The Day Sarah Penny Died
She was planning on doing nothing all day apart from sit on her bed and read. She’d taken three books from the suitcase; I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, a copy of the Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie that she was sure was missing some pages and Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland. All three were rare really because it was only last week her mum had discovered the suitcase in the attic. Sarah had read all of her own books and every other book in the house at least twice and so to have three never read (by her at least) books all to herself was a miracle. Of course it hadn’t been easy to get the day all to herself. She’d had to get up before dawn and collect the eggs then wake Harry a little too early to wash him while her mum and Rick slept in. Well not really slept in. She knew what they were doing. For some reason they were trying for a baby. Sarah couldn’t even slightly understand why they’d do that but her mum had been adamant.
“You’ll understand one day,” she had told Sarah when the boys were all out fishing.
But she didn’t understand. Yes, of course she understood why her mum and Rick wanted to do what they were doing. That was obvious, that’s why she didn’t disturb them of a morning but at night she could hear them. They tried to be quiet but Rick never quite tried hard enough. She could hear his moans. Her mum and Rick were in the next room, the boys all downstairs, and some nights the moaning would go on for an hour at least before there was sudden silence and then she would hear the floorboards creek and Rick saying something then going downstairs to get a cup of milk. Rick always drank milk afterwards. It was lucky really that they had two goats.
It was never mentioned but Rick wasn’t her real father. Sarah didn’t even think Harry understood that yet. Sarah wasn’t a true Penny then like Harry and Miles. It was obvious from her blonde hair really when Rick and the boys had hair as black as coal. It was (her mum had told her) her real dad who had blonde hair, so blonde it was almost white apparently. His name was Rob O’Shaughnessy and he’d left a year after Sarah was born to live in Switzerland, in Geneva. Sarah sometimes wondered if Geneva was under water like everywhere else. The whole world had to be flooded didn’t it? If it wasn’t then why hadn’t someone come, the army or something, and rescued Sarah and her family. No one had come so that must mean that Geneva and her real dad were both flooded, drowned, like everywhere else. She would sometimes wonder if her dad would drink milk afterwards, after he’d been with her mum. She’d sometimes wonder if her mum and her real dad had tried so hard to make her. Before everything with Ark had started, back when she was so down about everything, back when the world seemed so rubbish, she’d wonder if that had been worth it, making her.
As soon as her mum and Rick were up, Rick draining glass after glass of warm milk in the kitchen and her mum moving far too quickly about, tidying plates, fixing Harry’s jumper, telling Miles off for hitting his brother, Sarah had gone straight upstairs.
It wasn’t like she really loved reading. Maybe if there was something else to do she wouldn’t have bothered. What she liked was how the books told her about how the world was. She could read a book, say Empire of the Sun by JG Ballard which had actually been Rick’s, and it would tell her loads about the world, all about Japan and Singapore and the War and everything that had happened years and years before the world was flooded. That was what she liked. It was the same with the few magazines she had, she could look at pictures of famous people, or people who had been famous, and see them in their bikinis beside pools or in clubs and she’d know what a bikini was, what a club was, who Victoria Beckham was and that was like grabbing a bit of the world back. That’s what she liked.
She knew it wasn’t the same for Ark. She’d told him once why she read and he’d laughed. That had upset her. He’d told her he read because of the story not because of the world the story was in. He told her he didn’t care that much about how the world had been because it wasn’t like that now and it wouldn’t ever be like that again. Stuff like that, thoughts like that, were why it had taken her so long to like Ark. He was so frustrating. She had, at first when they’d started spending so much time together, wanted him to almost reiterate to her the things she thought, to be like a mirror to her and then when they kissed it would be perfect. But Ark wasn’t like her at all. He saw the water and he saw what was underneath it as being dead. She saw the water and she saw what was underneath it as only temporarily submerged. She really believed that, that one day it wouldn’t be like this.
She had no idea why she suddenly wanted Ark so much. It was before they kissed. It was all the times he looked at her. That might sound weird, she knew that, but when she’d caught him looking at her legs or just at her so intensely she’d get this feeling, this wobbliness, this feeling that she didn’t mind him looking. She’d had it before. Skelly was always looking at her and when she was a bit younger, when she first started getting breasts, she’d told him to come to her room a few times and she’d undressed for him. He’d stare at her and then very slowly he’d put his hand very awkwardly into his jeans and start rubbing himself. It would happen quickly. She would stand there naked and he would touch himself then she would see the wet stain in his jeans and tell him to go. She’d stopped all that when Ark started looking at her.
