At sixteen, Lamb walks out on her life. Her parents are dead and she has no brothers or sisters. For money, she cleans people’s homes. For shelter, she lives in the cellar of an elderly client. For survival, she imagines herself as a tightrope walker—one foot in front of the other, eyes straight ahead, and never allowing anyone to touch her, lest she lose her balance. Then she meets Doggo. And Lamb can feel herself falling.
Doggo walked out on his life, too—or more precisely, he ran. A fugitive fleeing from a violent criminal past, he needs Lamb’s help staying under the radar. Quick-tempered, foul-mouthed, yet surprisingly tender, Doggo needs Lamb in other ways, too. But the closer they get, the more Lamb risks her precarious balance between life and death. And fear has never felt so comforting.
Now You See Me, from Somerset Maugham Award winner Lesley Glaister, is an empowering novel about loneliness, trust, the fictions we tell ourselves to survive, and the primal need to connect. It also “boasts a protagonist so heartbreakingly well-realized that you are forced to live through her eyes, in her head, her heart . . . if only all fiction made us worry and care so hard, posed us such dreadfully difficult questions” (The Guardian).
“Glaister is at her best . . . written in the crisply poetic prose for which she’s known, [she] transforms the bleakest situations into compelling fiction.” —The Independent
“Before Gillian Flynn, there was Lesley Glaister.” —Harper’s Bazaar
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Now You See Me
By Lesley Glaister
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2001 Lesley Glaister
All rights reserved.
Her last lift dropped her in a small town centre – she never caught the name. The engine's echo died away. It was late. The street lamps fizzed, lit nothing: gratings, palings, geometric shadows. Nothing live. The station was closed up. There were no shelters. She tried car doors. A car is fine for sleeping in, especially a big one with a wide back seat. She tried and tried but this was a careful town and all the doors were locked. She set an alarm off, one of those that say Stop the thief in a robot voice. She would have laughed if she hadn't had to run.
She legged it through an alley into a car-park full of vans. She tried all the doors and finally a back door opened. She looked around and climbed in quick. She couldn't see a thing at first, but as her eyes accustomed to the dark she saw that the van was full of blankets. She couldn't believe her luck. Not nice soft blankets, they were the sort you wrap things in, stiff and scratchy – but still, blankets. They smelled like the insides of cardboard boxes and old smoke. She settled down.
Her bones were hollowed out with lack of sleep. She had not slept since walking out of the loony bin. A thrill ran through her thinking that. But being dirty, cold and empty soon wears that thrill to rags, like waving a torn flag. Freedom is not necessarily the greatest thing.
She knew all about sleeping rough. Been there before. Wasn't scared of that. There are ways to survive, and ways. But last time it all went wrong, what with the cutting up. She fell and landed in the bin. It was OK. You could bath every day if you wanted in a bath big enough for a whale to wallow in, though you couldn't lock the door. It was warmer than the streets but the food was dead and nervy grey and not the sort of thing you want to eat. She rarely did.
She walked out. Just walked out of there, easy as that. Cheesed off with the therapy, trying to get her to face up to things. So, there are things she'd rather not remember. So what? She doesn't want to do the facing up. Why should she? Her mind is her own mind and no one else's. Get that? So she strolled on out of there. It was getting boring. And all her scars were healed.
The blankets in the van were a rough cocoon and she was so bone tired she did drift off to sleep. Dreamt she was in the bin again where smoke hung thick and people floated through it slow as fish. When she woke, the smoke was true and the van she was in was moving.
It was cold and she felt sick and shocked. She sat up, her back jolting against a wheel arch. She put her satchel over her shoulder and got ready to jump out the minute the van stopped, ready to run. The drive went on and on. The driver was smoking and talking to himself. Replaying a row, saying the things he wished he'd said.
'You've just contradicted yourself as per usual,' he said. 'And another thing, please stop leaving me those cute notes.' He lit another fag and the van swerved. 'And for God's sake, do you really think you can get away with those jeans? Have you seen your arse from behind?'
