But then with an evil smirk the stepmum suggested a bite to eat in McDonalds?
Snezana was a good girl. She cared about the environment and had stopped eating there because of their styrofoam packaging. Catherine dismissed the idea and said that couldn’t possibly make a difference to anything as she stopped at WH Smiths to buy a Daily Mirror and twenty Bensons.
With a well practised nonchalance Catherine suggested apple pie and a milkshake if her stepdaughter wanted to avoid the offending packaging.
Snezana queued to fetch the food, smiled at passersby then sat to eat with her stepmum.
Catherine stopped Snezana’s allowance. 'No more trips to Chelsea girl for you my dear.' Bought her unfashionable clothes- cheesecloth and flares left over from the decade before. Rara’s and flounced shirts thrown away, this individuality gave the girl a style of her own. Snezana was spotted by a scout for a local modelling agency and offered to try out to be the face of Rimmel. The Stepmum hid the letter.
Her father noticed his daughter's sadness, pressed his new wife to make amends and maybe take a trip to town.
And so they did. Took a bus. Shopped a little.
Despite her help on school committees Snezana’s step mother, Catherine was a vain, cruel woman. If the story was set thirty years later she’d be addicted to posting selfies online. For now though she compares herself to her step daughter but doesn’t come out favourably.
She tried the F plan diet and attempted to lose a little weight. Then took a trip to the chemist and tried a darker hair shade. Trying to emulate the luscious raven haired locks of Snezana. At the make up counters she tirelessly hunted for scarlet lipsticks so she could have Snezana's blood red lips.
Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
Once upon a time, a long time ago...
1987 to be precise.
Lived a beautiful girl, Snezana with her father. Her kindly mother had died in childbirth and Dad decided to leave their small cottage in the woods and move to Britain (Hatfield) guaranteeing himself work and hopefully a decent education for his daughter.
He also hoped at the back of his mind to find a wife. Which he did just a year later. Their eyes met over the tombola at a PTFA fete and they fell in love. And married soon after.
You know I escaped.
But they found out I was stealing from Nan's place. They were easy targets but I think before prison I started paying there in that bed. As he lowered the blind and turned to stare, by the bed he unzipped and I urged my drugged limbs to run, lash out. And they didn't. I was stuck, weighted under him.
God I paid.
As his face lowered I bit. Clamped my mouth shut on his tongue. And his howls pierced the silence, prompting my saviours to come.
I was saved.
Briefly anyway as the Wilkes story ended.
The sirens disappearing roused me as I woke up in a bed. And I tried to get up but my legs wouldn't work and I fell, and as the noise shook through the house I heard soft footsteps up the stairs.
The son opened the door. He was in his mid forties. A benevolent smile underneath the ragged mass of facial hair until he spoke and it twisted to a sneer. My own words wouldn't form. My tongue large, disobedient I'd been drugged by the monster's feral child.
"You hurt my daddy."
He smelled flowery, sweet.
It churned my insides.
I went back to his.
And yes, his house was as foul as he was. I hadn't got a plan. I just knew I had to end his games as soon as I could. It seemed easy. A bit of flattery. 'What a big...' well I don't need to spell everything out and he was proud and that's when I sliced and he screamed and his son. HIS SON came downstairs and hit me.
From the corner I saw him pass a dirty towel to his dad to stem the flow and call an ambulance.
Then it went dark.
He smiled revealing those too white teeth. Be my guest. He held out a shaky hand. Sharp dirty yellowed nails. And he didn't move. I squeezed by, as the bus shuddered to a stop I was jetted back onto his lap. And that's when I felt him hard under me.
"That's for you little red."
He blew smoke rings up to the roof of the bus as he said it. Smirking and staring deep into my soul.
My anger came of age that moment. And I sat back down. He'd not live to regret this. And I'd see nan tomorrow.
I looked out at the rain streaked world trying to ignore him. His chuntering. How he liked my bangles. How they'd make a nice sound as my arm moved. He breathed through his nose. Not a snort. But a snuffle of excitement. Like a dog catching scent of his ball.
I wasn't his plaything.
My stop got nearer and I realised with a lurch I'd need to ask him to move. To get up. I turned to face him. Look into those small eyes behind dirt fogged glasses. To ask.
"Please. Can I get by?
This is my stop.
It continued like this. And it weren't just me that he did this too. But on that bus on the way to visit nan in the home it was me that got his attention. On the last journey with him the bus was full and as I took my seat I realised he'd have to sit next to me and I wished and hoped that he wouldn't get on. The bus slowed at his stop. He was there. A glint from his false teeth as he smiled, seeing me sat alone by the window.
