Authors: Sally Nicholls
I was kind of surprised when I realized all the things I liked about living with the Iveys. I liked that Daniel and Harriet were my friends. I never had a proper friend before I came to live with Jim. I had Hayley, but she was my sister. I had the big girls who liked to dress me up like a doll when I lived in Fairfields, but they weren't friends either. Liz kept trying to introduce me to kids she thought I might like, but it never worked. They liked me for a bit, and then they stopped.
“You're my friend, aren't you?” I said to Daniel. “
“Course I am,” said Daniel. He looked a bit surprised that I even had to ask.
“You don't think I'm bonkers?”
I think you're bonkers,” said Daniel. “That doesn't mean we're not friends!”
My stupid therapist Helen practically peed her pants when I told her about Daniel and Harriet. You'd think I'd single-handedly defeated a Dalek invasion or something.
“And you like these children?” she said.
“No,” I said. “They're stupid.” But it wasn't true. I liked them both.
I liked that Harriet was so much younger than me. I liked that I got to look after her, because mostly my life was other people trying to look after me. I liked that with Harriet I didn't have to pretend to be bigger and tougher than I really was. I could play baby games and nobody cared.
My favourite game to play with Harriet was building dens. The farm was a great place for dens. We started off making hay-houses in the barn. Then we discovered you could build dens in the hedges. Lots of the hedges had holes in them already, nearly big enough to crawl into. I used to borrow Jim's hedge-cutters to make the holes big enough to live in.
After a bit, we started to notice all the crates and pallets and bits of old wood lying around the farmyard. I wanted to make a tree house in one of the apple trees in the orchard, but it turned out that tree houses are hard. You have to spend ages just banging nails into branches. The floor was OK, but the walls were awful. You could either use pallets (which had all these long holes in them, so the wind blew through) or you had to make do with old bits of wood, all different sizes and none of them strong enough to hold a roof.
“You've got gun slits,” said Daniel. He got interested once we started using a hammer and nails. “
Pow! Pow! Pow!
” He pretended to shoot a revolver through the holes in one of the pallets.
“I don't want a house with
in it!” I said.
Daniel liked the building bit best. Harriet liked the arrangingÂ â bringing out pillows and curtains and dolls' tea sets and cake and all the things we might need if we really lived here.
What I liked best was the last bit, when the den was done. I liked it when we pulled the roof on over the topÂ â sometimes a board of wood, but usually just an old curtain or blanket. I liked having walls and a roof on all sides of me. I liked the feeling you got inside.
This is my house. No one can get in.
Another thing I liked about living with the Iveys was how much space there was. Daniel and I used to ride our bikes into the woods, or round the farmyard, or down the hill in the pig field,
bump, bump, bump
until one of us fell off. I liked doing tricks on the scooters in the barn, and the ping-pong table, and making dams, and having water fights in the beck, and riding our bikes through the water so it splashed up all around us, and leaping off the hayloft on to the bales below shouting, “Geronimo!” and “I
you!” and other stupid things like that.
I liked stealing Daniel's books to read. Dopey Graham and Grumpy Annabel were always trying to get me to read, and I used to pretend like I couldn't just to wind them up. But Jim didn't care if I read or not, so I didn't mind doing it in his house. Daniel had loads of comicsÂ â
, and old
, and a whole box of
s, and half a shelf of
books which were falling to bits, they were so old. I think they used to belong to Jim when
was a kid. I loved Asterix. He made me laugh so much, him and Obelix, and Cacofonix the bard, and Vitalstatistix the chief, who got carried around the village by his servants on a shield. When I played Asterix with Harriet and Daniel I wanted to be Vitalstatistix and get carried around, but Daniel and Harriet wouldn't. I tried to explain that it was
, that the real Vitalstatistix was much heavier than me, and if
servants could do it, so should they. Especially if Daniel was going to be Asterix. But Harriet said she was going to be Dogmatix, because she liked dogs, and dogs didn't carry people, and Daniel said Asterix didn't carry people either. No one wanted to be the Romans, so it was a bit of a stupid game. You need people to beat up in games.
Doctor Who never worked either, because Daniel and I just used to fight over who got to be the Doctor. Liz suggested that one of us could be a Doctor from the past and the other a Doctor from the future, but Harriet got fed up of always being the monsters. She said it wasn't fair, because whenever she killed us we regenerated into a new Doctor, but when we killed her she stayed dead. She wanted to be the Doctor's new companion, Harriet, but then we had no one to blow up. Except when Liz came round. Liz could do all the aliens, with voices and everything.
Sometimes I think Harriet got muddled between what was real and what was pretend. For example, she always treated Amelia Dyer like she was a baddie in a pretend game.
