A cold blast of air followed William and I

down the bleached corridor. We were

guided by a duty nurse, who swiped his

card, unlocking the double doors ahead.

At the nurse’s station, staff worked

assiduously, scribbling into thick patient

files. Nobody looked up. Someone

pounded their fists on a hidden door

and moaned out to be released. No one

took notice. I asked at the desk about

Mother. She was sleeping, although it

was past midday. An obese man, stood

on his tiptoes, was performing a

languorous dance. He was shouting out

crazily. No one cared. The nurse went to

fetch Mother. I was afraid. William

whimpered beside me.


Mrs Eames, who was a widow,

with three grown-up sons, had

time on her hands. She promised

to bake us hearty shepherd’s pies

and mouth-watering roasts. William,

once he heard, perked up considerably.

The question of visiting Mother now

pressed on me. Mrs Eames didn’t drive,

so we’d need to find our own way.

There was a bus to the outskirts of town,

then it was a short walk. William and I

googled the facility. It was a stark gothic

place. It looked like the mental asylums

of popular imagination. My heart sank.


I invited Mrs Eames into the kitchen,

where she sat heavily, literally bursting

with questions. She gazed horrified at

the small pile of sandwiches I’d made.

Natalie, where’s your dear Mother gone?

I’m worried sick pet, thinking of you both

so alone, fending for yourselves like this.

I tried not to tear up. I asked if Mrs Eames

would like some tea. Yes my dear, that

would be grand. She strolled over to me,

and hugged me massively in her arms. I

melted into sobs.


The neighbour was an extremely snoopy

crow who loved to gossip with Mother.

Mrs Eames was always pushing her beak

into our concerns. Each morning I saw her

hovering by the hedge. She was simply

dying to cross-examine me and find out

the truth about Mother. I deplored the

sight of Mrs Eames’ wrinkled face, and

was determined to say absolutely nothing.

We wouldn’t be hanging out our dirty

laundry, as Mother liked to say. Then,

when I was preparing some simple

sandwiches for lunch, Mrs Eames’

curiosity overcame her and she tapped

lightly at our door.


Nat, do you know where they’ve taken

Mother? William asked plaintively.

I told him not to fret, we’d visit her

very soon. I’d discovered the authorities

were holding Mother in a mid-security unit

just outside town. She was constantly

monitored, in case she self-harmed.

William and l, however, had fallen through

the cracks. No one had deduced we were

alone, without adult supervision, without

money. Thankfully Mother always kept

the cupboards well-stocked, in case of

dire emergency, so food wouldn’t be a

problem. Also I’d found a crumpled fifty

pound note hidden deep in the tea caddy.

William and I were going to survive.


William had witnessed everything

from the window. When I came inside,

he was sobbing on the couch. Nat,

what are we going to do? he mouthed

piteously. His tiny shoulders shook. I

struggled to compose myself. I said

we’d have breakfast now. William

nodded. I didn’t like to think too hard

about what we’d do. So I made some

scrambled eggs. My brother sat moodily

at the dinner table. We ate in silence.


Mother had strayed across the road.

She was stood under the chestnut tree,

gesticulating wildly. A white van had

pulled up. A bearded man stepped out.

He approached Mother cautiously. She

began to scream. I’d never heard anything

more terrifying. It was a thin, unearthly,

disembodied cry. The bearded man was

guiding Mother towards his van. I ran

outside and stood by the gate. There

was nothing I could do. Mother was

being hustled into the rear seats. The

hatch was firmly shut, and locked. They

were driving away.


I was at a loss. Who could I call?

At first I considered Mother’s doctor,

but she was just a general practitioner,

and Mother always said she only knew

about curing colds. I trawled the internet

and found a crisis hotline. I explained

the situation. I was put on hold. A new

voice came on the line. I was compelled

to explain all over again. Once the person

figured I was sixteen, that my Mother had

cracked, that I had a younger brother too,

things began to move. A crisis councillor

was appointed to my case. I was to hold

tight. Help was on the way.


Mother started rambling. Incoherent

words spilled from her mouth. She

would converse with invisible people.

It was incredibly alarming. She’d forget

to make our meals. She’d wring her

hands abruptly. She’d weep joyfully.

Her eyes were glazed over. Then,

suddenly, she’d listen intently. Natalie,

my love, I can hear the angels sing,

Mother said, ecstatic. It was then

I knew she needed help.


Mother was shoutier than usual.

There was this ugly edge to her

usual hectoring tone. She paced

the room, throwing up her hands.

I wondered what hidden problems

were harassing her. She boiled over

at William, slapping him, when he

went all sulky after a tirade. This

was peculiar. At first I thought it

must be money. But there was this

desperate lunacy in Mother’s eyes.

Like nothing I had seen before.