By Jo Salas
Cold whiteness yawning to the horizon, emptiness and silence. Deep blue shadows where the ice has buckled and broken. Sunlight uninterrupted by dark, month after month. No roads, no houses, no cars, no people; no footsteps. No sound but wind wailing, ice cracking. Seals groaning.
Claire’s bedroom door rattled. She grimaced and got up to lock it, the only way to keep it quiet when the cold southerly wind blew. Back on the floor, she peered at her drawing. Almost finished. Something missing in the upper corner. Maybe a face. A face with no mouth.
“Blue! Hey, Blue!”
Claire ignored Simon’s voice. The face in the corner looked just right. She smudged the charcoal with her finger so that the edge of the face blended into the storm clouds in the background.
“Her door’s locked,” Simon said to someone in the hallway.
“Leave me alone! I just locked it to stop it rattling.”
“Blue, open the door.” It was her mother’s voice. “We’re leaving in a few minutes. Don’t you want to say goodbye?”
Claire growled in her throat. She slid the drawing carefully under her bed and got up. In the hallway there was a jam of suitcases and people, her parents and Simon and the woman who was staying to look after them for a week, Penny O’Neill. She’d told them to call her Penny, not Miss O’Neill. I hope she’s nicer than Miss Postle, thought Claire. At least she’s young. She doesn’t have false teeth. Claire wouldn’t have minded the false teeth at all if Miss Postle hadn’t been so mean. She made it completely obvious that she liked Simon and disliked Claire. “There you are, dear,” she said when she came home from shopping, putting a silly little coloring book on the table in front of Simon. It was far too young for him but he was pleased. She never brought little presents for Claire. Miss Postle apparently hadn’t heard of the idea that you weren’t supposed to have favorites. But this time Postle was sick and her parents had found this O’Neill person instead.
Claire’s mother gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Be a good girl, won’t you, Blue.” Her father squeezed the back of her neck. Claire and Simon followed them out to the car and watched them load suitcases and golf clubs into the boot.
Her mother waved as the car backed out. Claire had another idea for her drawing, the snout of a car in the foreground, with headlights like eyes. She ran back inside and pulled out the drawing. Yes, interesting. She worked with concentration.
After a while there was a knock. “Claire?” said Penny O’Neill’s voice. Claire opened the door. Penny was holding a tray with little triangle-shaped sandwiches on it. “Do you mind if I come in? I thought you might be hungry.” Claire noticed that she was in fact starving. She reached up for a brown bread sandwich with walnuts and Marmite, then remembered to be polite. “Do you want some too?”
“Let’s have a little picnic on the floor.” Penny O’Neill was wearing a wide skirt with big red flowers on it. She had blue eyes and dark eyelashes and freckles. She took off her shoes and sat down cross-legged, like a kid, and spread her skirt over her knees. She wasn’t wearing stockings and there were more freckles on her legs.
Penny looked around the room. “My goodness, Claire, what an artist you are. You did these?” Claire nodded, glancing at her drawings thumb-tacked to the wall. If Penny O’Neill thought she was going to talk about them she was going to be disappointed. The new one was hidden safely under the bed.
The sandwiches were lovely.
“Claire, can I ask you something?”
Claire nodded cautiously.
“Why do they call you Blue?”
I don’t have to tell her, thought Claire. And Simon can’t tell her either. “It’s just an idiotic nickname,” she said.
“Well, then, I’ll call you Claire. Is that all right?”
Claire nodded, not showing her surprise. Definitely better than Postle.
“Well, I’m going to see what Simon’s up to,” said Penny, getting to her feet. She picked up the empty tray. “What are you working on now?”
Claire was careful not to look toward the bed. “Nothing. You can’t see it.”
“OK, sweetheart.” She left, closing the door. Claire waited until she could hear Penny in the living room with Simon, then locked it again quietly and crouched down with her drawing. Penny O’Neill’s smell was still in the room. It was a mixture of something like lily-of-the-valley, and sweat, and a faint musky smell that had wafted from under her skirt when she sat down on the floor.
Claire propped her drawing up on the windowsill and squinted at it from the other side of the room. It was finished. When she was younger she used to keep adding things, changing things, until often the picture was spoiled.
Claire’s mother nagged her to show her drawings to her teacher. Claire had given in, but wished she hadn’t.
“Very nice, Claire,” Miss Aylward had said, holding the drawing in her scaly hands. It wasn’t “nice” at all. “But what about giving the little girl some hair?”
Claire had snatched the drawing away, not bothering to explain about the girl’s awful naked head and why it had to be like that.
