Page 54 of Daisy Darker

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“Why is my name crossed out?” Trixie asks in a small voice.

“Nancy has been crossed out too,” Lily whispers.

Rose tries to reassure them both. “It might not mean anything…”

“Ofcourseit means something!” Lily snaps. “And I think we all know what that might be. We should have looked for Nancy. We should have done something. Oh my god,” Lily says, staring at Rose and taking a step away from our sister. “It wasyou.You’re the only one who left that room, and now more of the poem has been crossed out. You were always making up weird rhymes when we were children. It wasyou,all of it.Youinjected Trixie and then pretended to fix her!Howcould you?Whywould you?”

“Injected me with what?” whispers Trixie.

“It wasn’t me!” says Rose.

“Where is Nancy?” Lily shouts.

“I don’t know!”

“I don’t believe you!Youwere the one who said we shouldn’t look for her, and now I know why!” Lily steps in front of her daughter, who looks terrified. Rose takes a step toward them, and we all stare at the gun in her hand. “Stay. Away. From. My. Child,” says Lily.

“I didn’t do anything!” Rose replies, hiding the gun behind her back.

“Wait!” says Conor.

“You stay out of this. You’re probably helping her. I don’t trust any of you,” Lily says.

“This isn’t the time to start turning on one another,” Conor replies gently.

“Why not?” Lily snaps.

He holds his hands up in surrender. “Because look at the footprints.”

We all stare down at the floor then and see what he is talking about. There are muddy footprints leading to and from the back door. It reminds me of all the times Conor’s dad forgot to take offhis gardening boots when he came to visit. The dirt Bradley Kennedy dragged inside drove my mother mad. I look at Rose’s feet and the small, pristine white trainers she is wearing. Only a pair of large muddy boots could have made this mess. The sound of an alarm keeps ringing in the distance, and the open kitchen door that leads to the garden bangs on its hinges again, battered by the wind. We all watch in silence as Conor starts walking toward it.

“Please don’t go out there,” I say.

He hesitates, but then steps outside into the rain, turning on the flashlight. He picked it up when we were all still in the lounge, even though the power is back on now. Almost as though he knew he might have to go out in the dark.

My sisters and I watch from the doorway as Conor walks out onto the patio, slowly shining the flashlight around the garden. The beam is too faint to light up the sea crashing on the rocks beyond the wall, only illuminating a meter or so ahead. The rain is light but persistent now, as though the sky is spitting in Conor’s face, but he moves through the gloom until the flashlight stops on the bench in the distance. It’s where my mother always liked to sit and admire her flowers, beneath the magnolia tree she planted here with Conor’s dad. The tree that Nana thought was a symbol of hope always looks a little bit dead in winter.

The old magnolia is the only tree on our tiny tidal island, and has grown quite big over the last twenty years. Fat raindrops cling to its bare branches, giving an illusion of miniature lights, and it’s so cold I wonder if they might freeze before they will fall. I can’t quite process what I am seeing when I spot my mother sitting on her garden bench. Wearing her black silk eye mask on her face, the one she always wears to help her sleep. Outside. In the dark. In the rain.

“Nancy?” Conor calls, his voice a little strangled by the sound of the sea. He walks toward her, and the rest of us start to follow.

“What’s wrong with her? Why is she sitting in the rain wearing an eye mask?” Trixie asks.

“Go back inside,” Lily says. “Stand in the doorway where I can see you and don’t move.”

Trixie does as she is told, and the rest of us walk toward my mother. The rain is relentless now, much heavier than it was only a few moments ago, and so hard that the water seems to be falling up as well as down. Nancy’s normally perfect hair is dripping wet and clinging to her face. Her clothes are soaking too—she’s clearly been out here for a long time. The rain must have smudged the thick black eyeliner and mascara she always wears; it looks as if she has been crying black tears behind her mask. Even stranger is the sight of her red alarm clock. It is balancing between the branches of the magnolia tree just above her head, and still ringing.

Conor reaches up to turn it off. The clock says three a.m., but it’s already twenty minutes past. I can’t help wondering if that was why Nancy was never on time for anything; maybe the clocks she used were wrong. Or maybe someone just wanted to make a point. It seems my mother was late for her own murder, because I think we all know that’s what this was and that she is dead.

Nancy’s hands are by her sides, and her sleeves have been rolled up. Her left hand is holding on to her beloved copy ofThe Observer’s Book of Wild Flowers,the little green book that she always carried around like a Bible, and used to choose our names. Her right hand is holding what looks like a small bunch of lilies, roses, and daisies tied to her fingers with a red ribbon. A string of ivy is wrapped tightly around her neck, not quite covering the silver heart-shaped locket she always wears. It is unclasped to reveal the pictures inside. All this time, I had presumed that it contained two tiny photos of my sisters. But now that it is open, I can see only a tiny black-and-white picture of myself as a child on one side and a pressed daisy on the other.

Rose slides her gun into her jacket pocket. I find myself replaying Lily’s words in the kitchen—when she accused Rose of having something to do with all of this—and for a moment, I do wonder as my eldest sister, once again, takes charge of a situation most people would be overwhelmed by. She leans over Nancy on the bench as though she were a stranger, not our mother, and I can’t help noticing that the gun is within my reach. I could take it. Not that I’d know what to do with it. I’ve never even held a gun before.

“She’s dead,” Rose confirms, having checked for a pulse.

Lily starts to wail, staring up at the night sky. It is a level of grief and despair that none of us have seen her display before, and nobody knows what to say as a mix of tears and rainwater stream down her face. The sound of ticking is still so loud, it makes me think of a cartoon bomb. Conor is holding the red alarm clock that was in the tree, and as he shines the flashlight on its face, we can all see that something has been written on it:THERE IS ALWAYS TIME FOR TRUTH.

“What does that mean?” I ask.

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