I wish to bring your attention to two things. The first thing is that I am extremely sorry for the delay; there are many excuses I can make but making them will simply be seconds of my life pointlessly wasted. And the second things I wish to tell you is that I apologise for the… under-average quality of this chapter. Each time some work was made on this chapter it was late at night and I was a blink away from falling into a deep slumber. Now, enough nonsense. Perhaps you’d like to see the actual thing?
Alison Thresh rolled around in her uncomfortable, broken bed, pushing off her covers. With the grace of a troll, she deliberately fell off her bed and onto the hardwood floor. It was obvious to Alison that if she did not get up, she’d fade back into sleep, therefore missing the first storm for three months. Storms being her favourite weather event, she couldn’t miss the chance to go outside, even if she had no coat and it was one o’clock in the morning. Already Alison could hear distant, quiet rumblings of thunder, mixed with the snores of her uncle downstairs. Rain was pattering lightly against her only window, blurring the view of outside.
Shivering and massaging her shoulder, she brushed her hair out of her tired face and let her eyes adjust to the darkness. Alison grabbed a blanket, a towel and a tattered old bag that once belonged to her cousin, Carson. She slipped her feet into some slippers and, ever so cautiously, opened the door of her attic bedroom. Careful to tread lightly and skirt around creaky spots on the floor and stairs, Alison descended into the kitchen. It was unnaturally clean and reflected her aunt’s utter intolerance of mess. The good thing about this was that Aunt Regina had never once set foot in Alison’s bedroom, except for before she arrived at Regina and her husband’s doorstep. Clothes and old, broken toys that were once Carson’s were scattered around the floor and sat messily on shelves with nails missing.
Alison stopped to listen for her uncle’s snoring – yes, there it was – and opened the back door. Immediately, cold air and light rain enveloped her and she quietly shut the door, then wrapped the blanket around her underfed body and draped the towel over her head. Alison was instantly warmer and could not feel any icy raindrops, except for on her face, where it refreshed her. She gazed ahead at the familiar street of Werring Way, illuminated poorly by streetlights and drenched with rain. On each side of the street sat identical, tile-roofed houses where the owners clearly were competing to see who could have the most outrageous lawns. The inhabitants of houses with flamingo-littered lawns were all the same, as if made from cookie cutters; posh, intolerable of bad behaviour or anything dirty, very serious about their reputation in Werring Way, Fernland, and disapproving of Alison. The “lawn people”, as Alison has deemed them, also spent a lot of time craning their necks over the high, white fences, sneakily spying on their neighbours to dig up some gossip and find a juicy conversation topic for the next time friends came over. However, people who didn’t seem to have the best lawns were mostly batty old ladies wearing dull dresses that obviously must have been very popular in their days. The old lady right across the road from Alison’s aunt and uncle’s house was named Mrs. Katrina, and although one could be fooled by her rivers of wrinkles and ash-grey hair, Mrs. Katrina of number six, Werring Way, was quite energetic and spent most of her energy waving her cane in the air and yelling at kids who went cycling past her house and throwing water balloons at it. Alison often wondered whether or not that was why Mrs. Katrina’s lawn seemed reasonably green, for the old lady seemed to do nothing at all to her lawn. But Alison wasn’t one who pondered over lawns.
She hugged the blanket tighter and set off down the road. Her destination was only a few blocks away, and it didn’t take long for her to reach Lord Werring’s Park. On the slick, shining grass sat a couple of vandalised slides and mini rock-climbing walls. There was also an untouched, untarnished set of swings that swung in the strong, growing wind. All the kids who played at the park claimed that the swing was cursed, that it would suck the life out of anyone who was evil. Even Carson, who wasn’t at all gullible, stayed away from the swings. These were undoubtedly rumours spread by imaginative little kids, though for what purpose they were made, Alison did not know. The only result from this rumour was that Alison (who knew she wasn’t evil, anyway) always got the swings when her aunt and uncle brought Carson to the park. They had to include Alison, for they would not allow any risk of their precious house being burned down. These were one of the few joys Alison got in the company of the Maycomb family. Regina and Darryl Maycomb were very grudging about anything that might make their niece mildly happy.
