Authors: Rebecca Chance
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #dpgroup.org
And the girls on the street, who had bought the magazines with photos of celebrities out during the day, had tried to copy their clothes as much as possible. They looked like cheaper versions of Deeley – they might even have modelled themselves on a photo of Deeley herself, shopping on Rodeo Drive. Plenty of girls here had cheap copies of Deeley’s Fendi bag, made from vinyl rather than patent leather, the buckles over-shiny and already tarnishing, bought from Primark or Asda for a tiny fraction of the $650 Deeley had paid for hers. Their boots were microfibre rather than butter-soft suede, their jeans thin Dorothy Perkins imitations of her Seven for All Mankind skinnies, their highlights skunk stripes rather than her hand-painted, delicately blended ones: but their look was unmistakeably Deeley’s.
And their glances, as they noticed her, were distinctly unfriendly.
Realizing that the grey day wasn’t remotely bright enough to warrant her wearing sunglasses, and getting a little nervous that someone might mug her for her YSLs, Deeley pulled hers off the crown of her head and slipped them into her bag. She was walking now past a line of chippies and takeaways, which gave her a first blast of familiarity. The tarted-up parade, with its brave efforts to prettify the grotty little town, its hanging baskets with sprays of flowers, and its low-grade chain stores, hadn’t rung any bells; all these regeneration efforts had happened years after the McKenna sisters had left. But the kebab shops, the smell of stale frying oil and curry powder and malt vinegar sharp in her nostrils, the way the litter bins were already brimming with discarded chip boxes and drinks cans – that Deeley remembered all too well. She found herself trying to recall which their favourite chippy had been, the one where the owner scooped up extra crunchy bits to drizzle over their newspaper cones full of the chips that had often been the only dinner they had.
Mum thought ketchup really was a vegetable
, Deeley thought, her mouth twisting. She tried not to remember her mother, who had overdosed when Deeley was twelve, three years after Bill’s death. Maureen McKenna had come out of prison, and headed straight for her old druggie friends. They’d found Maureen’s body a week later, in the squat where she’d holed up with her fellow addicts. Neighbours had begun to complain about the smell.
Bill’s old house on Thompson Road wasn’t far from the station, only two more streets away. Deeley’s footsteps were slowing down, she realized, as she approached the turn.
This is where I thought I was safest. Where we thought we finally had a home, with someone who wanted to be our dad.
Bill hadn’t been a drinker or a druggie; his worst vice was a couple of Dunhills and a pint or so of stout when he got home from work. He’d met their mother in a pub, drunk, high, a ruin of her former self, but still undeniably attractive, and, like a lot of men before him, had thought he could help her. Get her back on the straight and narrow. And look after her three kids into the bargain.
Well, no one managed to help Mum. Not that she’d have let them
. It was hard even now for Deeley to remember that Maureen McKenna hadn’t even come to find her daughters when she’d finished her last stretch in prison; choosing instead a binge of Tennent’s Extra and a cocktail of speed, methadone and Valium that had finally done for her. Maxie, Devon and Deeley had been gone from Bill’s by then; Maxie had managed to persuade Maureen’s estranged sister, Sandra, to take them in after Bill ‘went missing’, on the understanding that they’d do jobs after school to help pay their way, and that their mother would never be informed of their whereabouts.
Aunt Sandra had done her duty and taken Maureen’s daughters to her funeral. But after that, Maureen was never mentioned again, which was fine with the girls. Their mother had been nothing but a source of misery to them, and they barely remembered their father, a soldier who’d been shot serving in Northern Ireland shortly after Deeley was born; he’d hardly been around even when he was on leave. Maureen had blamed her spiral downwards into drug addiction and alcoholism on the shock of Patrick McKenna’s death, and the girls had believed her for years, until Maxie slowly put the pieces together and realized that their mother had been up to all sorts of mischief all the time her husband was on active duty.
Oh God, Mum,
Deeley thought sadly.
You should never have had kids. Or you should have given them away to someone who wanted them. Aunt Sandra did her best, I suppose, but she didn’t want kids either.
Aunt Sandra had died of a stroke when Deeley was nineteen and living in London. The sisters had no family left; they’d never known their father’s relatives. All they had was each other.
