Solace of the Road
In the darkness, I was falling backwards to where Id started my journey. The road Id taken disappeared from under my feet, the mountains and castles and hills and tarmac crumbled and I was at the beginning again, back to how I left the Home. And that was down to Miko.
Miko, I said out loud. Miko? Whereve you gone? And there he was, in my mind, smiling at me. Tall as a door, with a mean whisper of hair. He was looking down at me from the top of a hill, his guitar slung over his back. Hurry, hurry, Holly Hogan, he sang. It was the tune he made up for me, the time we all went to Devon. Before the road disappears beneath your feet. Then he shook his head and turned away and vanished.
Miko was my key worker at Templeton House. That meant I was his special concern. His name was short for Michael and pronounced My-co. He had a unicorn tattoo on his forearm and he could juggle anything: slices of toast, a jam jar and a bunch of keys. Miko taught me to upend my mattress against the wall and kick it until all the nail-bomb bits in my brain stopped blowing. And though he didnt have an accent, Miko was Irish originally, just like me and just like my mam. I liked him fine. He was on my side.
I was fourteen. Id been in Templeton House longer than anyone, counting Miko. Id seen them come and go, the staff and the care-babes both, but I liked it best now Miko was around. Miko helped me paint my room green and white. Over the window hed hung the gold curtain my friend Grace and Id found down the indoor market. So my room was green, white and gold, the colours of Ireland, and Ireland was in my room.
My room had all my best things. Drew from Storm Alert, my favourite band, smouldered down with his brown eyes from the wall posters. On the bed was Rosabel, the fluffy toy dog Id had for ever. Rosabel followed me everywhere when I was little. I fed her bits of dinner and theyd pile up between her paws and go off. Then when Miko came he said, Holly, its getting old. I was twelve. So I put Rosabel at the foot of the bed and there she stayed, warming my feet, and I stopped pretending she was real.
Most precious of all was Mams amber ring in my shell box on the shelf.
Templeton House was for six kids three boys, three girls. The boys slept in the annexe at the back and the girls slept in rooms upstairs. Grace was my favourite girl and Trim my favourite boy. They were a year older than me. Trims second name was Trouble and Graces was Gorgeous. Grace, Trim and me went out cruising the tubes most Sundays and sometimes school days too. We were the hairy-scary care-babes and the younger ones stayed out of our way.
Miko said in his reports how I was sliding. I needed to stop letting others lead me off the rails. By others, he meant Grace and Trim but he never said so.
Then one day he came into the lounge and said, Holly, Ive news for you.
We were watching the Titanic sink for the fiftieth time. It was lashing down rain outside and there was nothing else to do. There I was, sprawled on the beanbag with Grace leaning against my legs so I could sort through her beauty braids. I could hardly keep my eyes open, the rain made me so dreamy. I was imagining I was back in Ireland where it rains all the time. I hadnt been there since I was small but I could see it still. I thought myself onto a green hill with Mam on the top. She was wearing her black halter-neck and her hair was rippling and shining in the wind. And the rain was so soft it was like walking through silk.
Wed got to the bit where Kate W runs to get the axe.
Shut the fuck up, Trim raved at Miko. Titanic was Trims all-time favourite film. Munching a crisp was enough to wind Trim up when Titanic was playing.
Excerpted from Solace of the Road by Siobhan Dowd. Copyright © 2009 by Siobhan Dowd. Excerpted by permission of David Fickling Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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