In Devon, England, Lacey Carmichael leads a solitary life. To her neighbors, she was just the old woman who lived at the end of the lane, crazy but harmless—until she was briefly suspected of murder.
When young artist Rachel Moore arrives in the village, escaping her own demons, the two women form an unlikely bond. Sharing tales of loss and heartache, they become friends. Rachel sees beyond the lingering rumors that have made Lacey a social outcast, believing in her innocence. But as details of Lacey’s life are revealed, Rachel is left questioning where the truth really lies…
“Joanne Graham is a great talent.”—Louise Douglas, author of The Secrets Between Us
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By Joanne Graham
Legend Press LtdCopyright © 2013 Joanne Graham
All rights reserved.
It began with an ending. In the darkest part of the night when the moon had long passed the window and all I could see were shadows within shadows. When I awoke to pain that should not be there and felt the fear of it carve through me. When I felt the cloying wetness of her absence and shied away from it. It began with a chill that painted goose flesh across my skin. It began with a bloom of red on white sheets.
That long night gave way to a bitterly cold January day, the kind that paints diamonds on the pavements. The slump from Christmas had cast shadows in the eyes of passers-by, their shoulders heavy enough to rest on their hips as they walked. I looked at them and did not want to carry the weight of them, the misery of them. I looked up the street and wanted to keep on going, to keep on walking and never look back. I wanted to walk right out of my life and leave it behind. But I didn't, not then.
Instead, I sat in the shabby waiting room with its worn chairs and peeling paint, feeling like the invisible woman as people bustled around me. I had sat and waited and prayed that everything would be alright. But sitting before the doctor as he looked at his computer screen and then right through me, I felt that hope wither away.
"We'll send you up to the hospital for a scan just to make sure."
"To make sure? You mean there's a chance the baby is still alive?" I felt the jump in my chest, a flicker of possibility that I wanted to cling on to. His head shook slightly, a movement small enough that I could pretend I hadn't seen it if I wanted to go on fooling myself for a little longer.
"There is a very small chance but I think it is highly unlikely. The scan will verify the situation."
Cold and clinical, the words were a dagger in my belly and I fought against a rush of tears. He saw my face crumple and had the grace to look contrite.
"I am sorry, it's just one of ..."
I held up my hand, a visual full stop sweeping the words from the doctor's mouth and catching them in my palm; I curled my fingers tight around the empty phrase that meant nothing to me and even less to him. He reached forwards to pat the back of my hand, still clenched around his words, still damp with the tears and snot that I had wiped there a few minutes before in the waiting room. His concern seemed to be no more than a reflex response from someone who has seen it all before, said these words before and had long ago stopped caring. Perhaps for him a lost baby was frequent enough to become commonplace, but not for me. His sympathy touched lightly upon his face and stayed there, penetrating no deeper beneath the surface, not touching his heart or mind. Did he practice that look in the mirror? Too easily I could imagine him making small adjustments, getting the right element of frown and downturned mouth, the perfect, subtle nuances in his cheeks that reflected an ideal study of empathy and compassion. A mask he could wear over his usual, everyday smile as the need arose.
I wanted to scream at him, 'Not to me, never to me!' To tear myself apart in front of him, pulling skin from flesh and flesh from bone so that he could examine every fibre of my being and see the loss reflected there; see how empty and barren I was without my child to fill the empty spaces. I wanted to shock his actor's face into something other than meaningless pseudo-sympathy. I wanted to show him that I wasn't going to take all the hopes and dreams I had created around my tiny baby, bundle them up into a little dusty package and tidy it away. She wasn't just 'one of those things' to me. Those things were birds shitting on my head, a broken heel or spilled coffee. Surely those words couldn't apply to my broken baby who had curled up inside me and died beneath my heartbeat. She wasn't one of those things, she had been so much more.
I opened my mouth to tell him, to send barbed words into his skin so he could hurt as I hurt, but they travelled as far as my throat and stalled, stumbling over the unshed tears lodged there. I felt powerless, frozen in that silent moment. I got to my feet and saw the brief spasm of relief on his face before he covered it by turning around to his desk and busying himself with his keyboard. He had got over the difficult bit. The patient wasn't going to melt into a boneless puddle on the floor that he would have to mop up before the next one came in. He had done his job well and everything was going to be fine.
I stumbled home, pausing only long enough to make the appointment that would tell me that my baby was dead and everything was different now. I fought the urge to keep on walking past my flat, to just keep on going until exhaustion forced me to stop. I slid my key into the lock, waiting for familiarity to settle about me, seeking the comfort of my own space. I saw my paintings on the wall, my rugs, my furniture and they looked two dimensional, flat and colourless as though the life pouring out of me had stolen the life from everywhere else. I stretched out on the floor, deeply tired but unable to bear the thought of going into the bedroom and facing blood stained sheets.
