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The Invisible Life of Freaky Jones
I started this little project just over a year ago, and I actually have a very flawed but complete first draft. If I do say so myself, it has some moments of brilliance; but it also has some long sections that are stagnant and actually approaching death if I'm honest. Eventually I will perform some CPR, but for now I have to leave this book fighting for breath because I don't know how to revive it just yet.
My biggest problem is whether to kill the heroine at the end - it might be best to do her in, in the interest of integrity you understand? We don't want any Disneyfied happy endings here, thank you very much.
There is a lot of me in this book - not the abuse, mind: I had a charmed and beautiful childhood. But the scenery and window dressing is from my cherished memories of life in a two-up-two-down. I'm glad to share them.
‘Sandra!’ My mother shrieked my name from the kitchen. Our living room had the staircase in it that led up to two small bedrooms upstairs, and under the stairs was a cupboard disguised as a built-in couch. I was squashing myself even further down into the couch-cupboard, magazines and newspapers digging into me with their sharp folded corners. She’d find me eventually, and it would be worse, but somehow my survival instinct always kicked in and I had to hide.
‘Sandra?’ She bellowed again, and then muttered to herself ‘where the bloody hell is that little sod of a child?’
I scrunched my eyes tight shut, and held my hands tight over my ears, wishing I could make myself so small that I would end up a tiny speck, and pop – just vanish. But I wasn't as small as I used to be. I heard my mother’s footsteps thundering up the stairs right above me; she was looking in the bedrooms for me, all the while her rage growing and growing, as she flung open wardrobe doors only to find me not there. Maybe today she’d forget about the cosy cupboard under the stairs, the suede padded hinged seat that lifted up to reveal a big space underneath for dumping all the junk, including me.
She stomped down the stairs again, swearing and not bothering to hide the blasphemy under her breath like Nana did.
‘Jesus Christ, I’m going to give her such a bloody pasting when I get my hands on her, she’ll wish she was never born. Sandra!’ All the neighbours would be able to hear, she was roaring so loud. I was shaking now, making all the junk around me rustle and jangle. I knew she’d get me any minute.
‘You’re in that sodding cupboard again, aren’t you? I might have bloody known …’ and then bright light blinded me for a second as she wrenched open the seat. I held my arms over my head to stop her from belting me there again, but she grabbed hold of both of my wrists and yanked me out of the cupboard in one sharp movement. And then she was screaming down into my face, spitting her foul fag breath into my nose. I could see her fillings and brown teeth, so close that I did not dare to breathe.
‘You little bastard, why the hell do you always have to show me up like that? Eh?’ She let go of one of my bruised wrists, just to slap me hard across the side of my head, making the ringing start up in my ears again – it had only just stopped from last time. But I didn’t react, I never did, and she hated it. We looked into each other’s eyes for a moment, her breathing heavy and fast, me not breathing at all in case any of her smells got into me and made me vomit.
And then it really started, and I knew it was my fault for being me and not being braver.
‘I wish you were dead,’ she screamed, raining down blows with the flat of her hand, hitting not slapping, on my head, my neck and my shoulders. I put my head down, trying to pull away from every blow, but not too far because I knew she had to have it out, and it was best to get it over with sooner rather than later.
‘You stupid child, you’re a waste of space.’ Then one of her long nails caught me under the left eye and it stung like a paper cut straight away, and started to bleed heavily down my cheek.
And then she had no more words, and just screamed and screamed, as she hit and hit and hit, and it always felt like it would never end, each beating seeming to last longer as though hurting me was like a drug and each time she needed a little bit more. I knew she would kill me one day. I made myself as small as I could and waited for it to be over.
It had been an accident, I hadn’t meant to embarrass her. Mary Gless down the road always filled my cup so full, that when Mum had glared at me this time, warning me not to spill it I had started to shake, I couldn’t help it. And then before I even knew what had happened the whole cupful of milk was on the floor and my mother had me by the arm, digging her nails in where Mary Gless couldn’t see. Mary Gless had said it didn’t matter, that it would clean up, and she sent me to the kitchen to bring a cloth and a tea towel. That was when I ran, straight out of Mary Gless’s back kitchen door and down the alley back to our yard. I’d only just made it into the cupboard when my mother came in the back door.
She’d almost used up the anger now, but had just enough left to push me down so hard that my knees buckled and I landed heavily on the living room floor. Then she said breathlessly, ‘Get to bed, I’m going out.’