Page 31 of Daisy Darker

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Memories are shape-shifters, especially the childhood variety, but that was a good Christmas. I don’t think any of us appreciated our parents spending it together—despite being recently divorced—for us. Looking back, I think they might have done more to make life better for us than we sometimes remember. My collection of happy childhood memories is a little threadbare.

We make moments with our families. Sometimes we stitch them together over time, to make more of them than they were. We share them and hold on to them together as if they were treasure, even when they start to rust. Sometimes those moments change shape in our memories, sometimes we stop being able to see them how they really were. Sometimes we have different recollections of the same moments, as though they were never really shared at all.

I remember the food we ate, the games we played, and the music we listened to. I remember John Lennon singing about Christmas on the radio, and my mother saying how sad she was that he was dead. I asked if he was a friend of hers; I was too young to understand people grieving for someone they’d never met. I remember me and my sisters singing along to “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday,” and the whole family singing carols with Dad playing the piano.

I overheard my parents briefly squabble in the kitchen, but not for long.

“You can’tbuytheir love,” Nancy hissed, and Dad mumbled some inaudible reply. Now that I’m older, I realize that the problem was that he could. He’d show up once or twice a year with giftswrapped in shiny paper tied with pretty bows, and we treated him like a king. Meanwhile we took her, and Nana, a bit for granted. There are things we all should know better, but being human means you can never know it all.

Alcohol always seemed to help my parents tolerate being in each other’s company, so they drank more and more of it over the years, and the squabbles were replaced with quiet stares and the variety of silent conversations all parents have when their children are in earshot.

That night, when my parents put me to bed—together but apart—and turned out the light, I saw a galaxy of luminous stars on my bedroom ceiling. Rose had used her precious glow-in-the-dark stickers to decorate my room instead of her own.

“Night night, pipsqueak,” she whispered, standing in my doorway.

“Why?” I whispered.

“Because you deserve to see the stars just as much as the rest of us.”


October 31, 2 a.m.

four hours until low tide

“Why were you with us that Christmas?” Lily asks Conor when the film comes to an end.

He answers without looking at her. “My father was in rehab, again, and Nana offered to look after me.”

The silence that follows is smashed by the sound of the clocks in the hallway. It’s two o’clock in the morning, and we all look exhausted, especially my mother. She takes a sip of cold tea.

“Is there a way to turn off the clocks? I don’t want them to wake Trixie,” Lily says.

My niece has been so quiet, sleeping on the window seat at the back of the room, I’d almost forgotten that she was here. I’m surprised that the sound of the TV didn’t wake her, never mind the clocks, but then I remember the sedative they put in Trixie’s drink earlier. My mother’s sleeping pills are strong enough to take out an elephant. Lily gets up from the sofa to check on her daughter.

“Where is she?” Lily asks.

We’re all up and out of our chairs within a matter of seconds. We stand and stare at the empty window seat and the blanket on the floor.

“Where is Trixie?” Lily shrieks, asking the question a second time, but still nobody replies. She stares at each of our faces, looking for an answer. In the absence of one, we start searching the room—checking behind the sofas and curtains—but Trixie isn’t here.

“She’s gone,” Lily says. “I don’t understand.”

Rose comes to her side, the protective-older-sister autopilot kicking in, their earlier squabble forgotten. “Try to stay calm. She can’t have gone far. You know what teenagers are like, you used to be one.”

“I thought we put a sleeping pill in Trixie’s tea?” Nancy says.

Lily turns on her. “Wedid.”

“But that would have knocked her out for hours. Unless…”

“Unless what?” Lily snaps.

“Someone moved her…” Nancy whispers.

I don’t understand how anyone could have moved Trixie without one of us seeing. But the window seat is in the far corner of the room, and we were all staring in the opposite direction at the TV. Plus, it’s the middle of the night now, and we are exhausted with grief and tiredness. We all left the room earlier. Was Trixie here when we came back? Did anyone check? Despite her mother’s constant digs about her dress size, Trixie is a normal weight for a girl her age. If anything, I’d describe her as petite. Easy enough for an adult to lift. I think itispossible that someone could have taken her, and knowing that makes me feel even worse because at least one of us should have been keeping an eye on her.

The clocks stop ringing in the hallway. Nobody speaks, but we all follow Lily as she rushes out of the lounge, through the hall, andinto the kitchen. She stands in front of the chalk wall, and when I see Nana’s poem, I understand why.

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