Pazora was in no way normal. Nor was she abnormal. She was tall and lanky for her age of 14, had quite a squeaky voice, and every single day she pranced around the garden in her trademark black and white tights and long sleeve black high-collared dress. She wore her hair in two long plaits with her hair parted straight down the middle. She had no parents for they had died in a car accident, and she was an only child. She was raised in her parents’ home in Ealing Common, West of London, by the nanny and the butler and the cook, with her relatives visiting once a week to have dinner with her in the grand dining room. Her Aunt Delilah would come with her husband, her Uncle Watford, and their two children Milton and Isadora, who were ten and eleven, respectively, and quite obnoxious and rude as far as children were concerned. Pazora could not really tolerate her cousins, feeling they were extremely ill-behaved and not disciplined accordingly. They would sit at the table and catapult peas and corn from the tips of their forks, sometimes, some of it landing in the gravy, or in the water carafe, or in Aunt Delilah’s spritzer. She laughed when this happened and paid them no mind. If Mummy and Daddy were still alive, there is no way I would get away with that, Pazora would think. Isadora would run around the dining room, as though she were playing musical chairs, and would sometimes only have her tummy filled with food by her father who would quickly spoon-feed her from her dinner plate as she walked or skipped past him. And not a word was said! Why would Aunt Delilah and Uncle Watford allow such behaviour? Pazora was often confused, and she never did ask them why they did not discipline their children. Perhaps, the discipline was dished out at home, away from Pazora s as not to embarrass the children? Or perhaps they simply did not see any errors in their children’s ways?
Aunt Delilah, her late mother’s older sister was loving, and warm, and maternal, and always treated Pazora as one of her own, so Pazora was delighted to be in her aunty’s company every Wednesday evening when Cook Nancy would roast a duck and serve it with potatoes and turnips, and the best gravy West London had ever seen. After dinner, Aunt Delilah, and Uncle Watford would retreat to Pazora’s front room, where the fire would be going, and the children would sit on the rug on the floor, with their boots and shoes off, and listen to a story Aunt Delilah delighted in reading to the three children before they made their ways home. Uncle Watford would leave his empty sherry glass on a small mahogany drinking table, and Nanny Luella would come, take Pazora by the hand and lead her upstairs to bed. But not before Aunt Delilah and Uncle Watford would kiss Pazora on each cheek, goodnight, and then fight oftentimes bitter cold, to get back into their car and drive home in the winter.
It was a puzzlement to many a folk who lived in the borough, of why Pazora did not go to live with her Aunt and Uncle, when they would clearly have her. Why would a fourteen year old child live alone in a large house with no one for company? These were the whispers in the streets. Pazora was not alone however for he had Nanny Luella and Cook Nancy, and Butler Gordon for company. And they were like her family. They looked after her. And they were all very happy. Luella, Gordon and Nancy, were sisters and one brother. Only Pazora and her parents knew this fact. So whilst their roles of employment were made quite public, their familial ties were not, for such a connection would be seen as unwanting in this day and age where a sense of decency was everything and English folk shan’t be related to their fellow colleagues. So, in a way, Pazora had her own family, and the three people she lived with were happy also, because they too were orphans when their parents passed many years ago, Pazora’s parents taking them all in to fill three much-needed roles, that of nanny, cook and butler, when Pazora was newly-born. Pazora’s father was an accountant and Pazora’s mother was a socialite – she had never worked a day in her life. Pazora was home-schooled from the age of five, and at twelve she started at Bromley’s School for Girls in, well… Bromley, naturally.
Pazora liked upper-school, as it was called back then. She liked routine, and she liked her classes. She was good with the English word, and was quite talented at painting. Her tutors were all very knowledged and well-regarded in the whole of London, Bromley’s School for Girls being highly-regarded itself. It was one hundred shillings a year in tuition fees, a sum of money Pazora’s parents had no quarrels in affording, and Pazora received the brightest and most intensive of educations; an education many a child in London could only dream of.
Pazora was privileged although without her parents, and being subjected to such tragedy at only three years of age, she did not deem herself as such. What sort of child could look at the world through rose-tinted glasses when their parents were gone? Pazora could not. And for all of the clothes, and shoes, and pretty dresses she owned, she did not once think she was better, or better off than those ashen-faced children she saw playing in the street, swinging off the lamp posts on dock-rope, that they had most likely nicked.
Her family, adoptive-of-sorts, did not let her play with these children before or after dinner time, and if she wanted a friend over, it must be one of the girls from her own school, by written invitation. The household was yet to purchase a telephone.
Any of these rules was complied with; Pazora was a good girl – she did as she was told and yes, she was curious, and inquisitive, but she did not question the judgment of her elders.
A Thursday afternoon was spent in her room, with her school friends Meredith and Sabrina. Nanny Luella and Cook Nancy served them small round biscuits that had been iced using an assortment of colours. Some biscuits looked like hearts, some looked like flowers, and some looked like stars. Pazora, Meredith and Sabrina ate the biscuits rather quickly, until the plate sat empty atop Pazora’s black leather pouf with its black wrought iron legs. Nanny Luella was soon up the stairs again collecting the plate, making jokes about nothing in particular and inquiring if the trio were alright for refreshments.
Meredith and Sabrina were fond of lemonade and soon three glasses and a pitcher of lemonade were presented in Pazora’s bedroom on a silver tray for drinking. The three friends drank the lovely lemonade, and when Nanny Luella had gone, resumed their chatting, which was also much about nothing.
“Have you heard of going to another world?” Meredith asked her friends, to which they said that they had not. Meredith went on to explain it was another world where strange and wonderful things were possible, a world that existed alongside our very own, but a world that was indeed, most awfully hard to get to.
“What ought we do to get to this world?” Sabrina asked, her blonde ironed curls bobbing up and down near her ears as she spoke.
“There are many stories saying one should do this, and one should do that. I’m not sure which is true, or if any story has worked, not having tried any of them out myself. But there are three of us here, so perhaps we ought to try something?” Meredith looks at Pazora and Sabrina, awaiting their replies.
“I would like to try and get to this world.” Pazora says enthusiastically.
“I too!” Sabrina says in unison with her friend.
“Well, the first story should be that we must open a window, take off our shoes, and jump off the ledge to our deaths, where the angels will come and take us to this world.”
