• Vol. 03
  • Chapter 02

Your before

You were like that, a tiny swamp thing, a perfect, fragile comet. I was folding clothes. Well, probably Emma folded clothes while Lucy and I watched lazily and Céline smiled exasperatedly but adoringly in our direction.

You could hardly call it an apartment, though we did because we were in France and everything was an apartment, even if it was just two rooms (or one room, really, with a partition).

For the four of us to be crammed in it was a joke, but somehow the times we went downstairs to the laundry or the bins – the only times one of us would ever be alone – were the loneliest ever. We would return to hugs and notch up the bravado as if we were returning from battle. It was what, seven minutes? Silly, really. But it made total sense at the time.

A lot made sense. That a cold, cold beach in the winter should be the best place to talk, and far preferable to that beach in spring or summer. That an hour watching rabbits could be the difference between life and death. That the act of buying a bottle of water could make you feel so much better, as though a cloud had lifted.

We were strange kids.

And then there was you. You made sense, though you shouldn't have. You wouldn't have made sense to Céline's boss, or her mother or the landlady. Your purpose in life was to lie low, swim silently in a sea of peace, deep inside one of the most benevolent beings in the universe. You couldn't go far wrong, in Céline.

We would stagger along the seafront, laughing and drinking Cacolac from the can. We weren't in denial about you.


Your before

About you coming, growing, talking – the thought filled us with a breathless delight, the feeling that somehow, perhaps, for the first time our lives would be worth something.

We taught you to speak, through her silk blouse. We stroked her hair and hugged her. We tried to protect her, because she was perfect, and perfect people are rare. Sometimes I do wonder if she was human, or if she was put on the earth just to change us, not to be better people or anything, just to be happy. It can be that simple. Happiness.

The trees at the edge of the housing estate were thick and we would cut through them to avoid the hill between us and our apartment that wasn't. We stood there that fateful day, hidden. Céline told us she had seen a dead fox there once. I held her hands. They were so cold. They shook.

One person’s life can be divided by births or deaths or loves. Mine wasn’t. It was split on the day we left France. It could never be the same, though of course we were still four and we still taught you to talk. You came out human in the end. That really did surprise me.