Monday 22 December 2014

Day 22: The Green of His Eyes by Sarah Bakewell

Her right foot started tapping like it always did when she was nervous. She peered out of the steamy bus window and took in the late autumn evening, shifting uncomfortably in her seat. The sun had almost fully retreated behind the tall buildings, leaving the sky a hazy violet with an inky darkness slowly bleeding through the air. There were fewer street lights now. By the time the bus reached her stop, the sky had turned a deep navy blue.
Alex set off along the pavement, her shadow dragging itself reluctantly behind her. Her heartbeat quickened with every step. Keep going, she told herself. You have to do this for her; you have to make her proud.
She stopped in front of the boarded-up working men’s club. This was it – the place she’d approached countless times in the last few weeks, trying to find out if the rumours were true. Trying to catch a glimpse of him - to make sure. Trying. The night air shuddered through her lungs. Wishing she’d told someone where she was going, she strutted round to the side door of the abandoned building. She remembered to ruffle her hair in the direction of the CCTV camera she already knew was there.
Raising her head and cocking it to one side, she lifted a fist, swallowed, and, for the first time, she knocked. Footsteps. She transferred her weight across to her right leg and placed her trembling hand on her hip, attempting to look confident, mirroring the movements of a girl she’d seen enter the club last week. With a creak, the door pulled into the building to reveal a slice of the dusty, dimly-lit room. Whoever opened it stayed behind the door. They didn’t say a word. She stepped into the building, jumping not at the thud of the door closing, but at the clunk of the heavy bolt thudding home.
“Through there,” a deep voice growled from behind her. She went to stride forwards, but her feet only managed a small, slow shuffle. The doorman grew impatient and pressed his large palm into the small of her back, pushing her through large, open double doors, and into what would have once been a meeting room. The furniture had been pushed to the sides and covered in large white cloths. The doorman gave her a final small shove and left quietly, thankfully leaving the doors open.  A group of men stood under one of the bare light bulbs, apparently deep in hushed discussion.
It was him – Alex recognised him instantly. He looked exactly as he did when she was six, aside from a few added wrinkles and strands of grey in his hair. Alex remembered very little of her childhood, but she recalled with absolute clarity the weeks leading up to when she last saw him, ten years ago.

“When’s Daddy coming home?” It was the second evening he’d not been there. He’d often worked late, so her dad missing her bedtime the night before wasn’t unusual. He usually left very early for work too, so his empty seat at the breakfast table the following morning hadn’t concerned her. This time was longer. It was different. Her mum was different. When she asked, her mum just pulled her into a lavender-scented hug and pressed her lips on her daughter’s head.
    “He’s… been taken from us.”
    “Has he gone on another work holiday?”
    She looked sadly at her daughter. “No, sweetheart.”
    “But he’s coming back soon, right?”
    There were never any explanations or answers. Instead, her mum packed a bag of Alex’s clothes and Alex spent a week with her grandparents while her mum ‘dealt with some things’ at home. She didn’t ask much; she got a week off school, who was she to complain? Her grandparents kept her entertained with walking their dogs and letting her help bake cakes; she often forgot why she was there. When her mum brought her home a week later, Alex realised all of her dad’s stuff had gone. She asked why and where her daddy was again, but her mum didn’t answer. She simply hugged her daughter.
There seemed to be an increasing number of visitors, none of whom were ever invited in. They’d got a doorbell a few weeks before; her mum had always said that knocks were often unheard and it gave the postman an excuse to steal their parcels. She let Alex pick the tune she liked best and they’d installed a doorbell that could be heard everywhere in their house – their neighbours frequently complained that they could hear it too. They stopped complaining after her dad had gone, which Alex found odd considering how much it was ringing now. Her mum would go to the door, shutting Alex in the front room with her after-school cartoons, and would come back a few minutes later by herself. Alex never saw who was coming round; her mum had taken to not opening the curtains. Sometimes when her mum came back, she’d be clutching flowers and what looked like unopened birthday cards.
“Who was at the door, Mummy? Was it Daddy? Has he come back?”
“No, sweetheart… It was nobody.”

About the author:
Sarah Bakewell works in publishing by day but writes dark short fiction by night.
Her work has previously been published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, Chapeltown, and Dying Matters, with stories appearing in ‘Best of CafĂ©Lit 2012’ and ‘Darker Times Anthology: Volume Two’. Although currently situated in London with her fiancĂ© Andy, she will always be a Northerner at heart. 

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