There were no further raps at the door.
It felt stifling inside the house. I dared
not open any windows. We needed to
give the appearance of being away.
It was such a shame that Mrs Eames
was all alone in hospital. I prayed she
was making a full recovery. There was
nothing to prevent me from telephoning,
so I rang the ward. After an interminable
wait, a sullen nurse explained how
nothing had changed. Mrs Eames was
comfortably sedated. I thanked the curt
woman, and hung up. William was fiddling
obsessively with his phone. It was time to
make dinner. Money was growing short.
William had curled himself up like a
frightened hedgehog. I was rolled in
a ball below the kitchen table. I wondered
if Uncle was really so toxic, so dangerous.
Surely he meant well by bringing us food.
It was such a shame our protectress was
in hospital. But Mrs Eames wasn’t going
to get well in a hurry. I needed to make
the right decisions. William and I would
stay hidden. We wouldn’t answer the
door to anyone. I would rush out before
dawn and buy eggs and bread and milk.
I would transform our home into an
impregnable fortress. We would hole up,
like some fatal disease was scouring the
I flicked the net curtains aside. There
could be no doubt. Uncle Timothy was
slouching heavily at the door. My heart
did sickening somersaults. We’d have
to play dead, like no one was at home.
I turned and signalled William. I placed
a finger to my lips. He understood. There
was a second rap at the door, only louder,
more determined, this time. I prayed
Uncle wouldn’t shake the door, because
the deadlock was suspect. I was barely
breathing now. My heart raced crazily.
Cold sweat trickled down my forehead.
I clearly heard Uncle’s heels grate on
the doorstep, as he turned, and departed.
My shoulders shook uncontrollably.
Tears trickled from my eyes. This was
abject fear I felt.
There was no way it could be Uncle
Timothy. He’d been cautioned. As far
as I knew, he was far away. The whole
thing was a puzzling enigma. Whatever
the story, I was relieved we had some
food. I unpacked the bags. There were
the usual glamorous items. William’s eyes
bulged in his head. He literally drooled.
I sat and munched thoughtfully on a
stick of celery. William chomped greedily
on oven baked crisps, until his belly was
full. He burped loudly and grossly. As
we cleared the messy table, there was
a gentle rap at the door.
William and I staggered home. It seemed
like Mrs Eames had fallen into a coma.
I was afraid to ask more, in case the
news was bad. Our kitchen larder was
completely bare. There were clear
practical repercussions here. We might
both starve with Mrs Eames sick in
hospital. I rummaged around for some
loose change. William stuck his fingers
behind the sofa cushions. He found a
pound coin. We could stretch to a tin
of beans, and maybe a bread roll each.
I tried not to think about breakfast.
There was a tap at the door. I went
to answer. Sitting on our step were
two large fabric bags of shopping.
We were gathered round Mrs Eames’
hospital bed. Two nurses took her blood
pressure, whispering conspiratorially.
This was all profoundly upsetting. The
registrar had visited earlier. He suspected
Mrs Eames had suffered a mild heart
attack. Auntie was sedated now. The
hospital issue blanket was pulled up
tightly under her chin. William was
looking mortified. I bit my lip in case
I cried. The strong carbolic hospital
smell pervaded my nostrils. I thought
of poor Mother. I prayed there wouldn’t
be another death. I realised how much I
loved Mrs Eames. I leant over and kissed
her forehead shyly. She couldn’t die.
William and I were strolling in the
botanical gardens with Mrs Eames.
There’d been no more parcels, I felt
liberated. It was a warm shining leafy
day. Mrs Eames, shawled up in a huge
brown coat and scarf, looked absurd.
We ambled around the flower beds.
William was photographing the colourful
blooms. I clutched Mrs Eames’ arm.
She was stumbling, out of breath.
Natalie, I need to sit. Guide me to that
park bench. There’s a girl. Her speech
was slurred, she struggled to enunciate
the words clearly. Sweat ran down her
pallid face. This was something serious.
I pulled out my phone with one hand. I
called for an ambulance.
I felt I had to involve Mrs Eames.
I went and pounded on her front door.
She came, dressed in a ragged brown
gown. She said her back had been
playing up, and she’d been confined
to bed. Mrs Eames grimaced through
her teeth as she said this. I explained
about the shopping bags. The painful
smile curdled on Mrs Eames’ face.
This time, Natalie, your Uncle has gone
too far. He’s overstepped the bounds
of common decency. You need to report
this. I hugged Mrs Eames gratefully.
She was on my side.
I missed the company of Mrs Eames.
She seemed adamant about staying
away. Each morning I’d find a generous
hamper of food on the doorstep. She
hadn’t deserted us. She knew we’d never
fend for ourselves. But Mrs Eames was
very angry. I hoped things would boil
down soon. Then I noticed something
strange. The bags of shopping weren’t
from our regular supermarket. There were
odd items like brie cheese and wholegrain
crackers. Mrs Eames would never choose
such things. Suddenly I felt sick in my
stomach. The parcels were from Uncle
I ached to share all this with Mrs Eames.
But I’d offended her, and she was
keeping her distance. I couldn’t bear to
think I had a stalker. I would need to
report this incident to the police. I turned
over the facts in my head. Could I be one
hundred percent certain the creepy
overcoated man was Uncle Timothy? I
spoke to William. But he was blasé. Sis,
Uncle is far away. It was just some local
perv. Don’t fret yourself, he said
carelessly, continuing with his computer
game. I boiled the kettle and made some
breakfast. I suppressed an irrational urge
to run into the street, and bawl. Instead I
peeped through the net curtains. The
morning was still swathed in mist. There
wasn’t a soul about.