• Vol. 08
  • Chapter 12
Image by


Grace Alice Mary Susanna Jane Smith had a superfluity of Christian names, just the right number of toys, two imaginary friends, and a conviction that she did not belong anywhere. Elephant and Ojo agreed with her. Elephant rubbed his fluffy grey trunk around Alexandra’s tight black curls. “The bathrooms in the wrong place.”

Ojo asked “Why isn’t there a tree in the garden, now?”

Ma and Pa were always nearby. Ma, a willowy blonde, with her kisses and perfume and fried chicken every Saturday. Ojo liked fried chicken, insisted on it. Pa was a painter. He sat on the beach day after day painting the sea and the shore.

Alicia, Elephant, and Ojo watched Ma dusting and polishing with an energy that was reserved only for every third Saturday in the month when the whole house underwent an orgy of cleaning and tidying. In between time, things were allowed to sink into a gentle muddle. Kisses, cuddles, games, and stories took priority. As usual, Ma took the red book down from the top shelf and ran a duster over the leather covers, huffed on the brass corners and lock, buffed them up on the corner of her apron. Ojo wanted to know why it was always kept locked. Ma smiled indulgently.

“Tell Ojo its none of his business.” She patted the key on a chain round her neck. “You’ll find out. All in good time.”

Elephant whispered to Alex, “She writes in that book when she thinks your asleep. It’s got photos in. I’ve seen her kissing them.”



Alice went out into the garden and sat on the swing, listened to a silence crammed with rustles in the grass, songs of flies, and occasional birdcall. She was bored. A car drove erratically down the lane past her house. She wrinkled her nose in distaste. “Smelly old car,” agreed Ojo.

Elephant frowned. “Shouldn’t there be lots more cars?” he asked. “Loads more!” agreed Alicia. She stomped indoors, feeling unsettled. Ma was reading the big red book.

“Ojo says read it me!”

“Tell Ojo to remember Mr. Please,” retorted Mum. “He’ll know all about it on your birthday.” Mum put the book back in the bookcase. “Must get on, your Pa will be back asking for his lunch soon.”

“Not fair!” sulked Grace. I’m not ten for ages. “Doesn’t matter,” whispered Ojo. “She didn’t lock it. Go on, have a look. I dare you!“

Ten minutes later Alice was racing down the lane to the beach, past the boats dragged up onto the shingle like sad spinsters, past the rocks where the mermaids lived, into the safe arms of Pa. He wiped away her tears with his thumb, left a streak of Prussian blue oil paint in its place.

“Did you know I’m adopted?”

“Bless you, yes. Best day of our lives when you came to us. You made sense of our whole world!” Ojo and elephant agreed with Pa, sidled off to live with the mermaids.