And that’s not going so well at the moment, is it?
Deeley thought sadly, feeling suddenly very alone.
Deeley shoved her hands in her pockets and stared down at her feet. She’d needed to make this pilgrimage to Bill’s for all sorts of reasons, but the main one was the weirdest.
I feel like I want to thank him for everything he did for us.
It was wrong, irrational, completely illogical. Bill had abused Maxie; he’d told her he was going to start on Devon next. He’d cynically taken them in, not to help out their mum after all, but for the sake of having her three attractive and underage daughters in his house, under his control.
I’m so messed up about this,
Deeley thought helplessly.
How can I possibly remember Bill and not feel like I want to throw up, after everything he did? Maybe this is why I’ve never had a proper relationship, why I agreed to date Nicky and put any real chance of romance on hold for years and years. Because I didn’t trust myself to pick someone nice. I’m too confused by the fact that the only memories I have of our awful, abusive sort-of-stepdad are ones where he was amazing to me, like the dad I never had and always longed for so much. He really made me feel loved and wanted . . .
She knew she was in front of the house now. Her feet had stopped, her brain telling her that it had recognized the familiar chipped old wall in front of it. The low gate had been broken then, needing a new latch: Bill had always said he’d get round to repairing it, but never found the time. Now it was hanging completely off its hinges, rusted and fallen against the battered brown recycling bin that was contemptuously overflowing with plastic bags out of which were spilling polystyrene takeaway containers, half-gnawed chicken bones, general household detritus. Nothing that could possibly be recycled. Just like the contents of the recycling bins on every other house on the street that Deeley had passed. The inhabitants of this area obviously didn’t think much of the local council’s effort to go green.
Hasn’t exactly come up in the world, Thompson Road
, she thought, taking in the pebble-dashed semi with a shock of recognition. It was much smaller than she remembered, but that was only to be expected. Things always seem bigger from a child’s perspective. What took her aback most was how much the house had deteriorated. She recalled Bill as having been very house-proud. The narrow patio outside had been sprayed down and weeded in his time, the windows washed with vinegar and newspaper, the plants on the sills watered, the curtains taken to the cleaners every so often. Now the flagstones were cracked almost to splinters in places, straggled dandelions forcing their way through the gaps. The glass of the windows was smeared and dirty, and in place of a curtain, the front lounge had what looked like a tablecloth half-pinned up over the bay window.
Bill would hate this
, she thought instinctively. She craned her head sideways to look into the long thin stretch of back garden; the wall that separated his semi from the house next door was in worse repair than ever, and it was easy to see into the garden. Unsurprisingly, considering the state of the house, it looked as if no one had touched the garden since Bill’s time in residence. The grass was so long you could have plaited it, waving in the wind like a green sea, weeds growing high through it now there was no Bill to pop out every Saturday with his Argos strimmer and keep it in order.
And the sycamore tree was still there. Its roots had already been tearing up the wall of their back garden when they’d lived there; Bill had reported it to the council, but no one had cared then, and clearly nothing had changed in the eighteen years since Bill’s death. The tree was much taller now, and, by the crumbling brickwork she could see in the garden next door its roots had clearly reached further, undermining the neighbours’ walls too.
. A shiver ran right through Deeley, rippling up her spine, chilling her blood.
It’s not just Mum
, she thought, feeling suddenly panicky now she was so close to what had happened eighteen years ago.
There are so many things the McKenna sisters don’t want to remember
. . .
A voice beside her made her jump almost out of her skin. She turned, nearly tripping, to see a woman standing right next to her.
How did she get that close to me without my noticing
? Deeley wondered.
I must have been in a complete daze
. . .
‘You’re not from round here,’ the woman said. A statement, not a question, made in the strong local accent that, even after all these years, Deeley had no difficulty in understanding.
‘No,’ Deeley admitted. ‘I’m not.’