“Meredith – that sounds awful. We will surely die if we do that!” Pazora says horrified.
“I think I would like so much to retract my wish to be part of this now.” Sabrina is frightened.
“I don’t mean to frighten you ladies. That is simply what I have heard. Don’t be alarmed. We will do no such thing. We could try the second story if you like?”
“What’ll that be?” Pazora asks.
“We run into the road naked, lie down, close our eyes, and wait.”
“Oh what’ll that do? What a sham! Wherever did you hear such nonsense?” Pazora chides her friend.
“We can’t call it nonsense until we have tried it!” Meredith exclaims.
“I won’t be lying in any road naked. That’s despicable Meredith.” Sabrina states.
“Fine. Number three says we could go to the local river, remove our boots, swim to the deep, push ourselves under the water, and hold our breath indefinitely.” Meredith says.
“Meredith, where have you gotten such horrid information? I most certainly will not drown myself.” Pazora says, defiantly.
“It does sound bleak and obscure, I do agree. How are we to find this other world though, if we do not try any of these?” Meredith asks, sincerely.
“I don’t want to find any other worlds, of that I’m sure. Pazora, if you aren’t minded, I will be off home now. I have heard enough morbid talk.” Sabrina gets up off the floor, picks her boots up with her, and sits down on the black leather pouf to put them on.
“No, I’m not minded at all. I will see you out. You too Meredith. It’s late and I shall be having my bath now.” Pazora says, leading both girls down the stairwell, and to the front foyer, where she unlocks the front maplewood door for them, and bids them farewell. It is 4:30pm.
In their absence, Pazora goes upstairs and into the washroom where a beautiful freestanding bathtub with gold feet is the centrepiece of the large-tiled room.
She ponders the three awful stories Meredith told her about, and wishes that she never heard them. She had never heard such morbid nonsense in all her young adult life. She vowed to tell Nancy and Luella about it at the dinner table after her bath.
After her bath, she dried herself off, put on her nightie, her long johns, her slippers, and her dressing gown. She towel-dried her hair, and had wrapped her hair in a cut up sheet, tying a knot in its corner, before Nancy and Luella go about putting her hair in rags in the later evening. In the kitchen Nancy and Luella are sitting at the preparation table, drinking tea, with their boots off. The fire is going and of this Pazora is grateful for even with her long johns and dressing gown on, she still feels the cold.
“The girls are gone?” Luella asks, spinning in her chair so that Pazora can sit in her lap. Pazora sits down in Luella’s lap, and Luella puts her arms around Pazora’s waist.
“They are.” Pazora says, pulling a teacup toward her, and pinching two shortbreads from the plate in front of her.
“Phew. We must throw this cloth away Paz. It’s awful smelling. How long have you been drying it out for?” Luella asks Pazora, her face rather too close to Pazora’s hair wrap.
“Oh, perhaps three months or so…” Pazora says.
“Well, I’ll be cutting you a fresh sheet tomorrow then. This one’s ready for the bin!” Luella and Pazora laugh. Nancy smiles.
“I have something that sounds really strange and awful to tell you.” Pazora says, swallowing shortbread.
“Oh? Something to do with your friends?” Nancy asks.
“Sabrina, no. Meredith, yes. Merry was telling us about three ways to get to the other world. And she says the three ways are jumping off the window ledge and landing on the ground below, running outside into the road naked, lying down on it and closing our eyes, and going to the river, taking off our boots, and holding our breath underwater. Sabrina and I haven’t heard anything as awful before. What do you make of it?” Pazora looks to her guardians.
“Well,” Nancy says, “there have been a few stories much like those since we were kids, and yes, some girls did try similar acts, and they died because of it, naturally.”
“They are very deathly acts, I must say.” Luella says, gravely.
“Well, I shan’t be trying such rubbish. The only world one would find is heaven, and nought much else.” Pazora says, assuredly.
“Too right. Too right. There’d be no sense in ending your life in any of those ways. Nought whatsoever. So if Meredith coerces you into trying any of those things. tell her to sling her hook, won’t you?” Nancy says sternly.
“Oh, I will. And I did. I told her I would see her out so I could have my bath, and I saw them to the front door.” Pazora says.
“Good girl. And what did Sabrina make of it?”
“She was just as shocked as I was.” Pazora says.
“Right. Too right. Sense in your head. Good. Keep it there.” Luella says.
“I will.” Pazora smiles.
“We’ll be having peas and lamb for dinner. Want to help me split the peas?” Luella asks Pazora.
“Mmm hmm.” Pazora answers without words. Nancy puts the bowl of peas on the wooden table in front of them and the three women go about dissecting the peas, until Nancy gets up and begins marinating the lamb with various herbs and dripping. She puts the lamb into the oven, and returns to her chair. Gordon, freshly shaved comes into the kitchen looked rather dressed well.
“Going out you are?” Luella asks him with a cheeky smile.
“I am.” Gordon says, kissing Pazora on the top of her head, and taking a chair.
“Will you be in for tea?” Nancy asks her brother.
“I won’t. I’ll be having dinner with a lady-friend.” He smiles.
“Oh, do tell.” Luella ever the gossiper requests.
“You don’t know her, I promise you that much.” Gordon says, smiling, and looking down at the table.
“Will this be your first outing together then?” Pazora asks a very sensible question.
“Ay, too quick you are. No. This will be the fourth outing together, I believe.” Gordon says unashamedly.
“Oh, she must be a bonny lady then.” Luella says, smiling politely.
“She is very bonny. I am very fond of her.” Gordon says.
“How old might she be?” Pazora asks.
“Nineteen.” Gordon replies.
“Good age.” Nancy says, looking out the window at the rain pelting down on the cobbles and the grass in the rear garden.
“Very sensible age.” Gordon agrees, and pinches a shortbread.
“Whiskey?” Nancy asks and Gordon says he would. Nancy pours him a glass of malt whiskey, and he cups it in his right hand.
“Spritzer?” Nancy looks to Luella and she she certainly will. Luella accepts the glass bubbling in front of her, takes a sip and offers Pazora a taste.
“Just a taste mind. No more.” Luella tells Pazora, who sips from the champagne flute, and savours the carbonated flavours.
“Oh delicious! How many more years till I can have my own glass?” Pazora asks.
