Page 49 of Daisy Darker

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“Are they still friends now?”

“No,” Conor says, without further explanation.

Rose returns, slots the key in the door, and locks us all insidethe room once more. She sits down on the sofa, a little too close to Conor again for my liking. None of us say a word, but she was gone longer than a couple of minutes.

“Shall we finish the tape?” she asks, aiming the remote at the TV and pressing play without waiting for any of us to reply.

“What’s happening? Is it broken?” Trixie says, staring at the screen.

She’s too young to remember what it looks like when someone tapes over an old recording on VHS. The picture looks stretched and distorted while one image replaces another, as though wiping away the memory of what was there before. We all stare at the screen now, but Conor is the first to say anything about what we see.

“Oh my god, that is terrifying.”




“What happened to your hair, Mum?” asks Trixie.

It’s a good question, andterrifyingis the only word to describe Lily’s 1980s hairstyle on the TV screen. To be fair, I’m sure everyone has at least one haircut from the past that comes back to haunt them. I’m guessing it must have been 1985. It’s the same tape, but what we’re seeing now would have been filmed a year or so after the family play on the lawn. Lily has very short,bighair in this home movie, and it doesn’t suit her. But it definitely got her noticed.

“I had a bad haircut,” is all she says to Trixie.

“There is a tape in the camcorder already,” says the younger version of herself on the TV, like a whining echo from the past.

The seesaw of power constantly changed between my sisters and me as we grew older, but even on the rare occasions when it was my turn at the top, Lily still seemed to look down on me. Rose blossomed as a teenager, in looks and personality, and became a kinder version of the person she had been before. It’s her fifteen-year-oldsmile that we all see next. She has taken the camera from Lily and turned it to face herself before speaking.

“This is Rose Darker, reporting for Crazy Town News…” The sight of her looking so happy shocks me. Her beauty has never faded, but her happiness diminished over the years, and it’s rare to see her smile. “I’m joined now by Mr. Conor Kennedy,” she says in a deep voice, imitating a newsreader. The camera swings around to show Conor, clearly going through his Michael J. Fox look-alike phase. I thinkBack to the Futuremust have come out that year, because he’s dressed like Marty McFly. I remember him becoming slightly obsessed with the scientific theories about time travel, and writing about the space-time continuum for his school newspaper every week until the teachers begged him to stop. “Tell me, Conor Kennedy, why are you celebrating Lily’s birthday with the Darker family this year, and has it been fun so far?”

“Because I was invited and thought it would be an interesting social experiment to witness. As always.”

“Was it interesting because my little sister, Daisy Darker, somehow won a game of Trivial Pursuit this afternoon? Even though she’s never been to school!”

The camera turns to where childhood me is sitting, on the other side of Conor. I watch myself stick my tongue out at Rose, but then I smile, in both the past and the present. I look happy in 1985. We all do. I was almost ten and had become even more of a bookworm by then. I liked teaching myself about things other people didn’t seem to know. I remember wanting to vanish, and books helped me to escape. I longed to disappear inside a dream of the world that was less cold and lonely than the life I lived in. I read more and more, hiding inside my room and my books for hours. Mostly murder mysteries, while dreaming of one day writing my own.

“Or… are you really here as a secret detective?” Rose asksConor. “Trying to solve the mystery of what will forever be known as… Hairgate.”

“That’s enough, Rose,” says my mother.

In this home movie, we are all sitting in the music room, on our individually painted chairs from the kitchen, waiting for someone to play the piano. We might not have been able to perform family plays on the lawn anymore, in case my problematic heart couldn’t take it, but there was never going to be a way to stop Lily wanting to show off. She craved attention like oxygen, and because it was her birthday, we all had to watch and listen. Belinda Carlisle was her firm favorite that year. I’d been forced to hear “Heaven Is a Place on Earth” so often, I’m surprised she didn’t wear out the cassette tape.

Teenage Rose continued her family news report. “I’m now joined by Nancy Darker, a.k.a. my mother, but she doesn’t like to be called that because it makes her feelold.Nobody knows howoldmy mother really is, but scientists say she was probably born in theDarkAges. Any words of wisdom for the next generation, Mrs. Darker?”

“Yes. Make sure you film Lily or I’ll never hear the end of it. You’ve caused quite enough trouble for one day,” said Nancy before smiling for the camera. She was sitting next to Conor’s dad, and the shot zooms in on them holding hands, then returns to the front of the room.

My dad appeared then, walking out through the door that connects the music room to the kitchen. He sat down at the piano as though he had just stepped onto a stage. My father seemed to make more of an effort to attend family birthdays, and come home for the holidays, after my mother started dating other men. Lily walked through the door next. Then Nana followed her, which was a complete surprise for most of us, because Nana was actually painfullyshy when it came to performing. Even around her own family. Just like me.

Dad started to play the piano, and I recognized the song immediately; it was another of Lily’s favorites. “I Know Him So Well” was always blaring from her bedroom, behind the permanently closed door. She was in love with the performance by Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson, so much so she had twisted Dad’s arm to play it and Nana to sing it with her as a surprise for the rest of us on her birthday. And it was a surprise. Because it was really very good. I didn’t even know Nana could sing. They hit every note, and every harmony, and when the song was over, we all clapped in genuine admiration.

I remember how Lily sang the lyrics staring at Conor the whole time, and now that I’ve seen the video evidence, I know I didn’t imagine it. Lily got goggle-eyed whenever Conor walked into a room back then, and she had started blushing whenever he spoke to her. Which was one of the many reasons why I was pleased to see her looking so ugly with her short hair.

The night before this scene from our family past was filmed, Lily’s hair had been down to her waist. She had gone to bed in the room she shared with Rose, with two long plaits just like always so that she wouldn’t wake up with a head full of tangles. But when she sat up the following morning, on her fourteenth birthday, she screamed. Her two plaits were on her pillow. Someone had cut them clean off her head in the night. Nana’s kitchen scissors were on Rose’s bedside table. But Rose didn’t cut off Lily’s hair. I did.

The people who love us the most hurt us the hardest, because they can.

When I found Nana and Lily secretly rehearsing together the day before, something inside mesnapped.

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