Storm Eden was talking to her mother, even though Zella had been dead for almost two years. A wild tangle of unbrushed red curls fell across her face as she kneeled in front of her mother’s grave, cleared away a small patch of snow to reveal the mossy green below, and laid a posy of snowdrops on the grassy mound.
‘I love you,’ she whispered, hugging the small silver birch sapling which had sprung up almost overnight by Zella’s grave following her burial. Storm’s green eyes filled as she thought of Zella, her beautiful, neglectful, lazy mother with her smile like warm sunlight, lying all alone in the cold earth.
‘I love you and I miss you,’ repeated Storm, clinging to the slender tree as if it were Zella herself. Zella had been the most negligent of mothers when alive and had barely seemed to notice her middle daughter. It was only after her mother’s death that Storm had discovered how much her mother had loved her, and it made the loss all the harder to bear. She had taken to coming to the grave every day, lying spread-eagled on the mound and talking to Zella as if she was really there. Sometimes in milder weather Storm would bring a picnic – cheese and watercress sandwiches, a couple of the scrumptious madeleines made by her elder sister, Aurora – and munch them on the grave while chatting away and telling Zella what was happening at Eden End. She told Zella how many times Aurora had tidied the linen cupboard that week and whether her new recipes for quaking pudding and giggle cake had turned out well, and how fast Any was growing up. These one-sided chats made Storm feel less lonely. It wasn’t that her sisters didn’t love her to bits, she knew that they did. But Aurora was always so busy, and Any had special privileges as the baby of the
family, and sometimes Storm just felt like the one squashed in the middle who nobody really noticed, because she could look after herself. Even Netta, who Storm thought of as her own personal fairy godmother, seemed to have mysteriously given up coming to visit in recent weeks, making Storm feel more bereft than ever.
When there was enough money to buy the ingredients, Storm would take some of the dark chocolate truffles that her mother used to savour so much, and leave them beneath the silver birch tree. The next day the truffles would be gone, and although Storm guessed that they were being eaten by wild animals, it brought a smile to her face to think of her mother sitting up in the night and nibbling on the chocolate with her perfect white teeth.
‘Right,’ said Storm, pushing back her unruly curls and scrambling to her feet. There were several rips in her skirt caused by climbing trees. ‘I’ve got to go, Mother. I want to check that Aurora’s all right. She’s been worrying so much about money I think she’s making herself ill.’ She ran across the park, occasionally reaching into her pockets and
throwing a few fi recrackers ahead of her that danced and shimmered with red and green sparks.
A few minutes later, Storm ran into the kitchen at Eden End to find Aurora sitting at the table weeping. She was surrounded by a large number of brown envelopes and pieces of paper across which were written the words FINAL DEMAND in angry red writing. Aurora’s exquisite oval face was becomingly pink and the tears that ran down it were gathering in a dimple on her chin.
‘What’s the matter, Aurora?’ cried Storm, hugging her sister and depositing a smear of mud on her pale, porcelain cheek.
‘She’s trying really hard to make ends meet,’ explained Storm’s little sister Any, ‘but the ends keep moving. It’s most inconsiderate of them.’
‘Have you checked if there’s any money down the back of the sofa?’ asked Storm.
‘Of course,’ said Any scornfully. She screwed up her chocolate-button nose. ‘All we found was lots of fluff, two hair grips and a half-sucked peppermint drop. It was still very pepperminty.’
‘You didn’t eat it, Any?’ asked Aurora, who stopped crying and looked shocked. ‘That’s disgusting and extremely unhygienic.’
‘Well, I did pick the fluff off first,’ said Any. ‘It was still a bit furry, but I expect fur counts as extra protein.’
From the Hardcover edition.