Alison sat down on the swings in silence. Rain was pouring down much heavier now; it came down in buckets, completely drenching anything that was exposed to the rain. It seeped through the towel and the girl sitting in the dead of night on the swings decided that she should go back to the house soon, but not before there was some thunder. And as if on cue, lightning flashed from a cloud and sounded a few seconds later with a loud bang. The lightning continued and Alison sat there, rather enjoying the surprise storm at the end of the summer.
Suddenly, she heard a strange whirring coming from the bushes somewhere. Her head whipped around, but she saw nothing. The darkness didn’t help much, either. Feeling rather frightened now, and realising that she was alone, in a park, at midnight, near neighbours who slept deeply, Alison found herself wishing for her mum, her dad…
Alison was thirteen at the moment. But when she was merely six, she witnessed something no decent person deserved to see: the death of her parents. It was a hot, scorching day in the middle of the summer, in January, when it happened. Alison’s brother, who was nine at the time and was named Laurence, stood with Alison as he licked ice cream and watched his parents talking jubilantly with friends. They were standing on the roof of their building, called Le Bâtiment à La Mer. Mary and Simon Thresh, Alison’s parents, were hosting a New Year’s Eve party in which all the family’s friends had come, but none of Alison or Laurence’s friends were able to make it. So they kept to themselves in order to avoid long, boring conversations with the adults, and mainly revolved around the food table. Everyone had stuffed themselves full an hour ago except for Alison and Laurence, who were quite happy that the food table was theirs.
When no other food took their fancy, the siblings exchanged bored looks and sat down, looking in the direction of their parents. Squinting, they watched the orange sun beyond, shooting great streaks of vivid colours of gold and shell pink across the cloudless sky. The sun was slowly going to sleep; yet it was still extremely hot. The siblings were sweating and became most disappointed when they discovered that there were no ice creams left in the freezer.
So the two passed the time by gazing at the sky and watching the guests of the party. Dangerously near the edge of the roof was a cluster of happily drunk men, singing songs out of tune and slightly warping the lyrics. Alison’s mum’s best friends were gossiping in high, speedy voices. Laughter came from every corner of the roof.
Laurence saw two adults approaching the food table and indicated the pair to Alison. The siblings hurried away and moved away to a seat closer to their parents.
The married couple was smiling widely and one of their friends brandished a camera.
“Ooh!” the siblings heard the girl with the camera say. “This sunset is beautiful – it sure does make a beautiful background.”
She said something else that the siblings did not hear, but they had a good idea of what it was because their parents stepped up onto the boundary of the roof and smiled for the picture. The girl turned the camera sideways and started clicking away, taking pictures at different angles and moving back and forth. Alison’s parents were beginning to perspire and wiped sweat from their brows.
Simon turned white and muttered something inaudible to Mary, who frowned and turned to her husband. The girl taking photos seemed oblivious to this; she continued clicking away. Simon turned even paler and stared into the eyes of his wife with a deep burning of love. Mary gasped and held tightly onto her husband as he swayed.
“Jenny! Jenny, help!” she yelled, and the photo-taking girl rushed to their aid, making a grab for Simon’s hand, but it simply slipped through hers as he was so sweaty.