“Two more years darling. Two more. Not another drop before then.” Nancy says, pointing the wooden spoon in Pazora’s direction, and moving it up and down with every word for extra emphasis.
“Just like mam you are, when you do that.” Luella laughs at Nancy’s antics.
“Ay. I see why she brandished the wooden spoon around now, I do. Makes a point, it does.” Nancy says, laughing with everyone else.
“It does. I heard you loudly and proudly.” Pazora says, and then snickers.
“I’ll whack you one if you can’t be too careful.” Nancy says, waving the wooden spoon about some more in jest.
“Be only too careful Paz. Nancy whacked me one when I was a kid. I trod muck through her bedroom, and she had a right fit.” Gordon jokes, of his older sister.
“Ay. I can’t forget that.” Nancy says, grinning widely, showing of her dimples. She’s a pretty brunette of twenty five. “Screaming bloody murder, I was. I knew it was you, who had done in. Mam came running. I was fuming. Steam coming out my ears. New bloody carpet that was. I was sure you had done it on purpose.” Nancy says, telling the story.
“Nay, I had not. I was chasing Gumphrey. He had me shoe.”
“Bloody Gumphrey. Always taking the bloody shoes. No doubt he were up to his belly in muck too. The pair you made. Ah, Gumphrey. I do miss that dog.” Nancy reminisces.
“Ay, good little thing he was, when he wasn’t nicking things.” Luella says.
“Gumphrey? Like Humphrey?” Pazora asks.
“Yes. I named him. Thought it was a grand name at the time.” Gordon says. “I wanted us to share initials see?” Gordon explains.
“Oh, I see.” Pazora bursts into giggles, and can’t stop laughing.
“She be mocking me alright. He was the best dog in the whole street, you remember that!” Gordon says, sentimentally.
“Ay he was.” Nancy says.
“What happened to him?” Pazora asks.
“He died. Of old age. When he was 14. Your age he was. Sounds terrible, doesn’t it?” Nancy says.
“Yep. Horrid. Too much death talk. Something else please.” Pazora suggests.
“Ay, what’s too much death talk then? Fair at heart are you?” Gordon asks.
“Oh dear, no. I just had a horrible afternoon with Meredith’s tales, and I shan’t be bothered repeating them, but let me say, it really is enough death talk.” Pazora explains.
Meredith isn’t at school the next day and it isn’t like her to miss a single day. Thinking she must be unwell, Sabrina and Pazora walk to her house after school and knock on her front door. Meredith’s mother Patricia answers, holding a baby, who is probably Meredith’s little brother, on her hip.
“Hello lovies. What can I do you for?” Patricia asks sweetly. Her lips are coloured red and her white and black polka-dotted dress is pretty smashing as far as 1930s fashion goes. Sabrina and Pazora take in her figure and her curled hair.
“Umm Meredith’s mam. We came to find out why Meredith wasn’t in school today.” Sabrina says.
“Not in school? What do you mean not in school? I sent her packing myself.” Patricia says matter of factly.
“She weren’t there. Honest to goodness, she wasn’t.” Pazora says.
“At all? Not for the whole day?” Patricia is concerned.
“Not at all. Not for a single minute. We came to see if she was in bed resting.” Sabrina says.
“Nay. She didn’t stay home today. She was fine. More than fine.”
“Right. Maybe she was skiving or something. We’ll be off then.” Pazora says, turning to walk away with Sabrina.
“Girls.” Patricia calls out.
Pazora and Sabrina turn to face Meredith’s mother.
“Thank you for telling me. It was good of you to come.” The girls smile and walk down the street.
“You don’t think she’d be daft enough to hold her breath in the river?” Sabrina looks to Pazora.
“No. Certainly not. Not daft enough for that. Last night was just talk wasn’t it? Just talk.” Pazora says.
“It gave me a right fright though.” Sabrina says.
“Me too. Me too.” Pazora exhales loudly, while kicking some stones out of her path.
Sabrina and Pazora part ways with a quick hug and a kiss on the cheek, a few minutes down the cobbled street, each girl going to her own home, gladly.
Nancy and Luella are seated at the prep table inside Pazora’s kitchen, chatting over cups of tea, and the same shortbreads from the day before. Pazora tells them about Meredith not being at school and ponders aloud if they think it has anything to do with the tales she spoke of the day before.
“Surely not.” Nancy exclaims quickly.
“No, nay. Not for a feather, no.” Luella seconds Nancy’s statement.
“Why would she be away from school if she isn’t unwell then?” Pazora is annoyed, and she wants a concrete answer.
“I don’t know love.” Nancy says.
“Maybe she was skiving for the day? You’ll see. She’ll turn up at tea-time.” Luella says, smiling.
“She wasn’t skiving. Her mam said she sent her off to school this morning. What if she doesn’t turn up at tea time?” Pazora asks.
“Her mam will send for the police.” Nancy says matter of factly.
“We thought she was resting in bed for the day.” Pazora says.
“And she wasn’t.” Luella says.
“No, she wasn’t.” Pazora stares at the floor and glimpses her cat Blackberry licking his paws on the cold, hard slate floor. Pazora picks him up and puts him in her lap.
The evening passes with Nancy cooking and Luella and Pazora reading a novel in the front room near the glowing fire Gordon has stoked. When dinner is ready the three siblings and their younger companion sit down to supper with Blackberry the cat, who claws at his food of cod and potato with his paw before eating it. Nancy calls him a daft beggar for being so fussy. There is a quick knock on the front door and Gordon gets up to see who it is. Meredith’s mother, father and baby brother walk past Gordon, and head toward the kitchen at the back of the house to find Pazora.
“She hasn’t come home for her tea. She were here last night. Anything awful happen?” Patricia addresses Pazora who has a mouth full of mashed potato.
It takes Pazora quite some time to swallow her food, and empty her mouth, before she is ready to speak.
“Oh. Meredith’s mam. How terrible to hear that. Nay. Nothing awful happened. We were in my room eating biscuits, and drinking lemonade, and chatting.”
“They were. I made the biscuits myself, I did.” Nancy says. “I helped her.” Luella confesses.
“What about the chatter then?”
“Merry was giving us some tales. But they have nought to do with her now.” Pazora says, strongly.
