“Good Ed? Pretty Ed? Funny Ed?”
“How would I know?”
“But what do you think? Give me a word. Describe ‘Ed’.”
The silence lasted minutes, not seconds. Ed was staring at her own hands, but the hands had still not moved. Dead hands.
Then Serrailler saw that she was crying. The tears were silent, and ran very slowly, individually, down her cheeks. He waited. She made no move to brush them away.
“Just tell me,” he said quietly. “It’s easy. Say their names. Then tell me what happened. Ed?”
Nothing. The silence went on and the waxen hands remained still and the tears came, one by one, and slid slowly down, and he waited. And there was nothing.
“There’s the men again.”
“Get away from that window, how many times do I have to tell you?”
“Yes, but they’re going into Ed’s house again, they’ve just opened the door. Ed wouldn’t like that, I know she wouldn’t. When she gets back I’m going to tell her. When is she getting back?”
“I said GET DOWN. Bloody hell, will you listen to me? I told you, you’re not to talk about Ed, forget her. Forget she ever lived.”
Kyra turned round and stared.
“Go and put the telly on.”
“I don’t want to put the telly on. I want Ed.”
“Jesus wept. You hear me, Kyra … if you say that name in this house ever again, ever, you hear me, so help me I’ll beat the daylights out of you, I’ll give you away for care, I’ll send you in that panda car. You never say that name again, OK? Hear me.”
Slowly, silently, Kyra got down from the chair by the window and started to trail away out of the room.
“You promise, right. ‘I will never say that name in this house again.’ Go on. Say it. SAY IT.”
Kyra had her back to Natalie. Her shoulders were stiff, her head rigid.
“Say it. ‘I will never …”’ A pause. Natalie was shaking. “‘I will never …’”
“I will never …”
She could hardly hear the child’s voice. “SAY IT LOUDER.”
“I will never …” It was still barely audible.
“‘Say that name …’”
“Say … that name …”
“‘In this house again.’”
“In my house again.”
“I swear.” Then, after a second, “Amen,” Kyra said.
“Now bugger off. Get upstairs. Get anywhere. Go on.”
Kyra slipped from the room like a shadow off the wall.
Natalie shut the door and lit a cigarette. She had started again when it happened, after giving up for three years. It was the first thing she had needed. She stood back, so she couldn’t be seen, watching the house next door, watching the police vans and the police in white spacesuits carrying stuff in and out. She’d watched and watched every day. She couldn’t keep her eyes off it. She’d scarcely been out. She’d no idea what she might see, hadn’t put her fears into shape, in case they came true. But somewhere at the back of her mind, the idea of bodies, things dug up in the garden, children, lingered like a gas, poisoning her.
She had scarcely slept since they had knocked on her door, barely an hour after she had seen the news on television. There had been three of them and she’d been waiting for them. Kyra was out, playing at a friend’s house. They would want to talk to Kyra, they’d said, but not now, not yet.
The front door opened and two of them came out. One was carrying two black bin liners full of … of what? Natalie dragged on her cigarette. She wanted to go inside. She’d been once or twice, to fetch Kyra, but Ed had never asked her in properly. Besides, it had been just a house then, someone else’s living room and hall, someone else’s interesting furniture. Now it looked different. Its shape seemed to have changed. It looked wrong, peculiar. She saw photographs of it, on the television, in the papers, Ed’s house, the house next door, but not that house, somewhere else, with drawn curtains and police in white suits and vans outside. A murderer’s house. One day it would be in a film or a Real Crime book, that house.
She needed to talk to Kyra again. The police hadn’t been to do that and Natalie ought to get whatever it was out of her first. That there was something to get, she never doubted. There had to be. She went cold thinking of what had happened and, more, what could have—would have—happened any day, any week. Kyra.
She loved Kyra. It was difficult, on your own, and she had bad days. Kyra took it out of her, never stopping with questions and bouncing and wriggling about, never being still, not sleeping well. But she loved her. How could anyone even ask?
The white suits plodded back up the path and shut the door.