She pinned the finished drawing to the wall beside the others, eager now to begin a new one. She wouldn’t draw Penny O’Neill herself, rather the things around her: her smell, the light that came from her when she smiled, her long legs folding underneath her when she sat on the floor.
Penny sat in the window seat and gazed at the furthest line of blue sea that she could see, out beyond the heads of the harbor. The mountain peaks of the South Island floated whitely in the distance. Penny felt suspended as though on a swing between the end of one arc and the start of another, which would take her across that ocean to the opposite side of the world and a new life with Nick.
Thursday! A jolt of longing ran through her body. They wouldn’t be able to sleep together here. She hoped Nick would understand. Maybe when the children were at school…Nice kids, they were, in spite of the girl’s strangeness, Penny thought. At the boarding school where she’d been the matron she’d felt a special tenderness for the girls who were different, disliked and excluded by teachers as well as other boarders.
The children were summoned to meet her when she’d arrived at the Caldwells’ hilltop house. The boy, Simon, eight years old, was a beautiful child, with thick blond hair and brown eyes.
“How do you do, Miss O’Neill?” he said, holding out his hand like an adult.
“Hello, Simon. You can call me Penny. That’s my first name.”
“How do you do, Penny?” he said, then pointed behind him. “This is Claire. She’s ten.”
The girl had the same unusual coloring but not the same beauty. She stood slack-bodied, looking around her rather than at Penny.
“Good, well, you get to know each other while I finish getting ready,” said Mrs. Caldwell. “Here’s a list of phone numbers and so on. Claire will tell you about getting to school and music lessons, won’t you, Blue?”
“Yes, Mummy.” Claire sounded sarcastic. “I should tell you that in this house we spend a lot of time by ourselves, Miss O’Neill.” She disappeared.
“Blue does but I don’t. She’s always drawing. I like games. Want to play Snakes and Ladders? I’ll probably win.” Penny let Simon lead her to a card-table beside a huge window looking over the harbor.
Penny watched as parents and children said goodbye, rather coolly, she thought, thinking of the lengthy hugs and kisses that her own family indulged in. Mr. Caldwell seemed irritated and impatient to be on the road. He looked the way Simon might look in thirty years if he ate and drank a lot and found the world an unsatisfactory place. Mrs. Caldwell was carefully made-up, outfitted in shades of beige. She kept fretting about whether she’d remembered to pack everything. Simon climbed onto the gate and waved with both hands, yelling goodbye at the top of his voice. Claire vanished back into her room the moment her parents’ car had turned out of the driveway.
“Come on, Penny, let’s finish the game.” Simon jumped down and tugged her hand. He was winning, as he’d promised. Claire didn’t reappear.
She knocked on Claire’s door. The girl’s bedroom was like an art studio—equipment and supplies everywhere, an easel, pencil and charcoal drawings pinned on the walls and taped to the window. She’d never seen such skillful work by a ten-year-old, nor such nightmare images. Looming icebergs, livid skies, animal skeletons, jagged mountain ridges, bald children, detached limbs. Each picture was expertly designed and brilliantly drawn.
Claire shrugged when Penny complimented her. She was on the floor, evidently working on another drawing which she’d pushed out of sight when Penny came in. If she was upset about her parents leaving she certainly didn’t show it.
They sat together on the floor, eating the sandwiches Penny had made. Claire seemed shy, almost surly. I hope I’ll do all right with her, thought Penny.
Ice, fathoms deep. Below it, the darkest water on the planet, where light has not reached in millions of years. Under the ice the water moves in giant waves, carrying fish with no blood.
At breakfast the next morning Claire watched Penny O’Neill as she brought toast and marmalade to the table and made their school lunches, chatting to them both. Claire couldn’t think of a thing to say.
“How old are you, Penny?” said Simon, reaching for another piece of toast.
“Simon! That’s rude!” snapped Claire.
“No, it isn’t. Is it, Penny?”
Penny laughed. “It’s OK. I’m nearly 28.”
“But why aren’t you married?”
“Claire, I don’t mind. I’m getting married very soon, in a couple of weeks, actually. Then we’re going to live in England. That’s where my fiancé’s from.”
England! thought Claire. That’s thirteen thousand miles away. Why can’t she stay in New Zealand? She had already had a small thought about visiting Penny O’Neill by herself sometime.
“What’s his name?” asked Simon.
“Nick.” Penny said, smiling as though the name pleased her. “Dr. Nick Lewis.”
