Invisible Girl – Lisa Jewell

My name is Saffyre Maddox. I am seventeen years old. I am mostly Welsh on my dad’s side and partly Trinidadian, partly Malaysian and a tiny bit French from my mum. Sometimes people try and guess my heritage but they always end up getting it wrong. If anyone asks I just say that I am a mixed bag and leave it at that. No reason for anyone to know who slept with who, you know. It’s my business really, isn’t it? I’m in my first year of sixth form at a school in Chalk Farm where I’m doing Maths, Physics and Biology because I’m a bit of a boffin. I don’t really know what I want to do when I leave school; everyone expects me to go to university, but sometimes I think I’d just like to go and work in a zoo, maybe, or a dog groomer’s. I live in a two-bedroom flat on the eighth floor of a tower on Alfred Road, right opposite a school I don’t go to, because they hadn’t actually built it when I started secondary. My grandma died shortly before I was born, my mum died shortly afterwards, my dad doesn’t want to know and my granddad died a few months ago. So I live alone with my uncle. He’s only ten years older than me and his name is Aaron. He looks after me like a father. He works at a betting shop, nine to five, and does people’s gardens on the weekends. He’s probably the best human being in the world.

I have another uncle, Lee, who lives in Essex with his wife and two tiny daughters. So there are finally some girls in the family, but it’s a bit late for me now. I grew up with two men and, as a result, I’m not that great with girls. Or, more accurately, I’m better with boys. I used to hang out with the boys when I was a kid and got called a tomboy, which I don’t think I ever was. But then I started to change and became ‘pretty’ (and I do not think I’m pretty, I just know that everyone I meet tells me that I am) and boys stopped wanting to hang out as a mate and got all weird around me and I could tell that I’d be better off if I could harvest some girls. So I harvested some girls and we’re not close, don’t reckon I’ll ever see any of them again once I’ve left school, but we get on OK just as something to do. We’ve all known each other a long, long time now. It’s easy. So, that’s the bare outline of me.

I’m not a happy, happy kind of person. I don’t have a big laugh and I don’t do that hugging thing that the other girls like to do. I have boring hobbies: I like to read and I like to cook. I’m not big on going out. I like a bit of rum with my uncle on a Friday night while we’re watching TV but I don’t smoke weed or take drugs or anything like that. It’s amazing how boring you can get away with being when you’re pretty. No one seems to notice. When you’re pretty everyone just assumes you must have a great life. People are so short-sighted, sometimes. People are so stupid.

I have a dark past and I have dark thoughts. I do dark things and I scare myself sometimes. I wake in the middle of the night and I’ve twisted myself into my bedsheets. Before I go to sleep, I tuck my bedsheet under the mattress, really hard, really firm, so the sheet is taut enough to bounce a coin off. The next morning all four corners are free; my sheet and I are entwined. I don’t remember what from my mum. Sometimes people try and guess my heritage but they always end up getting it wrong. If I live in a two-bedroom flat on the eighth floor of a tower on Alfred Road, right opposite a school I My grandma died shortly before I was born, my mum died shortly afterwards, my dad doesn’t want He’s only ten years older than me and his name is Aaron. He looks after me like a father. He works don’t think I ever was.

But then I started to change and became ‘pretty’ (and I do not think I’m pretty, I happened. I don’t remember my dreams. I don’t feel rested. When I was ten years old something really, really bad happened to me. Let’s maybe not get into that too deep. But yes, I was a little girl and it was a big bad thing that no little girl should have to experience, and it changed me. I started to hurt myself, on my ankles, inside my ankle socks, so no one would see the scratches. I knew what self-harming was – everyone knows these days – but I didn’t know why I was doing it. I just knew that it stopped me thinking too hard about other things in my life. Then when I was about twelve my uncle Aaron saw the scratches and the scars, put two and two together and took me to my GP, who referred me to the Portman Children’s Centre, for therapy.

I was sent to a man called Roan Fours. happened. I don’t remember my dreams. I don’t feel rested. When I was ten years old something really, really bad happened to me. Let’s maybe not get into that too deep. But yes, I was a little girl and it was a big bad thing that no little girl should have to experience, and it changed me. I started to hurt myself, on my ankles, inside my ankle socks, so no one would see the scratches. I knew what self-harming was – everyone knows these days – but I didn’t know why I was doing it. I just knew that it stopped me thinking too hard about other things in my life.

Then when I was about twelve my uncle Aaron saw the scratches and the scars, put two and two together and took me to my GP, who referred me to the Portman Children’s Centre, for therapy. I was sent to a man called Roan Fours. 2 CATE ‘Mum, can you talk to me?’ Cate’s daughter sounds breathless and panicky. ‘What?’ says Cate. ‘What’s wrong?’ ‘I’m walking back from the Tube. And I feel …’ ‘What?’ ‘It’s, like, there’s this guy.’ Her daughter’s voice lowers to a whisper. ‘He’s walking really close.’ ‘Just keep talking, G, just keep talking.’ ‘I am,’ snaps Georgia.

‘I am talking. Listen.’ Cate ignores the teenage attitude and says, ‘Where are you now?’ ‘Just coming up Tunley Terrace.’ ‘Good,’ she says. ‘Good. Nearly here then.’ She pulls back the curtain and peers out on to the street, into the blackness of the January night, waiting for the familiar outline of her daughter to appear. ‘I can’t see you,’ she says, starting to feel a little panicky herself. ‘I’m here,’ says Georgia. ‘I can see you now.

’ As she says this, Cate sees her too. Her heart rate starts to slow. She lets the curtain drop and goes to the front door. Folding her arms against the freezing cold she waits for Georgia. Across the street a shape disappears into the driveway of the big house opposite. A man. ‘Was that him?’ she asks Georgia. Georgia turns, her hands clasped into fists around the sleeves of her oversized Puffa coat. ‘Yes,’ she says. ‘That was him.

’ She shivers as Cate closes the door behind her and bundles her into the warmth of the hallway. She throws her arms briefly around Cate and hugs her hard. Then she says, ‘Creep.’ ‘What was he doing exactly?’ Georgia shrugs off her coat and throws it carelessly on to the nearest chair. Cate picks it up and hangs it in the hallway. ‘I don’t know. Just being creepy.’ ