I had to run to keep up with her. I don’t know when she got so tall. “It’s humiliating,” she raged as we walked. “He treats us like a bunch of kids.”
“We are a bunch of kids,” I said, then because that only made her crosser I added, “He’s quite useful. You know, with the Babes, and the parents away so much.”
Flora shot me one of her sideways Flora looks. “I suppose you like him.”
I thought about Zoran making hot chocolate for us, putting double the amount of powder in Jas’s because that’s how she likes it, and about how he sat working on his thesis in the rain when it was his turn to watch the rats.
“I don’t like his beard,” I said. “But I do think he’s nice.”
“That,” said Flora, “is just typical.”
OTHER BOOKS YOU MAY ENJOY
Almost Home Joan Bauer
The Apothecary Maile Meloy
Close to Famous Joan Bauer
The Hidden Summer Gin Phillips
Keeping Safe the Stars Sheila O’Connor
Mockingbird Kathryn Erskine
One for the Murphys Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Remarkable Lizzie K. Foley
Savvy Ingrid Law
Scumble Ingrid Law
Sparrow Road Sheila O’Connor
A Tangle of Knots Lisa Graff
Being a combination of conventional diary entries and transcripts of short films shot by the author on the camera she was given for her twelfth birthday.
The Film Diaries Of Bluebell Gadsby
SCENE ONE (transcript)
Another Perfect Day In Paradise
DAYTIME. THE GADSBY FAMILY HOME. GARDEN.
CAMERAMAN (BLUEBELL) lingers on a pair of feet in frayed canvas All Stars (her own), before panning down stone steps to the garden where FLORA (16, her oldest sibling) is sunbathing in a bikini. Spread around her are her iPod, her mobile, a bottle of suntan lotion, a bottle of water, and several magazines. She is reading a book.
Pan right, following the sound of squealing, to where younger siblings JASMINE (8) and TWIG (10) are playing on the swing under the plane tree. Jasmine falls. Twig whoops. Jasmine howls. Blood pours from her split lip, staining her torn pink dress. Twig—no longer whooping—runs toward the house. Pan left, back to Flora turning up the volume on her iPod, then indoors to kitchen. Picture shakes as cameraman (still Blue) plucks a tea towel from the cooker. Back outdoors to close-up of Jasmine’s blood-smeared face. Picture is inverted as cameraman applies the tea towel to Jasmine’s lip.
Agh! Agh!! Agh!!!
It’s not my fault! It’s not my fault!
I AM TRYING TO LISTEN TO MY MUSIC!
Friday, August 26 (Morning)
Flora heard something in the kitchen this morning and said it wasn’t fair to make her go down alone.
“Just because I am the oldest,” Flora said, “does not mean I have to be the first to die.”
So we grabbed what we could, which was a cricket bat for Twig, tennis rackets for Jas and me, and the big oar Dad got in Oxford with all his boat crew’s names on it for Flora. For a family that never plays sport we have an awful lot of equipment. Jas said Dad would kill Flora if she broke the oar, and Flora said she’d remember that when her entire family had been murdered because she hadn’t been properly armed. But in the end we didn’t need to hit the burglar, because when we got to the kitchen he turned out to be Zoran, and even though we didn’t know yet that it was him, he was wearing a flowery apron and sandals and a little goatee that made him look like Mr. Tumnus in Narnia, who everybody knows was on the right side in the end, even if he did have his moments.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” demanded Flora.
“I am your new babysitter,” said Zoran.
“A babysitter!” cried Flora. “But why?”
Zoran gave Jas what Dad calls a laden look, and she bit her lip so we couldn’t see the stitches they gave her at the hospital.
“Your mother called me last night,” said Zoran. “She was worried.”
“But how does she even know you?” asked Flora.
We all stared at him. It seemed so unlikely that Mum would know someone like Zoran.
“Through your father,” said Zoran.
“Ah,” said Flora.
And that was that. Zoran didn’t elaborate and we didn’t ask.
“Let’s tidy up, shall we?” he said instead. “Then we can all have breakfast.”
His shoulders drooped a bit when he said the tidying up bit and looking around the kitchen, I have to say I could see why. Flora keeps her room tidy but treats the rest of the house like a squat. The rest of us just squat.
“Does anybody do the dishes?” Zoran gazed up at the ceiling when he said that, like God might actually care.
“They’re only last night’s,” said Flora.
Zoran smirked as he picked up a stack of plates. I could have warned him, but I didn’t. He took one step backward, landed on Twig’s remote-controlled Aston Martin DB2/4 Competition Spider, and vanished in a crash of china.
