This was not her house, this was not her bed, these were not her curtains with the long nosed trolls hidden in the floral pattern. This was not the way the light trotted in around the curtain rail and swung around the room like a torchlight, disappeared with the low hum of departing car. This was not Amy’s life.
Amy bit the duvet. This was her duvet but it smelled differently. This was her duvet cover with the princesses, if she had to choose she was Ariel, the mermaid with the bright red hair. Hannah would have to be Cinderella, blonde, nothing else, just blonde.
They had their own rooms. Mum had said they were extremely lucky to have that under the circumstances. Hannah said what was wrong with their old house, this one was too loud. Amy said yes, all she could hear were the cars all night on the motorway. Mum held her breath, Amy saw her although she was always telling Amy not to do it. Amy saw her mother’s lips turning blue. And although Mum hadn’t said anything, Hannah had started crying. No thought Amy.
Amy climbed out of her bed, she went into the garden.
She could hear the murmur of her mother’s phone voice from the kitchen.
There was one good thing about this house where her Dad wasn’t.
The grass was squidgy under her feet. And squidgier as she went down the slope.
On holidays the last time, Daddy had made her take off her water wings. She had swum: one, two, three, strokes towards him.
From underwater, Amy had seen her Daddy’s white, hairy legs, puffed up like balloons, she had seen the flash of Hannah’s bright pink suit. She’d inhaled water, thrashed to the surface. Her Dad had looked at her and laughed a big belly laugh – a kind he hardly ever laughed. If she’d been Hannah she would have sulked. But Amy just stood, snot and water dripping out of her nose, a sharp sensation in the back of her throat and watched him laughing, watched him as if he was someone else’s Dad far away at the other side of the swimming pool and laughing for a proper reason.
She stood at the edge of the river, heard the music of it. ‘This is not the sea’ thought Amy. She was not Ariel.
‘I’m Ariel’ she thought.
Someone had told her she was too old for all that.
Things were different. She could swim now.
Her nightdress went to her feet, she stood close to the bank, the hem of the nightdress became damp.
The moon was reflected on the river like a silver coin. She threw a stick into the river. It spun. Then it was carried away. When she jumped in, her hair spread out like a fan.
Under the water she could not hear the murmur of her mother. She could not hear Hannah’s stupid sobs. She could not hear the motorway with its army of cars, straight backed men inside with faces set forward, faces with no tears. Faces that laughed at disaster. Amy held her breath. Her legs were welded together with cold. She flicked her tail and swam.
She thought of princess’ pearls on the sandy floor. She wanted to keep on holding her breath, for as long as her mother had, for as long as she could. She swam to the bottom. But her chest began to hurt. She took in great gulps of water. She thought of her father’s legs in the swimming pool. She was not Ariel.
The river was not a sea, the river was not even a river, was it. After all, she found she could stand, albeit on the flagpole of submerged turrets. The water ran off her, she felt it slide over her scaly skin. She breathed the unnecessary air. She heard her mother’s voice tearing the night apart with fright.