The Night Rainbow (hardback version)

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Read an extract from The Night Rainbow by Claire King

Transcript of The Night Rainbow (hardback version)

  • 248h.indd ii248h.indd ii 21/08/2012 12:07:1521/08/2012 12:07:15

  • C L A I R E K I N G

    248h.indd iii248h.indd iii 21/08/2012 12:07:1521/08/2012 12:07:15

  • 248h.indd vi248h.indd vi 21/08/2012 12:07:1621/08/2012 12:07:16

  • A story for when youre older, in case time makes you forget. To remind you that you have always had the wisdom to know

    whats important, and the hope that brings dreams to life.

    For Amlie and Beatrix, with all my love.

    248h.indd v248h.indd v 21/08/2012 12:07:1621/08/2012 12:07:16

  • 1Chapter 1

    Mamans belly is at the stove, her bottom squeezed up against the table where we are colouring. Her arm is stretched forwards, stirring tomato smells out of the pan and into our socks. She isnt singing.

    It is mostly cool in the kitchen, but half of me is sunny and hot because Im sitting in a ribbon of outside. " e rest of me is in the stripy shade of the socks and knickers that dangle from the wooden airer above our heads. " ey have been there for C ve sleeps already, since that rainy afternoon when we couldnt stop getting under Mamans feet even when we were in a diD erent room altogether.

    A E y lands on the edge of the butter dish, and another on my empty plate. " en one jumps on to my arm, making the hairs stand up. Margot watches them. Her eyes roll around so they are mostly white and her eyebrows waggle. Two more E ies skid to a stop on the oilcloth.

    " e E ies think our house is an airport, Pea, she says.Margot is like me and she is not like me. I am C ve and a half,

    Margot is only four, but shes tall for her age. We both like cuddles and insects and cuddling insects and we both have freckles and green eyes, like Maman, with sparkles of blue and brown. In the sunlight Mamans eyes are kaleidoscopes.

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  • 2Margot and I are not the same, you can tell by our dreams. I am always dreaming about witches chasing me, or picnic-days at the beach before all the dying happened those are the best ones. Margot dreams about tiny people that live in the cupboards and have parties on " ursdays, and about jigsaws that make themselves.

    Ladies are like cars and men are like motorbikes, Margot says.You have to listen to Margot because she explains things.Motorbikes dont have doors, but cars do, to put the people in,

    she tells me. You can put people inside ladies too. And they have doors for the going in and out.

    I stare at Mamans big fat belly, imagining the door. I have never seen it, which is strange. I have seen the doorknob, though, stick-ing out through her clothes where her belly button used to be.

    Go and knock on it, Pea, the baby might answer, says Margot.In my head I can see the baby opening up Mamans tummy

    to say hello, or to sign for a parcel. Before I can stop it my laugh bubbles out of my lips like a raspberry. Mamans head turns to look at me.

    Peony, she says (because that is one of my names), and her face is grey clouds. " en she turns away again and stirs faster.

    Maman, I say.She turns back. But I have forgotten to think of something

    important to say, so I quickly say the C rst thing I can think of." ere is a E y stuck to your foot.Well, there is. Maman has bare feet and under one of her heels

    I can see a little E y leg sticking out. And a little E y bum.Maman stares at me for a moment with eyes that say this is all

    your fault, and then leans on the table so she can inspect her feet. She lifts one oD the tiles and cricks backwards to look at it over

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  • 3her shoulder, her hair falling down her back like a red curtain. " e bottom of her foot is black. Mamans feet get dirtier than mine even though we both walk barefoot on the same E oors.

    " e other one, I whisper.She swaps feet. " ere it is: the squashed E y. She peels it oD with

    the tips of her C ngers and puts her foot back down slowly. Her mouth wobbles as though it cant decide what shape to make. She looks at the E oor, her eyes moving over the crumbs, the small bits of onion and garlic skins, the cat hair and the outside dirt. " e table is not very clean either. We do try not to make too much mess, but if we do I cant reach the sink to wipe it up.

    I am quiet now, waiting for what happens next. Maman puts the E y into the dustbin and then holds on to the table with two hands, rocking as though there is sad music in the kitchen that only she can hear. " e tomato sauce is spluttering in the pan behind her. Without saying anything else, she straightens up and takes her tears upstairs.