Zoran announced he had concussion. The Babes (aka Twig and Jas) sat cross-legged at his feet and cut bandages out of a sheet they found in the washing machine, which Flora wound around his head while they explained about the Aston Martin.
“They’re for the rats,” said Jas. “We have three. White, with pink eyes.”
“We use Daddy’s ties to strap them in, and then we race them,” said Twig. “We’ve got lots of different models. The Spider’s mine but it’s okay because you didn’t damage it.”
“I’ve got a Jag XK120,” said Jas. “The rats love it, they really do.”
“There!” Flora stopped winding and turned Zoran toward the mirror.
Zoran gasped. Jas started to cry because laughing stretched her stitches. Twig snorted so hard snot came out of his nose.
“Oh my God!” cried Zoran. “I look like an Egyptian mummy!”
“You said you were concussed!” protested Flora.
Zoran looked cross but Flora gave him her scrunched-up nose grin, the one that makes her look like she’s about ten years old instead of sixteen. Nobody can ever resist that grin.
“Thank you for rescuing me,” Zoran grumbled.
Flora started to laugh then, too, and then they were all laughing, except Zoran laughed less than the others.
“I wish I’d filmed this,” I said.
They all stared at me.
“You spoke!” said Zoran. “I was wondering if you knew how.”
He was standing up now and the Babes walked around and around him with a roll of toilet paper, finishing off the process Flora had started on his head. That would have made a good film, too, but what I wanted to get—what I was cross I’d missed—was that look between him and Flora, when she said she thought he was concussed and he said he looked like an Egyptian mummy.
She grinned and he melted.
That was when I knew we had nothing to fear from him.
The Film Diaries Of Bluebell Gadsby
SCENE TWO (transcript)
Mother and Daughter
DAY. THE GADSBY GARDEN.
The garden again, this time seen from above through the branches of the plane tree. MOTHER, barefoot but otherwise still dressed for work, is harvesting a lavender bush with a pair of rusty shears. When all the stalks are cut, she crouches to gather them into a waiting basket. She buries her face in her hands, and her shoulders relax as she inhales the scent of the flowers.
FLORA, also barefoot but in denim cutoffs, appears on the stone veranda at the top of the steps. Sound does not reach the camera, but it is obvious she is annoyed. Mother takes a step toward her, then stops to pick a stalk from her basket. She runs her index and thumb along the stem to strip it of its petals, which she crushes in her fist. She inhales again, then opens her hand and holds it out before her. The breeze scatters the petals. Mother squares her shoulders and turns toward her angry daughter.
Picture fades to black as CAMERAMAN (BLUE) turns camera off to climb back down to the ground.
Friday, August 26 (Afternoon)
“He’s weird,” announced Flora, back in the kitchen.
“He used to be a student of your father’s. He’s doing his doctorate in medieval literature, and he is a very nice young man.” Mum had put her shoes back on, the Louboutin pumps with the red soles, which make her look like she is taller than Flora.
They couldn’t see me where I was standing just outside the door. Mum looked tiny through the camera, but I could see her hand clenching and unclenching like it often does when she is fighting with Flora.
“We don’t even need a babysitter,” shouted Flora. “I’m sixteen! In some countries I’d be married.”
“He is not a babysitter, he is an au pair. And you are not in some countries.”
Flora looked stormy and didn’t say anything. Mum reached out to touch her, but she stepped away. Mum sighed.
“Now that the summer holidays are over, I am going to be traveling again, and with your father based in Warwick of course we need a babysitter. I left your brother and sisters with you for one day, Flora, and Jas ended up in hospital! Zoran can help you with homework when school starts again. He’s rather brilliant, your father says. And it’ll be fun for Twig and Jas, like having a big brother.”
“What about Blue?”
“What do you mean, what about Blue?”
“What about me?” I asked, and they both jumped.
“Stop creeping up on people!” said Flora. “And stop looking at everyone through that stupid camera.”
“It’s not on. And it’s not stupid.”
“You have homework, too,” said Mum.
“But I never need help with it,” I pointed out.
“Genius,” muttered Flora, but Mum smiled at me.
“Then he will just be a presence, my darling. A happy presence.”
Once upon a time, about thirteen years ago, there were two little dots that grew into grains that grew into beans then babies, and they lived in the same warm water-filled sack, where they got fed through a long tube that went straight into their stomachs. The babies grew ears and mouths and fingers and toes, and they lived curled around each other. Doctors took photographs of them and people said that they were like two peas in a pod. Even before they were born, their parents called the babies Iris and Bluebell—spring names for spring babies, they said. When it was time for them to leave the water everybody thought Bluebell would go first because she was biggest, but Iris beat her to it and shot headlong into the world so fast the midwife almost dropped her.