“What sort o’ tales?” Patricia pulls out a wooden chair at the end of the table, sits down, unhooks the metal clip on the shoulder of her dress and lifts her breast to her baby’s mouth so he can suckle.
“Tales about how we can get to the other world.” Pazora says straightly.
“Other world? What might this other world be? I’ve not heard of any other worlds, have you George?” Patricia looks at her husband.
“No, never.” He says, still standing.
“And what was Merry saying then?” Patricia is intrigued and concerned, as a mother would and should be.
“She was saying that if we were to go to this other world we were to do three things in the way she said ‘em.”
“Go on.” Patricia says. Pazora looks at Nancy, who tells her to continue.
“Ay alright. First one was we must take off our boots, and open the window, and stand on the ledge and then jump off it. Second one was we must get undressed till we are naked, and run into the road, and lie down on it, and close our eyes. Last one was something about going to the river, and going in the water, and holding our breath under the water.” Pazora finishes, but wishes she hadn’t said any of it.
“How serious was she about going to this other world then?” Patricia asks, almost nonsensically.
“You can’t be serious? Would you think your own daughter so daft? Surely not?” Nancy asks loudly, shocked.
“I am serious. You know what these girls are like. Think of the stories. How many girls commiting suicide because they’ve had it?” Patricia says.
“You seriously think Merry would kill herself?” George asks his wife.
“I’m not sure that she would. But why was she not at school then?”
“Merry’s mam: Merry is happy. She loves school. She loves her classes. She wouldn’t kill herself.” Pazora says quickly.
“Why would she come up with such daft stories then?”
“I dunno.” Pazora says.
“Where did she get them from? Who told them her?” Patricia is insisting on answers.
“I don’t know Merry’s mam. I don’t know. We don’t know. We were scared. We thought she was bonkers for talking nonsense. She didn’t think she was bonkers though.” Pazora says.
“So you’re saying Merry thinks if she kills herself she’ll find this other world? You did tell her the only thing she’ll be finding is herself dead, didn’t you?”
“Yes, we did. We told her that, we did. And then I sent her packing. I didn’t wanna hear no more morbid stuff.” Pazora says, becoming flustered.
“Me and Sabrina.”
“Ay, that lass who was with you today.”
“Right George, let’s go. We’re going to the police station.” Patricia says, re-hooking the clasp on her dress, hoisting the baby onto her hip again, and rushing to the front door. She and her husband leave without a further word.
“Full on, in’t she?” Gordon says, returning to his dinner.
“She’s worried about her child. Give over.” Nancy is cutting into her beef with a knife and fork.
“I know she is, but just saying. Did you hear the way she interrogated Paz?” Gordon says with his mouth full.
“I heard her. Every word. They’ve gone to the police now. Let the police deal with it.” Nancy says, trying to end the topic of discussion.
“You don’t honestly think she’ll be missing do you love?” Luella looks to Pazora.
“No, not really. She probably had a row with someone, and that set her off.”
“Did you have a row with her last night?” Luella asks.
“No, I didn’t. I sent her off home. I told her I needed a bath. She wouldn’t be minded of it.” Pazora replies.
“Did she seem minded?” Nancy asks.
“No, she didn’t. Are you saying I caused this?” Pazora asks the three people at the table.
“No, love. We’ll be saying no such thing. Just trying to collect facts, is all.” Gordon says reassuringly.
“Good. Coz I’m sure the facts are is that she’s had a right row with someone, probably some boy, and she’s not felt like school today and she’ll go home when she’s good and ready.” Luella says, smiling at Pazora. Pazora whispers a thanks to Luella who is like an older sister to the minor, and finishes eating her tea.
Pazora doesn’t go to school the next morning. She wants to stay home to hear of any news of Meredith being missing. At around 11am Sabrina knocks on the front door, and before anyone answers, she just lets herself in. “Oi, I’ll be out of a job, if everyone in the bloomin’ street keeps doing that!” Gordon says, closing the front door behind the fourteen year old girl, and watches her, as she goes into the front room, and then into the dining room.
“I’m looking for Paz.” Sabrina tells Luella in the hallway.
“Ay, you stayed off too then.”
“I did. Want to hear about Merry.”
“Fair enough. Pazora is out in the garden on the swing. Can I fix you a drink?”
“No, I’m alright. Maybe later.” And Sabrina walks down the hallway and opens the back door that swings outward into the rear garden where she finds Pazora. Pazora is swinging on a home made swing – a plank of wood attached to dock-rope which is strung and tied to a large sycamore tree.
“Nice day for it then?” Sabrina asks, sitting on the rock in front of Pazora.
“Nice day. Any word on Merry?”
“No, not one.”
“Ay, not here either.”
“Not from her. But she was here last night. She was going to the police station.”
“Yes, with Merry’s dad and baby brother.”
“Right. The police will be out looking for her then.”
“You think she killed herself?”
“No, I don’t think so. Merry wouldn’t do that.”
“You heard her. She wanted to find this other world.”
“Yes, I heard her alright. She scared the beejesus outta me, but she weren’t serious. She’s not stupid. She wouldn’t really do it.”
“What if she really did it?”
“Then she’ll be dead.” Pazora swings, and kicks the grass with her pointy-toed boots.
Sabrina doesn’t know what to say. What if Meredith really is dead? And then what?
“Let’s go down the street and see if there’s any news.” Pazora says, getting up off the swing hastily, and putting her arm through Sabrina’s to lead her along through the side gate and out into the main road built up with side-by-side block houses, a few shops here and there, and a few pubs. Pazora and Sabrina walk down the street for a while before spotting some girls with their mothers chatting in a group.
“Any news on Meredith?” Sabrina asks no one in particular.
“Ay, yes love. Her mam’s gone down to the river with the coppers.” An elderly woman wearing a headscarf and a long day coat and slippers says. Sabrina and Pazora set off in a run, silently praying to God that Meredith hasn’t drowned herself. When they get to the river, Patricia, George and their wee little baby are sitting on the embankment watching around twelve police officers wade about in the water, spread across a large area There are other people with Meredith’s parents, from the street they all live in. Neighbours, nurses, the local midwife. They are all concerned for Meredith’s welfare. Pazora and Sabrina sit beside Meredith’s baby brother on the sodden wet grass and remain quiet. Patricia looks down at them, quietly acknowledges them, and returns to staring at the river. The officers pull out many things, and line them up in a neat row on the embankment: some old boots, an old pram, a china bowl, a small doll, a drinking vase, and a suitcase full of lanterns. They don’t however find Meredith, or a body for that matter. After six hours of searching the river they call off the search and leave the river. Patricia and George are very silent and very beside themselves. If Meredith hasn’t drowned in the river, where could she be? Patricia and George walk home with their baby son and pray that their thirteen year old daughter Meredith is safe, wherever she is.