He slid in next to me.
I remember the first time. On the bus to Nans. He got on and walked slowly down the aisle. It were always crowded. And he stood next to me. He muttered when he spoke. So you had to move closer to hear him. I didn't though. I moved further away. He could still reach my hair.
He stroked it. Saying he loved ginger, was I... he'd tailed off chuckling and closed his eyes. Like he was thinking of me. Of my hair.
I hated him from that moment. And deep down I knew that was the end. And the start.
I realise in another world, another story I'd be reading at Mr Wilkes funeral now. Saying a few words. Pillar of the community. Salt of the Earth, five minutes of as many clichés as I can. We all knew he was a sicko. Just needed a caped crusader, someone brave to do something about it.
I'll tell you his tale. Because to be honest after you've showered and had your breakfast unless you're working in here there's fuck all to do. It's easy to get into more trouble. I want to keep my head down. Avoid it if I can.
Before then though I had a long dark night to endure. My thoughts haunted by her trusting eyes.The abuse she'd been subjected to crept into my subconscious.
The horrors I could put a stop to.
Going round. Phoning the police. I did them immediately in my sleep, and they came. Saved her.
A flashing blue light pierced my nightmare. Sirens peppered my slumber and my eyes opened and it wasn't a dream. Ambulances were in the road, outside our houses and I watched from my window as her body was pulled out on a stretcher. Covered with a bloodied sheet.
What could I do? What could I say?
Me? The single man next door.
I said she could come round whenever she liked but that she’d have to go back home. She couldn't stay. She wept. And when she got her breath back she described things no youngster should know about, never mind have to endure.
But I let her go back.
For that I will never forgive myself.
As I looked out of the window before bed I saw her ball floating on top of the pond. I decided to go round first thing to talk to her parents.
She swallowed as she spoke. Then. Barely a whisper.
"Don't. Please. Don't."
I moved towards her. I could smell her breath. Sweet and familiar. Marshmallows I realised later as I washed the sticky film off my own hands.
But back to her.
In my garden.
Starting to shake with fear. Her face pressed against mine. Her hair tickling my cheek.
My arm around her. Shushing. Trying to calm her. Saying it was OK. She sat up on my knee. I stroked her back. Looked at me and broke my heart.
"Please don't make me go back home."
"I think it's in the pond."
We stared together into the black murk and I half heartedly stirred its depths with a bean cane.
"It would float would it not?" I asked, not needing an answer.
"I think it might have hit a rose."
We both looked at the bush. Bare of blooms. Petals littered around it like a dropped skirt. Her eyes stared deeply into mine then. And I knew there was no ball. Not this time. Searching was pointless. Her hand. Small and sticky sought out mine. Her eyes, wide and trusting, rolled downwards and glazed with tears.
She'd tucked her skirt in her knickers showing her pale, bruised legs. And seemed to be treading clumps of cut grass down the hall from her sandals. Beige. Buckled. Slightly too small. Her toes stretched out ahead of her and almost touched the ground.
The ball was rarely easily found. She was often round for an age. I did wonder what her parents thought with her over here for so long but they didn't speak to me, we’d never passed the time of day.
And so she searched, with the leaves on the lilac tree shaking occasionally as she did.
It was the same today. She lifted the letterbox and whispered through. A whisper they could probably hear in space.
My heart sank and I put the tea down glancing at the start of Dr Who before moving towards the door.
"It's only me!"
I opened the door with a smile. She did look sorry, like she was regretting having to disturb me. There was a sense of relief though as she walked down my hall into the back garden. I watched her, I could leave her to it, settle down and finish watching Pertwee leave Dr Who.
'Can I have my ball back please?'
It was the soundtrack of that summer and had been for most of 1974 so far. She played out in all weathers. But it always seemed to be just as I sat down to tea or to listen to the footie when she knocked. I'd even missed Keegan's second goal in the final because she'd been calling through the letter box.
She had a needy voice. For a girl so young it always seemed so full of disappointment. She was a pretty one though, would be breaking hearts before long and no mistake.
My eye flicks open for a last time outside. A rural verge. Cow Parsley. Rose Briars. Thistles. The hedge should hurt me. I'm wedged in it. Hard thorny branches all around but I feel nothing except peaceful.
"On three!" the lady says.
I'm lifted, taken away. My prince taking me then. On his horse across the forest and I can smell my favourite teddy. And hear my dad. Not singing now. Crying. For me to come back.
I'm here Daddy. Why are you crying?
It's my Birthday. I'll be back later- Mum's done a cake.
Today's the day.