by Marni Appleton
Down the stairs, through the doors and . . . out. It’s as easy as that. Her mum says she’s grounded but Lucy told Mimi she’d meet her at 12. It’s quarter to. So she does a sort of half-run stumble down the road, elated by her escape, desperate to start her day. No one else around. Just doorways and cars on a quiet residential road. She looks down at her legs and wishes she’d shaved them today. The hairs have gone from the invisible little bristles to the noticeable bristles that’ll spike her palms when she rubs her skin. She’ll be conscious of it all day. She’s sort of hopping down the road on one leg when a shout from one of the houses further up on her left makes her jump. A series of shouts, words she can’t make out properly, but she can hear ‘fucking’. She can hear ‘idiot’. It’s a man’s voice. A door opens and a little boy stumbles out.
‘. . . fucking sick of you, you little twat. Fucking do it myself shall I?’ Silence. ‘Well shall I? Fucking answer me!’
The words reverberate, their force shaking the quiet. Lucy stops where she is, plans for the day forgotten. She leans in against the wall so that the shouting man can’t see her properly from his doorway. She can see the little boy though. He looks like he’s about eight or nine. He doesn’t answer. Lucy wishes he’d answer. His head is bowed. Lucy has the horrible, horrible feeling that this has happened to him before. That it happens to him a lot. A meaty hand shoves and the boy gives a yelp and stumbles backwards. The man laughs, not a nice laugh. He leans in towards the boy and starts to speak softly.
‘I said . . . FUCKING ANSWER ME.’
Lucy lets out a small sob. The man’s words ring in the air; echo slightly. The flap of birds’ wings. A distant siren. And suddenly the boy is crying, of course he’s crying, she’d be crying—
‘SHUT UP. SHUT THE FUCK UP. SHUT UP!’
She doesn’t know whether to wait until it’s over, press against the wall and hope the man doesn’t see her, or walk over there and say something, but what would she say? Maybe even just seeing another person would make the man realise that he just cannot treat another person like that. With fresh horror, Lucy realises the boy is probably his son.
‘Get inside. Stop crying like a fucking baby girl. You’ll wake your mother up.’
Or a stepfather. Someone in some position of care. Someone with a responsibility to be better. She should do something. She really should do something, shouldn’t she? Even if the man turns on her, she needs to let the boy know that it’s not okay for him to be treated like that. That there are other kinds of people out there; that someone thinks it’s wrong. Or maybe she doesn’t know what he needs but she needs to do something. Her eyes burn with the threat of tears but she blinks hard and starts to walk over, readying herself. For what?
She catches sight of herself in a car window. Her reflection is dark and misshapen, but it’s her all right: stupidly long arms, scruffy trainers, a peep of belly flesh, smudged make-up. No one is going to take her seriously. She’s a girl – a child still herself, practically. She’s not going to be able to save anyone.
The door is closing. She walks a little closer. More swearing, muttering now. Sobs the little boy is trying to stifle. The dad’s eye peering through the crack in the door. Should she tell someone? Someone else must have heard though, surely. He brought the child out into the front garden for god’s sake; one of the neighbours must have heard. They must have.
Lucy looks up and sees a woman hanging washing on a balcony on the other side of the road. She’s halfway along the washing line, pegs in her mouth, clothes slung over her shoulders. Baby socks, babygrows, a little girl’s dress, little girl pyjamas. All white, shining in the sun. She must have heard.A little girl’s voice in the background. Mummy?
‘In a minute baby, I’m nearly finished.’
She must have heard. She’ll tell someone, won’t she? Lucy pulls her phone out as though she’s going to do something – anything – but her phone dings and it’s Mimi. Where the fuck are you?
Lucy puts her phone back in her pocket and continues to walk down the road, more slowly. She walks past the shouting man’s house. Silence. Curtains drawn against grubby-grey windows, brown stains all up the back. Blue front door, like others on the street, cracked-off paint falling onto overgrown grass; under the window, a yellow bike, rust creeping along the metal body. Alone on the grass, a soggy, sorry looking toy elephant with its trunk ripped off. Lucy recognises it ever so slightly. She must have had the same one once.
Marni Appleton | @marniapple
Marni is a writer of all things – though primarily fiction, theatre criticism and poetry. She has recently completed her first novel, Walls.