    " e darkness is in my stomach. " is is what scares me most.Telling Maman about the E y was a disaster, I say.Yes, says Margot, you should have told her she was looking

    beautiful today." at would have been better, I say.Never mind, says Margot. I dont really like tomato sauce. Shall

    we have a picnic?I hear the splash of the shower coming on upstairs. On the

    stove, spits of tomato sauce are dancing over the saucepan and on to the E oor. Some of them are E ying so high they are splattering the clothes on the airer. Our clothes, saucepans and frying pans, strings of garlic and chillies and onions, dried sausages, all hang-ing together out of reach on S-shaped hooks with pointed ends.

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  • 4All getting very spotty with tomato. I get up from the table and turn oD the gas.

    Come on, Pea, says Margot. Im hungry.Outside the bright sunshine makes us squint. I have forgotten

    my hat and can already feel my hair heating up. Sometimes I wish it didnt get so hot here, but Maman said that French summers are much nicer than those in England, where she came from. She said that here at least you can always rely on the sun.

    We stand in the courtyard and wonder where we will go today, although the answer has been the same for two summers, one winter and a birthday. Our choosing began when Maman came back from hospital last year. She had changed from fat to thin, but she didnt bring back a baby like she promised. She left it at the hospital, along with her happiness.

    When Papa was at home things were still OK. He hugged Maman all the time and there were girl-shaped spaces in between their elbows and tummies that I could squeeze into and join in the cuddle. But when he was out working, Maman would tell us to just get out of the house and go play, and so we did. We play mostly in the low meadow, and sometimes on Windy Hill, the places that Maman used to take us on walks before the dead baby happened. Some days I still ask her to come along, but she prefers it indoors. Even though she started growing a new baby right away, it didnt put the happiness back.

    " en Papa died. One day in spring, he was driving his tractor on a hill and he fell oD it and was squashed. " at was tragic, the priest at the church said so, but afterwards it was a catastrophe. Without Papa here there is never a very good time to be in the house, so every day we have to decide where to go.

    * * *

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  • 5Sunny side or shady side? says Margot, which is another way of asking the same question.

    If we go around the sunny side of the house we can take the path down through the peach orchards and across the village road into the low meadow. If we go to the shady side, and around the back of the barn, we can cross the high pasture and go sit on Windy Hill.

    Shady side, I say. I want to go and see the wing turbines." e turbines are taller than houses. " ey stand over on another

    hill in two rows, like three-wing angels with their backs to the sea, watching over the villages and the meadows. " ey make the electricity that goes to our light switches, so at night when Im in bed, even when everything else is dark, I know there is a little bit of light behind my door. " at stops me being afraid. " e darkness is lonely, the turbines stir it away. When I watch them turning, see that they are still there, everything slows down to the steady round and round and I forget about being upset.

    Pea, scolds Margot, for goodness sake, its midday. " ere is no shade on Windy Hill, we will burn up like toast and get sunstroke and melt.

    I start to argue, but Margot interrupts me, which she does a lot.Today I am the maman, she says, so you will do as youre told.But we havent been to Windy Hill for ages, I say.Pea, look at you, you havent even got a hat on. Were going to

    the low meadow and thats the end of it. Margot folds her arms. Besides, we can paddle, she adds, looking down at my yellow sandals.

    " e stream will be cold and my feet are hot. " e stream will feel good. Margot knows this. Margot knows a lot of things before I even think of them.

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  • 6Why are Mamans feet so dirty and not mine? I ask her.Because she spends too much time indoors where the dirt is,

    says Margot." ere didnt used to be so much dirt.No." ere didnt used to be so much indoors either.Papa wouldnt have liked it.I dont like it, I say.Can you remember if Maman ever came paddling with us?

    Margot asks.I can, I say. She deC nitely did. Her feet looked like big white

    C sh under the ripples. Her toenails were painted pink and she waggled them in the water.

    Yes, says Margot. Her feet are dirty now because she doesnt paddle enough. And also, my tummy is rumbling, we have to stop dawdling.

    Im thirsty, I say.Come on then, says Margot.To get a drink of water from the courtyard tap you have to

    kneel un