She couldn't help grinning even though she felt sick and cold and scared. She lifted her head to try and see the horizon because that is what you're meant to do if you get motion sickness. But she could see no horizon, just rain and motorway and traffic. There were no signs to say where they were, or even which direction they were travelling in. She didn't know how long they'd been going before she'd woken up. Hours and hours, she hoped.
The driver's hair was ginger and matted at the back. His fingers on the steering wheel were bony, two of them stained with nicotine. She shrank down again and her mouth filled up with spit.
There was the sound of a siren. 'OK, OK,' he said, slowing down, 'and if you give me that bleeding hummus in my sandwiches once more ...' The van turned. Make your own bleeding sandwiches, she thought. He changed gears down and down, the van slowed and reversed. She crouched ready to run.
The engine stopped. The handbrake creaked. The driver yawned, lit another fag, got out. He locked the front door and came round. The handle turned and she crouched. Cold sweat was like a hand on the small of her back. But the door didn't open. The lock turned and it went quiet.
She waited for a while then knelt up and looked out of the front. She was in the car-park of a service station. She climbed over into the front where fag-ends cascaded from a jammed-up ashtray. There was a passport photo of a woman with arched black eyebrows stuck on the dashboard.
'Let him make his own sandwiches,' she said to it. There was an air-freshener in the shape of a pine tree but it stood no chance in all the smoke. There was a Tupperware box on the passenger seat and inside a hummus sandwich, a banana, a sausage roll and a note that said Just you wait, big boy, with a purple lipstick kiss. She took the sandwich, since he didn't want it, and let herself out.
It was cold and drizzly and there was miles of car-park but not that many cars. Her legs felt like paper folding underneath her. She went over to the building and inside.
The Ladies' doors were bright orange and the sinks had taps where you have to wave your hands to make the water come. She had to try loads before any water would come and then it was boiling. She put the plug in a basin, squeezed a pink worm of soap from the dispenser and washed her face and hands. She was starting to feel better already. The good thing about motion sickness is it stops when the motion does. The hot-air drier roared her dry. It was nearly seven o'clock. In the hospital they'd all be sipping their cool grey tea.
She went into the cafeteria, stared at the slippery mountain of fried eggs, the trough of leather sausages. It cost a fortune to eat. £1 for a slice of toast. She had less than a fiver in the whole wide world. She asked for the bottomless coffee and the woman didn't look at her twice. There was an early morning feel, not many people about and those that were puffy and bristled, shut inside.
She sat by the window and stared out at the vast wet car-park. She noticed the man on the next table – her driver. His hair was poking out in all directions like rude tongues. He was puffing away at his fag and between puffs shovelling in forkfuls of the Hearty Start, which was double eggs, bacon, black pudding, sausages, beans, fried bread and tomatoes plus toast and marmalade. Her stomach growled. Not that she wanted anything like that. She got out the hummus sandwich and ate it right in front of him, not caring if he recognised it as his. There was cucumber in it too, very nice actually. She felt like saying.
The man smiled across at her. 'Hi,' he said. His front teeth were crossed over in a goofy way and he had the smallest deep-set eyes.
'What a place,' he said.
'Where you off to?'
'What's it to you?'
The man shrugged. 'Nothing. Just making conversation.'
'Where are you going then?' she asked, and he laughed. She liked the way his eyes nearly shut.
'Huddersfield,' he said. 'Got to pick up some gear and head straight back. Lucky I like it. Driving.'
'Yeah.' She looked out of the window for a minute then dared herself. 'Reckon you could fit me in?'
He looked harder, more interested, like What have we here ? 'You hitching then?'
He ground one fag out and lit another. 'I reckon so,' he said. 'Bit of company'd be a change.'
She finished the sandwich, went to refill her bottomless coffee and sat down at his table. His plate was like the wreck of a sunset, egg-yolk, bean juice, ketchup.
'Smoke?' he said. She shook her head. 'So,' he said, on a suck of smoke. 'I'm Greg. You?'
