Truth Is Not A Solid Thing

by Kathryn Clark. Shortlistee of the Best Novel Opening for Children or Young Adults competition 2022

Last January

I. The Call

Screaming wakes me.
I’m out of bed,
    stumbling to Mum’s room.
        I smash through the door.
She’s curled on her side.

She pants heavily,
her whole body spasms.
Sleepshirt soaked
in sweat,
skin clammy.

I look into her eyes
and see something new–

I’m fine, she whispers.
But her eyes roll back,
so there’s only white.
I have to get help.
Only I don’t know how.
There’s no phone in our house.

Mum’s breathing sounds
like gravel hitting tin.
I pull up the sheet
to cover her
and suddenly there’s light.

She has a mobile phone?

After everything she said
    about radiation
        and contamination

she screams again, sharp,
like lemon juice in a cut.

I grab the phone.
Wasps whir in my chest
beat their wings
against my heart
vibrate through my veins.

Using a phone
breaks the rules.
The rules
that keep me well.

But there, in the corner
of the screen,
is one word:

In an emergency
normal rules don’t apply.
This is an emergency.
Isn’t it?

Ambulance, please.

No! Mum shouts.

This September

1. The Guilt

She hasn’t forgiven me,
and I don’t blame her,
bringing all those people
she’d warned me about
into our life.
social workers,

One little phone call,
that’s all it took,
and Mum and I
were ripped apart.

when my hair grew back,
Dad said it proved
that Mum had lied.
But to me
it proves
    she told
        the truth.

Last week,
Freddie dyed my
new-hair blue.
We thought
Dad would freak.
But, of course,
he says he loves it.
He’s glad
I’m reinventing

I don’t tell him
it’s only my outside
that’s changed.

I’m still sticky
with guilt.