Authors: A. L. Bird
So. A dialogue. Oh God, perhaps this is crazy. She probably can’t even see the bloody sign let alone what’s written on it. But I have to try something. I have to have another plan for Cara. An option B. If Cara’s proposal – modified by me – doesn’t work. So that we don’t need to go for option C. The grizzly one.
What do I know about this little girl? What did I know about my own little girl? That the best friend at that age is a playmate. Someone to hold the other end of the skipping rope. Plus someone they can look up to, someone who can wow them with their own stories of the past. The child will watch, incredulous yet wanting to believe.
I tear out some new pages of my so-called diary.
I draw a picture of a little girl with a rope. She is smiling with a big cartoon grin. Then I write ‘I skip too!’ in as bold lettering as I can.
A lie, of course. I’ve never used a rope in my life – Cara was more into roller-skating and I liked hula-hooping when I was a kid. But what’s a little white lie if it might reunite me with Cara?
I put the paper up on the windowsill in the place of the ‘Help Me’ sign. The girl still has her back to me. I stare at her a while, willing her to turn round. Then I get down. She can probably feel my eyes on her back. If I were that age, I would wait until I thought no one was looking before I went to examine a sign. It’s less threatening yet at the same time a more daredevil adventure – grandmother’s footsteps, will you or won’t you be seen.
I turn my attention back to Cara and her plan A. Good start, perhaps. But it needs modifying. Because most important of all is that she should get out of here alive.
The other side of the door
Imagine, drawing me into the room, kissing me, arousing my hopes and expectations, and my relief – yes, relief that finally finally after all this effort it was working! All this, only to reject me. Yet again. Actually spit on me this time. Oh, darling. Darling Suze. I can’t call you Suze to your face, of course. I have to repress that too. Like everything else. If only you knew the lengths I’m taking. If only you understood that it’s for your own good. Somewhere within you, you must know that. I wish you’d acknowledge it. That way, I wouldn’t have to make you understand. The hard way.
And all that sodding knocking on the wall between the rooms. Why do they think it’s going to help them one little bit, these people? It was all I could do not to comment on it.
Well, I know what to do. It’s food tray time again. I’m taking Cara’s cherished instrument along to her room as well this morning; it belongs there, with her, even if she can’t play it. Open up her door, balance the food tray and—
The doorbell rings.
I nearly drop everything.
Come on, man. Pull yourself together. The cover stories have been given. You’ve been going out, looking normal. Nobody suspects anything. Apart from him. But he won’t be here, will he? He doesn’t know where you are. Right? He can’t. After all the efforts you’ve made to keep it from him. Nobody’s coming to arrest you. Although maybe I deserve it for what happened. For what I did. What I’m doing.
No. No. I’m not to blame. I’ve only ever done what’s right. I must remember that. I must.
But still, who is it? And what should I do? I edge along the corridor from Cara’s room until I’m round the corner and can see the front door. I should approach it. I know this is what viewfinders are for, that you’re supposed to be able silently to vet the people who appear at your doorway to see if you want to admit them. They know, though, don’t they, the people on the doorstep, that you are looking at them. The letterbox speaks, shares your footsteps, and the casting of light betrays you.
Perhaps I should just lie on the floor, play dead. Or dare to tweak the bottom of the curtain, lift it open a flap, see if I can see who is there without them seeing me.
Ding-dong, ding-dong, ding-dong, knock, knock, knock.
Oh Christ. Next I’ll be told to ‘open up’, won’t I?
An insistent postman or meter-reader? Could be. But are they really so diligent? Wouldn’t I just have got a hastily scribbled chit through the letterbox by now? And I’m not expecting anything, am I?
Oh, wait. Yes. Yes, I do need to open the door. There was one thing I ordered. Something for her.
I rush to the door and take off the chain. Unlock, deep breath, then swing open.
It’s not him. It’s a delivery guy.
‘Sorry about that,’ I say. ‘I was in the bathroom.’