Alison and Laurence stood up immediately and ran for their parents as Simon staggered backwards, his eyes rolling up in his head and Mary refusing to let go. The heat was overwhelming Alison’s father… if only she could reach him… both of them… she could save them…
And before she and Laurence reached the roof’s boundary, they were falling off the building and down, down, down, Mary’s screams torturing Alison’s ears, her heart, every part of her being from her head to her toes to her soul. Horrified, everyone at the party rushed to the edge of the boundary and peered over. Alison was yelling; she knew that somehow, just somehow, if she yelled strong enough, she could levitate them back up to the roof and the party would continue and everything would be well again. If her will was strong enough, she could will them to live, to come back. But with a single scream from someone down on the ground, Alison knew that her world was over. Somehow, she could not cry. No, it was not possible that her parents were dead. They would be shouting out from behind the siblings, saying that only mannequins had fallen, mannequins that bled and cracked bones and made everyone scream down below on the streets.
Something else inside of her seemed to control her body, and she knew Laurence felt the same. Ignoring shouts and cries from the friends of their parents, the brother and sister, with faces that could not show emotion, descended the building and pushed through the growing crowd in the street, strode away from their parents’ lifeless bodies, walked in the direction that felt right and travelled on until they reached a deserted park.
It was night now, and finally it became cold. Alison gripped Laurence’s arm and fell to her knees.
Then she screamed.
She screamed and roared into the night until her throat was raw and unusable, then she sobbed and leaned into her brother’s arms while he stroked her hair and made comforting noises, though Alison could hear his voice breaking. She knew he had to be the big brother now, the one to take care of Alison.
The two children of Mary and Simon kneeled there for hours and hours, until Alison had no more tears left and just lay in Laurence’s soaked arms. That night, they slept in the park, and the next morning they set off to find the only family they had left: their aunt and uncle, Regina and Darryl Maycomb.
In the present, Alison felt hot tears on her cold face. She sniffed and wiped away the tears, getting off the swing and returning home. All of a sudden, the storm felt even more welcoming. Ever since Alison was six, she despised sunny weather and embraced cold and snow and rain. But she was too cold for comfort now.
Silently, Alison re-entered the house and climbed back into bed. But before she closed her eyes, she looked across the room and saw fifteen-year-old Laurence sleeping peacefully. Alison knew how lucky she was to have someone older to comfort her and take care of her; if she didn’t have him, she might just have died of grief.
She fell asleep, knowing that her brother was there, would always be there.
The next morning, Laurence and Alison jerked awake. Aunt Regina was tapping ferociously at the door of the attic bedroom, screeching like a bird.
“UP! UP! GET UP! NOW!”
Then Alison and Laurence heard her footsteps retreating downstairs into the kitchen. Throwing the covers off her body, Alison saw the rain drumming against the windows.
“It’s your birthday,” she said matter-of-factly.
There was a pause as Laurence grumbled, sat up in his bed and looked out the window. Then he looked at Alison’s deep blue eyes and messy black hair with his own deep blue eyes and messy black hair.
“I know,” he said, in a voice quite smooth for someone who had just woken up. “I’ve had fifteen of them before, four of which were in the company of our aunt, uncle and cousin, none of those four celebrated. Why should my sixteenth birthday be any different?” he said quietly, and then began to pull Carson’s old socks over his cold feet.
“Because,” said Alison, also putting on socks, “today we’re going to celebrate. I know we can, I can feel it in the air.” Indeed, this morning she felt lucky, and it was not only the weather that gave her this feeling. Inside, she was bouncy and confident. Even the Maycombs couldn’t bring her spirits down on her brother’s sweet sixteen.
Laurence adjusted his socks. “Promise?” he murmured.
“I swear on the lives of our socks that today we shall celebrate the sixteenth birthday of my brother.”
Laurence laughed. Their socks were important to them, for their feet often became very cold, even in hot weather.
“Alright. I take your word for it,” he said, and the two trudged down the stairs and into the kitchen, where Aunt Regina and Uncle Darryl were sitting at the dining table. Uncle Darryl’s face was hidden behind a large newspaper, but Aunt Regina was clearly visible. Her long arms were perfect for slapping the Thresh siblings and her face was warped into a permanent frown.