Natalie started to go after them in her mind. Into the hall. Turn left. Living room, same as this. Out again. Kitchen. Door to the back. The way Kyra sometimes went in. Used to. She saw the stairs, though she had never been up Ed’s stairs. She wanted to now, wanted to stare and stare around every room, taking it in, peeling away the wallpaper and the curtains and the furniture with her eyes to get at what was beneath, or behind.
Several times a day, Natalie had got out the phone book and looked up the name.
Sleightholme, E.S., 14 Brimpton Lane.
It stood out from all the others on the page. The line wavered. Then it looked bigger, the ink blacker.
Sleightholme, E.S., 14 Brimpton Lane.
Already, it was more than a name, an address, a telephone number. It had a ring round it. It might have been …
Christie, J. R. H., 10 Rillington Place.
West, F., 25 Cromwell Street.
It had that look.
Only they were gone and this was real and she was looking at it, this red-brick house the same as her own red-brick house, a couple of yards away from her house in which she ate and slept and dressed and cooked. In which there was Kyra.
Natalie stubbed out her cigarette.
The house next door was quiet now. No one came or went. The vans were parked. That was all.
She’d been happy to let Kyra go there. More than happy. Ready. Any day. She didn’t know what she felt about that. She didn’t blame herself. How could she have known anything? Kyra had gone on and on, every morning, every night, every Saturday and Sunday. Ed. Ed. Ed. Ed.
Nothing bad could have happened, then, nothing so bad at all, if she had wanted to keep on going, every morning, every night. Could it? How could it? She’d never said anything. She wouldn’t have wanted to go, if …
The police van shone white and square and odd in the sun. Natalie wondered what was in it.
From upstairs, there was no sound. No sound at all.
She lit another cigarette and smoked it to the end before going to talk to Kyra.
You could see Ed’s house from her bedroom. As soon as she had been sent upstairs—which was always happening—Kyra had taken the little stool carefully over to the window, so that standing on it she could watch in case Ed came back. Every day, she hoped Ed would come back. Every day, she knew Ed would come back. She saw people going in and out of Ed’s house and when Ed came back she would tell her about them. Ed might not know. She might not like it. Ed was proud of her house. She’d said so quite often.
“I’m house-proud.” “Take off your shoes, Kyra, I don’t want muddy marks, I’m house-proud.” “Wash your hands after you’ve eaten that, Kyra, I don’t want cake mixture on the furniture, I’m house-proud.”
It was beautiful inside Ed’s house and she wouldn’t want the men messing it up. The floors were always shining and the carpets never had bits on them. Everything had a place, neat and careful, and the furniture smelled of polish. The mats were arranged just so and the cushions lined against the sofa back, just so, and when you put the mugs back on their hooks, you had to get the order right. Kyra did. She’d learned. Ed had taught her.
“If you’re going to be here, you have to learn the rules, Kyra. The blue one, then the white one, then the green, the pink, the yellow and, at the end, the blue again.”
“Why do they go like that?”
“That’s how I like them.”
“Yes, but why?”
“I just do. It’s how I like them.”
“I like them that way as well, Ed.”
“Good,” Ed had said. “Now wash your hands, you’ve been touching the plants.”
She loved the way it was. When she came home, Kyra wanted to arrange everything carefully. She tried to. But it never worked because their house was a tip. “Kyra, stop bloody messing, stop fidgeting, will you?” But in her own room, Kyra could keep things the way she liked them. The way Ed liked them. She lined up things in her drawers—white socks, blue socks, white knicks, pink knicks, and her dolls and animals in a line on the shelf. She had learned.
“Gawd, what’s wrong with you, Kyra, you’re a funny kid, I don’t know where you come from. Look at it, it’s peculiar.”
“It’s how I like it.”
“Yeah, right, well, let’s wait till you’re fourteen, it’ll be a bleedin’ pigsty, teenagers are.”
Kyra knew that it would not but she also knew better than to disagree.
She leaned forward. The back door of Ed’s house had opened and two of the weird men had come out and taken bags to the wheelie bin, but they were not putting rubbish in, they were taking it out, emptying the wheelie bin over into the bags. Why would you do that?
Downstairs the phone rang. Kyra settled herself more comfortably on the window ledge. Her mother would talk for ages.