The man crinkles his face slightly. He avoids touching my hands when he passes over the parcel. He can think what he likes about what I was doing in the bathroom. The important thing is that he has my coveted delivery.
I’m inside again, alone.
Should I wait to unwrap it? Check that it is what it claimed to be, that it will be what we need (I may not be thanked for it yet, but people will be glad when I can finally explain)? Or carry on preparing the food regardless? No. The time it takes to unwrap, it will be worth the delay. Rumbling stomachs never hurt anyone.
I don’t know why I’ve been so anxious. This is easy really. Much easier than anyone would ever think. Sit down maybe. Take a minute to relax.
And then I get the text message.
It’s from him.
And it describes the outside of this place, my hidey-hole, exactly. From the crazy-paved path to the yellow front door.
I drop the package on the floor.
He knows where I live.
He knows about Cara, he suspects about Suze, and he knows where we are.
And there’s hammering on the door.
But no. Listen properly. It’s another door. Inside.
Suze’s voice wafts along the corridor. ‘I need the bathroom!’ she’s yelling.
I shouldn’t have given her all that tea. Just stop yelling for one second. Please. Let me digest this news, let me clear up this important package, let me just have a moment to myself. Yes, of course, I know I brought you here. But please.
She won’t stop shouting though.
So I’ve no choice but to leave the phone with it’s horrible message, leave the crucial package on the floor, and hurry along the corridor to Suze’s room.
I open the door quickly – anything to stop that awful shouting.
It’s not until Suze is out of the room that I realise my mistake.
When the doorbell rang, I left Cara’s door open. And I haven’t shut it since.
As soon as he unlocks the door, the Captor darts back into the corridor.
I’m going to rush him! I’m going out there!
He’s at Cara’s door. And it’s open! He’s pulling it shut, getting out a key to lock it – but look!
There she is! I can see her!
I run forward.
Cara! Her hair, the slightest glimpse of her cheek.
But the door is shut again. He turns the lock.
I grab his hands, his arms, anything I can. I abandon my pretence that I don’t know she’s here.
‘Open the door! Open the door!’
He fends of my blows with his forearms, propelling me back into my room.
‘I saw her! I know she’s in there!’
I’m inside again and the door is locked.
‘Cara!’ And then to him again: ‘What can you possibly gain by keeping us apart? I saw her, I saw her, I saw her!’
I scrabble against the door, but that’s not enough, so I slam my hands and my forehead and my torso against it. I’m sliding down the door, but I won’t sink. No. Because I saw her.
But what’s going on? She must have known that her door was open. So why didn’t she try to escape?
I stand staring at the grate, as if it’s Cara.
What are you doing, girl? Your door was open? Why didn’t you run?
Forget that for a moment though. There’s a sort of golden glow spreading through me. My daughter, the sunrise.
Because I saw her. Just that little peep. It’s enough for me, in this moment. I want to grin and dance and clap my hands. I allow myself a little smile, then a big one, then I hug myself. What a privation it’s been! Fancy, a mother not seeing her daughter! I’d almost grown used to it, the obscenity of being separated by a wall. But like a bright light suddenly shining in, I’m aware of how dark it must have been before.
And, gradually, that light is fading again now.
Because I need to ask her, don’t I? Why she wouldn’t try to escape?
What’s going on with you, Cara?
So I get out the pencil and paper and I ask her.
The reply comes in what must be about ten minutes.
What must you think of me? I know, I missed a golden opportunity. I’m an idiot. I can see myself now, running away from wherever we are, calling the police, getting them coming to rescue you, getting the Captor put in prison (or torn limb from limb by police dogs). But no. Because I messed up.
Of course I saw the door was left open. He’d brought my tea, and he didn’t shut me in again. I don’t know why. Perhaps he was distracted. He went out and left the door open. I sat staring at it expecting it to shut again. But it didn’t. And I waited another minute. It was still open. So I got up from the bed, oh so quietly, and I opened the door a bit more. Nothing. Then I put my head round the door. The corridor was empty. My heart was racing. This is it! I thought. I put a foot out into the corridor. Then another. And I told myself to run. I couldn’t. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but I couldn’t.