Uncle Darryl moved the newspaper out of view. His large, tomato-coloured head wobbled dangerously upon a thick, pudgy neck, and the buttons of his suit threatened to burst with the immense size of his belly.
Alison gave a little yelp as Carson shoved her into Laurence.
“Oops,” she said innocently, but with a smirk. “But next time you shouldn’t block the stairs. It’s very rude, you know.”
And she whipped blonde hair in Alison’s face as she strode over to the dining table and helped herself to a small portion of eggs.
“Morning Father, Mother,” Carson said through a mouthful of eggs. She grabbed a magazine from the middle of the table and started reading.
“Morning, honey-bunny,” Aunt Regina said cheerfully, narrowing her eyes at Laurence and Alison. They took the hint and walked into the kitchen where the small amount of allocated food for the siblings was sitting on the bench. Alison stopped Laurence taking his food and took it herself. From the piece of toast and grapefruit, she fashioned a cake by splitting the grapefruit into small pieces and creating a mound upon the piece of toast.
“Happy birthday,” she whispered with a grin and took her own half of the food. Raising his eyebrows, Laurence followed Alison into the dining room. They sat down at the table and quietly ate their food, Uncle Darryl eyeing them carefully as if expecting Alison and Laurence to jump up at any moment, brandishing knives.
When Alison finished her food, she made to escape to the attic bedroom while Laurence finished his food at the dining table, but Aunt Regina stopped her.
“Where do you think you’re going?” she barked.
“To celebrate for Laurence’s birthday,” Alison said casually.
“I don’t think so,” Aunt Regina snapped coldly. She looked at her husband, then back at Alison. “Since you’re ungrateful excuses for humans, you’ll be cleaning and weeding the garden, dusting Carson’s bedroom, scrubbing the whole ground floor…”
At this point, Alison took out her chore notebook and wrote everything down, grinning, while Aunt Regina droned on and on. Laurence looked bewildered; the siblings had never been set this much work before. He gave Alison a meaningful look that said, “So much for celebrating.”
“Then you’ll iron your uncle’s suits, wash my dresses, polish my shoes, polish your uncle’s shoes…” Aunt Regina continued.
After what seemed like hours, she finished her list, unable to think of anything else that might stop the siblings having fun. Glaring at Alison, she disappeared behind her husband’s newspaper. Motioning for Laurence to follow her, Alison put on slippers and walked out into the garden.
It was perhaps the most disgusting garden in Werring Way. Alison didn’t know how Aunt Regina could bear to have something so gross so close to the house. In the middle of the garden was a pond, though one could have mistaken the water for sewerage. It was murky and brown and had muddy reeds sticking out of it. Flies buzzed noisily above. Surrounding the pond were mounds of mud combined with weeds, obviously the unsatisfactory work of Uncle Darryl. Overgrown plants consumed the floor of the garden, resembling ugly snakes slithering everywhere.
Making a face, Alison pulled Laurence through the garden, mud squelching under his or her thongs, and they came out the other side and onto the back lawn, which no one bothered to take care of, since it was completely obscured by the house. The brown grass was slick with rain.
“So,” Alison said, turning to Laurence. “I have a plan for your celebration. I’m going to get you the best birthday present there ever was.”
She paused, scanning the only wall of the house visible to the pair.
“No windows, except for ours, means no one can see what we’re doing,” she told Laurence excitedly, examining the lawn. The wall that faced the siblings was indeed bare, except for the window of the attic bedroom.
“But – but what exactly are we doing?” Laurence inquired, frowning.
“Ah, now, that would ruin the surprise. Give me a boost,” Alison said forcefully, already putting herself in a position ready to step into Laurence’s cupped hands.
“Wh- what?” he muttered, but knelt down and cupped his hands together. Alison stepped into them and fell back onto the wall, which balanced her. Laurence then slowly rose, and when Alison reached the second-storey attic window, she dived in.