“I bet Amelia
murder babies here,” she said. “She was a baby farmer! That's what she did! Just because no one ever found any bodies. I bet there are babies buried
in the garden
Let's see if we can find them!”
Harriet had very definite ideas about where the bodies might be buried. Jim had a file of papers about the history of the house, and apparently when Amelia Dyer lived here, the fields were all rented out, like they were now. There were several photographs of our fields all full of corn, with dopey-looking farm boys pushing ploughs.
“She couldn't have buried the babies in the fields,” Harriet said. “That's what Dad says. She'd have had to dig up the corn! And the yard would have been full of farm people and dogs and stuff. So
think she buried them in the garden.”
Personally, I thought Jim just didn't want Harriet to dig up other people's fields. But he kind of had a point too.
Jim's file had a photocopy of a picture of Amelia Dyer's garden, drawn by the woman who lived here after she did. Harriet spent ages looking at this picture, trying to work out where Amelia might have buried her babies. She reckoned it was the creepy flower beds at the bottom of the garden, where the old fountain was, because that was the one place in the picture where there wasn't grass or flowers. She wanted us to go and start digging for corpses, but neither Daniel or I wanted to. Daniel thought the whole thing was bonkers. And the bottom of the garden still scared me. It reminded me of the hidden places in the garden at Fairfields, where the big kids used to go to drink and smoke and take drugs.
Plus, whenever I went down there, I felt like Amelia was watching me.
Sometimes Daniel played with me and Harriet, and sometimes he wanted to stay in and draw or read. He was always reading, real books, without pictures. I liked stories, but I didn't like real books. They're like a test, and what book you read is what mark you get. Daniel scored high, because he read grown-up books like Discworld, but I liked books like
which is about a zero because it doesn't have any words in it. I didn't like scoring zero, so I just never read books without pictures, and then they couldn't judge me.
It made me scared, all the things I liked, because I knew I couldn't stay for ever, and that made me angry. I didn't want to like things so much, and care when they were gone, so then I had to find things to do to show that I didn't care. Like one time, I pulled Daniel's
Asterix and the Big Fight
apart and scribbled on the torn-up pages in black felt tip and left them lying about. Jim made me wash up every night for a week to earn the money to replace it, but the new book was all smooth-shiny new, and I knew Daniel didn't like it as much as the dog-eared copy that used to belong to his dad.
The last time I saw my mum was just before I was adopted for the first time. I was six. Hayley and I were taken to visit her in this little office in Children's Services. There was a desk with someone else's family photos on it, and low chairs to sit on. Our social worker was there too. It wasn't Carole; it was an old one. I've forgotten her name.
I don't remember very much about the meeting, except it was weird. Hayley and I got shy and didn't know what to say, and I think my mum got shy too. She gave us presents, I remember that. Hayley got a pink fairy doll's house, and I got a stupid plastic doll with ringlets. I remember being jealous of Hayley, because her present was so much better, and also a bit suspicious of my doll, because my mum had never given me a present before. Hayley got presents sometimes, but I never did. So I remembered wondering if my doll was really from my mum, or from someone else, and if this person who looked like my mum really
her, or if maybe the doll was a trap. Like, if I didn't like it, I'd get told off for being ungrateful, and if I liked it, it would get taken off me next time I was bad, or my mum would tell me it was just a joke and the doll wasn't mine after all. Then she'd give it to Hayley and hit me for playing with Hayley's toys. So I didn't know what to do with it and I remember sort of keeping one hand on the box, but not opening it, thinking that that might sort of count as liking and not liking it. Nothing bad happened to me, though. My mum was more interested in playing with Hayley. After she'd given me the doll, she pretty much ignored me.
Mothers are supposed to love you for ever. They're supposed to look after you, and help you out when you're in trouble, but my mother wasn't like that. She was supposed to stay in touch with us after we got adopted, to send us letters and photographs, but she never did. After that meeting, she just disappeared.
I never stopped thinking about her, though. I never stopped wondering where she was, and if she was all right. I know she was a grown-up, but when I lived with her she often wasn't all right. Often we didn't have enough to eat, or enough money to pay the electricity people to keep us warm. Sometimes, when she'd drunk too much, she'd get sick. Even after six years, I still felt guilty for having a warm bed and enough to eat, when maybe she didn't. If I'd known where she lived, I'd have sent her money. If I had any money.
I wondered if she missed me. Perhaps, after she'd gone away, she'd realized that she'd made a mistake and she loved me after all. I wondered if she was sad, all on her own, or if she had other kids now, if I had little brothers and sisters somewhere, and if she loved them. Perhaps that was why she hadn't got in touch with Social Services, so her new kids wouldn't get taken off her. Or perhaps she was dead. I hoped she wasn't dead.
Sometimes, when I was in Bristol, at the swimming baths, or the pantomime, or anywhere with lots of people, I'd start thinking,
What if my mum's here?
