I did miss her. I missed a good hot dinner that didn't come out of one of those microwave Pot Noodle tubs for a start. I missed my five clean shirts every Sunday night, all ironed and on hangers for school. Yes, I can iron my own shirtsI may be sad, but I am not a sad bastardbut only if I have remembered to wash them in the first place, and to take them out of the machine before they go manky with mold, and hang them up to dry. And, see, that sequence of events didn't happen many weeks, and never two weeks in a row. So of course I missed my grandmother.
But mostly, I missed someone who knew what to do about Julie. I haven't mentioned her before, because I just don't know what to say. That's the real bitch about all this.
That came out wrong. Julie is not a bitch. She's just a little girl whose grandmother is dead and has no parents to speak of. And if you think it's bad for meI am fourteen after all, I can find some sort of way to get byit's a whole lot worse for an eight-year-old with a big imagination and a tiny understanding and a great gawping hole where the love should be.
God, I dunno where that came out of, a great gawping hole where the love should be. Maybe I could get a job working for a greeting card company, writing the prayery kind of words they have on the insides of cards that have a photograph of a bluebell on the front, or a sunset.
Anyway, it was the apples that started it, but it wasn't because of the apples that I rang the police. (I am not that thick.) It was when she hit Julie.
I mean, I couldn't have that, could I? She's only a little kid. Well, she's eight, but she's young for eight, if you know what I mean. She's not stupid or anything, she's good at school and all that. It's just that she's... well... it's as if you could break her if you dropped her. Maybe it's because of the situation, or maybe it's just the way she is.
She cried when Ma hit her. She may be young for her age, but she's not a crybaby, and I think it wasn't even so much because it hurt, but because she was just so totally dazed. No one ever hit her before. I mean, yeah, a smack on the back of the hand if she's reaching for one biscuit too many or a biff on the shoulder to steer her out of the path of some kind of disaster, but a blow full in the face, a blow so hard I could hear the impactthat is not on. That is assault.
So there's Julie sitting on the floor surrounded by apples, all snot coming down her face and her wispy, mousy hair catching in it so parts of it are wet and clumpy, and she's gulping with sobs and letting out this high-pitched wail, and Ma all rolled up tight in an armchair with her legs under her, her head tucked into her chest so you can only see the top of her hair, and her arms over her ears, and rocking, rocking, and me in the middle of it all with the portable phone in my hand, dialing 9-9-9.
She must have heard the pips, because she looked up before I even spoke and let out an almighty yell at me.
"Garda," I roared over her yell, into the mouthpiece of the phone. I shouldn't have roared, because that word, at that decibel level, really got to Ma, and she came bounding out of her chair and knocked the phone out of my hand.
"Don't you dare call the police!" she snarled, pulling my ears so that I had to lower my face to hers and got the stench of booze and vomit off her breath. "Just don't you dare. You are in my house, you are under my roof, and you do not " She couldn't bring herself to name my crime, evidently.
She pushed me in the chest, so I staggered backwards and nearly fell on top of Julie, who was still howling on the floor.
"Hello?" came a squeaky little voice from under the sofa, where the phone lay on its back on the floor. "Hello?" A lifeline.
Excerpted from Long Story Short by Siobhan Parkinson. Copyright © 2011 by Siobhan Parkinson. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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