just do evil things, so maybe she did.”

“I see.” The policewoman looked like she didn't really know what to say. “And . . . what do you mean by
going mental
?”

“Oh, you know. Screaming at me and telling me I was evil. Usual bad ghost stuff.”

The police talked to me for ages, but it was a pretty stupid conversation. I thought they'd want to know how my talking-to-ghosts superpower worked, and whether I could sniff out any other bodies for them, and would I like to come and be an assistant detective at weekends with my own squad car. But instead they pretty much decided I was telling lies and kept trying to get me to tell them some other story instead. I thought about bursting into tears and getting them sacked for rudeness, but I couldn't be bothered.

Afterwards, the police went off and had a long conversation with Andy and Chris. They sent me into the garden so I couldn't hear what they said, but I bet my new dads were telling the police I was crazy. They didn't want to talk to me again after that.

“Don't you want to interrogate me?” I said. “I don't mind. I'll be interrogated if you want. I could do you an Identikit picture of Amelia if you'd like. I know what she looks like. I could show you a picture. There's one at Jim's house.”

“Olivia,” said Andy. He put his hands on my shoulder. “Let them go now. They'll call us if they need anything more.”

But they never did. You'd have thought they'd be
delighted
to find someone who could talk to murderers from beyond the grave. You'd have thought they'd be
interested
at least.

“Serve you right if you find lots more dead babies and don't know whodunnit,” I muttered at the policewoman, when I saw her talking on TV.

But she didn't seem to care.

REMEMBERING THE DEAD

I thought everything would change once Amelia had gone. I thought . . . I dunno. I thought Jim would realize I'd been right about Amelia and tell me he wanted me to come back and live with him again. I thought I'd stop being frightened of everything. I thought I'd be able to sleep at night without nightmares.

But nothing changed. I still lived with Andy and Chris. I started secondary school in Bristol, which was big and horrible and confusing and miserable. I'm sure secondary school in Tollford would have been big and horrible and confusing and miserable too, but at least Daniel would have been there, and I bet the boys would still have played football at lunchtime. Growing up made me tired and depressed. The bigger you are, the less people care about you. They stop thinking you're cute, and start thinking you're a lost cause.

Grace got her A Level results in August. She got into the London School of Economics, which was apparently a pretty big deal. She and Maisy were moving to London in September. She'd been given a little flat with a bedroom for Maisy to sleep in, and Maisy had a place in a crèche for when Grace was being a student. I found all this out at a church service for the dead babies in Tollford. Andy and Chris took me.

The church in Tollford was full of people. It made me angry. Nobody cared about all the live kids in care who didn't have families, but they all came out for some babies who'd died years and years and years ago. I bet all those people would have said horrible things about the babies' mothers if they'd been alive a hundred years ago.

Jim was there with Daniel and Harriet and Grace and Maisy. I got all jumpity-jittery when I saw them. I thought for sure Grace would hate me after what I tried to do to Maisy.

“Let's go home,” I said to Andy, but he put his arm around my shoulder and said, “It's OK, Olivia.” And then Harriet saw us and ran across to say hello, and Jim and everyone else followed. Even Grace came over, although she hung back behind Jim. I could see her tense up all over, and I could smell her nervousness. I wanted to run away, but Andy's arm was round my shoulder, and everyone was looking at me.

In the month since I'd seen her, Maisy had learnt to walk. She toddled right up to us. I started back, afraid. I wasn't supposed to be near her any more. Surely someone was going to yell at me if I touched her?

“It's all right, Olivia,” said Chris. He picked up Maisy and lifted her into the air. “Hello, little girl! Hello, gorgeous!”

Then Jim was there, and there was a whole boring grown-up conversation about babies, and Maisy, and schools, and that's when Jim told us about Grace and the LSE. Andy and Chris asked all these questions about Grace's flat and the crèche. The flats were mostly for grown-up students with husbands and babies, which Andy seemed to think was awful.

“What a shame you aren't with the other first years,” he said. “You'll miss out on so much.”

I could see Grace getting pissed off with him.

“It is
not
a shame,” she said. “I've been given
everything
I ever wanted.
And
Maisy. Maisy is
not
a shame, are you, Maisy?”

“Oh. . .” said Andy. “I didn't mean. . .”

Grace glared at him and I giggled. I liked Grace, I realized. I never thought I'd like so many people.

The service was dead boring. Hymns and prayers and readings out of the service book and the vicar boring on about evil. I spent it seeing how annoying I could be before Andy and Chris kicked me out. I wriggled. I poked Chris in the leg. I went, “I'm
bored
, I'm
bored
,” and asked stupid questions like, “What are those numbers for?” and “Why has that vicar got white in his collar?” and “Are we
done
yet?” until Chris got fed up and sent me outside.

Outside was quiet and nice. Grace was sitting on the bench playing with Maisy. Maisy ran over to me again, and Grace came after her and picked her up.

“Don't you bloody
touch
her,” she said, all fierce.

“I won't,” I said. “I
won't
!
Amelia's gone now.”

“Huh.” Grace didn't say anything for a while. Then she said, “Much good it does you, eh?”

I didn't know what to say.

“Maybe Jim will let me come back,” I said. “Now you and Maisy aren't living there any more. He might.”

“Maybe,” said Grace. “I wouldn't count on it, though. If you go around trusting people, you'll always get hurt. Why should he care about you?”

When she said that, I just wanted to run away. Run far, far away and never come back. It's all very well not trusting anyone when you're eighteen and have your own flat in London. It's exhausting when you're eleven and a half, and don't have a mum or a dad, or even a home. I thought Grace was probably right, though.

“I wouldn't hurt Maisy now,” I said to Grace. “Really, I wouldn't.”

Grace shrugged. She was still all tense.

“I don't believe in promises,” she said. “Any more than I believe in people. You've got to look after yourself in this world. No one else will.”

 

Later, in the car home, I thought about what Grace had said. Was she right? I wasn't sure. Once upon a time, I'd definitely have agreed with her. But now I thought about all the people I liked: Liz, and Hayley, and Daniel, and Harriet, and Maisy, and Grace, and Pork Scratchings, and the goats, and Jim. I still wasn't sure I could trust any of these people. But I
wanted
to trust them and that had to be worth something. Hadn't it?

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