Nothing came into her head.
'No names no pack-drill, eh?' he said. 'Fair enough. Where you heading?'
'North,' she said. 'Leeds maybe. Newcastle. Dunno.'
'Free spirit, eh?'
They got back in the van. She remembered not to know which one it was. Greg moved the Tupperware box and nodded at the photo. 'Sammy,' he said, 'the girlfriend.'
They turned back on to the motorway and he talked about all sorts of things – places, music, things he'd done or not done. She didn't say much, didn't need to. He asked if she had a boyfriend and when she said no, gave her a long look and said, 'I'm surprised, girl like you.' Here we go, she thought. She'd been wondering when he'd try it on. His eyes were the purest blue.
The sun came out and flashed off the road in long diamond splashes. Lorries towered past blocking out the light. He drove fast though sometimes they entered the fuzzy glitter of a patch of fog. If he hadn't smoked all the time it would have been fine though the girlfriend's eyes were like sharp pencil pricks that never left her face. He started to talk about Sammy and how they'd been together for five years and how she wanted to get married but he wasn't sure.
'I mean married,' he said. 'She wants kids, well that's fair enough but I don't, not yet awhile. Maybe in a few years but she's gone right broody. We can't walk past Mothercare any more without her starting up. How old are you, if you don't mind me asking?'
'Nineteen,' she said.
'Never.' He swerved a bit. 'I'd have guessed maybe fifteen, sixteen at a push.'
'Keep looking at the road,' she said. 'What about you?'
'Thirty-nine,' he said. She thought that sounded old. Quite old enough for having kids.
'Biological clock ticking away for Sam but men, well they can go on for ever, can't they?' he said. 'I mean wasn't it Charlie Chaplin had one in his eighties?'
'Don't suppose he was much use to it,' she said. 'How embarrassing to have a dad who's eighty.'
He laughed. Something strange was going on. She had to keep peeling her eyes away from his skin. There was something about him. It was his eyes and his crossed-over teeth. It was the sandy stubble on his chin, the skinny orange fingers on the steering wheel and the way he spoke out of the side of his mouth, crinkling his eyes. It was even the way he smoked his fags though she hated the actual smoke. His legs were thin in black corduroy with some of the ridges worn away on the knees.
She kept staring at his knees and the easy way his hand would grip and push the gear stick and then he said, 'Oh Christ,' and braked. She looked up. The back of a red car was hurtling towards her and before she had time to think anything at all, there was a smash. And from behind a jolt and booming crash and then stillness. Stillness with things falling and creaking and wispy screams.
A crash. OK. The view from the windscreen was mashed car and a mess of hair. OK. She tried her feet and hands and they still worked. She was OK. OK. Incredibly OK. She looked at Greg. The steering wheel had jammed right up to his chest and the pink in his face had turned to grey.
'Hey?' she said.
He did a long breath and opened his eyes. 'Yeah. I think so. Christ.'
'Yeah.' They sat there for a minute like that just gathering the fact that they'd been smashed between two cars but seemed to be OK. Everything was sharp and vivid. Her mind perfectly clear. His door wouldn't work and they both got out the passenger side. Outside was fog and a petrol stink and someone screaming a high fingernail-on-blackboard sound, screaming on and on.
There was a soft white arm hanging from the wreck with lilac-painted nails and a silver bangle. You could only see the arm and not the body it was joined to. Cars were squeezing past the wreck and hooters sounding and wet stuff, maybe blood, maybe oil, was sliding in a graceful lick from underneath the mash of car and flesh.
'Come on,' Greg said, then he went to the side of the road and puked. He came back wiping his mouth on his sleeve. He lit a cigarette. 'Let's go,' he said.
'What about the van? Your stuff? And my stuff,' she said, thinking fast.
'My stuff. '
The sirens started.
'No tax, no insurance, no MOT,' Greg said. 'And no licence.'
'What no driving licence?'
'But my stuff!'
'I didn't see any stuff. What stuff?'