Her head banged. She groaned and rubbed it, then stood up and gathered whatever she could fit in her arms. When they were incapable of holding anything else, she chucked the things she had gathered out the window with an air of casualness. Laurence’s predictable manly squeal sounded, and Alison poked her head out the window, spluttering, “Shh!”
He glared at her, and then started to bring the dropped items together. Alison slipped her head back in and began emptying the room, wrapping hard and noisy things in socks and blankets.
When the room was bare of everything but the bed frame and Carson’s toys, Alison looked back down at Laurence. He was drenched from the rain and it was the same story with all the things lying on the ground. Laurence looked up at Alison’s face and his eyes widened as he realized what she wanted him to do. He shook his head vigorously.
“No way. Stairs.”
“Come on!” she half-whispered, half-shouted.
Laurence remained stubborn. He folded his arms and looked at her with finality.
Alison groaned. “I can’t use the stairs! Our aunt and uncle will be suspicious – they saw us going into the garden.”
Laurence paused, maintaining his stare. Then he huffed and dragged a mattress underneath the attic window. Upon it he piled all the blankets and socks that he could find, then finished it with the special duvet Alison and Laurence would share when it was unbearably cold.
Taking a deep breath, Alison stepped onto the windowsill – or rather crouched, since there was hardly any space. Her heart must have skipped a beat as she judged the distance of her fall. Perhaps three or four meters…
Willing every ounce of her brain to make her body move, she pushed off the windowsill and for a few seconds she was falling, falling, just like her parents…
There was a muffled thump. She had landed on the improvised landing pad with her back. Her elbow rather hurt.
“See?” Alison said, though sounding slightly in pain. “Nothing to it. Except maybe my elbow.”
“Alright. You fell four meters and you could have broken your neck but you survived. Woohoo,” he muttered unenthusiastically. “Now tell me what we’re doing.”
Alison shrugged. “I suppose I should – after all, it is your birthday present…” Her voice trailed off and she looked back at the house.
“What is it?”
“I was just thinking we should leave a letter… No, never mind…”
“Leave a letter? What for? Are we leaving, or something?” Laurence asked with a laugh. Then he stopped, seeing the look on Alison’s face.
“We… couldn’t, could we? Where would we go?” Laurence looked at the house, with its ugly beige paint and pipes running down the sides. Alison knew what he was thinking. How would they feed themselves? The Maycombs were horrible, but they allowed the siblings to live.
But Alison had her slightly persuasive argument ready.
“We’re older now. We can take care of ourselves; I know we can. And we’ll meet someone, and… and, well, we’ll never see the Maycombs again.”
Laurence looked at the ground, doubtful. “If we leave, you know that we can never come back?”
“I know, Laurence, but we won’t need to! We’ll be the happiest people in the world without them. And I’ve set it all out; with our huge list of chores, our aunt and uncle won’t know that we’ve gone until the evening, though I suppose they would have wanted us gone anyway…”
Laurence shook his head. “I’m sorry, Alison, I can’t accept my birthday present. We don’t know how to take care of ourselves.”
“Really? We cook our own meals!” Alison suddenly found herself furious. She yelled at her brother relentlessly. “We wash our own clothes, we make our own clothes, we gave each other company when there was no one else there!” Tears started to drip down her face. “Please, Laurence, please.”
Laurence looked at his sister. There was a look of giving up in his face, but then it disappeared. “No,” he said simply.
“Well then!” Alison yelled through tears. “Well, if – if you don’t go, I’m going by myself,” she screamed, her voice breaking. She began to throw their possessions on the landing pad and lug the cart-like thing behind. That was it, she had enough of the Maycombs, and nothing could make her stay there…
And not to Alison’s surprise, Laurence cried, “Wait!” He ran up to join her and helped her lug the mattress-cart behind the both of them, and together the two travelled down the deserted road in the pouring rain.
After a while, Alison smiled at her brother. “And we’re never going back?”
“Never,” Laurence said firmly, and they continued on in silence.
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