The woman’s hair was scraped back into a tight high ponytail, like a poor person’s attempt at a facelift. It hadn’t helped much, particularly as the style was too young for her, just like the big gold hoop earrings she was wearing. Deeley felt a rush of familiarity looking at her, even though she didn’t recognize her; but she was so archetypically like the women from this town, this area. The greyish skin, lined and leathered prematurely by smoking before she was even in her teens; the tight, pinched mouth and perpetual frown; the scrawny frame in t-shirt and denim jacket; the slight smell of beer on her breath. So many women round here looked just like her. The only difference in the last eighteen years was that instead of jeans, the woman wore velour tracksuit trousers in a bright shade of pink, tucked into flopping Ugg-style boots.
All probably bought from the local market
, Deeley thought, remembering what a huge deal the thrice-weekly market had been. How she and her sisters had craved and saved up for the cheap make-up, the knock-off L’Oréal eyeshadow palettes labelled in Chinese that caked as soon as they applied them, the ‘fashion tights’ that had no lycra in them and bagged around their ankles halfway through the first wear.
‘I know you,’ the woman said, the crow’s feet around her eyes deepening even further as she squinted at Deeley. She took a long drag on the cigarette she was holding in a nicotine-stained hand, its fingers tipped with long elaborate acrylic nails. ‘You used to live round here. I never forget a face.’
Her narrow gaze took in Deeley from head to toe. It wasn’t pleasant; Deeley found herself taking a step back.
‘And what’re you doing back here?’ the woman mused to herself. ‘Rich lady like you? Look at that handbag. Cost a bloody fortune, didn’t it?’
Deeley tried not to tighten her grip on the Fendi bag.
A chilly wind rippled down the street. The woman nipped in the collar of her denim jacket with a claw-like hand, the cigarette still in the other, her head now tipped to one side.
‘You’re one of those sisters, aren’t you?’ she said eventually. ‘I was thinking about who’s been in number forty-two over the years. There’s some nasty scum there now, I can tell you. If you were thinking about ringing the bell, don’t. You’d be lucky to get out with the clothes on your back.’
Deeley started to say something about needing to get back to catch a train, but the woman rode right over her as if she were deaf.
‘One of those sisters,’ she mused. ‘The three pretty ones. Too pretty for round here, we all thought. Kept yourselves to yourselves, didn’t you? You were living with Bill Duncan. Oh, I remember Bill Duncan all right. One day he was here, the next he wasn’t. No one ever knew where he went.’
She fixed her eyes on Deeley. They were heavily lined with dark blue pencil, the only make-up she was wearing, and it had bled a little into her crow’s feet. She was by far the smaller of the two women, so skinny she could almost have been considered frail; but Deeley knew women like this, remembered them vividly. Very often they were the ones that ran things. The ones who sat in the pub, at the bar, who everyone looked to for decisions; an infinitesimal nod or shake of the head from a scrawny little chain-smoking woman like this could decide someone’s fate.
‘He tried to keep his hands clean, best he could, Bill Duncan,’ the woman said reflectively, lighting one cigarette from the stub of the previous one, throwing the still-lit butt into the middle of the road without looking to see if it might hit anyone, or anything. ‘But that’s not so easy round here, is it?’
Now she did seem to expect a response. Deeley gulped, not knowing what to say.
‘I was really small then,’ she said. ‘I’m the youngest sister. I don’t remember much of anything.’
‘But you came back, didn’t you?’ the woman said sharply. ‘To have a sniff around your old place? What’s all that about, then?’
Her eyes were sharp as tacks. Deeley knew, instinctively, that a lie would be spotted immediately.
‘I was out of the country for a long time,’ she said. ‘In America. I came back and saw my sisters and I got a bit nostalgic.’
The woman snorted in derision, her eyes still boring into Deeley’s. ‘For this shithole?’ she said, sneering. ‘Pull the other one, lovey.’
‘For Bill,’ Deeley said simply, sticking to the truth. ‘He was really nice to me. Bill was always like a dad to me.’
The woman’s plucked and pencilled eyebrows rose, corrugating her forehead into a deep tracery of lines that would have had any of Deeley’s old acquaintances in LA screaming in repulsion and hitting the speed-dial number for their Botox doctor.
‘Right,’ she commented, her voice so flat that Deeley couldn’t tell what she was thinking. ‘So you got no idea where he is, then, Bill? He had a soft spot for you three.’