Grandma says that nothing could ever stop Iris rushing, not even me. It’s how she was born, and nine years later it was how she died.
Iris has been dead for three years. Flora cried and cried when it happened, but I’m not sure she ever thinks about her now. Not the way I do. Sometimes I dream that we’re still sleeping curled around each other, and when I wake up my arms are reaching out for her. Once when Grandma was staying with us after the funeral, she said that sometimes people don’t have to speak to each other to know what they are thinking, and that Iris and I had a special bond because we were twins. She said that when soldiers had limbs amputated in the war, they could still feel the arm or leg or foot that had been cut off and that this was what losing Iris was like for me. She said the memory of Iris would always be with me.
“Like a soldier without a foot,” Flora said. “Blue will have to hop,” she added, but Grandma said that wasn’t what she meant at all.
At first when Iris died I used to see her everywhere. She felt so close I used to think our shadows had gotten mixed up. Sometimes now, if the sun is behind me when I am filming and I can see my own shadow I still pretend it’s hers, but it’s not the same, and Mum going on about big brothers and happy presences makes me want to scream, because I know that’s not what she’s really talking about, what she’s really talking about is Iris and her unhappy absence.
The Film Diaries Of Bluebell Gadsby
SCENE THREE (transcript)
The Bank Holiday Family Picnic
DAY. SOME RANDOM PICNIC SPOT IN THE COUNTRY.
A tablecloth is spread beneath an oak tree. Bread, cheese, deli tubs of hummus, olives, and vine leaves. Tomatoes, ham, squashed strawberries in a Tupperware container. A half-empty bottle of white wine. FATHER lies on his back with a battered straw hat over his face. He wears crumpled chinos, a cotton shirt without a collar, and a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches. MOTHER lies beside him, leaning back on her elbows, watching JASMINE and TWIG build a den on the edge of the nearby woods. FLORA sits cross-legged with her back to them, listening to her iPod. White noise crackles around her. Father awakens, removes the hat from his face, and sits up. He is unshaven and has bags under his eyes.
Dear child, must you make that ghastly noise?
Flora ignores him, nodding her head to the music. Father tiptoes over and removes earbuds from her ears.
There is a reason they are called personal stereos.
(screeches and tries to grab back earbuds)
Nobody calls them personal stereos!
CAMERAMAN (BLUE) snorts. All eyes turn to her. Mother looks worried. Father rubs his face, raises his eyebrows, and tries to stifle a yawn.
Turn that camera off!
It’s for my video diary.
Turn it off now or I’ll throw it in the pond.
Monday, August 29
My plan is to record my life through words and images. I am using video footage for the images and some spoken words. There are not many spoken words in the video footage, because usually when people realize I am filming, they stop talking. Dad says that by the time I am grown up people will be so used to seeing me with a camera in my hand they won’t be able to stop talking, and that I will make my fortune as a TV interviewer. But Dad says a lot of things. In the meantime, what I can’t record on film, I write about on what he calls “a contemporary echo of the old-fashioned notebook”—my laptop, recently inherited from Flora.
When I write, nobody can tell me to get lost. So I have lots of mini-films, for atmosphere, plus their transcripts on the laptop, as well as longer chapters for detail. It is a multimedia record. I have seen installations like this in the Tate Modern, where Dad takes me sometimes when he says home is just too much.
Just when things were getting interesting this afternoon, what with Flora screeching and Dad looking lost, Mum made me turn the camera off. I tried to explain—again—about the plan to record my life, and that I write about everything I don’t film anyway, but Flora said she didn’t care.
“I don’t have to read your stupid diary,” she said. “But you’re not filming me without any makeup.”
“Try to be nice,” said Mum. “A few more days and you’ll be back at school.”
“Thank GOD!” cried Flora.
Dad beamed and said, “Do I detect the late blooming of an academic?” and this time it was Flora who snorted.
“I think Flora is mainly looking forward to seeing her friends,” murmured Mum.
“Can you blame me?” cried Flora. She pulled her mobile out of her pocket and groaned. “All my friends get home today and I’m stuck up a hill with no network and nobody to talk to.”
“You could talk to us,” suggested Mum. “Or go for a walk with Blue.”
“Blue!” said Flora, and after that nobody talked. Which was a shame, because tomorrow Mum is flying to Moscow and Dad is driving a hundred miles back to Warwick, with us children left in the frankly dubious care of Zoran until school starts on Thursday.
