Mum got me out of bed in the middle of the night, saying “A policewoman’s here. Just answer her questions,” and she squeezed my arm hard.
In the sitting room, there was a woman on our settee. She didn’t look like the police; she wasn’t wearing a uniform and she didn’t have a crackly radio.
The lady said her name was Vicky. She apologised for getting me out of bed. “You know Marcy Mitchell?” she asked.
I looked across at mum who was standing by the sitting room door. Her arms were folded in front of her chest and her face had that stony look on it. I looked back at Vicky and nodded.
“I don’t want you to worry but Marcy didn’t come home today. We’re looking for her and asking her friends if they can help by answering our questions. Okay?”
I tried hard but couldn’t help bursting into tears. I loved Marcy. She might have been naughty sometimes but she was so clever, brave and funny. What if she had been taken away by one of the bad people?
“Don’t cry,” said the police lady as she handed me a tissue from her pocket. “We’re doing everything we can. Everybody’s looking for her, including your dad. We find lots of children who’ve got lost or run away and hidden for a while when they’ve done something naughty and are afraid of being told off...”
“Marcy’s not afraid of anything,” I whispered. It wasn’t an answer to a question but I had to say it. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see mum’s glare. Vicky followed my gaze and saw it too. She smiled at me and stroked my arm.
“Well, perhaps she got lost or forgot the time,” she said.
“She’ll come home when she’s hungry,” said mum.
“But not if she’s been snatched away so that her mum never sees her again and is sad for the rest of her life until she dies!” I wanted to shout, but it wasn’t an answer to a question so I kept that thought inside and cried even harder.
After a while I calmed down a bit and the lady asked me when I had last seen Marcy. I stole a sideways glance at mum. Yes, that was a question I could answer.
“At school today,” I answered.
“And what about after school? Wasn’t she playing in the park?”
I could tell this lady already knew: all the kids from our street play in the park after school - it’s in the field that runs along the back of our houses so our mums can watch us while they’re in the kitchen making tea. Marcy would normally beat me there but she hadn’t that day so I sat on a swing and waited. Then Amelia turned up with her crowd and told me to get off it. I had had to, because Marcy hadn’t been there to tell them to get lost.
I shook my head, “No, Marcy wasn’t there today.”
She asked me if I had seen any grown-ups hanging around near the park – anyone I hadn’t seen before.
I shook my head and started to cry again as I pictured Marcy skipping off with a bad person. I thought about how I don’t want my mum to be sad, not even for a minute, so I would never speak to a stranger but Marcy never took any notice of what her mum said and never did as she was told.
By the time I got up the next day, dad had already gone out to look for Marcy. At school I found out lots of other dads and mums from our street and the whole town had gone out early to help with the search; some had taken the day off work.
After school, the playground was full of mums, even the ones who lived only a few doors down. I raced home to find that not only was there no Marcy in the swing park, there was no one at all.
Dad came home later than usual with a look on his face that made me too afraid to ask him anything. No one said anything at teatime, and afterwards I was allowed to watch telly by myself in the sitting room while mum and dad talked in the kitchen.
When I was supposed to be in bed, I sat on the landing trying to listen but I couldn’t make out anything they were saying. I gave up and went to lie down. Although mum always said it was a waste of time, I prayed to God to make the bad people let Marcy go, or tell her to come home if she’d run away by herself.
Every morning I looked for Marcy on the way to school, in the playground and in assembly. There was no sign of her. Day after lonely day passed without my prayers being answered.
I was busy painting a picture when mum turned up at school. She had never done that before. She was with Vicky, the police lady. While Vicky whispered in my teacher’s ear, I ran over and gave mum a big hug. Mum took me out of the classroom into the corridor where there was a real policeman in a proper uniform. Mum spoke quickly, “You’re not in any trouble, but the police want you to go into a special room they’ve got where there’s a video camera. They need to record what you say to Vicky.”
Mum had to wait outside while I sat with Vicky in a room with cartoons all over the walls. We chatted for ages. Then she told me to think hard and tell her everything I could remember about Marcy.
I told her about how we played together after school every day before tea, except Wednesdays when Marcy did ballet. Unless it was raining, we’d always go and play on the swings. Vicky asked if any of the other kids’ dads were ever there and how often. I told her I could only remember Robbie Sullivan’s dad pushing him on the baby swing some days.
She asked me about Marcy’s dad. I had only ever seen him at Marcy’s house when he was off work with the ‘flu, and he was always really grumpy. I couldn’t remember him coming to the park, not even once. Then she asked me about my dad, and I told her all about how friendly and funny he was. He’d come to the park if he was home before tea. He’d make us laugh and whenever he got sweets for me, he’d get some for Marcy, too.
“Did Marcy ever tell you she had been in the park with your dad when you weren’t there?” Vicky asked.
“No,” I answered. I held my tears back as I thought about dad in the park with Marcy instead of me; she was so much cleverer, funnier and prettier than me with all her black curls and green eyes. She was braver as well. I would never go anywhere without asking but Marcy did. She was never scared of doing whatever she wanted. I wonder what it’s like to not be scared?
Back at home, Mum made us beans on toast. She stared at me across the kitchen table.
“What did you tell them?”
I told her. She carried on staring while I ate and her beans went cold.
After tea, mum sent me to bed. It was before my bedtime but I couldn’t get to sleep anyway because of the row she was making. It sounded as though she was throwing everything we owned around all the rooms downstairs.
I must have fallen asleep eventually because I was still in my school clothes when mum came and woke me up. It was the middle of the night. She had her cross voice on and told me we had to get away right now!
The car was packed full of stuff but there was no sign of dad. Mum didn’t answer when I kept asking where he was. She started the car and I shouted that we couldn’t go without dad. But then mum yelled, “We’ve got to go now!” and kept on driving.
In my new school, I’ve got no friends. I want to ask mum when dad’s coming but nearly every time I look at her these days, she makes that face where she presses her lips together so tightly they go white. I think it’s best to keep quiet. I dream about him still looking for Marcy and then coming to tell us he’s found her and to take us back home.
When I walked past a play park full of kids on the way home one day, I burst into tears. At home I told mum how much I missed Marcy and dad, how I wished, wished every second and with all my might, that the bad person would give Marcy back. Then we could go home and everything could go back to normal.
That’s when mum told me that we could never go back to the way things were because Marcy’s in Heaven now. She said that, however hard it was, I had to forget about her and dad. Then she grabbed me by the wrist and I screamed as she dragged me upstairs and shoved me into my room. The thought of Marcy in Heaven made me cry a lot. I’m sure I’ll be sad about her every day until I die, just like her mum.
Today, in circle time, we had a talk about strangers and staying safe. I wanted to tell the class about Marcy, only mum said I must never mention her name again and I always do as I’m told. I don’t want mum to get the pictures out to show me the horrible things that happen to naughty children. She still does it though because even when I try my hardest to be good, she still says I’ve been difficult.
The first photo I ever saw is of a blonde-haired boy. Mum said she had seen him being naughty before he wandered too far from his mum while out shopping. Another one is of a girl with bright red hair. Mum said she was a Brownie who knocked at our door one day and was stupid enough to come in to a stranger’s house. The third is of a gap-toothed girl I remember playing with once when we went on a camping holiday. There’s a new one now. It’s of a very pretty girl with black curly hair and green eyes.
Bio: H T Garton lives and writes in England and manages to fit time to write around work and family life including spouse, two children and dog.