Page 47 of Daisy Darker

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There was a slight pause before all of Nana’s clocks started to ring and ding and chime—it must have been midday when we gave our little performance because they seemed to go on forever. She had a new one that year that looked like an owl. Its eyes turned as it ticked, as though it were watching us.

When the clocks stopped, Rose—the Ghostbuster—aimed her cardboard proton pack in my direction, shooting a hidden can of squirty cream. When the show was over, we all held hands and took a bow. I watch as our mother congratulates us and hands me a towel—so even she knew I was going to get wet. Then I disappear inside the house.

The static camera picked up some of what the adults were saying, but I have to lean a little closer to the TV in order to hear. Conor’s dad and our dad seemed to be fighting for Nancy’s attention. Bradley Kennedy was completely in love with my mother by then, and anyone who saw them together knew she felt the same way. My dad—who’d had more girlfriends than any of us could keep track of—didn’t seem to like my mother having a “friend” of her own, even though they’d been divorced for years.

“I have to leave first thing, my orchestra is playing in Paris next week,” Dad boasted.

“That sounds wonderful,” Mr. Kennedy replied, sounding genuinely pleased that my dad was leaving.

“Bradley has written a book about grief and gardening,” Nancy said to my dad, as though it was some sort of competition.

Dad shrugged. “Sounds… delightful.”

“I think so. Nana is going to put him in touch with her agent,” my mother replied. “I’ve read it, and the writing is beautiful. The book deserves to get noticed,” she added, beaming with pride as though she had written it herself. But the smiles didn’t last for long.

There is a scream from inside Seaglass on the TV, which makes everyone here, then and now, jump. The scream belonged to Lily. She had just found me lying on the floor at the bottom of the stairs, still dressed as Gizmo the gremlin, and I wasn’t breathing.


October 31, 2:55 a.m.

less than four hours until low tide

My mother said that it was nobody’s fault that my heart stopped that day, but I think being so scared on that stage might have had something to do with it. I have never liked people looking at me, which I think is because of all the doctors who stared at me when I was a child. They would look at my face, then stare down at the scar on my chest, then shake their heads and frown their frowns and look very disappointed indeed. When people stared at me, it was almost always for the wrong reasons, which was why I would rather they didn’t look at me at all.

There were months of hospital visits the fifth time I died, including a trip to see yet another specialist in London the following February. The private hospital fees were paid for by Nana, who always refused to believe that there wasn’t a way to fix me. Most memories of my times in hospital have faded around the edges over the years, but I remember that week for two reasons. Firstly, it was Valentine’s Day, and the boy in the bed opposite me on the wardgave me a card. I had never received a Valentine’s card before and didn’t know quite what to make of it.

“Why does it have a heart on the front?” I asked.

“Because I love you,” he said, pushing his jam-jar glasses a little higher up his nose. He was eleven, I was nine, and I’m not convinced either of us knew too much about love.

“Well, don’t get any funny ideas. I have a boyfriend,” I lied.

“No boys have ever come to visit you,” he replied. “What’s his name?”

I didn’t hesitate. “His name is Conor Kennedy. But even if I didn’t have a boyfriend, which I definitely do, given the wardwe’reon, we might both be dead by morning. So please don’t spend what might be your final hours having fanciful thoughts about me.”

From the boy’s expression, I thought maybe I shouldn’t have said what I said. But his freckled face soon recovered from the shock of my words, and he smiled, revealing shiny silver braces. “God will watch over us, and I’m sure we’ll both still be here for breakfast.”

I’ve never been religious; nobody in my family is. Nancy said that she believed in God until the day she found out I was broken. They had a bit of a falling-out after that, which resulted in her not speaking to God for several years, so in some ways her relationship with God wasn’t unlike her relationship with my father. I suppose the doctors were like gods to me; it was up to them whether I stayed alive. They always seemed to find a way to fix me, so maybe I should have been more optimistic about living long enough to endure another hospital meal. But I wasn’t—optimistic, that is; it’s something I’ve always struggled to be. I have a highly active imagination, and it’s been self-taught to imagine the worst.

The boy was still staring at me with a dreamy expression on his face, holding the homemade Valentine’s card. I didn’t much like the look of him or it.

“Why do you think you love me? You don’t even know me,” I said.

“Yes, I do. I’ve read all of the Daisy Darker books,” he replied with a grin.

It was my first taste of fame, and I didn’t like the flavor. Just because someone has read a book with my name on the front, it doesn’t mean that they know who I am.

I put the card on the little table, said that I needed to sleep, and asked the nurse to pull the flimsy curtain around my hospital bed. Then I tried to pretend that the boy and the rest of the ward weren’t really there. I didn’t like sleeping in a room full of sick strangers—I don’t suppose anyone does. I stared at that Valentine’s card, wondering why the red heart on the front looked absolutely nothing like the heart inside my chest. I’d seen enough posters on enough doctors’ office walls to know it was a very poor likeness. And I wondered how and why this rather ugly internal organ had become the universal symbol for love.

Over the next few days, I asked all of the doctors—who were supposed to be clever—and all of the nurses—who seemed even cleverer than the doctors to me—but nobody seemed able to answer my question. When Nana came to visit, I asked her, because Nana kneweverything.

“You’re far too young to start worrying aboutlove.I suggest you concentrate on getting better,” she said, pulling the curtain around my hospital bed before perching on the side of it. She was wearing a purple coat with a matching purple hat and gloves, and I could tell from her rosy cheeks that it must have been cold outside. “Here,” she whispered, opening up her huge pink-and-purple patchwork bag. “I brought you a snack.” The red-and-white tablecloth made another appearance. She laid it across the bed between us, then produced two parcels of takeaway cod and chips wrappedin newspaper. She set the makeshift table with wooden cutlery, sachets of salt and vinegar, and a pot of mushy peas mixed with green gumdrops. The memory still makes me smile.

“Why do you let your sisters treat you the way they do?” Nana said, dipping a chip in ketchup.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

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