At some point the clouds had rolled in. Fat, pregnant raindrops splattered onto the skylight above and I watched as they exploded into smaller droplets and triickled slowly down the glass, meandering along until they joined up with others and became larger, running faster until they faded at the edges of the frame.
The wooden floor lay uncomfortably against my shoulder blades as I watched these raindrop races, the foreground to a lowering, oppressive sky that pushed me further back into the floor and pinned me down. Slowly I began to move my arms and legs, no snow to leave an angel in, just the unyielding polished wood that smelled of lemons and age. I wondered whether what I did now would leave any impression on those that would come afterwards. Would they sense somehow that I had lain here? Would their shadows dip a miniscule amount as they spilled over this section of the floor, a subtle change they could sense somewhere deep within them?
I would never know for sure whether the baby had been a little girl, but somewhere deep down I was certain of it and I felt her absence fill the space around me. I realised that I couldn't stay here, where a blue line on a plastic wand had become wet, red linen; where for too short a time I had imagined a different reality from the one I faced now. Everything felt strange, alien, and I no longer belonged in the place where I had lost her. I needed to find somewhere else, anywhere else.
But as I made the plans that tried to keep my mind focused away from grief, I saw the swift flash of bird wings as it passed the glass and I thought, why stop there? What was there for me here in Birmingham? The relationship with my baby's father had been over before I had even discovered the pregnancy; a short-lived romance that neither of us had wanted to take any further. I hadn't had the chance to tell him about the baby and now there was nothing to tell. There were few ties left in the city and those that existed would stretch or be easy enough to sever.
I had my work, but as a freelance artist I could do that practically anywhere. I could move away and start over. I grasped the idea as if it were a lifeline; a fresh start somewhere completely new. The more I thought about it, the more appealing the idea became until it seemed that there were no other options. I told myself that this was what I needed, that this was the best thing to do, that I wasn't running away.
I let my mind drift along with thoughts of what I could do the following day to set everything in motion, and I tried not to think about the force behind these decisions. I tried to ignore the cramps and aches, and willed myself to push aside my longing. I tried to forget that as she left, she took with her the fulfilment of a dream I had carried since childhood.CHAPTER 2
I listened to the wet slap of feet on the glistening grey pavement, the gritty tyres scouring the roads, and I thought about the plywood sign. Whenever I looked back at the child I had been, the sign was the first thing I would see hanging in front of me, compelling me to turn away. It had been hastily made, roughly broken from a larger sheet so that the edges were sharp, splintered. Harsh enough to draw blood as it poked through my clothes. I can still feel the friction burn on the back of my neck from the twine; I still recognise the sharp sting of my humiliation.
The children's home I grew up in stood near the crest of a small hill on the outskirts of Downham Market in the wild Norfolk countryside. I had no memories of a time before it. I would screw my eyes shut tightly as I tried to force a memory – anything – but there were only empty spaces that would eventually be filled by other people's tales of a life I didn't recognise as belonging to me.
I couldn't even remember my arrival. I had been barely eighteen months old the first time I set foot in the old house. I often wonder what my first impressions of it were. Was I intimidated by the size of it? Did I take a step across the doorway on tiny, nervous feet that teetered and stumbled? Or did I enter in the arms of someone appointed to care for me? Did I turn my face away and bury it in a stranger's shoulder?
All I really know is that my earliest memories are of that house and the children that lived within it. Despite its size, it didn't look bleak and dark and cold, though it should have. The house was built of warm brown stone, with windows in the eaves and a big porch. If you looked closely enough, the signs of age and lack of care were visible beneath that first impression. I saw it in the paint that I flaked off with my fingernails and in the crumbling wood beneath it. But despite its flaws the house looked majestic and beautiful. I wonder if that would have given me hope when I had first arrived with nothing but a name and a cloak of neglect.
How long was it before I couldn't see its beauty at all? Behind the front door a different story emerged. Cracked and worn lino on the floors and a smell of disinfectant. Inside it felt as though it was no-one's home, just a collection of walls to hold the unwanted children whose identities were left firmly at the door.
It was all I knew until I was eight years old. Like all the other kids I existed only as a problem to overcome; a frequent thorn in the sides of those paid to make sure I made it through another day without getting hurt. Sticking plasters were given out for gashed knees and grazed elbows but emotional wounds were left to fester untended and ignored.
There were good care workers and bad. Some of them just wanted to get through the day, others tried to make it better for us, dishing out sweets and cuddles, holding our hands when we were upset. But they couldn't take away what we were; the foundlings, the kids in care, lost boys and girls. We were charity cases, all of us. Our donated clothes were frayed and worn. I had someone else's name tag in my school uniform as if I wasn't a person in my own right. Everyone at school knew what we were, and walking the corridors became another source of torment. Sly pokes in the ribs and chinese burns from children who forgot all about me and the hatred in my eyes as their parents tucked them up snug and warm at night.
