I shivered myself awake, then yanked the blanket up again and tried to settle. The Grandfather clock struck two. I must sleep. I rearranged the pillows and turned on my stomach to keep warm. The curtains fluttered and a flash of lightning ignited the dark sky. Caro’s familiar room felt hostile. I sat up rigidly. My heart had stopped beating. It jolted back and pounded against my chest. I tried to uncramp my leg. Goose flesh prickled my arms and a sheen of sweat made my already sticky nightie unbearably cold. As if dad were lying right beside me, I felt his body become limp.
“You’re just imagining this,” I told myself.
“Stop it. You can’t know.”
I forced my eyes closed and pulled the blankets over my head. It was no use. Every fibre in my body had seized up. The grandfather clock struck three. I tried to curl up into a ball. “Count sheep,” I told myself. “One, two…” it was no use. My mind was spinning uncontrollably. A Piet my vrou signalled the break of dawn. I lay and listened to the mournful birdsong and wished the morning wouldn’t come. Seven chimes. It was breakfast time. Mrs P put bacon and egg in front of me and held out the basket of toast. Caro was trying not to stare at me, but I could feel her eyes darting glances. The mouthful of bacon and egg made my stomach churn and I forced myself to swallow, before I put my knife and fork together.
“Your mum phoned. Dad is not well.”
Three pairs of eye bore into me. I turned towards the window. They were all pretending. Why didn’t they just tell me?
I squashed myself against the car window and watched the Jacarandas whizzing by. The cars lined Charles Street and our circular drive was a traffic jam.
“Thanks very much.”
I put my hand on the Oak tree, almost as an apology for the car rammed right up against it. People milled in the passageway and flowers crammed the lounge. “Would you like a cup of tea?” Grief overrode politeness and I shook my head. I could see mum propped up on the couch but I couldn’t get to her. And still, no one said the words…