She sat up in the bed against the uncomfortable metal frame. She propped a couple of pillows up but it wasn’t much better. For a few hours she read Girlfriend in a Coma but she ended up putting the book down and closing her eyes and thinking about Vancouver, about cars, about how people spoke there, about music. She was saving I Capture the Castle till last. Her mum had told her that was her own favourite when she was little and so Sarah would read that last and probably read it again as soon as she finished it even if she didn’t like it a lot.
She guessed it was noon. She could hear Rick shouting for Miles to help him down by the boats and she could hear Harry talking to himself, just lost in his own world, in his own head, down below her window. He was a soldier again. He was ordering his men around and the dog was barking too, barking at the goats probably.
She went to read Murder at the Vicarage but she checked herself, flicked the pages and saw pages 54 to 78 were missing. She stretched out. She pushed off one sock and the other with her foot, eased the sock down and then shook it off and repeated that. She undid her jeans and slid them off and then she pulled back her covers and got into bed. The dog was barking. She was half tempted to go to the window and shout for Jack to be quiet, for Harry to shut him up or bring him in, but she didn’t. She stayed in the bed and she closed her eyes.
That first time, that only real time, she wasn’t sure if Ark had kissed her or if she had kissed him. She worried if her breath was okay but he didn’t pull away. Was what she and Ark had done how it was for her mum and Rick? Was it still so new for them or did it get dull? She should have pushed Ark away when his hands started to move about her body but she didn’t mind. Hers was the first woman he had touched. Was she a woman? Was she just the first girl he’d touched? She could feel it against her leg, pushing against his trousers.
She opened her eyes and looked at her bedroom. It was never locked but she was sure no one would come in. She would hate it if someone came in now. Jack kept barking.
She found herself saying Ark’s name in her head. It was such a strange sound, a strange word, but it suited him. She could feel that same feeling now. The warmth. The not wanting to stop. The not caring. Her whole body was burning and she pushed off her bed sheets and if someone came in now, if Rick came in, that would be terrible but she kept saying Ark and the dog kept barking. She kept remembering Ark’s hand moving down over her dress, under her dress. She kept saying his name and she wasn’t sure if that was in her head or out loud.
She heard Miles calling her name. She was vaguely aware that he’d been calling it for a while and as she stood up and pulled her jeans up, buttoned them, she realised Jack wasn’t barking. There was only Miles calling her name, really shouting for her.
She knelt by her bedside table and checked her hair in the tiny mirror. Her cheeks were so red.
“I’ll be there now, Milesy,” she called but he’d stopped shouting her.
As she looked at herself in the mirror she mouthed his name. Ark. She wondered if he’d come today. If he did they probably wouldn’t be alone unless she managed to ask him to come to the well for water without anyone thinking that weird or without Harry wanting to tag along and bring Jack too. She mouthed the word again. Opened her mouth slowly. Closed her mouth slowly. She saw the shape the word made her lips make.
She went to the window. She wasn’t sure why she didn’t just go downstairs to see what Miles wanted. Maybe it was how quiet it suddenly seemed without Jack barking, without Harry’s soldier commands, without Miles shouting for her. She lifted up the window so it was fully open and looked out over the barn and down to the water, down the path that led from the water to their house. She saw the boats first. Or rather she saw the unfamiliar boat. It was so big next to Rick’s little boat. And then she looked to the path and there were five or six of them, men, walking up towards Rick who was walking down to meet them. Her mum was just behind Rick holding Miles’ hand and she could see Harry hiding by the side of the barn, holding Jack’s collar and stroking the little terrier so he didn’t bark. Harry looked up at her and she smiled and waved at him because she didn’t want him to be too scared but his eyes were wide and he shook his head. One of the men came towards Rick and they talked for what seemed like forever. Rick kept looking back at her mum and Miles and glancing about as if he was looking for Harry. Eventually the one who had come forward waved for the others to follow him and they all began walking with Rick up towards the house.
Sarah looked for Harry and Jack but they weren’t by the barn anymore. She went to her wardrobe and grabbed one of her thick winter jumper and pulled it on because she didn’t want any of those men looking at her in the same way as Ark did. As she came downstairs she could hear them all talking, Rick mainly, but Ark was still there, still in her head, his name just bouncing around, reverberating and repeating over and over and over.