“What kind of a doctor is he?”
“He’s a scientist. A geologist.”
“Neat-oh! Where is he?”
Penny wrapped the sandwiches in waxed paper. “Antarctica.”
Claire stared at her, open-mouthed. “Antarctica! Your fiancé’s in Antarctica?” She couldn’t believe it. “That’s where I always, always wanted to go.” She didn’t think of real people going there. It was the place she dreamed about when everything around her was just too boring or unfair. She loved to imagine herself alone in the silent vastness, not frightened but comforted.
“Well, in fact–” Penny looked at the calendar on the wall—“by now he’s on his way to Christchurch. That’s where all the Antarctic expeditions go from.” “I knew that,” interrupted Simon. “The ship arrives on Wednesday,” Penny went on, “and he’ll be here in Wellington on Thursday. So you’ll meet him. Off you go, kids. The bus is coming in a minute.” She handed them the lunches.
“Hurry up, Blue!” called Simon, bolting down the front steps.
“Goodbye, Penny,” whispered Claire. She felt Penny’s arms around her.
“See you after school, sweetheart.”
Claire ran after Simon, her cheeks burning.
School was a bore, as usual. Miss Aylward blathered on about adverbs and adjectives. The other kids ignored or teased Claire. They all knew her nickname and why she had it. Miles Harrison, who thought he was so clever, had started calling her “Blue Cheese” which he found even more hilarious than Blue. Claire pretended not to hear him. She wondered what Penny was doing. Perhaps she was cooking something for their dinner. She might be the kind of person who would sing when she was by herself. What would it be like to be almost 28 with black curly hair and blue eyes, about to get married to Dr. Nick Someone and sail away across the sea? I’m glad I’m going to see her in a little while, Claire thought, surprised. She always looked forward to getting home safely to her room, to her drawing or reading, but she didn’t care particularly if she saw her mother or not.
When Miss Postle was there Claire hadn’t wanted to go home at all, especially after the night when Postle saw the birthmark for the first time. Claire was sitting in the bathtub, her knees drawn up to her chest, but nothing could hide the huge purplish stain that spread from her neck to her shoulder and back.
“Oh, my dear lord!” Postle had screamed. “I’ve never seen anything like it. So that’s why they call you Blue.” She reached out to touch it but Claire smacked her hand away. She felt a hatred so pure that she couldn’t understand how Miss Postle could just stand there, why she didn’t leap into the air, her feet scorched.
Later, when Claire and Simon were in their pajamas having Ovaltine before bed, Miss Postle had looked up from her Woman’s Weekly. “I’ve always wanted to be buried in a little English graveyard,” she said in a syrupy voice. Her teeth clicked on the word “little.” She looked pityingly at Claire and Simon. “You wouldn’t know what our churches are like.” Claire knew that Postle thought the whole of New Zealand was a dreadful wilderness. I hope you get your wish soon, thought Claire. I hope it’s tonight.
When Claire came home from school on Thursday the house was full of cooking smells but Penny wasn’t in the kitchen. Claire put down her school bag. It had only been a few days but she’d got used to sitting with Penny at the table, eating a piece of cake or a date bar that Penny had made, and telling her what had happened at school. It made it easier to bear the other kids behaving like morons, knowing she’d tell Penny about it and they’d laugh together and Penny would roll her eyes and say “What sillies they are!” Simon always had sports after school so he wasn’t around to spoil things.
Claire heard Penny laughing in the living room. She ran in and stopped abruptly. Penny was sitting in the window seat on the knee of a man. Claire felt her face flush and her stomach clench. The fiancé.
Penny jumped up and hugged her. “Claire!” She sounded extremely jolly. “I didn’t hear you come in. This is Nick!”
Claire could feel her old face on her again, ugly and stiff. “How do you do?”
The man stood up, pushing his hair back off his forehead. He was tall and good-looking in a dull way, Claire thought, like someone in a trousers advertisement in the newspaper. He looked pale next to Penny with her brown freckled skin. “How do you do, Claire?” He leaned forward in a tiny bow.
“Claire, Nick can tell you all about Antarctica, if you’d like. He’s just been telling me some wonderful stories.”
“Thank you but I must do my homework,” said Claire. She saw Penny and her fiancé flash a look at each other. She knew that look. Penny’s not different after all, thought Claire with despair. She walked quickly to her room and locked the door. Claire stared at the drawing of Penny and herself which she’d been working on, then crumpled it up. I’ll draw them, she decided, the happy pair. And all around them will be the things they can’t see and don’t think about, things that only someone like me has the guts to think about.