When she had asked why the men and the vans were at Ed’s house every day, Natalie had screamed at her. She was used to her mother screaming but this had been different, it had made her face twisted and frightening-looking so that Kyra had understood not to ask again.
“You listen to me. Ed’s gone. OK? End. I don’t want to hear about Ed, I don’t want you asking anyone, I don’t. Do you hear me, Kyra?”
Kyra had nodded, afraid to say anything at all, afraid to ask a question. Her head was so full of questions she wondered if it had grown bigger to accommodate them all, if people would notice. Questions buzzed all day, all night, like a hive of bees that were never still and the only way she could let them out of her head was through her mouth, by asking them, and she daren’t do that, so they stayed inside, buzzing her mad.
Her mother had raised her voice now. Kyra turned slightly, to hear.
“What? When? When d’you hear that, Donna? Oh my God. Oh my GOD. It’s a fuckin’ nightmare, I’m living in one. Oh my God. No. Just the same, van and those white-suit people, you know, you see them on murder programmes … it’ll be on the news, then. I gotta keep Kyra out, she’s got ears out here, I don’t want her hearing. I just said she’d gone and she wasn’t coming back. Yeah, too right it’s true … Oh my God.”
Kyra looked back out of the window. The questions were dancing up and down in her head now, making little hard taps every time. Where was Ed? Why had she gone? Why wasn’t she ever coming back? What had she done? Why were the men in her house? What, why, why, when, who, what, why, why …
Kyra wanted Ed. Because no one else would be able to answer the questions properly, everyone else would shut her up, push the buzzing questions back inside her head and slam the door shut. But Ed always answered. Ed answered every question, though sometimes only to say, “I can’t tell you the answer to that one.” But somehow that was enough. That was an answer. Ed never said shut up, don’t ask, stop mithering, it’s none of your business, you’re too young to ask, too young to know. Ed talked to her, and thought and listened. And answered. Ed told her things. Ed knew a lot. Ed. Ed. Ed. Ed.
But suddenly, she tried to see Ed in her mind, and there was nothing. No one. A blank space. She looked at the house from her window, stared and stared at it to try and conjure up the picture of Ed but it wouldn’t come. Nothing came. She did not know what Ed looked like or sounded like. She couldn’t find Ed at all.
She got down and went out of her room, terrified. This was what her mother must mean, that Ed had gone and would never come back. Ed had even gone from her head, her mind, what she looked like, her voice, her smell, her laugh. She started to go down the stairs, afraid as she had never been before of her empty room and being in it alone, needing to hear her mother, see her, even her swearing and her irritation.
Natalie was coming up. Kyra stopped and looked down.
“What you doing?”
Kyra was silent.
“Come on, I’ve gotta go to the shops, get some stuff. What’s wrong with you, Kyra, for God’s sake, you look like you’ve seen a bleedin’ ghost.”
But she hadn’t. That was what was wrong. She hadn’t.
Very slowly, one at a time, Kyra came down the stairs.
There was always somebody outside now. Kids. Neighbours. People from the other side of the estate. They hung about, watching, talking to one another, waiting as the white suits came out, staring at what they carried, eyes following them back in. They knew better than to ask any questions. They just stood, waiting, hoping for something to happen, some excitement, and then television vans and men with furry microphones in their street.
Natalie dragged Kyra into the car and slammed the door so hard it made the windscreen rattle. Kyra did not look at Ed’s house or the watchers, she kept her eyes down. She said nothing.
Natalie muttered something under her breath as she screeched the car in reverse, crashed the gears and then shot forward, making Kyra rock sharply to and fro in her seat belt.
Once, Ed had taught her a game where you closed your eyes and said the name of a colour and then tried really, really hard to see it in your mind and nothing else. Just pink. Just green. Nothing else. “Even at the corners,” Ed had said. “Black,” Kyra thought now, and made her closed eyes stare and stare until all they could see was black. She could do it. She’d learned. But for a few seconds she tried quickly to see Ed, before the black came down.
“Ed,” she said to herself. But there was no Ed, even at the corners.
They were out for an hour and when they got back, there was another car, black, outside their own door. The watchers were keeping an eye on it at the same time as they oversaw the activities of the white suits, swivelling round the moment Natalie’s car turned the corner.