That evening whilst Pazora is asleep Meredith visits Pazora in her dreams.
“Paz – it’s me. Can you hear me?” Meredith says. Pazora stirs and doesn’t respond. Meredith tries again. “Pazora. It’s me. Merry. I’m here. Can you hear me?”
Pazora mumbles that she can and almost nods back off into a deeper sleep before she realises who he is talking to.
“Merry! You’re in my dreams! Golly. What are you doing here?” Pazora asks Merry whilst asleep.
“I found the other world. You know the one I was telling you about? I’m here, and it’s amazing.” Merry is smiling and she looks very happy.
“The other world? Are you serious? How did you find it?” Pazora is surprised and interested.
“I can’t remember how. All I know is that I did, and you should see it for yourself. It really is beautiful. Nothing like you could ever imagine.”
“Can you describe it to me Merry?”
“I can’t. There are no words to describe what I’m seeing. You’ll just have to come and see it for yourself.” Merry is grinning.
“Merry. Are you dead?” Pazora asks.
“Nay, don’t be daft. I’m not dead. I’m talking to you aren’t I?” Merry grins and skips around in a circle. The landscape is very familiar to Pazora. They stand outside in their shared street in the road, where they live on the cobbles.
“Will you come then?” Meredith asks her friend once more.
“I’ll think about it.” Pazora says, and ends the conversation by falling into a deep sleep, and Meredith disappears from Pazora’s dreamscape.
In the morning, Pazora wakes up, and has forgotten all about the dream. She pulls on her school clothes, her socks, and her shoes, and then braids her hair, and finishes it off with two thin, sleek black ribbons, which she ties into bows. She bounds downstairs where Nancy and Luella are tucking into a breakfast of porridge and eggs on sourdough bread. They ask her how she slept and she said she slept very well. She goes off to school after breakfast and her day unfolds in a normal manner until she spots Sabrina waiting for her at the school gates at three o’clock.
“Pazora! Did she come? Did she come to you too?” Sabrina asks, impatient for a response.
“Oh, hello to you too Sabby. Who? What? Came where?” Pazora is really confused and has no idea what her friend is jabbering on about.
“Merry! Did she come and speak to you in your sleep?”
“Oh, ay, she did. I forgot. How could I forget such a thing. Sabby – yes. She did. What did she say to you?” Pazora recollects her dream from the night before.
“She told me she found the other world. She wants me to find it too. She says it’s wonderful.” Sabrina eyes light up.
“Ay, she told me the same thing. I asked her if she was dead. She said she wasn’t. But if she isn’t dead, then where is she?”
“She’s in this other world like she said.” Sabrina answers rightfully.
“Sabby, what other world, and where? And why did she speak to us in our sleep? Why can’t she come to us in the here and the now ay?” Pazora asks her friend, as they walk up the street together.
“I don’t know. You’re asking me too much, things I don’t know Paz. You ought to be asking Merry these things, not me.” Sabrina says, annoyed.
“Are we gonna tell her mam?”
“Tell her mam what?”
“That she came to us in our sleep.”
“No. I don’t think it would be too good to be doing that.”
“Nay. Me either. Let’s just tell nobody about it then.”
“Agreed. Latch me finger.” Sabrina says, sticking her pinky finger into the air and motioning for Pazora to hook her pinky finger onto it, binding a friendship promise of not to tell.
“Do you think it’s odd she couldn’t talk about it?” Pazora asks, kicking the stones on the cobbles, and sending them in numerous directions.
“Nay. Not odd, no. She said there are no words for that world. I believe her good and true.”
“What sort of world has no words to describe it Sabby?” Pazora questions her friends explanation diligently.
“Beats me Paz. Not the slightest clue. We could read about it in the library.” Sabrina suggests.
“Ay, we could. Brilliant you are. Let’s go.” Pazora links her arm through her friend’s and leads her to their small local library where the librarian Mrs Frollingshade is sitting down behind the desk sipping some tea and eating her afternoon sandwich.
“Girlies, what shall I be doing you for?” She asks them with a mouthful of food.
“Good afternoon Mrs Frollingshade. We’ve come to see if you have any books about other worlds.” Pazora says to the woman behind the high desk.
“Ay, we be having many a book about other worlds lovie. What kind of other worlds are we speaking?”
“Err, we don’t know Mrs. Just different to this one, is all.” Pazora says, looking at Sabrina for some help. Sabrina isn’t any better at coming forward with an explanation.
“Well that’s all very vague. Let me see what I can do.” And she leads the girls around the library pulling out a nondescript book here and there, tossing them to the girls, accumulating a collection until they have around eight books each, balanced precariously in the crooks of their elbows.
“This’ll be enough I think.” Pazora says to Mrs Frollingshade who looks very pleased with herself and her memory of where “books on other worlds” might be.
“Will you be reading them here or at home?” She asks them quickly.
“We’ll be reading them here.” Pazora says, going over to the row of desks where she and Sabrina set their piles of books down, and then take a seat each.
“We won’t get through all these today Paz.” Sabrina says, yawning twenty-three pages into the first book.
“Ay, that we won’t. Let’s get her to put them in reserve and we can read them all the days until we are done.” Pazora says.
“Good idea.” And the girls ask Mrs Frollingshade to put their sixteen books into the reserve for them so that they might come into the library daily and read their ways through each book until they have read them all.
“Pazora. Don’t sleep. There is much to do and I need your help.” Meredith says, one night in Pazora’s dreams.
“Merry, leave me be. I must sleep. I am so tired. Sabby and I have been doing an awful lot of reading of late.”
“Reading what?” Meredith asks, sitting down on the cobbles in their shared street eating a cucumber and brie sandwich with the crusting on.