Mount Erebus soars to a twilight-painted sky. Heat stirs inside, lazy, menacing. Translucent blue ice encloses caverns in the mountainside. In the place called Dry Valleys a screaming wind sculpts monsters out of black rock.
Penny had thought carefully about Nick’s first meal back in civilization. Simon would gobble up anything but Claire was hard to please. And now, with this stiff-necked response to Nick’s arrival…
Nick applauded when she brought the food to the table—fresh flounder, green beans, small potatoes cooked with mint leaves. “You should see what I’ve been eating at Scott Base.”
“I shudder to think,” said Penny, making space for the salad. “Whale blubber, I suppose.”
“Whale blubber!” said Simon. “What’s it taste like?”
Nick squinted, pretending to consider. “Sort of a cross between chewing gum and fish, actually. Quite good for you.”
Simon stared at him and then laughed. “You didn’t really eat blubber!”
Penny took off her apron and sat down beside Nick. His leg grazed hers, sending a flush to her cheek. “Help yourselves, everyone.” She watched Claire discreetly. The child had emerged from her locked room only after repeated summons to dinner. At the table she sat unspeaking, not looking at anyone. Simon, oblivious, fired a barrage of excited questions at Nick.
Penny served ice cream and fruit. Claire cleared her throat.
“Excuse me, Penny. I’m wondering if Dr. Lewis is going to stay the night here.” Claire’s face was expressionless. Was that what was upsetting her? Penny knew, without looking at him, that Nick was raising one eyebrow and suppressing a grin.
“He’s going to sleep at his friend’s house, Claire. And you can call him Nick if you want.” Was there a tiny relaxation in Claire’s tense face?
“Let’s go and look at the lights,” said Penny after they’d washed the dishes. Each night after dinner they sat together on the window seat and looked down at the dark harbor edged with twinkling lights. “We can watch the ferry go out.”
“No, thanks, Penny,” said Claire politely.
Claire stayed at the kitchen table, writing a book review that she had to hand in the next day. She’d hated the book, but Miss Aylward had said if she did the assignment she could write another review about any book she chose. Claire wanted to write about Little Women. There were things she liked about each of the sisters, especially bad-tempered Amy who loved to draw. She had an idea that the author had taken one person and made her into four. That’s what she was going to say in her review.
The phone rang and Claire picked it up. “Caldwell residence,” she said.
There was a rushing, whispery sound at the other end.
“Hello?” she said. “Hello? Are you there?”
“Hello?” said a far-away voice. “This is Scott Base.”
Claire couldn’t say a word. Goose bumps sprang up on her arms. She was talking to someone at Scott Base. A human being in Antarctica was on the other end of the phone, his voice in her ear while all around him shone the cold, blinding light of sun reflected on ice.
“Hello, can you hear me?” The rushing sound came in a rhythm like the ocean, loud, soft, loud, soft.
“Yes! I can hear you.”
“We’re looking for Dr. Lewis. He gave us this telephone number. I don’t suppose you know how to reach him.”
“Oh yes!” gasped Claire. “I can get him! He’s right here in the living room!” She put down the phone, then grabbed it again. “Can you hold on a moment? I mean, I’ll fetch him straight away!”
The faint voice came again. “Yes, I’ll hold on.”
Simon was looking through the binoculars. “I can see people on the ferry!” he crowed. “One of them’s being sick over the side!”
“I don’t believe you,” said Nick. “Here, give me the glasses.”
Claire ran into the living room and stood there not speaking, a look of joy on her face that Penny had never seen.
“What is it, Claire?”
Claire looked from her to Nick. She was transfigured, a different child from the sullen girl at the dinner table. “Dr. Lewis! They want you! Someone from Scott Base wants to talk to you on the phone!”
Nick rose to his feet. “Good girl. Where is it?”
“There! In the kitchen! Hurry, they’re waiting for you.”
He loped away without haste.
Claire’s eyes shone. “I talked to Scott Base! That’s almost like being there myself!”
“Yes, it is, Blue,” said Simon, impressed. “That’s amazing.”
“Sit down,” said Penny, patting the window seat beside her. “Tell me what he said.”
“He didn’t say anything, he just asked for Dr. Lewis. But I heard—I heard Antarctica, Penny! I heard the wind. That’s what it sounded like. Do you realize—right now our house is connected to Antarctica!”
In a few minutes Nick came back to the window seat.
“Is everything all right?” asked Penny.