I would sit on my bed, up in the eaves watching the room around me grow darker as the natural light faded. The streetlamp beyond the window would come on and behind it the sky was vast and gloomy. A huge dome of clouds, bleak and heavy with rain hung above the flat wasteland of the Norfolk countryside. How I hated that oppressive sky; the weight of it made me feel as small and insignificant as an ant beneath someone's shoe.
I was small for my age, an easy target for the displaced angry children that lived in the home. I rarely spoke and spent a lot of time on my own. I made no attempt to fit in with them, to do things their way and so I stood out, I was different.
I had a bedroom of my own because I wet the bed and screamed out in my sleep, waking the other children and the carers posted to watch over us. Sometimes I would get the slipper for disturbing the house, other times the scorn and laughter would pour over me from the mouths of others. I preferred the slipper.
The room was no larger than one of the store cupboards but it had the window, through which I watched the world outside and for a few hours I was free. Those hours of silence painted dark shadows beneath my eyes, as I yawned my way through the following day. My solitude was more than recompense for the exhaustion that made my heels drag, bringing sharp words from the teachers as I failed, once again, to pay attention.
I watched the changing seasons pass slowly. Autumn was my favourite time as the leaves turned the colour of fire and began to fall, turning the dull grey of the drive into a soft, patterned carpet. Immersed in the beauty of their colours I would weave dreams from nothing, creating a life I had never known.
I sat in my room feeling like Rapunzel as I waited for my mother to come and rescue me. I designed a mother who was alien and strange but whom I was sure existed somewhere. I had no knowledge of her but I had seen other families on their way to school and envied their easy laughter and warm glances. She was woven from strands of hope and longing until the image took on a deeper resonance and became almost real in my mind. If someone had asked me what she looked like, I could have told them in detail, right down to the curve of her smile and the glint in her eyes as she looked at me with pride.
I was sure that my mother had lost me somehow, through no fault of her own. I wondered if we had been on a trip to the park or the shops and I had been accidentally left behind. I knew that she would be desperate to find me and I waited and waited for her to turn up and take me back home, wherever home was. I simply couldn't accept that I was stuck in that soulless house forever.
How long was it before that hope faded? Before I finally realised that she wouldn't come? How long before waiting and watching from my window became a chore, something I felt I should do but had no patience for? The sense of identity I had created around my mother faded over time and left a space behind. I no longer recognised the person I was in the mirror and I drifted through the house wondering if I was solid, whole.
My room was a sanctuary for me, somewhere I could sit at my dressing table and look at my reflection. I stared at the darkness of my eyes, the shape of my nose, my lips, my smile. I committed every tiny detail to memory and wondered if I would one day recognise my features on the face of a stranger in the street. And as I sat there one day, the door burst open and my reflection disappeared into a crowd of grasping hands.
I was pulled roughly from the room, my feet sliding out from underneath me as I fought for balance. They dragged me down the first flight of stairs into the corridor below where there was more space to gather round and join in the fun. 'Call me stupid' the sign read, black poster paint daubed on with a childish hand. And they did, over and over again. Chanting it until the words blurred together. They pushed me between them, hands moving faster and faster until I became disorientated. Their sly kicks aimed at my shins as the board slapped against my ribs.
I didn't fight back. By then I had already learned that fighting back only prolonged the torment. I hung my head so that a curtain of dark hair fell across my eyes, hiding my face from theirs so that they couldn't see my shame, so that I couldn't see their sneers and cruelty.
I lost my balance, tripping over an outstretched foot and sprawling onto the sandpaper floor. I heard the jeering laughter, but it died as quickly as it started. When I looked up one of the wardens was there, her tight face slightly flushed and pinched with irritation and I knew that, for the moment, it was over.
Excerpted from Lacey's House by Joanne Graham. Copyright © 2013 Joanne Graham. Excerpted by permission of Legend Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsPrologue ~ Lacey,
Chapter 1 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 2 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 3 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 4 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 5 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 6 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 7 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 8 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 9 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 10 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 11 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 12 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 13 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 14 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 15 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 16 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 17 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 18 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 19 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 20 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 21 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 22 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 23 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 24 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 25 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 26 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 27 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 28 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 29 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 30 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 31 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 32 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 33 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 34 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 35 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 36 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 37 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 38 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 39 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 40 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 41 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 42 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 43 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 44 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 45 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 46 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 47 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 48 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 49 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 50 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 51 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 52 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 53 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 54 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 55 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 56 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 57 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 58 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 59 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 60 ~ Lacey,
Chapter 61 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 62 ~ Rachel,
Chapter 63 ~ Rachel,