“Books silly.” Pazora giggles and takes a cucumber and brie sandwich from the white china plate her subconscious mind has created in her dream.
“I know books. But which kind?” Merry asks, sipping some lemonade and propping her glass back down onto a cobble square carefully so it doesn’t spill.
“Books about other worlds and such.” Pazora explains.
“Oh. Wonderful. Do tell me about them. It has been such a long time since I’ve read a book.” Merry says, fixing her skirt and resting her empty hands in her lap.
“Do you not have books in your world?” Pazora asks, rumpled.
“No, no books here Paz. We don’t need books here. We know everything.” Merry smiles.
“We? Who is we?”
“Me and the other people here.”
“Other people? Are there other people there? Anyone we know?” Pazora is intrigued.
“No. Nobody we know. They are all strangers here. Lovely strangers though. Nice, kind people.” Merry smiles.
“Do you have day, and night, the sun and the moon?” Pazora asks.
“Ay, we do. And more. But I can’t describe them or call them anything, for I don’t know what they are called.” Meredith says very cryptically.
“More what?” Pazora asks confused.
“More things.” Merry says.
“Are there people near you who will know what they are called?”
“No, all the people are not near me right now, because I’m chatting to you.” Merry giggles, and bites into another sandwich square.
“What do you do all day?” Pazora asks carefully.
“Whatever I want to do.” Merry giggles again like it was obvious. Pazora is annoyed with her vague answers.
“Are you sad or happy?” There. That’s a better question, Pazora feels.
“I’m very happy, can’t you tell?” Merry jumps up and starts skipping down the street. She stops, turns and then skips back and sits down.
“I can tell. Yes, I can see that. Don’t you miss our world?” Pazora asks sadly.
“No, not at all. If you were in my world you wouldn’t miss it either.” Meredith says matter of factly.
“Your mam and dad are heartbroken. They think you are dead.” Pazora says.
“Ay, daft daft daft. Tell them I’m not dead. I’m perfectly well. I’m fine. Tell em’ that.” Meredith says smartly.
“Ay, I will, but I doubt they will believe me.” Pazora says, yawns, stands up, and enters a deeper sleep. Meredith disappears.
Sabrina isn’t waiting at the school gates for Pazora at three o’clock. Pazora heads to the library alone where she finds Sabrina asleep in a reading chair. She flicks Sabrina on the ear and stands back, awaiting a reaction.
“Oi, what’d you do that for?” Sabrina asks annoyed, the book in her lap falling to the carpeted floor.
“You were sleeping. I thought I’d wake you.” Pazora sits down in the chair next to her and picks up her book from the day before. Mrs Frollingshade brings them a plate of biscuits and two glasses of water.
“Ay yes, I bunked off. These books are more important than arithmetic and geography.” Sabrina says, yawning.
“How many you have gone through?” Pazora asks.
“Three so far. You?”
“Uh, only two. And I’m not finding any answers yet.”
“They don’t say how to get to these enchanted places do they?” Sabrina states.
“Nay, they don’t. They talk about them and the people who live there and the goings on and what have you, but never how they got to be there in the first place.”
“Nay. Useless fanciful things.” Sabrina says.
“How do you suppose Merry got there?”
“If I was to surmise, I’d say she went there in her dreams.”
“In her dreams? Why, then she’d be asleep in her bed, you daft girl.”
“Oh… right. She would be too.” Sabrina looks downtrodden. “Well that was the only explanation I had.” Sabrina sighs.
“I’ve none, so you are beating me.” Pazora winks and pulls some hard-boiled lollies from her coat pocket. She gives one to Sabrina who takes three graciously.
“Are these Wellington’s?”
“Too right they are!” Pazora smiles. “Luella went past last afternoon and bought them for me.” Pazora smiles.
“I do love Wellington’s sweets. They make them the best.”
“They do.” Pazora agrees. And then: “I’ve had a thought. If you say she went to this other world in her dreams, why haven’t we seen this place in our sleep?”
“Oh, Paz. That’s a good question. Yes. Why haven’t we?” Sabrina ponders it for a moment. “Maybe coz we are asleep when we are sleeping?”
“How else are you meant to be when you’re sleeping you twit?” Pazora laughs and whacks Sabrina over the head with her book. Sabrina then whacks Pazora back. Pazora’s hair gets stuck in the corner of the book’s binding and ruins her plait. She pulls her plait free from the book’s clutches, and fixes her hair.
“Maybe you can be awake in your sleep?” Sabrina offers slowly.
“Awake? Who are you kidding? When you’re awake, you’re awake, and when you’re asleep, you’re asleep. There’s no give and take, no in-between.” Pazora is sure of that.
“Ay, I know. I was just thinking, is all.” Sabrina sighs and eats a biscuit.
Weeks pass before the girls have read all of their books about other worlds, not any closer to knowing where Meredith really is or how she got there. Pazora and Sabrina swing in the back garden of Pazora’s home one afternoon, chatting, and discussing their dreams and Merry’s visits.
“Her mam wants a funeral.” Sabrina says.
“Ay, I heard. Mrs Beckwith said so.”
“Really? She told you that?”
“Nay, not me. She was telling Mrs Frollingshade. I was eavesdropping naturally.” Pazora grins a cheeky grin, and swings higher into the air, her plaited hair trailing behind her, and her school skirts billowing around her.
“Imagine having a funeral for someone who isn’t dead, and when there is no body to be buried.” Sabrina makes a funny wrenching sound.
“Tis a bit strange if you ask me.” Pazora agrees, stopping her swing, and sitting idle in her wooden seat. “What if she is dead?”
“What do you mean?” Sabrina is confused.
“Well, what if Merry is dead, and there is a body but the coppers just haven’t found it yet?” Pazora suggests.
“The coppers would find her body if she was dead Paz.”
“Nay, they don’t always. Many people go missing never to be found.”
“I don’t suppose Merry is one of those people.” Sabrina says adamantly.
“Why would you be supposing that?”
“Because she comes to me in my sleep. Every night, without fail. There hasn’t been a night she hasn’t come Paz.” Sabrina says.
“Ay, me too. She does come. Every night. Without fail.” Pazora ponders this too.
“And dead people don’t normally do that, do they?” Pazora concludes.
“Nope. They don’t.” Sabrina agrees.
