12 Killing time
The next day, unfortunately, just as they’d renewed their friendship, Luke went on holiday. Jasmine and Stephanie were about to go away too. Their families were sharing a villa in Benidorm for two weeks. Elisha had no idea where that was, somewhere on the continent. After a few days, she began to feel lonely and left behind. Usually, the Goodmans went camping to the New Forest or somewhere but this summer her dad only had a few days off. It seemed so unfair.
Her dreams, thankfully, had returned to normal but, although relieved at this, her days were so boring that she also woke each morning with a slight nagging prod of disappointment.
Cats had dreams. You could watch their tails twitch; they made noises and moved their paws as if chasing mice. Her mum said cats couldn’t tell the difference between an experience in a dream and one that had actually happened. She was beginning to know how they felt and wondered why humans were different – or if in fact they always were. Maybe sometimes your dreams could be more real than real life and your everyday existence the fantasy.
The well had sat unused since the dream incident. The truth was, she felt a bit wary of it now and its power to catapult her into other worlds, where she couldn’t control anything and where what happened actually happened, even if she was sure it could only have been a dream. She remembered all the trouble Alice had got into when she fell down the rabbit hole.
The other thing was that she was a bit worried she might only be granted a certain number of wishes and that these were nearly all used up. Maybe that was what had happened to Aunt Jessie so she couldn’t wish herself out of the old people’s home.
But her summer was turning so dreary and she felt so bored that she had to do something about it. She’d spent the entire morning chasing flies out of the kitchen with a multi-coloured, long-handled feather duster. She had used up the last of the pink Nesquik from the tin, along with the remainder of the milk.
She decided to use a 10p piece this time, fumbling it out of a little beaded purse and taking a deep breath. She frowned, noticing that the well had got rather dusty. When she ran her finger round the wall, it collected an ashen grey residue, so she got her face down to the same level as the model on the bed and blew at it hard to send dust motes swirling up into the sunlit air. The airborne dust tickled her nose and, despite her pinching it between thumb and forefinger, in the end she sneezed violently and heard a far-off ‘Bless you!’ from her mum downstairs. She blew on the well a few more times, careful now to hold a tissue across her nostrils, before she was satisfied with the result.
Then, dropping the substantial silver coin over the rim of the well, she closed her eyes and wished aloud: ‘I wish Dad could have more time off this summer.’
A cold blast of air from the well blew her hair back and spattered her face with moisture. A little afraid to look, she nervously forced her face forward and peeped in, squeezing her eyes almost shut so that she was squinting. The 10p piece lay golden, and somehow reassuring, on the ceramic bottom of the well. Breathing a sigh of relief and opening her eyes fully, she pulled it out, before slotting it into her money box. This seemed the safest place to hide her growing hoard of golden coins. No one but her would ever look in it.
Packing the well securely away into a back corner of the wardrobe, Elisha wondered how soon it would be before her wish would come true. Hopefully it would be in time for them to go away somewhere as a family.
She loved where they normally camped in the forest. It was near a shallow branch of the river where you could paddle and splash or fish for tadpoles or simply stretch out on their patterned li-lo and look at the sky. You could rope-swing across the water further up and play hide-and-seek along the riverbanks or in the gorse bushes. Even when it rained, there was stuff to do — she had colouring books and a huge set of felt-tip pens in masses of colours. Or, if the weather was really bad, you could float the yellow plastic camping plates in the gigantic puddles, wade around in Wellington boots and pac-a-macs, sit under the flysheet and watch other people get wet or her dad dig a trench around the tent to stop it from flooding, like it was a castle with a moat. The food was great too — instant mash and instant tea, sausages and beans and chocolate, orangeade and Ribena. Her dad might even share some of the posher treats he usually kept to himself, Munchies, Mintolas or Old English Spangles. No one ever seemed to mind if you ate too much of the wrong thing. You could drop a biscuit or spill some milk and it didn’t matter. No one worried about cleaning it up later.
She didn’t really miss the TV as much as she always thought she would. Blue Peter and Magpie were boring. Especially if you lived in a house that never had ‘sticky-back paper’ or old washing up liquid bottles to make stuff out of. She could similarly do without repeats of Catweazle and The Last of the Mohicans, two awful shows she couldn’t understand.
Sometimes you met people you’d met before, which was good — it was like having instant friends too. Otherwise, she was shy and it took her a while to get to know the other children. Her mother always joked that she’d be miserable all holiday, then make a friend on the last day but one and not want to leave. It was kind of true: it did always seem to happen like that.
Once she’d got to know a girl called Tabitha, which sounded to Elisha like a cat’s name rather than a person’s. Tabitha had green eyes like a cat too but she’d also been very bossy so that in the end Elisha got fed up with her and hid inside the tent when she came round to collect her for a game, in which Tabitha was always the chief and Elisha the indian, the doctor to Elisha’s patient or the queen to Elisha’s lady-in-waiting.
Another time, a boy called Sean appeared from nowhere and adopted them as his family, arriving at breakfast time and eating with them, playing and hanging around all day before disappearing shortly after tea. Elisha had begun to feel jealous of him when her dad started teaching him how to tie various knots for cub scouts. But one day he didn’t come back. She guessed his parents must have gone home. And after that she missed him and wished he would come round again. The photos from that summer always made them laugh, as Sean had somehow managed to get into every single one — Sean with mum by the stove, Sean with Elisha and the horse, Sean fishing with her and her dad. There was even one of Sean by himself, leaning over and cooking something on their stove, frowning with an air of intense concentration and responsibility.
She lay on the bed and daydreamed about their trip. She hoped the weather would be fine and dry as otherwise it could be a lot of work for her dad; and she wanted him to enjoy it. She hoped they would meet people they already knew, to spare her the mammoth task of getting to know new kids.
Her mum didn’t like camping so much, especially at the sites with minimal facilities that dad preferred. Poor mum would often end up making the meals and doing the washing up so it wasn’t that much of a holiday for her. Elisha resolved to help her more if they got to go this year. This made her feel virtuous in advance.
So when her mum called her down to lay the table for lunch, she didn’t pretend she hadn’t heard (as she sometimes did) but jumped up promptly and ran down the stairs. Her stomach was fluttery with that unsettled feeling when she expected something momentous to happen any minute. But nothing did. At least not until later.