Read the Prologue to “Helen & The Grandbees”

We three sat together on the sofa for two. The sofa was made of bobbling grey and white threads. The foam stuck out through the gaps on the arm on April’s side. The gas fire flickered with pale blue lines. Bill was sitting closest to the black and white television, so that when he leaned forwards to pick up his tea, I couldn’t see the picture. But back then, I just didn’t mind. We were warm. We were cosy. Nothing could ever hurt us while we sat here as a three. The bad stuff was yet to come.

The bad stuff. That’s why I can’t bear to call Bill and April Mum and Dad anymore.

That day we had been to a memorial, a memorial for a little girl who had dropped out earlier than she was supposed to. I learned what people do at memorials: They go to a flat field and put daffodils next to a small stone that you shouldn’t sit on. Red-eyed April told me that there would not be a baby sister for me, after all. She shivered in the wind as if the cold was curling around her bones, seeping through the gaps in her sheepskin coat and under her paisley shirt dress. I tried to wriggle my fingers away from the grip of the orange gloves that crushed too hard. And when I remember that bit, I think of her as my mum all over again.

On the way home we took a taxi, me for the first time. In fact, we would not have fitted in the stitched leather seats if there were more of us, if there were four of us. Back in the warm after the metallic tink tink tink of the fire being ignited, we could feel safe on the sofa for two because we all fitted, Bill and April’s knees bunched up together under the Radio Times, my buckled shoes and white knee socks carefully propped over the edge of the fabric. We filled in all the spaces because I was still an eight-year-old girl who had had her first ride in a taxi, who wanted to sit on the memorial stone, who honestly believed it was better that there were only three. We were close. Nothing could come between us. There was never any need for there to be anybody else.

But sometimes you can be too close. Now I have grown old, I want to shout that fact back at the memory of us, the things that happened behind the gloss painted doors. We should have left more space between us on the sofa for two. We should have let other people in. 

It was wrong what happened when we were too close, and I have to blank my mind to forget about it.

So when I grew out of being that little girl, when I stretched into my teenage years and the world looked so different, I left the sofa for two. And when I left, I made sure that no one could find me and take me back.

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