She was dark, like the lady with the castanets on the plate on my mother’s wall. She wore a raincoat a bit like mine, only longer and black. I thought she must be older than my mother because of the long, sharp creases beside her mouth. Every now and then she turned to smile at me. I was glad of the company but also wished she’d go away. A train came and went and I lifted my feet off the ground, discreetly. When you were in the Rec, when you heard a train in the distance you had to do that. Feet off ground, hands off iron, that was the rule. I don’t know what would have happened to you if you didn’t.
After a while she asked if I had run away from home. She didn’t sound like the normal sort of grown-up, ready to tell you off – just making conversation. Afterwards I wondered why I got in the car. Even in those days they warned you not to get into cars.
When we reached the end of the road we should have turned right, but we turned left, heading towards the top road. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t know what to say. By that time we had gone past the boundaries of my whole life’s territory, the few miles I had ever walked in one day. The road span past under the wheels. I looked out and saw white lines, zebra crossings, unfamiliar pavements; people on pavements unaware that I was being taken away for ever. I was in a bubble of silence, inside the long silver car; a wondering face at a window, a soon-to-be statistic. Too puzzled to protest. Too polite to cry.
The further we got away, the greater the grief became. I was tied to my mother, I suddenly understood. One end of the rope was buried somewhere around my middle, the other buried in her. The further apart we got the more it stretched and hurt. I cried out for my mother, silently; I thought she must be hearing me in her heart; would sense where I was, like radar; would come flying after me, a witch on a broom, vengeful and rescuing. The stretching feeling came to me in waves, in all the years that followed. They varied in intensity but they never stopped.
I wasn’t the only child Mrs Sanchez procured for Charlie, before that day or after; nor was Charlie the only man to make use of me. I was just one of Charlie’s possessions, and he was generous to his friends. We travelled abroad, to Spain and South America and back to Spain. Then, when they decided it was safe, we came back to England. I was their daughter as far as anyone knew, and my name was Anne-Marie.
Inevitably I learned. From Charlie Sanchez I learned that kindly old gentlemen can be paedophiles too, but that paedophiles can be human and, after a monstrous fashion, ordinary. From Mrs Sanchez I learned that all women lose their beauty in the end and when it goes any power it once sustained goes with it. I was growing into my brains and beauty just as Mrs Sanchez was fading out of hers. He would have got rid of her anyway, sooner or later. The stroke just made it easier.
I wouldn’t exactly have wished it on her, to be trapped in a chair unable to move or speak, yet understanding everything. I was the one who did the research and selected a quietly expensive nursing home in Inverness, reminding Charlie to fly up and visit her at long, but regular intervals. I never went there myself, but I was the one who made sure the fees were settled every month from Charlie’s business account. Eventually, of course, he divorced her.
I didn’t phone Rex to come and pick me up. I didn’t phone Charlie either. I made my own way back by train to my hotel room. That evening after dinner I went into the bathroom and experimented with my new image. I cut my hair with a pair of borrowed scissors. At first I tried to forget all I had learned about make-up, and do it as a twelve year-old might do. In the end I scrubbed it all off and left my face as naked as a child’s. Yes, I’d pass as a carer.
I changed my name for the third and final time.
I stole a long knife from the kitchens as I left for Inverness.