Carry on reading for a sneak peek extract from Lake Child
When I open my eyes, I know it is morning, because the snowreflected light makes its way through the shutters, casting white bars across the attic wall. Mamma is exactly where she was when I drifted back to sleep last night, curled around me, my head nestled into the crook of her neck. I can smell the scent of her favourite perfume, am comforted by the familiarity of her body, the soft brush of her hair against my cheek. It is warm beneath the covers, but the air of the room is cool, my breath a white mist. ‘We’ll have to get you an extra heater up here,’ she says, alerting me that she’s awake. ‘I think the radiator must be on the blink. No wonder you woke up last night.’ I hold my breath as my mind leaps around, searching for explanations as to what’s going on. Beyond the window a fox screeches, its cry childlike as the sound drifts and trails away. ‘Why am I—’ I start to say, but Mamma pulls me closer, her warm hands covering my ears as she kisses the top of my head. ‘How are you feeling this morning?’ she asks, releasing me and slipping out of bed, tucking the covers around my shoulders. She crosses the room, flipping on the desk lamp as she goes, and places her hand on the radiator, holding it there for a second or two. She’s wearing a cream cable-knit sweater and flannel jogging pants, and her strawberry-blonde hair hangs down her back, fuzzy after a night’s sleep. She bends to fiddle with the dial. I blink, captivated by her casual movements, and try to find the right words. ‘Why am I here, Mamma? Why am I in the attic?’ She turns to me and smiles, but I see sadness there and I know she’s working hard to hold it together. ‘We’ve talked about this, haven’t we, darling? Remember?’ ‘Have we?’ I reply as I stare at her, terrified by the fact I have no idea what she is talking about. ‘I don’t – I don’t remember.’ And then I recall that blank impression I’d woken with last night, the sense that I’d been wiped clean, that my completely and utterly empty. ‘Yes, we’ve been over it several times now – but you’re still struggling to retain information. It’s not uncommon after this kind of trauma, you know? You mustn’t be afraid – it’s temporary, we’re sure.’ ‘Trauma?’ I ask, and I try to sit up, but a stabbing sensation pierces my ribs and I swallow a yelp. ‘What’s wrong with me?’ I push back the sheets, my hands shaking now. Mamma comes to me and unfastens the last two buttons of my pyjama top, and that’s when I see it for the first time. A criss-crossing of scars which starts at my sternum and runs down past my ribcage, to disappear into my pyjama bottoms. I glimpse the damage, and turn my head away, wide-eyed, horrified at the sight of my own mutilated skin. ‘Oh, God – oh, no. Mamma? What is this? What happened to me?’ I push her hands away, panicked, tugging at the sheets and wanting to cover myself up. Wanting to make it all go away. ‘It looks fine,’ she murmurs. ‘The scars are tightening up a bit, that’s all. We must keep using that special cream, to keep the skin soft – it’ll help with the healing.’ I’m crying now, but I barely feel the tears, and when Mamma looks up my eyes seek out hers, silently pleading with her for some answers I can make sense of. This confusion feels like madness; I’m both inside and outside of myself, looking in and looking out.
Again, she sweeps me into her embrace, and, despite the physical pain it causes me, it’s where I want to be. ‘Please, Mamma,’ I cry into her shoulder. ‘Tell me.’ Before she is able to reply, we’re interrupted by the tread of footsteps on the wooden staircase beyond the door, and Pappa’s bearded face appears, smiling and bright. He’s already dressed for work, in his thick plaid shirt and cargo trousers. I find I can replay a scene, like frames from a movie I’ve watched a hundred times. In it, we’re in the kitchen, preparing supper, and it’s dark beyond the window, and warm inside. Pappa comes in through the back, kicking off his snow-dusted work boots before padding across the flagstones to kiss Mamma on the cheek. I look up from chopping onions and tell him he looks like a lumberjack; he says he only dresses like that to please Mamma; Mamma says she wouldn’t change a thing. It’s a love scene, I think now, and it makes me happy, except I have to leave it, because someone’s saying my name. ‘Eva?’ Mamma says, giving my shoulder a little shake, and I’m aware that she’s said it a few times now. ‘Pappa’s here.’
Slowly, my mind returns from the past to the present, to me sitting in this strange bed with my mother at my side, and my father standing in the low doorway, the desk lamp casting his shadow huge across the ceiling. His expression is – what? Expectant? Hopeful? It’s hard to tell. ‘Hello, sweetheart!’ he says, and for a moment I feel as though I’m looking at a stranger. ‘How are you doing this morning? You gave us quite a fright last night.’ I open my mouth to speak, but Mamma answers for me. ‘She’s feeling much better now, aren’t you, Eva? I think it must have been another bad dream – you know, you’ve been plagued by them since we got you home.’ ‘Where’ve I been?’ I ask.