When we were little, Flora used to read Iris and me stories. She even had baths with us. Our nursery was next to her primary school, and we used to wait for her at the gate with Mum. On the day we started primary at Saint Swithins, it was Flora not Mum who took us to our classroom, holding our hands all the way, not caring if she didn’t look cool in front of her friends (except Flora always looks cool). It was Flora who punched Digby Jones when he laughed at me because of my glasses, and Flora who complained to the headmaster when Mrs. Fraser, my teacher in Year 2, said my reading wasn’t good enough. She told him I could read by the time I went into kindergarten, and that the reason I didn’t concentrate in Literacy was because at home I was already reading Charles Dickens. Which wasn’t exactly true, but it was nice of her to say so.
Now all I get is: “Blue!”
Tuesday, August 30 (Morning)
Breakfast was interrupted this morning by Twig, shouting. He was at the bottom of the garden jumping up and down by the rat run, but when we got there he couldn’t talk, only point.
“What?” yelled Flora.
“Are they dead?” cried Jas.
“They’ve multiplied!” screamed Twig.
We all stared, and he was right. Last night there were only three rats but this morning there were seven, including four very tiny ones. No one said anything for a while.
“But they were all girls,” whispered Jas at last.
“Well they can’t have been,” said Zoran.
“Perhaps they’re lesbians,” suggested Flora.
“How would that work?” I asked.
We stared some more. The rats were all nestled together in a heap in the straw, and the sun made crisscross shadows over them through the wire of their cage.
“So which one’s the boy?” asked Twig.
“Male,” said Zoran. “Not boy.”
“And which one’s the mother?” Flora crouched to peer more closely. “You must have noticed she was getting fat.”
But all the adult rats looked enormous.
“If you watch them long enough,” said Zoran, “the mother will start nursing.”
“Are they ill?” asked Twig.
“He means she’ll start feeding them” said Flora. “From her breasts.”
“Rats have breasts?” Jas looked horrified.
“Not as such,” sighed Zoran.
“Can you look?” asked Twig. “Can you look underneath and see which one is the mother?”
And I bet Mum never told Zoran about this when he came for the job, that one day he might have to hold a rat upside down to work out if it had just given birth. He sighed again and looked depressed.
“I’m not sure I know how,” he said.
“Will you film them, Blue?” asked Jas. “Please?”
I don’t film animals. It’s a matter of principle. They’re pretty and everything, but they are not as interesting to me as people, and I don’t like that they can’t speak. If Flora doesn’t like me filming, she tells me to get lost, or she hits me. All a rat can do is hide in its bedding and even then I can always film the straw.
Jas was doing that cat thing, when her eyes go all around with the pupils very black. Her dress was torn at the shoulder and held together with a safety pin. Jas has a wardrobe full of dresses, but this has been her favorite for years and she won’t wear anything else. It’s pink, very faded, and only reaches about halfway down her thighs. Also, since last week, it has bloodstains down the front. She has a scab on her right knee, and she hasn’t brushed her hair since the beginning of the summer. Mum tried to make her at first, but Jas dug her heels in and when Jas does that it’s best to just say yes.
Jas’s big cat eyes mean more or less the same as her dug-in heels. And it was sweet, the way she and Twig were looking at the baby rats. They sat cross-legged by the pen, whispering to them.
“Wake up, wake up,” they said. “Open your eyes.”
I don’t think rats can even hear when they’re this small, let alone understand English, but try telling an eight- and ten-year-old that. I didn’t want to film the rats, but I did want to catch the Babes looking at them. I left them where they were—Jas and Twig on the ground, Flora on the swing, Zoran looking glum—and I picked my way over the damp grass to fetch my camera in the house. A shadow flitted across the lawn—I just caught it out of the corner of my eye. I know it sounds mad but I swear it was human.
“Iris?” I whispered, but it didn’t make sense, and by the time I got to where the shadow had been, it had gone.
The Film Diaries Of Bluebell Gadsby
SCENE FOUR (transcript)
The Sexual Identification Of Rats
INSIDE THE GADSBY HOUSE/THE GADSBY GARDEN
The picture jerks up and down as CAMERAMAN (BLUE) runs, randomly settling on: bare feet, a flash of wall, stairs, the black-and-white marble of the hall, the stone veranda, gravel, a tree, grass.
Blue, hurry, hurry!
Picture steadies as cameraman stops running and settles—again—on the rats’ pen.
TWIG AND JAS
(in unison, jumping up and down)
LOOK! LOOK! LOOK!
