Same time, St Just
The streets are decorated, the girls each have a balloon. Daze, recalling how she cheered everyone up last night, and even got David arsing around, feels good today. Gosh, Dave juggled fruit. And nearly choked himself to death! She grins to herself. The sun shines, the air is soft and balmy, people are smiling, the Etta thing’s on hold. It was nice to meet Max at the station. Even if he was miserable, and she has to share her house with them. This is her good deed for him: take the kids, then they can have some couple-time and sort themselves. While she shares her good mood with her nieces.
Crowds are assembling on the green behind the clock tower. ‘That’s the Plain-an-Gwarry,’ she tells Alice, ‘it’s a kind of stage. They acted plays there in medieval times. About, I dunno, maybe King Arthur?’
‘Or King David? He killed a giant in Grandma Fee’s story.’
‘Arthur’s story’s better: Arthur was a western king, he lived right here in Cornwall. In a place called Lyonesse.’
‘Not the animal. A place.’
Zoë pulls on Daze’s hand, so hard that her red balloon bounces, on its string, into Daze’s face. ‘You said, ice cream?’
Daze bats the balloon away, ‘Poof—yes, ice cream. But first, let’s look around a bit more. My friends said they’d be here, what colours were their costumes?’
‘Rainbow! With big hats and eyes and masks and scary bits!’
The sun, now the mist’s burned away, is very hot: she could do with a drink, water would do. And the music’s very loud: you have to shout to be heard. The hands in hers are very sticky. She’s too small to see much. The crowds surge them along like seaweed carried by the tide.
But she is careful: she won’t let go of them. Even if she is a bit high from smoking weed with her friends while catching up each other’s news, and now feeling the pangs of hunger that inevitably follow. She stops at an organic pastie stall, and insists on buying three, though Zoë takes one bite, then keeps asking ‘Auntie Daze, you carry my patsie?’
‘Oh wow, isn’t this fun?’ Daze leans down, and carefully breaks Zoë’s pastie in half. ‘Better? Now, I’ll carry this bit while you eat. Look, there’s a stall selling lemonade. We could have a drink. And listen: drums! That’ll be the procession, we have to see this!’
Zoë passes the piece of pastie to Alice, ‘You eat.’
Alice takes Zoë’s pastie, and drops it for her, over a garden wall. ‘What d’you do that for?’ Daze snaps. Children are so unpredictable. What a waste!
‘She’s fussy. Daddy says take no notice. Mummy says it’s tenshunseeking.’
The swirly crowd almost carries the girls away from Daze, who grabs them both, ‘I said, didn’t I, hold my hands!’ Gosh, you have to keep your eyes on them. Two kids, not enough eyes to watch both. The drums beat louder. As they pass a litter bin, Alice feeds it the remains of her pastie. Daze decides to take no notice: she’s spied amongst the crowds the headdresses her friends were making: a fish, a lobster, a jellyfish.
She lifts Zoë up to watch the lively procession. ‘Look! Isn’t this just awesome?’ It’s a miracle: the mist rolled away, the sunshine, music and dancing has transformed the dreary grey town into a total experience of colour, sound and excitement. First the band, and then the costumed people with banners and balloons and masks, waving and nodding and dancing. Daze bebops a bit to the music, jiggling Zoë, who laughs.
‘Can’t see,’ Alice says beside her.
‘One moment,’ Daze looks around. Maybe someone else could lift Alice up? She can’t manage two of them, and Alice is sturdy and heavy. A family with a baby sleeping in a buggy, and an older child sat on the dad’s shoulders, are beside her. Daze tries to attract the mother’s attention. Could she lift Alice up?
‘Sure, if she’ll let me. Great, isn’t it?’
‘Alice? This lady—Oh my god—’ Not enough eyes to watch them both—she’s disappeared. What to do?
The road to St Just
I said sorry to Max: it slipped out, obvious, and easy, because—? Because Daze took our children without asking.
I stare out from the front passenger seat of David’s car. We’re going with what Max said: my hands ball into fists with anxiety, I tell myself to trust his judgement. Hoping that Daze acted on impulse, nothing more.
When we park the car, David insists we look at his street map and split up to search. Max heads for the Plain-an-Gwarry and Market Square, David’s covering the library and surgery area, and then Market Street. I take the church, cafés, British Legion place, and anywhere else where people may be eating or looking at displays or exhibitions. ‘Meet up at that marquee—see, the Methodist Church is doing cream teas in there? In half an hour?’
I push through crowds in holiday mood, kids with balloons, ice creams, burgers, and dive out of the way of people in bright costumes with banners and musical instruments. Ordinarily it’d be huge fun. But the cheering and noise, smiling and colour, pushing and capering, is just irritating. Everyone’s so happy.
The church might be running a crèche, or serving coffees and cakes. In fact, it’s bleakly empty, a flower festival laid out but nobody here. I pause for breath, glancing around, noticing an ugly wall painting of a man with a sword.
Alice can’t see, feels too hot, drops Daze’s hand to struggle out of her jersey, since Daze isn’t helping. Or holding her up to see.
She tugs the jersey off, then begins pushing forwards, moving fast. The crowd of legs, skirts, buggies, and dogs on leads opens out. Once she can see the marching musicians and costumed people, she stops to watch, spellbound. The bright colours shimmer in the sunlight, the masks are even more amazing than anything Etta made for the Fun Day. The procession people laugh and sing: the crowd cheers. It’s like the Fun Day, only huger, and louder, and it draws her whole mind in, like being in the play only more so. Quivers of excitement run down from her head to her toes.
But then, the procession’s gone, the crowd thins out, she finds herself alone. Except for a few people who aren’t her family. And where’s her balloon?
A cold, empty, feeling wells up inside. Her hands go sticky, her legs go wobbly. She wants to cry, but stops to think. How did we get here? Where is the car? Which road was it in? All the roads look the same, but wasn’t it past that shop that smells of oranges? She decides on a road, and begins hurrying along, wiping away tears with her jersey, which she clutches close like a soft toy.
There’s another crowd, standing watching something. Alice walks into it before she realises. She sees scuffed trainers, and a pair of legs in denims. A voice says, ‘Ally?’ As she looks up, the legs fold and the voice crouches down. The face smiles, and the arms are ready to hug. ‘Daddy!’ He’s solid and real: he has a familiar scent. She nuzzles his chest as he hugs her.
‘Ally, is Auntie Daze here? And Zo-zo?
‘She’s with Auntie Daze.’
‘Yes? And where are they?’
Alice shakes her head. ‘I lost them.’