Shanna shivered in the cold wind that came off the sea and buffeted her small frame, leaning into the booming wind with an angry defiance reminiscent of her mummy’s scowl. It caught the sides of her yellow cagoule and it flared out behind her like a cloak. She used the gravestones as a shield against the worst of it, until she was in the lee of the church. In the safety of the ancient building, the icy draft cut off, her loose and dirty black hair fell around her shoulders.
She looked back at the caravan park. When Shanna asked her mummy if they would have a proper house again, she hadn’t replied.
He was waiting there, as he had been since the day they’d moved here, staring at their home. Patience, maybe expectation, on his face. He looked her straight in the eye and his bushy grey beard cracked open with a yellowed smile.
“Did you bring them?”
She nodded, and pulled the grey satchel from her back. It was old and scuffed, and spoke of a childhood of make-do-and-mend. She showed him the thick book of white paper. It was bound in a shining, flattened metal spiral, the cover foxed and covered in phone numbers and coffee stains. She fished out a large stick of charcoal from the bottom of the bag.
She flicked through the book until a blank page dazzled in the grey morning.
“Pull the page out.”
She hesitated, looking back to the expanse of the caravan park.
“Is something the matter?”
“But this is mummy’s,” she replied, and handed him the book of paper. The old man hummed to himself, turning the pages. He smiled, closed it and gave it back to her.
“Just take the next blank sheet. It’ll be fine.”
Jean woke up sobbing. She clapped her hand over her mouth. Sounds travel around here, and already the neighbours’ fixed lace curtains in the smeared windows were twitching.
She pushed the nest of duvets and blankets scavenged from charity shops around, feeling for her human hot water bottle.
The sound bounced around the room, and the caravan shook under a fierce gust of wind.
She eased her bare legs out from the warmth and safety of their nest, and tiptoed over the icy floor to what had been described as the living room. There was a place for a television, but it had been stolen long ago. She didn’t trust the gas fire, and couldn’t afford the fuel even if she knew it wouldn’t kill them.
Still no Shanna. Her eyes were drawn to the threadbare built-in couch running around the edge of the room. A cushion had been pulled away and the slats removed. The documents she had hidden there were scattered over the seat. She felt a hot flush of panic rush across her face, but all that was missing was her drawing pad. She reached over and picked up the large white envelope. The documents were still inside, filled out, but unsigned. The pictures of happy children on the cover of the brochure crushed her. Had Shanna found it? The weight of the thought was too much.
Jean dropped the envelope back into its hiding place. She pushed the damp curtain to one side and caught sight of the yellow cagoule by the rear of the church. She swore, and ran to put some clothes on.
“That’s right, you’ll need to press quite hard with the charcoal, but I think the paper is thin enough,” he said.
Shanna rubbed the black stick over the sheet torn from the pad, watching, tongue extended, as the words started to appear on the paper.
“How is your mother?” he asked.
“I think she’s crying when I’m at school,” she replied. “Her face is all puffy and she won’t hug me.”
“She has much on her mind,” he said. “But things will get better, I promise.”
“She’s cross all the time.” Shanna said. She finished the rubbing, passing it to him.
“That’ll change,” he nodded in approval at her work, added a note of his own and slid it back into the paper book. “Make sure you show this to your mother.” He quickly stood. “I’m so glad to have met you, Shanna. Your mother should be proud. You’re a very special little girl.”
Jean held the side of her dressing grown together as she squeezed through the metal gate and into the cemetery. The rundown modernity of the caravans pressed uncomfortably against the decay of time. There was a shock of rain in the air, but she didn’t have anything better against the wind.
Was Shanna talking to someone?
She hurried between the gravestones as quickly as she could, the wind picking up strength the closer she got. The tall figure, blurry in the raindrops that splattered her face, abruptly straightened. It slipped around the corner of the church and out of sight. She began to run, her daughter putting the stolen book back into her rucksack as she approached.
“Shanna Lewis, what are you doing here?” she said. Her eyes were drawn to the plot that she was kneeling at, and Jean’s heart pounded painfully. She hadn’t realised he was buried here. She’d never wanted to know. “Don’t come back here again.”
Jean settled on the couch, trying to get warm. She flicked through her book. Birds, hands, sunsets in coloured chalk. But most of all, there were pictures of Shanna from different, better times. She’d tried to capture everything a simple photograph would miss. She could sense the pain bubbling up inside of her chest. She didn’t want to cry again, not in front of her daughter.
Jean turned the page and stared at the rubbing Shanna had worked on.
It caught the edges of the words; Henry Lewis, died of a broken heart.
At the bottom, in charcoal, was familiar handwriting. Which she hadn’t seen since she’d run away.
Keep her, it said.
Biography: Steven Patchett is an Engineer, Father and Writer in the North East of England. His works have been published in Ellipsis Zine, Trembling with Fear and Doses of Dread. He can be found on Twitter, being encouraging. @StevenPatchett7