“Yes, fine,” answered Nick. “Just some material I need to send tomorrow.” He looked at Claire. “So, Claire, you’re interested in the Antarctic? Would you like to see the photos I brought back?” He reached into his brown leather briefcase. Claire moved closer to him.
Penny watched them, relieved. Fond though she was of the child, she sensed a deep coldness that made her shrink back a little as though it could cast a chill into her own sunny life. Penny loved any child in her care with a love that was real, though not lasting. She yearned now for a different kind of child-love, for the babies who would be born to her and Nick, beautiful, spirited sons and daughters, full of smiles and affection, bright but not brilliant, confident about themselves, rather like Simon, perhaps. Certainly not like Claire. It was unimaginable that she and Nick could have a child like Claire.
The phone rang during breakfast the next morning.
“Blue! Answer it!” said Simon urgently. “It might be that man in Antarctica again.” Claire picked up the receiver, her heart thumping. But it was her mother’s voice.
“Bluey!” said her mother. She sounded merry and young. “How are you, dear? Is everything all right?”
Claire was disappointed. “Hello, Mummy,” she said. “We’re all right. Penny’s fiancé came here yesterday. He’s been in Antarctica. He’s nice.” “Tell her!” whispered Simon. But Claire didn’t want to tell her mother about talking to the man at Scott Base. She would never understand why it was so exciting.
“Oh, good,” said her mother. “Well, we’re having a super time. But I’m looking forward to getting home on Sunday and seeing you two. Daddy sends his love. Bye, dear. Let me talk to Simon.”
Sunday! Only two more days, and then Penny would leave, and she’d marry Nick, and go to England, and Claire would never see her again. Penny would have her own children and she’d forget all about Claire and Simon. She pictured Penny and Nick in a park in London with a big shiny pram. She saw Penny laughing in her Penny way, looking proudly down at their little baby—that lucky, lucky baby, who would have Penny as a mother.
All day at school Claire swung from delight to despair. I talked to Antarctica. But then she’d remember: Sunday. She felt scooped out by desolation.
When she got home Penny was waiting for her. “Claire! I’ve got a little surprise for you.” She beckoned mysteriously. Claire followed her to her parents’ room where Penny was staying. On the bed was a cream-colored blouse. Claire stared at it.
“Do you mean—it’s for me?”
“I was out shopping and I saw this on sale and I thought, it’s perfect for Claire, she’ll look lovely in it. I found something for Simon too.”
Claire’s mouth felt dry. Penny would expect her to try on the blouse. It had a round embroidered yoke and more embroidery at the edges of the short sleeves.
“Try it on, Claire. If it’s the wrong size we can go and change it.”
Claire started to undo the buttons on her school blouse. She felt that she might cry. “Penny…”
But Claire couldn’t explain. Tears filled her eyes. She slipped her blouse off her shoulders and turned so that Penny could see her back. She waited.
“Oh, sweetheart.” She felt Penny’s hand softly stroking her hair. “Is it a birthmark? Does it hurt?”
Claire covered her face with her hands. “No,” she sobbed. “No, it doesn’t hurt.”
Penny turned her gently and held her. Her body felt soft and strong at the same time.
After a while Claire’s tears subsided and she drew away. Penny gave her a handkerchief. She looked at Penny with a watery smile. Then she put on the new blouse.
Penny clapped her hands. “Yes! It’s perfect! Look, Claire, look in the mirror.”
Claire looked in the mirror. She saw a girl in a cream blouse, a nice-looking girl in a pretty blouse, a tall dark-haired girl smiling beside her.
Above the ice, pitch-black night extinguishes a flaming sunset. Dark sky pierced by the cold light of distant universes indifferent to human existence. Deep-frozen air that human skin and eyeballs cannot endure. The aurora australis dances unseen.
After lunch on Sunday Simon positioned himself on the window seat with the binoculars.
“It’s going to be a while,” warned Penny, tidying up the living room. “Not till at least half past three.” The next place I clean up will be my own, she thought with satisfaction. Finally. “Simon, would you please just take a few minutes to put these games away?”
Simon beamed at her and leapt down, gathering the game boards and pieces together and stacking them neatly in the shelf before returning to his post.
“Thanks, pal! Do you know where Claire is? She can help too.”
“Nope,” said Simon, peering down at the road through the binoculars. “Haven’t seen her.”
At lunch Claire had been very quiet. “Are you feeling all right, Claire?” Penny had asked. “Perfectly all right, thank you,” she answered. Penny smiled at her, sighing inwardly. I haven’t reached her at all, she thought. Well, I tried.
