The Girl Downstairs is my next book out – with Inkubator Books on 21 November. Here’s how it begins …
MONDAY 18 NOVEMBER, 4.42PM
Dusk is falling as I walk towards the pier. The BBC weatherman says snow is coming soon and it certainly feels like it.
I stop as I see her. And catch my breath. It’s my daughter.
She is huddled by a beach hut, sheltering from the wind.
But, of course, it is not my daughter. It cannot be. My family, such as it was, has gone. Wife. Daughter. Both dead. And I am all alone.
Other than my dog, Fluffy. I call him Fluffy because he is a smooth-coated Jack Russell. This means he is not fluffy at all. The name is just my little joke.
Today, my family has been on my mind. The 18th of November is – was – my wife’s birthday. We had birthdays in October, November and December. Mine is in October. My wife’s November. My daughter’s was in December.
I am standing still. Staring into space.
The sight of the young girl. My mind full of terrible memories.
Fluffy pulls on his lead. He wants to walk on.
She reaches out her hand towards Fluffy as we pass by. He stops and sniffs. She puts her hand inside her hooded fleece, a threadbare thing, more of a cardigan really. Too thin for this weather. Fluffy moves forward to eat whatever it is she’s offering to him. Her last scrap of food.
She then looks up at me and smiles. Although she is dirty and down on her luck, she has the prettiest eyes I have ever seen. The kindest, friendliest face. She does look like my daughter. A lot. She has the same body shape.
I know I should keep walking. Be ruled by my head not by my heart.
But I do not. It has always been my weakness. Instead, I rummage in my pocket and drop a few coins into her third-full paper cup.
She smiles at me again as she takes them and says “Thank you” in a soft and gentle lilt of a voice. I can’t place the accent. Northern, I think. Or Welsh. I am not sure. I am not good at that sort of thing.
I hesitate. I wonder if I should say something encouraging to her. “Good luck” perhaps. Maybe “All the best”. But these phrases have a finality about them as if I am saying I will never see her again.
I know that will not be so.
That I will be drawn back.
As I have been before.
I will walk this way tomorrow evening, give her more change, perhaps a five-pound note. And the next time, the night after, with the snow almost upon us, a blanket to keep warm. The wind is always strong on the seafront and now temperatures are falling fast. I may give the girl one of my daughter’s coats, still hanging up in the wardrobe. There is a nice one left there. From Topshop in Oxford Street.
Fluffy is away and pulling on his lead towards the pier. To the smells and the cast away fast food. As I reach the slow incline up to the pier, I look back, expecting to see her head bowed, crushed by her homeless life. But she is sitting up and smiling at me one more time. It is that smile that does for me.
Yes, that is the one that wins my heart.
I should never have looked back. Just kept on walking.
I wonder where this will now take me. And her. To heaven. Or to hell, most probably.
Those of you who have read Sweet William, Mr Todd’s Reckoning and/or The Scribbler will probably have a pretty good idea where this will take him …