“Do you think she’ll ever come back?”
“Dunno. Can’t say. Only God knows.”
“Maybe it has nowt to do with God.” Pazora quips.
“Maybe, maybe not. We should have confession and tell Father Gorley about it and see what he thinks.”
“Ay, we should. Go. I’ll beat you to the pews!” Pazora says, jumping off her swings and running out the back gate and down a dirty, rubbish-strewn laneway to the local church, where mass is conducted by a priest by the name of Father Alfred Gorley.
Sabrina and Pazora arrive on the stone steps of the bluestone Catholic church off the main road in Ealing Common ten minutes later, huffing and panting, and trying to catch their breath. Once they are sure they have composed themselves, they flatten their skirts, and their plaits and curls, and swing the big heavy wooden door open and let themselves inside. The church is empty and silent, and a small sparrow sits in the arch of a marble column near the altar. Father Gorley enters the church from a back room holding incense and humming to himself.
“Father Gorley. We’ve come to say our confessions.” Sabrina says loudly.
“Oh. Good afternoon ladies. How is the weather outside?” He makes small talk with them so he has some time to finish what he is doing before he has to leave the altar and sit in the confessional box.
“The weather is lovely. The sun is out. We have been swinging in the garden catching the rays, we have.” Sabrina says, bubbling.
“Right. Who’d like to confess to the Lord our Father first?” Father Gorley looks at the schoolgirls.
“Might we say them together for they concern the same thing?” Pazora asks quickly.
“You might. The Lord won’t object to that, no he won’t. In you get.” He says, opening the door for them, and then closing it behind them. He takes a seat in the box next to theirs closing his door behind himself, and waiting.
“Right Father, so this is how it goes. Our friend Meredith is missing, as you know, and her mam wants a funeral.” Pazora starts and then looks at Sabrina.
“But there’d be no point in a funeral you see because Merry isn’t dead.” Sabrina adds.
“Go on.” Father Gorley says, interested.
“Merry has come to us in our sleep for the past four weeks Father. And she says she isn’t dead.” Pazora says.
“What does she say then?” Father Gorley asks.
“She says she is alive, just in another world.” The girls say together, and then giggle because they used the exact same words in unison. Father Gorley takes no notice.
“Does she talk about this other world then?” Father Gorley asks.
“Ay she does. But not in great detail. She just says it’s wonderful. She is happy. It’s a nice place, and there are other people there who are kind to her.” Sabrina adds.
“I see. And has she visited anyone else in their dreams?”
“Not that we know of, no.” Pazora says.
“Why would she choose the two of you to visit?” Father Gorley asks.
“Beats me Father. No idea.” Pazora says. “No idea.” Sabrina adds.
“Perhaps because you were her closest friends?” He suggests.
“Perhaps.” The girls say. “Where do you think she is Father?” Sabrina asks quickly.
“I believe Miss Meredith is exactly where she says she is. In another world, happy and with others.”
“Ay, and should we go to this world too Father?” Pazora asks diligently.
“Ay Miss. Nobody can decide if they should or they shouldn’t go to this other world. Now, if they want to go to this other world we cannot see, then that is a different story pet. Only those who are unhappy here would choose to leave this world of they own accord.” Father Gorley explains.
“That is all for now Father. We have nothing else to confess.” Pazora says, shutting the hatch joining the two boxes. The three of them leave the confessional boxes, Father Gorley returning back to his altar, and the girls running before remembering to walk, down the middle aisle, and out the church doors and into the sun.
Pazora and Sabrina present themselves in the kitchen where Nancy and Luella have been fraught with worry for the pair.
“Don’t be leaving that yard without telling us where you’ll be going. We had no idea where you were. We don’t know what has happened to Merry. And we don’t want the same thing happening to the pair of you. Got it?” Nancy talks to Pazora and points the wooden spoon straight at her. She strikes a very frightening figure when she is mad.
“We only went to church to have confession. Keep your hair on.” Pazora says, sitting in a wooden chair, taking a shortbread and the milk pitcher, and pouring two glasses of milk for herself and Sabrina. They gulp the cold liquid down greedily. All that running made them thirsty.
“Are you staying for your tea?” Nancy looks at Sabrina.
“Yes, if that is alright with you.” Sabrina smiles.
“It’d be alright with me, yes. We are having shepherd’s pie.” Nancy says.
“Perfect. It’s my favourite.” Sabrina goes around the table with Pazora setting out the cutlery and the condiments.
“So what sort of confessions did you have for our Father Gorley then?” Luella asks, whilst still knitting without looking at her actions.
“We told him about Merry and how she isn’t dead.” Pazora says.
“Ay, and what about Merry? And how do you know she isn’t dead?” Luella asks.
“Merry visits us in our sleep. Stays a while. She eats biscuits and drinks lemonade on the cobbles with me sometimes.” Pazora says.
“She does that with you? She does that with me too!’ Sabrina says excitedly, a white milky moustache coats her top lip.
“She visits the both of you?” Nancy’s brows go up.
“Ay, she does.” Sabrina wipes her lip with a napkin.
“Maybe its her spirit who’s visiting ye?” Nancy suggests politely.
“Nay, it isn’t her spirit Nance. She isn’t dead.” Pazora says matter of factly.
“And I suppose Merry said so?” Nancy looks at Pazora with consternation.
“Ay, it was Merry who said so, yes.” Pazora responds positively.
“Her mam is having her funeral tomorrow.” Luella says, suddenly.
“Tomorrow? Well that’s bonkers. Merry isn’t dead.” Pazora repeats herself again.
“Yes, I know that’s what you said pet, but we haven’t seen nor heard from her for a month now. So naturally her mam and dad are in their rights to be having a funeral.” Luella says.
“Father Gorley will be wasting his time tomorrow. Merry is happy and alive.” Sabrina says.
“I think we best end this discussion ladies. It’d be getting us no where now.” Nancy says.
“Fine. If that’s what you want. Sabby and I will be up in my room. Call us down when tea is ready.” Pazora and Sabrina leave the kitchen and run upstairs to Pazora’s bedroom, closing the door behind themselves. They lie down on Pazora’s bed, playing with the tassles on the blanket.
“They don’t believe us.” Pazora says, and a tear trickles down her cheek.
