birthday party :: notebook :: squash :: fresh meat :: light
‘For God’s sake,’ Sadie snapped. ‘Look at the state of this place.’
Tara’s room lay before her looking like the Battle of the Somme. Piles of clothing, which Sadie had washed and tumble-dried and folded with mathematical precision now lay in snowdrifts on the floor; the dressing table groaned beneath the weight of the bottles and jars, full of goodness knew what, scattered all over it. The mirror was smeared with makeup and dust, and books lay helplessly where they’d been flung, their spines bent precariously, their pages cruelly folded.
‘Oh, please let me go to Katie’s birthday party, Mum,’ Sadie muttered, in a nasal, high-pitched impression of her daughter’s voice. ‘I promise I’ll clean my room before I go, Mum.’
Rolling her eyes, Sadie stepped inside.
She found the notebook shoved beneath the mattress. Its light pink cover caught her eye as she stripped and remade the bed, but her eyes flicked away from it immediately. She’d once promised Tara she would never read her diary, or snoop through her phone, or even look at her Facebook page, and she did her best to keep her word; but something about this small, secret thing caught her mind like a hook catches a fish, and she found herself looking back. Straight away, she saw what had drawn her eye.
One word, scribbled in angry black biro, all over the cover. Over and over it was written, the letters getting wilder as they went. The nib had been dug in, gouging lumps of cardboard out of the cover like Tara had wanted to wound it. One word.
Sadie’s hand trembled as she reached to pick the notebook up. ‘I have to look,’ she rationalised. ‘I’m her mother. I’ll just read enough to give me an idea what’s happening, and then I’ll stop.’
Blinking, she opened it to the last entry, so recently written that the ink was barely dry.
Remember when they used to call me ‘fresh meat’ at school? Her daughter’s handwriting was gently sloped, neat, clear. Sadie could hear her voice in her head as she read, and she felt her heart fluttering in her chest at her words. That was until ‘that night’. Now, it’s all ‘Oooh, lads, d’you smell something off? Like, something rotten?’ and they hold their noses when I walk past, like I stink or something. No matter how many showers I have or how much body spray I use it’s always the same – ‘rotten’. ‘Skank.’ ‘Slut.’ They laugh right into my face, and they ask me things like ‘how much per pound?’
I know they’re not talking about meat. I know it’s all my fault. But all I did was kiss him.
Sadie held her breath. Her eyes were already on the next sentence before she could stop herself.
It’s been nearly a month now but they just will not leave me alone. I don’t know what to do. Nobody cares. Not even Katie.
Sadie felt sick, suddenly. She hadn’t said a word to indicate that she and Katie weren’t getting on. And wasn’t she supposed to be at Katie’s, right now?
Sometimes when I’m coming down the science corridor they all squash themselves into the corner between Lab 3 and the lockers. ‘Get away from the rotting meat!’ ‘God, can you smell it?’ All this hysterical laughter, ha ha ha. And I know for a fact that was Katie’s idea. ‘We’re just having a laugh,’ she told me yesterday. ‘Lighten up.’
Well, I wonder if she’ll be laughing tomorrow.
Gasping for breath, Sadie flicked through the rest of the notebook, but every other page was blank.
Squeezing her eyes shut against her panic, Sadie scrambled in her pocket for her mobile phone. She dialled Tara’s number from memory as she sat on the half-made bed, digging her nails into the notebook’s cover as she waited for the call to connect.
It just rang, and rang, and rang, every trill searing through Sadie’s heart like a hot knife.
Katie’s mother… Katie’s mother’s number… Sadie’s fingers felt like icicles as she flicked through her contacts. Eventually, she found their house number, and hoped it was still current.
Crrrring crrring… crrrring crrringgg…
‘Hello?’ It was a child’s voice, a little boy. Edward? Edmund? Sadie couldn’t remember. She realised, with a pang, how little she had listened to Tara’s prattle about Katie and her family, and her brother and her parents and their lovely designer house…
‘Hello, love! Is your mum at home?’ She tried to speak clearly through her chattering teeth.
‘She’s washing my sister,’ replied the child. ‘In the bath.’
‘She’s what?’ Sadie’s brain skidded to a halt.
‘A girl came and throwed loads of horrible stuff at Katie,’ the boy explained. ‘Like blood, and stuff. It got all over our carpet, and things, and went all up the walls.’
‘Oh, my God…’
‘Who is this?’ the little boy asked, in a suspicious voice.
Just then, Sadie heard the front door slam shut. She disconnected the call and ran to the top of the stairs.
Tara stood on the mat in the hallway, her face streaked with tears and her hands and clothes spattered with gore. She looked up and saw her mother standing, pale-faced, clutching her phone like she wanted to crush it into atoms.
‘Look, I can explain…’ she said, holding up her crimson hands, but all she could do was watch, dumbfounded, as her mother threw her head back and laughed, before running down the stairs to wrap her up in a hug.