They’re covering the windows with black plastic.

Dawn’s words are shot through with the usual expletives. Leaning back against the rough woodchip, you toy with the scrunched up paper on the floor. This one is a list. 

They’re my bin liners. She peppers the glass with expletives.

You unfurl another piece of paper. A Cosmic Order. You catch your own name there. It disappears back into your fist. 

When Harold had still been here there’d been more under the bed than just paper and dust bunnies. Dawn must have known about the magazines. Found them, even. 

You suggest to Dawn that perhaps the black plastic is because they don’t want to be observed. It’s a long, difficult job, after all.

She doesn’t appreciate the thought. 

You look at the kids, sitting quietly against the wall, facing away from the window, as if they know what is happening out there in the garden, when they can’t because nothing of any import has actually been said. You’d come round as soon as you’d known, and all they’d been told was that they couldn’t leave – as if Dawn’s kids ever could, ever had – and that the family would need to stay in the one room. Further information would follow. Questions, too.

You still don’t understand how she’d missed the Parades and the Whitehouses and the Mayfairs. All shiny covers and primary colours and so very much pink. A ten year old shouldn’t have been exposed to such ‘material’. Of course, kids now are exposed to much worse.

They’re wasting their time is the drift of the expletive-laden rant this time. If Dawn’s not bothered about the uniforms outside hearing, then she might want to consider the twelve and eight year old sharing the bedroom with her.

But the kids are happy enough to play their games – eye-spy right now, and a perverse eye-spy, too – fitting for this room and all it contains and has contained. Jack has just won a round with ‘hinge’. Daisy goes one better with ‘tissue’. Dawn misses it. She’s hanging out of the window now, trying to see into the tent they’ve erected. She’s told to shut it and step back.

You smooth out the latest screwed up Cosmic Order. This one is more a stream of consciousness, and there’s your name, right there, several times over. But no thought about why. Never a thought about why.

She hasn’t asked what they’re doing. What they’re looking for.

You don’t want to think she doesn’t need to.

Dawn slumps down against the bed, legs out, hands flat against the floor, somehow finding spaces amongst the paper. No-one ever mentions the paper. The kids don’t even chuck it. You’d have chucked it.

When did she start the paper thing, then?

After your time, certainly.

Because you’d left, or is that assuming too much?

There is a shout from out in the garden. Dawn leaps up, crunches back over to the window, leans as far forward as she dares, until a torch pins her in its beam.

She still thinks there’s nothing to find, just as Jack thinks ‘wall’ will frustrate Daisy into submission, but she gets it easily. You crawl over to her – she doesn’t flinch, but she does give you the look. You’ve been so long away from here, but they sort of get the idea of who you ought to be to them.

You whisper into her shell-like. ‘Floor,’ you suggest, just loud enough to be heard by Dawn, if hopefully not Jack, but she’s now creeping around the edge of the window frame like a French mime.

Jack tells his mum she should join in with the eye-spy. She tells him that she is, thanks very much. She spares him the expletives. 

Daisy likes ‘floor’. You sit back to watch what Jack will do with it.

Not what Harold had, that’s for certain. They’ll have to move into the house eventually. 

Dawn didn’t think there was anything to find with Harold, right up until there was.

Daisy laughs at Jack’s frustration. He comes up very short with his Fs. Dawn, having no such problem, hushes the pair of them, and puts her ear up against the single-glazing that is unlikely ever to get the chance to be replaced now.

Would they do that, you wonder. Would they pull the house down? It’s happened elsewhere.

You roll another scrunched up dream of something or other under the bed. 

She doesn’t know.

Even when it’s underneath her and all around her, it hasn’t dawned.

She let you in and she let you up here and yet she’s directing her fury at the uniforms out there in the garden. Not just the standard uniforms, either, by now, but the all-over boiler suit affairs they’ll wear when they think they’re going to unearth something of real interest. Or when they already have.

There’s just the right quality of hush out there now. Lights from below and from above. And the four of you in the bedroom, made to wait, surely about to be told.

Isn’t that why you’d come?

Wouldn’t she suspect that much, at least?

Wouldn’t she wonder who had told them there was something here to find?

You unfurl another of Dawn’s Notes to Herself. Your name again. Her thoughts about why it had happened, why you had gone, and what she could have done differently.

And then one line in the margin. You expect her to notice you noticing. She doesn’t. Not even this.

He’d covered up the windows. She’d wondered about that; about the work that had been done out there in the garden.

She had listed the signs. And then she’d screwed it up and thrown it away. Or as far away as she’d ever thrown anything.

And yet she had been right.

You had covered up the windows.

You had.

You smile at Jack, at Daisy, and you suggest another game.

Photo by Matt Baume

Featured photo “Under the Bed: Monstrous” by Matt Baume

Mike Hickman

Mike Hickman is a writer and former academic from York, England – he is still working out what to do with the doctorate (!). He has written for the local stage, being a member (and artistic associate - a term he hopes will be explained to him one day!) of a group specialising in staging new works by new writers. His most recent play, Not so Funny Now (2018) revolved around Groucho Marx's ‘companion’, Erin Fleming. He is currently working on more than one novel (aren't we all?) and now pushing out into short fiction.