“This will be a good opportunity for us, Maeve,” her mother said. “You’ll see. I can feel it, can’t you?” She wrenched the curtains and the window open, letting in a pale stream of sunlight and a small tornado of dust.
Maeve’s nose wrinkled as she scuffed her shoe along the floor. She kept silent. Arms folded.
“A fresh start,” her mother continued, with an equally stubborn cheeriness. “Elmswell is a good school, much nicer than Brambrooke.”
“I liked Brambrooke,” Maeve said.
“You’ll like it here too – they have a science club.”
“Brambrooke had a science club, and all my friends.” She stroked Sophie’s letter in her pocket like a secret token, trailing along behind her mother as she continued opening windows and inspecting their new home for a second time. All of their suitcases and boxes were crowded into the dingy hallway. They piled as high as Maeve herself, making it impossible to shut the door. They didn’t even have that many bags!
“You’ll make new friends,” her mother said.
“I don’t want new friends. I want Sophie.”
Her mother sighed and shot her a tired look, as if Maeve was the one being unreasonable about everything. “You could at least try and like it here. Sophie can come and visit, it’s not as if you can’t keep in touch.”
There were a million other complaints and small insults Maeve could have pointed out about the situation – not just that her mother ripped her away from everyone she knew and loved, and dumped them here instead. In the city. Where the garden was a sad-looking strip of grass and a collection of rubbery potted plants. Where smoke and clouds blotted out the sky, making the stars difficult to see. Where the houses squashed together and a car-load of suitcases ate the entire hallway of its space.
“It’s not the same,” she muttered. Her mother had already bustled off to the other room.
“Why don’t you go and pick a bedroom?” her mother called. “That will be nice, won’t it?”
The bedrooms were only a tiny bit better than the hallway.
Maeve picked the room with the best window, dumping a box by the door to claim it.
The curtains would have to go. They were a musty green-brown colour, like the scum on a pond.
She struggled to shove open a window herself, wobbling on the thin ledge so she could reach the latch. She bashed her elbow, but managed to get it open to the length of her palm before it got stuck.
Her new and amazing view included the strip of grass at the front of the house, the pavement, and an old woman staring back from another bedroom window across the street, directly opposite. Maeve’s lips pinched.
“We can still make it home before they sell the house, if we go now!” she said. She sprinted back downstairs to the hallway, where her mum hauled boxes into the kitchen, and tugged on her sleeve. “Hurry!”
The neighbours could probably see straight in through her bedroom window, just like she could see into theirs. Horrible.
“Maeve, you’re being ridiculous. Help me unpack the bags.”
“It’s not fair.” It was Maeve’s life too, didn’t she get a vote?
“This will be good for us,” her mum said.
“Good for you, you mean.” Maeve’s eyes narrowed and she threw her last ammunition for getting rid of this madness. “Dad wouldn’t make me move here.”
Her mother dropped one of the dinner plates, face turning the colour of porridge.
Maeve dropped her hand back to her side like she’d been burnt. The silence clogged up her lungs, along with the blotchy redness at the corner of her mum’s eyes.
Maeve swallowed, staring down at her favourite trainers. One sharp white piece of the dinner plate nudged up against her foot. The guilt squirmed in her belly.
Her mother’s shoulders hunched away from her, fingers squeezing the bridge of her nose. Forehead scrunched tight.
“…I’ll get my stuff out of the hall,” Maeve said.
It had been two weeks since the funeral. It had been twenty two days since everything was absolutely perfect.
Maeve heaved her flowery suitcase up the stairs and into the room.
Next came her box of encyclopaedias, and her junior’s telescope – though she doubted she’d have much use for that now. Sweat beaded the back of her neck, and she grimaced, clicking out her fingers where they’d cramped, clutched stiff around the cardboard.
None of her things looked right anymore. Her model solar system was completely ruined, smushed and crushed in the journey. Pluto looked like a soggy grape.
Her throat locked tight, and the clattering of knives and forks in the kitchen had gone quiet too. It wasn’t quiet like it had been back home. Back home, it was quiet because the traffic didn’t go past often, and the only noise came from the small creatures scurrying about hunting.
Her father had been hit by a speeding car, coming home from work, or so her mum told her. People hadn’t let her see the body because it was apparently all mangled and gross, and so not something that ten year old girls should be looking at.
She would have liked to see him.
Back home they’d had a big garden too, unlike here, and she’d grown her own strawberries and runner beans. Lots of flowers as well – Primroses, Marigolds, Lavender and even Daffodils. Maybe she could still do that here too. Even if it wasn’t the same. She could get Snapdragons, her mum liked those…
Maeve tried to remember how to breathe. It should have been easy, she’d had lots of practice and knew all the theory for it. Maybe the city’s pollution was already rotting her lungs.
She pressed her fingers to her eyes for ten seconds, hard enough that colours popped behind the closed lids. Her hands shook. How stupid.
The kitchen drawers and cupboards slammed downstairs, as her mum resumed her mission with a fresh frenzy.
Maeve sat down on the bed.
“Andromeda, Antlia, Aquila, Auriga, Bootes, Caelum…” she named constellations until she felt okay again. Small. She got all the way to naming the stars of Orion. Exhaled deep through her teeth and opened her eyes.
That was when the other girl fell in through the new bedroom window.