One Whole and Perfect Day Online - Judith Clarke Page 0,1

dear.’

‘A girl? Is she a girl, Nan?’

‘Yes, she is.’

‘You can’t tell, from that name, can you? You can’t tell if she’s a boy or girl.’

‘No, you can’t.’

‘And you can’t see her. Is she invil, um, invilable?’

‘Invisible, dear. Yes, Sef’s invisible.’

These days, at sixteen, Lily found her grandmother’s companion unsettling. Could Nan – in the nicest possible way, of course – actually be a little bit mad? Though who wouldn’t be mad if they’d been married to Pop for over fifty years? Pop was short and loud and sturdy, red-faced even when he wasn’t shouting. Pop bristled – he wore his grey hair in the kind of spiky crewcut that reminded you of cops and soldiers and the kind of people who glared at migrants in the street and told them to go back where they came from. Pop had actually been a cop once, though never a soldier because he had flat feet, and Lily thought he was a bit of a racist too, or at least the sort of person who thought a decent Aussie was the best kind of person in the world. Huh!

Lily quickened her step. She was very close to home now; just three more houses and she’d reach the corner of her own street, Roslyn Avenue.

And always, as she reached this corner, Lily suddenly stopped dead. She closed her eyes and counted to five, slowly, before she turned into her street. She knew it was ridiculous, the kind of thing a very little kid would do (like skipping cracks or crossing the road to avoid a black cat in your path), and yet she couldn’t stop herself. She had to do it, because turning that corner she was always seized by a panic that their house would be gone; nothing left of it except a pile of smoking dust and ashes and a thin trickle of smoke rising up above the trees of Roslyn Avenue, escaping into the pale wide sky.

And this was all Pop’s fault. Of course it was. Just as it was his fault that Lonnie had left home last January.

Pop hated their house. He said it was a dump. He said it was unsanitary and falling down, though not falling fast enough for him. ‘I could burn it for you,’ he kept on offering. ‘When you’re out, of course. You’d get a fortune for the land, and with the insurance, you could buy yourself a really decent place. Something –’ and here he’d give them a long sly grin, ‘fit for human habitation . . .’

‘He’d never do it,’ Mum said, but Lily wasn’t quite so sure, because there was something deeply unpredictable about Pop. Hadn’t he threatened Lonnie with an axe? Told him that if he dropped out of one more course or one more job, he’d feel the edge of it?

What kind of grandfather was that? Grandfathers were supposed to be kind and understanding, weren’t they? Sympathetic to their grandchildren’s problems? Lonnie hadn’t even done anything. Nothing out of the ordinary, that was; he’d simply been his same old useless self, and all at once Pop had lost his block completely.

‘One, two, three, four – five!’ counted Lily, and stepped bravely round the corner into Roslyn Avenue, where she saw at once (as she always did, every single afternoon) that the house was still standing. There it was, porch sagging, paint peeling, the windows crowded so thickly with ivy that even at the height of summer there was hardly any light inside.

‘Mummy, I want to go home!’ the small daughter of a charity collector had bellowed a few days ago, when Mum had asked them into the house while she went in search of her purse. ‘This is the Witch’s Cottage!’

It was like the Witch’s Cottage, Lily thought fondly, and yet she loved every crack and cranny of it, every leak and stain. Lonnie loved it too.

‘Is that mark on the ceiling of my room still there?’ he’d asked last time he’d rung up. ‘The one shaped like a cauliflower?’

‘’Course it is.’

‘You know, I really miss it. When I’m lying on my bed, thinking . . .’

And that would be most of the time, thought Lily. Though she didn’t say it, because calls from Lonnie were rare.

‘And I look up,’ he continued, ‘and the ceiling’s bare. It seems really funny not to see the old cauliflower . . .’

Yes, their house was a dump, thought Lily, forcing the gate open, closing her ears to the unearthly shriek it made scraping