We all knew something was off. We could feel it, in about a million mammoth ways. The classroom was buzzing, as if we hadn’t been able to cope with the endless weeks of gloom. Like everything had been packed inside, so tight, for so long that something had to snap.
I took my usual seat, lollygagging in the middle of the classroom, wondering if the bottom of my jeans would ever get dry. We were still inundated with water but now from below, rather than above. The mammoth influxes of snow had started to melt leaving us to navigate the puddles, pools and streams left on every manmade surface. Becky and Rebecca were making a triumphant return to school, sitting on desks at the back but I kept my distance, wanting to keep well away. I smiled at a joke one of the boys made but I didn’t make eye contact. I remembered something Jack had said. Seem engaged in what’s going on, but don’t get involved or singled out. It seemed like good advice; an invisible boy knows how to stay hidd en.
I found a soggy breakfast muffin full of cold egg and tinned tomatoes seeping into my textbooks that Mum must have sneaked into my bag before I left the house. She can never remember I hate tomatoes, how many sugars I have in my tea or that I haven’t eaten a Jaffa Cake since I was six. Her memory is perpetually locked into my childhood patterns, pre-pills, before pre-breakfast cocktails were the norm. I took a bite because I was too hungry to mind or to worry about smelling out the classroom but I had a sense of unease. The days Mum acts like a Mum, they’re never the best.
Like the day Grace finally died. My mother was sane, motherly. Offering advice. Telling me I might want to think about not going to see Grace in the funeral home. It’s better to remember them living, she had said. Breathing, laughing. But I had to see for myself, say goodbye. And now every hello I make to Grace, every memory I bring back to life begins with the last one I have. Cold. Stony. Her hair in a style she would have hated. A dress cherry-picked by her mother that made her look about ten. Like something out of Anne of bloody Green Gables. Like I said. The days when Mum makes sense, when I’m grateful for her efforts. Those never turn out well.
Everyone was making so much noise. It was like we had all smoked the same little something before breakfast, inhaling the crazy. Kitty was quite literally, begging,
“HAVE YOU SEEN ME?”
She’d suddenly appeared everywhere, plastered all over school on posters the size of entire walls, her head eight times its usual size. I couldn’t help thinking they were looking for the wrong girl; she was barely recognisable from the picture they’d used; pre-make up, pre-highlights, pre-pubescent. Maybe – if she’d been discarded outside, left to rot like Cath – the hail and snow and wind and rain might have eroded all adolescent traces, like a two-month outdoor facial for her face? Would they draw the teenage mask back on like they did with Grace? A little mascara here, a little hairspray there? As if it makes a difference.
I shimmied down inside my coat, snuggling under my hood. I wasn’t sure if anyone there knew that Jack even existed, never mind if they’d got wind of the police’s suspicions but I felt tainted by association. It was as if Kitty was speaking directly to me, pleading, Come and find me. I’m still okay. Nothing bad has happened. Yet. But we all knew different. Not the details. We had 20 minutes to wait for the hows, the where fors. 20 minutes for the puss to ooze through our streets, beneath our school gates and classroom doors. Before the hysterics really began.
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