The picture loses focus as cameraman crouches to look. JAWS, THE GREAT WHITE RAT, (so named for once trying to take off Twig’s finger) stares back. Around its neck is a tag made of wood, tied on with garden twine. The camera zooms in. The writing on the tag comes into focus.
I AM THE DADDY
Wednesday, August 31
“But what a peculiar thing to write!” said Zoran.
It was very early in the morning—again—and still damp outside. After inspecting the pen, we went back to the kitchen, where Zoran made hot chocolate and Flora groaned under the duvet she had dragged downstairs with her.
“Is that all you can say?” she said. “What a peculiar thing to write?”
“Well it is,” said Zoran.
“The weird thing,” cried Flora, “the creepy, freaky thing is that somebody is obviously watching us and has broken into the rat run!”
I don’t know if anyone else saw Zoran’s mouth twitch.
“Was it you?” I asked.
“Me?” he said. “Go near that monster?”
“Then who?” demanded Jas, and Twig repeated who who who?
The weather has changed and it rained all day, but we all took turns watching the rat run, even Flora, who huddled under the umbrella in a blanket with more hot chocolate and a book and said she’d like to catch the so-and-so who was spying on us and give him a piece of her mind. Those were her actual words. She sounded like Grandma.
And obviously we never saw the spy.
Tomorrow we go back to school. I have never looked forward to anything less in my entire life. Dad always says that anything is possible. Perhaps this term things will be different, but somehow I doubt it.
Thursday, September 1
Since Iris died, at school I am the shadow. I slip down corridors, from assembly to class to break and back to class, and no one sees me, no one talks to me. People who have known me since primary school, people I’ve peed with in paddling pools and who have smeared my face in birthday cake—they squeal when they see each other and fall into one another’s arms, they giggle and whisper, but with me they just go blank and I know that nothing has changed.
Just for a moment this morning, I thought things might be different. I caught Dodi Cartwright’s eye in assembly and I was pretty sure she acknowledged me—not much, a sort of half dip of the head, an almost smile. But then in our first class, which was English, I was going to sit down near the window at the back, when Dodi shimmied in and parked herself on my chair. I did try to say something. I thought, what would Flora do now, and I tried to say hey, Cartwright, get lost that was my seat, but no words came out, and even if they had there wouldn’t have been any point because by then everyone was crowded around listening to her yammer on about her summer holiday in Italy or Spain or somewhere. So I just picked up my stuff and slunk off to the only free desk, which was right at the front next to Jake Lyall, who has to sit there because the teachers say they have to keep an eye on him, and was actually asleep so couldn’t have spoken to me even if he’d wanted to, which he probably didn’t.
We have Miss Foundry in English, who is insane even by Clarendon Free School standards. Today she wore a beaded shawl which reached down to her ankles, told us to call her Anthea, and tried to recruit us for the Clarendon Players’ Christmas Extravaganza.
“This term,” she announced, “they will be doing tales from the Brothers Grimm!”
Everybody looked blank.
“The brothers who?” yawned Jake.
“Snow White! Hansel and Gretel! Little Red Riding Hood!” cried Miss Foundry.
“What’s she on about?” asked Tom Myers.
“Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm,” said Hattie Verney, confirming that she is going to be just as much of a know-it-all in Year 9 as she was in Year 8. “Together they collected and rewrote over two hundred traditional folktales, some of which we know today through Disney adaptations.”
Tom pulled a face at her. Miss Foundry pretended not to notice.
“As usual, the Clarendon Players are looking to local schools to swell the ranks of their Christmas production. Bluebell, dear, will Flora be taking part?”
Cressida Taylor, who is Dodi’s best friend, snickered Bluebell like it was the most idiotic name on the planet. Which, of course, it is.
“I suppose so, miss,” I stammered. Flora has been taking part in the Players’ productions pretty much since she could walk. Her dream is to be discovered, leave school, appear in a West End show, and then be whisked off to Broadway.
“Please, dear, call me Anthea.”
“Antheaaaaahhh,” said Tom, and Miss Foundry ignored him again.
“What about you, dear?” she asked. “Will you audition?”
“What, her?” sneered Cressida.
“No, miss,” I said.
Anthea looked worried and sad and disappointed. All at once.
Dad says there are victims in life and there are fighters. He says he hopes that we will always be fighters, and by lunchtime I’d had enough. There was no way I was going to give Cressida and Dodi the satisfaction of seeing me eat alone. It wasn’t difficult to slip out with a group of older kids. Most of them didn’t notice me but those who did sort of fell in around me so the teacher on gate duty didn’t see. Which considering it was Madame Gilbert didn’t really matter anyway.