Chapter 6: Isla
It didn’t occur to Isla to do anything other than carry on as usual after the incident at the train station, it was simply another time when she exercised the need to live her feelings briefly and fully before moving wholly on. She muttered muted words of thanks to Miss Solicitor as she left the train at Vauxhall – her words carried over the shoulders of a sea of commuters, surely a mere whisper in a day of many words for Miss Solicitor whose absent minded nod in response indicated she had more pressing concerns on her mind now. Milly seemed fine, though she held her Mum’s hand a little tighter than usual, her forefinger tracing repeating circles in her Mum’s palm. It was the little signs that showed when her care-free and larger than life five-year-old was ever so slightly rattled.
They left the train at Clapham Junction, holding on to one another tightly as they were swept towards the busy exits amongst the dense crowd of commuters hurrying home to loved ones or more screens. They peeled off from the crowd as they approached the Starbucks in the station entrance and joined a queue of weary travellers looking for a final caffeine fix before home. Milly hopped from foot to foot in her excitement. Everything felt like an adventure to her five-year-old mind and Isla knew that the prospect of a hot chocolate – with cream – was a prospect that would fill her daughter with genuine joy. She too looked forward to wrapping her hands around the mug of her caramel latté and breathing in its sickly-sweet scent; drinking it in with her senses before ever consuming a drop.
Drinks in hand, she scanned the room for space for herself and her daughter. Milly tugged her sleeve and gestured towards a small table with high stools in the corner by the window. Isla nodded her approval and allowed herself to be escorted by her excited daughter, picking up some serviettes on the way. Drinking hot chocolate with cream can be a sticky endeavour when you’re five, after all.
Helping her daughter up onto the high seat, Isla asked, in what she hoped sounded a casual voice, “Are you okay sweetheart? Not too shaken up by what happened at the station?” Her daughter stuck her bottom lip out and declared herself very sad. Isla’s stomach sunk as she realised that her unflappable daughter had, indeed, been flapped after all. Until Milly went on to explain the cause of her upset:
“I really loved my Little Mermaid ball and now it’s gone. I was going to catch it but the lady didn’t want me to and so the ball went under the train… and now it’s gone forever and ever… but I want it back!” exclaimed Milly without pausing for breath, the words expelled faster and louder as the sentence went on, her final word ‘back’ being almost spat out as she crossed her arms across her chest, her expression furious.
“Oh I’m so sorry sweetheart!” Isla responded “I had no idea that the ball meant so much to you. What do you say that instead of going to the park, we go and get you another ball? If there’s still time, we could take your new ball to the park and play football. What do you think?” Milly’s clouded face cleared; obviously this new choice of activities pleased her. “We need to have a talk about how to make sure we keep you safe when you’re playing with your ball though, especially at the station. You could have had a really bad accident today if that nice lady hadn’t helped you.” Isla shuddered involuntarily at the thought of what might have been, remembering headlines from an incident at the same platform some three years ago when Isla had been just a toddler and a poor mother with a little one of just the same age, had lost her life in front of a train. The story had really grabbed the attention of the local press who had profiled the woman endlessly. Speculation had been rife for a short while about whether her death, and that of her daughter had been a tragic accident, a suicide or a murder.
Isla’s attention was drawn back to the present and she realised that Milly was in the middle of telling her something. Her sleeves were rolled up, her pale bony arms being presented to her mother, her face indignant. “I’m sorry sweetie, what did you say?” asked Isla.
“I said that the lady was too rough and now I have bruises on my arms” Milly said “They hurt because she grabbed me so tightly and then she threw me and jumped on top of me and it hurt Mummy.” Isla wrapped her arms tightly around her daughter, soothing her pain in practiced strokes of her back. “And my ball got lost..” sighed Milly into her Mum’s chest. Isla could not help but smile at her daughter’s horror over a lost ball given the potential seriousness of the scene that had unravelled less than an hour before. She realised she needed to ensure that Milly really did understand how important it was to stay safe at the station as her actions suggested that she felt that Miss Solicitor had somehow over-reacted, or that her actions felt disjointed and somehow meaningless and unjust to her daughter.
“Listen Milly, that lady was only trying to help you. I hadn’t noticed you chasing your ball towards the train and when she saw you, she must have been really scared that something really bad might happen. She did everything she could to keep you safe. I’m sure she didn’t mean to hurt you, she was just trying to help.” Milly looked at her Mum with big eyes, beginning to understand that this was more than just a game with a ball, “You could have got really hurt.” continued Isla “The lady was just trying to make sure that didn’t happen. She might have been a little rough with you and I’m really sorry you have some bruises, but she was just trying to keep you safe; she was saving your life Milly.”
“You mean I might have died?” responded Milly, a note of awe creeping into her voice.
“Well I think that’s what that nice lady was worried about when she grabbed you” Isla responded “And she wanted to be certain that wouldn’t happen – and she did a good job. I know you lost your ball, but look, you’re all safe and just as perfect as ever sat here drinking hot chocolate. You couldn’t do that if you were squished beneath a train, all flat as a pancake” Isla joked, trying to inject some humour into her words, not wanting to be the cause of nightmares and misery for her daughter. Milly chuckled, clearly taken by the idea of being flat
“I’m Milly and I’m all flat. I got squidged by a train” she joked jerking her shoulders around in what Islas assumed was an impersonation of a pancake. Then she drained the last of her hot chocolate and licked the remaining cream from the rim of the cup. Lips covered in cream she looked up at Isla, her eyes calm, steady pools, once again appearing unshaken by all that had happened on platform four. “Can we go and buy my ball now?” Milly asked, already preparing herself to descend from her high stool and join the throng of commuters beyond the café door.
“Of course we can sweetheart” Isla responded, glad of a distraction from her thoughts of death on the train tracks, and glad too that she had Milly, such a source of life and fun each and every day. Isla took Milly’s warm hand and the two of them prepared to face the world together in search of the perfect ball.
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Thank you for feeding back each day. I’m building in your edits and suggestions to the version held on my local machine so the initial raw version will remain here. When I’ve got questions, I’m going to ask them each day – don’t feel obliged to answer them, but if you’re happy to they’ll help me as I try to craft the story. If you have questions or observations I’d be keen to hear them too.
- Does the conversation between Isla and Milly work? I’m always a little unsure about making talking work in prose.
- Is there anything that jars as out of character here?
- What are you hoping will be picked up / explained next? Anything you want to know more about?