I'd look at the faces of all the women, trying to see if one of them was her. I'd imagine what would happen if she saw me. Would she be happy? Sad? Sometimes I imagined that she'd give me a big hug and tell me she loved me. Sometimes she'd start shouting at me and calling me evil and telling me she wished I was dead. Sometimes she grabbed me and tried to steal me away. Those were the most frightening imaginings. I still looked for her, though. And all the time I was looking, I still hoped I'd find her.
AMELIA AND THE BABY
In Jim's house, things were getting worse. Amelia was coming more and more often, and each time she came, she was scarier than before. I was tired of being watchful all the time, which made me angry, which meant I yelled at Harriet and called her stupid, and Harriet started to cry, and then I got told off, and then I started worrying that Jim, and Harriet, and probably even Daniel didn't like me, and I wondered how long I was going to be able to stay here.
I knew it wouldn't be for long. Amelia was going to make something awful happen and ruin everything. She was totally evil. She hated me, and she hated Maisy even more, I was sure of it. She always seemed to come when Maisy was crying. Like the day Daniel was trying to teach me to ride a unicycle, and I kept falling off, and he could do it no problem, and I yelled at him, and called him stupid again, andâ
And Maisy was crying because Grace was trying to put her in the car seat, which she hated. It took me totally by surprise, because I hadn't expected Maisy to be in the yard. I froze. I got stuck in Maisy's crying.
“Stop it!” I shouted.
“I'll smash your face in if you don't shut up,” says my mum, and Jamie doesn't stop crying, and I'm terrified, because she's off-her-face drunk, and maybe she'll actually do it.Â .Â .
“Make her stop!” I yelled. I clenched my fists together, so tightly that my knuckles went white. “I'll smash her face in, if she doesn't shut up! I will!”
“Olivia!” said Daniel, behind me.
“Give him to me, the poppet,” says Amelia. I feel the air move as she passes behind me, so close that I could reach out and touch the fabric of her skirt.
HOME NUMBER 8
DONNA AND CRAIG
Before Hayley got adopted and I got nearly adopted, we lived with these foster parents called Donna and Craig. I was five when we moved in, and we stayed there for nearly a year, which was the longest I'd ever lived in one place ever, even when we lived with my mum. I had to go to school every day, which I liked because we always got food and because I was totally the boss of the teachers. If I didn't like a lesson, I'd just get up and walk out. And if they tried to stop me, I'd scream at the top of my voice. Then I got to go and sit in a quiet place, and not do maths or writing. It was great.
My foster mother Donna was big and rough, and she pulled my hair when she brushed it, but she wasn't mean. She didn't let you mess her about. When she said “No”, she meant no. When I kicked her in the shins, she swore at me and said, “If you don't behave, little madam, you're out on your ear.” But when she bought something for her own kids, she always bought something for me and Hayley too. She didn't care that I wanted to sleep in the same bed as Hayley. She baked me my first ever birthday cake,
she bought me a bike as a birthday present. It was a second-hand bike, but still.
I thought for ages that we were just going to live with Donna and Craig for a bit, then go back to my mum like usually happened. But then one day a social worker came to see us, and she told us that we wouldn't be going back home again, and they were going to find a lovely new family for us to live with.
“What about my mum?” I said. Donna and Craig were all right, but they weren't my mum. And this wasn't my house. There were lots of things I didn't like or understand about it, like bedtimes, and vegetables, and how we'd been there four months and they hadn't hit me or Hayley yet, which meant I never knew when they were going to start, and what might set them off, and I had to be on guard all the time, so I'd know. And I was worried about my brother JamieÂ â they'd told me he was living with a new family, but I didn't know where he was, or if the new family was looking after him properly. I missed him, and my mum, and staying up all night playing houses with Hayley, and Happy Meals from McDonald's, and how special it was when my mum said she loved me. Donna and Craig's house smelled weird. It never felt like home. And though I was afraid of going back to my mum, at least there I knew who I was, and nobody expected me to brush my teeth, or not swear, or know how to read.
“Your mummy can't look after you properly,” said the social worker. “That's why we're going to find you a nice new family you can live with for ever.”
“Can't we live here?” I said.
“Donna and Craig just look after children for a little while,” said the social worker. “We want to find some people who'll be your family for the rest of your life.”
Well, that was a lie. Donna and Craig had two forever children alreadyÂ â their own kid, and a boy with autism they'd adopted, called Lewis. They just didn't want me and Hayley. Or probably they just didn't want me. Hayley was way more good than I was. Probably they just didn't like me, and knowing that made me hate them a bit, because there's nothing worse than being bossed about by someone who doesn't like you, and not being able to escape.
“I don't care,” I said. “I wouldn't want to live with them anyway.” But it wasn't true.