'I didn't see anything.'
'I shoved it in the back.'
He looked at the van. For a horrible moment she thought he was going to go and look but he didn't.
'We'll get you some more stuff,' he said. He patted his pocket. 'Plastic. No problem.' He walked away, head down, hands in pockets. She stopped a minute, looking at the smash. There was definitely blood and oil and petrol and even milk running on the road. Milk. The screaming had stopped. Someone was talking into a mobile phone. The first police cars arrived, screeching up the wrong side of the central reservation.
She followed him along the hard shoulder till they came to a concrete flyover. They had to scramble up beside it and over the top into a dead place of wheel-trims and broken mirrors, oil cans and dirty spiky flowers. The air was solid with fumes. If you moved your arm it left a trail. He leant against the concrete of the bridge and pressed his hand into his side.
'Think I've cracked a fucking rib,' he said. She started to shiver, the shock catching up with her. 'Let's get out of here,' he said. They got over a fence into someone's garden. There was a climbing frame and a pink duvet cover drooping damply from the washing line. She couldn't move. It was the same duvet cover she'd had when she was small. The same pink, the same daisy pattern. She couldn't move. The sight of the duvet cover stopped her. She wanted to wrap herself up in it and just stop. Just stop, wrapped in the pink of it. But Greg grabbed her hand and pulled her away from the duvet cover and out on to a street with daffodils and street lamps still on even though it was light.
She could hardly feel her legs or make them go forward at all. She thought she was going to be sick. 'Wanna lie down,' she said.
'Come on.' Greg put his arm round her and they walked along the pavement. It was a dream, the path soft underfoot and shivers running through her like the shivering of trees. Her mouth wouldn't make any words at all. After a while they came to a main road with shops. He led her through a door that opened with a sharp ping and they were in a café. Her legs gave way as she got close to a chair and half fell on it. A woman's voice said, 'She all right?' The cloth was plastic lace against her cheek. There was a chipped saucer near her nose and a squeezy tomato.
'Two teas,' Greg said from miles above.
'Ask no questions,' someone said to someone else. 'Looks like she needs it.'
She didn't care what she looked like. She kept her face on the tablecloth and some time later heard a clinking close to her ear as he stirred her tea. 'Come on then,' he said, 'get it down you.'
She sat up. Her neck was weak and her hand shaking so much she could hardly lift the mug. Her skull felt like it was about to burst. Greg's hand was shaking too and half his tea went on the table. 'Got any aspirin or anything?' she went. Greg asked the woman who said, 'Yes, as it happens, Anadin. OK?'
Greg opened the box and gave her two and took two himself. The tablets stuck and she choked. They scraped bitterly down the back of her throat. She sipped the sweet stewed tea. He got out a fag and she nearly laughed at the way the lighter flame wavered everywhere before he could get it to meet the fag-end. His eyes were small blue chips of stone.
'Is there a loo?' she said. He shrugged. She balanced on her legs to the counter, feeling faint.
'Toilet?' she asked.
The woman sighed. 'I'm too soft me. Through there,' and pointed to a door marked Private.
She went down a passage and into the toilet. She sat on the toilet lid and put her head between her knees till the blood ran back. She washed her face and hands and used some of the Nulon handcream that was there. In the mirror she saw that one of her cheeks was printed with the pattern of plastic lace. She combed her hair. She was OK.
There was a crate of milk cartons in the passage from the toilet and milk was leaking out on to the brown floor. She looked away.
'OK now?' the woman asked when she came out.
There were two more mugs of tea on the table but it was too sweet. 'Sugar for shock,' Greg said when she pulled a face. 'Drink it.'
The sweetness made her feel sick. 'All that and it's only half-past nine,' Greg said and suddenly a laugh came tearing out of her. She couldn't stop it. She laughed and laughed until tears were running into her mouth. Greg tried to stop her but then he caught it too.
Excerpted from Now You See Me by Lesley Glaister. Copyright © 2001 Lesley Glaister. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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