Nick was in the kitchen with his sleeves rolled up, mopping the floor while singing “I’m getting married in the morning.”
“Can I walk through?” called Penny.
“Not on my clean floor!” He lifted her up clumsily. The mop clattered to the ground. Penny struggled in his arms. “Put me down, Tarzan!” He carried her across the kitchen, making Tarzan noises, and kissed her hard before letting her go.
Claire stood in the doorway, watching. Penny pulled away from Nick and straightened her skirt.
“Sorry. I thought you wanted me to help tidy up.”
“Yes, sweetheart, that would be lovely,” said Penny. “Would you check my room and make sure I’ve left it the way it should be? All my stuff’s out of there.”
A bleak look crossed the child’s face.
“Claire, aren’t you looking forward to seeing your mum and dad again?”
“No I’m not!” Claire spun around and headed for her parents’ room. Penny and Nick looked at each other.
“She’ll be all right, Pen,” said Nick. “Honestly. I’ll bet you anything she’ll cheer up when her parents get here.”
“I suppose she will,” said Penny, unconvinced. Lying in Nick’s arms when the children were safely out of the house she had talked to him about Claire. “Poor little wretch,” he’d said. “Well, you won’t have to worry about her much longer.” Penny didn’t answer.
“They’re here!” yelled Simon, rushing in from the living room. “I saw the car!” He ran outside. Penny piled raspberries on top of the cream cake she’d made for afternoon tea and hastily rinsed berry juice off her face and hands.
She knocked on Claire’s door. “Your mum and dad are here, Claire.” The door opened. Claire was wearing the new blouse. She followed Penny without a word. In the driveway Simon darted around his parents and their luggage, telling them at top speed everything that had happened during the week.
“Hello, Penny!” said Mrs. Caldwell. “Home at last! Hello, Blue, dear!” Claire gave her an obedient kiss. Claire’s father put down the suitcase and rumpled her hair with his big hand. “How’s my girlie?” he said heartily. His face was red from the sun.
They sat down for afternoon tea in the living room. Penny surveyed her cake and the little asparagus sandwiches, pleased with herself.
“Everything went well?” asked Mrs. Caldwell. She glanced meaningfully toward Claire, who was staring at her plate.
“We had a lovely time,” said Penny. “They’re both wonderful children.” She emphasized the “both.”
“Blue, that’s a new blouse!” said her mother. “How pretty. Where did you get it?”
Claire lit up. “Penny gave it to me.” She looked shyly at Penny.
“Penny, my goodness, you shouldn’t have done that. I hope you said thank you, Blue.”
Claire’s face darkened again.
“Nick was in Antarctica, Mum and Dad,” said Simon importantly. “He’s a scientist. And—you tell them, Blue. You tell them about Scott Base.” But Claire shook her head and slipped out of the room.
Nick took Penny’s cases out to his borrowed car. Mr. and Mrs. Caldwell walked out with them, Simon running in circles like a puppy.
Penny looked around for Claire. “Excuse me a minute.” She went back inside and stood outside Claire’s room.
“Claire? Can we say goodbye?” she called softly. There was a silence. “Claire?”
“The door’s not locked.”
The child was curled up on her bed. Penny sat down beside her. The pillow was damp. Claire threw herself into Penny’s arms.
“I don’t want you to go!” she burst out.
Penny held her closely, feeling the thin, tense body. The child’s despair engulfed her and she felt she might cry herself. “You’re a lovely girl, Claire. A special girl. I’m glad I met you.” She kissed her forehead. “I’ll write you a letter when we get to London.”
“You won’t remember.”
Penny was quiet for a minute. She looked at the drawings on the wall, a brilliant child’s bleak and searing vision. No one could see those drawings and forget, even if they wanted to. “Yes, Claire, I will. I’ll remember.”
Claire slid off the bed and reached under it. She held up another drawing. “Here. This is for you. I did it today. Don’t show it to anyone except Nick.” The picture showed a cascade of graceful bird-headed figures, one pair embracing as they danced. A large solitary eye watched over them, limpid and benign.
“It’s our wedding!” said Penny. “It’s beautiful!”
Claire nodded. She rolled the drawing carefully inside a magazine. “So no one else will see it.”
“Aren’t you going to come out and wave goodbye?”
Claire shook her head.
“Goodbye, then, Claire.”
Claire was silent.
Penny looked up at the big window as they drove past. A small figure sat there alone. Penny waved and Claire waved back. The car wove down the hill. The blue harbor lay before them, the jagged white Alps beyond.