I just didn’t know what was at the end of the corridor. It could have been anything. But most likely it would have been him. And I would have had to fight him. He’s a big guy, right? I was frightened. I hadn’t expected it; I wasn’t prepared. It was just me, alone, in that corridor. It seemed so big, suddenly.
I still might have run. Or yes, gone to a different room, anywhere with a window, climbed out. But then I heard a noise from along the corridor. And I bottled it. I ran back into the room and closed the door over a bit as he’d left it, and I stood exactly where I’d been standing. Just thinking about what an idiot I was, trying to pluck up the courage to go out again, and I was just about to – and then I heard you and he shut the door and that was it. All over.
I’m so sorry, Mum. I know that doesn’t cover it. And I promise, I really promise, that when we put a proper plan in place, I’ll be all over it. I’ll be ready. And I’ll run, and I’ll get us out of here. Because we’ll be doing it together then.
There’s nothing more to say, right? I messed up.
I reread the letter then fold it in on itself. Poor Cara. I can imagine being in that corridor, that she must have felt alone. And is that some slight maternal pride, or satisfaction, that she would have felt happier if I was there? That when it came to it, she couldn’t do it alone? Maybe. I try to close it down. It’s not a good side of me.
What there’s most of, though, is a dull feeling of disappointment. Come on, Cara. This is not who I meant for you to be. Couldn’t you just have done it? Couldn’t you just have run? Couldn’t we even now be outside, hugging each other, laughing, toasting our escape?
It’s one of those sour regrets. When you know that however splendid the event could have been, you’ve got to be bigger than the loss. You’ve just got to screw up your heart and move on.
Oh, Cara. My poor love. I understand you. I just can’t write back right now.
We’ll find a way. I know we will. But it will need to be a plan that caters for the real us. Not some heroines in a late-night movie, all bold and feisty, who take any opportunity to run – and then find their captor waiting for them. No. It’s about real Cara, and real me, getting out of this together. With all our flaws.
And then I want to take back all my selfish thoughts of regret. Instead, I want to hug Cara. Stroke her hair.
Poor baby. Tell her everything will be fine. Even though it won’t.
The other side of the door
Such a basic bloody error.
If I’d just realised one moment earlier – one little moment – I could have shut it, couldn’t I? Bloody parcel, bloody delivery man. Totally understandable, my distraction. I see why I failed and I therefore have to forgive myself. Like with everything, every failure – totally understandable. For once, though, I’d like to succeed.
But for that I have to be the one who thinks about absolutely everything, don’t I? I have to be on each little detail, every day. And sometimes I just want to sit down with a large glass of whisky and say sod ’em. Sod the plans, sod all the preparation. I’m having a drink, putting my feet up, forgetting all about the other end of the corridor until morning. Let them eat cake! Hah!
Instead, of course, I’m not drinking anything. And I’m sitting in the corridor, on the floor, outside Suze’s room. Have been since I locked her in again. Because everything nearly came crashing down. That look on her face when she saw into Cara’s room! You could see she thought, This is our moment, the moment we escape and report this bastard.
No. That’s not how this story ends, I’m afraid, my love.
I lie down, stretched out between the two rooms. Who would have thought I would, could, do all this? They’d have asked me why. Sometimes I ask myself why. But then the image of the two of them – the three of us – floats back into my head again. And I could almost levitate here in the corridor. Their two smiles calling me upwards.
But at the same time, dragging me back down. To the stark reality of it. The food trays. The staying indoors, each day, every day. The crippling boredom of playing the long game. The even more debilitating fear of discovery – before the journey is complete. If I can just get through, if I can just get that mirror mist to clear, we’ll be fine. People will even be grateful.
The mobile rings in my pocket.
My jaw clenches round my heart.
I bet it’s him.
I want to ignore it, but that’s not safe any more. Not after this morning’s text.
So I pull the phone out of my pocket.