“Don’t cry Paz. I won’t bother about them. We know what’s true and that’s all that matters.” Sabrina says, hugging her friend.
“She really does visit us in our sleep.” Pazora mumbles disconsolately.
“Ay, she does. I know it.” Sabrina reassures Pazora, with another hug. The girls fall into a nap where Meredith visits them again, this time together, because they have fallen asleep so closely, their hands touching.
“Girls! You’re here. Well done. You came. Thank you!” Meredith squeals with delight and hugs her friends tightly before letting each of them go.
“What do you mean we are here? Asleep? Yes. We are asleep. We are having a nap before dinner.” Pazora says, correcting Meredith.
“A nap? Oh, it’s more than a nap. You have left your world. You have come to the other world, my world. Can’t you see it now? Isn’t it wonderful?” Merry is joyful with glee. And Pazora and Sabrina look about themselves and the usually regular landscape of their familiar cobbled street has been replaced with something one can’t describe. But something wonderful, happy, and full of good energy.
“Oh, I see it now.” And Pazora cries tears of joy and happiness. “I wasn’t unhappy in my world, but here I am. I’ve come anyway.” Pazora says, wiping her eyes with the corner of her sleeve.
“Why would you have to be unhappy to come here?” Meredith is confused.
“Well, that’s what Father Gorley said. He said one would only come to this other world if they weren’t happy with the other world.” Pazora says.
“Oh, poor Father Gorley. How wrong he is. Don’t go to him. He does not know. He hasn’t ever been here before. Priests don’t know everything.” Merry rolls her eyes. Merry takes Sabrina’s hands to make her skip with her. Sabrina and Meredith skip a while, whilst Pazora thinks a moment.
“Your mam is having a funeral for you tomorrow.” Pazora tells Meredith.
“Why would she do that? I’m not dead. I’m perfectly happy and well. What a daft thing to do.” Meredith says, skipping around, holding Sabrina’s hands.
“She hasn’t seen you in a month. She thinks you’re dead. And now Nancy and Luella and Gordon will think I’m dead too.” Pazora doesn’t cry, but she wants to.
“Ay, they’re all silly. All of them. None of us is dead. We are perfectly happy and well. Aren’t we Sabrina?”
“We are.” Sabrina says, twirling around with her arms above her head, enjoying herself.
When dinner is ready and Nancy has carefully placed the large heavy glass dish holding the shepherd’s pie onto the large wooden table, she asks Luella to call the girls downstairs. Luella goes to the bottom of the stairs, holds the rail and calls out.
“Girls – tea is ready. Come down now.” Normally Pazora would reply to Luella’s calls, but being asleep, she cannot. Luella calls for them again. There is no answer. She hoiks her skirts up with her hands and commences her climb upward. She opens Pazora’s bedroom door, and enters. She looks about the room and the girls are not there. They are not asleep on her bed. The window is open and Luella peers out of it and down into the garden below. She furrows her brow. She has no idea where they are and she was sure Pazora said they were coming upstairs.
“Nancy, the girls are not up there. They did go upstairs, didn’t they?” Luella asks her sister, unsure now.
“Yes, they did. That’s what Pazora said. Maybe they’re outside? Have a check.” Nancy suggests.
Luella goes outside to the back garden where the swing is unoccupied and the girls aren’t to be found. She walks down the side of the house and goes to the main road where the girls might be playing. They are not in the main street either. She goes back inside via the front door and runs to the kitchen.
“I can’t find them. At all.” Luella is beginning to panic.
“Alright. Don’t panic now. I am sure they are about somewhere. Gordon!” Nancy calls for Gordon who was reading a book in the front room.
Gordon appears in the kitchen in daywear, with his book in his hand.
“Pazora and Sabrina have gone awol. Can you go and find them and tell them dinner is ready please?” Nancy says, tutting, and exhaling loudly, exasperated.
Luella has put a cold wet cloth on her forehead for she has become hot and flustered. Gordon leaves the house.
He comes back fifteen minutes later without the girls. Of course, he did not find them for they are in the other world with Meredith now.
“I didn’t find them.” He says to his sisters.
“Do we know where Sabrina lives?” Nancy asks her siblings.
“Ay, I think in number 155.” Luella says, getting up off her chair and going to the front door, evidently on her way to Sabrina’s house. Gordon goes with her and they leave the house once more. And of course the girls are not at Sabrina’s house, and now her mam is ill with worry too. Everyone assumes the worst because of Meredith’s eery unexplained disappearance.
When Gordon and Luella return they tell Nancy they think the girls are missing good and proper and that they should all go to the police station. The police interview them, take a statement, and go down to the local river just in case the girls have drowned themselves. And like Meredith’s disappearance, they find no bodies. They interview their register of kidnappers. They begin thorough investigations. They send out search dogs. They interview locals. They interview Father Gorley. Word spreads in the street that two more girls have gone missing and the police haven’t found any bodies. Mothers become worried for their children and stop them from going to school. Women stop leaving their babies in prams outside in the sun, opting to keep them indoors where they can see them. There must be a kidnapper, they all agree. The priest has no answers. The police have no answers. Why have three girls gone missing in Ealing Common?
And all the while Meredith, Sabrina and Pazora are happy in their new-found world, spending their days, skipping, drinking lemonade and eating homemade biscuits. They haven’t a care in the world, and the longer they are in this new world, the more their memories fade, and they begin to forget about their old lives. They do not worry about their families, or their teachers, or their classmates. They have each other and they are happy. And the strangers around them are kind and friendly.
There comes a time when they are asked if they would like to return to the old world. And Meredith and Sabrina say they are happy where they are however Pazora wouldn’t mind going back to her old world to live her old kind of life once more. And she is told she will begin again, from the beginning; from being a new baby. To this, she agrees. And she chooses a new family; a man and a woman who live in North Barnet who are having their first child. It’s a girl. And they are going to call her Eliza. And when baby Eliza is born with Pazora’s soul inside her, there are a few complications; Eliza is born feet first. Normally babies are born head first.
So, naturally the doctors and nurses start referring to her as the girl who entered the world upside in. And this nickname sticks. And Eliza’s new parents call her the same thing. And when she is four years old they tell her she was the girl who entered the world upside in. And she laughs. She thinks it’s funny. But she doesn’t really understand, does she?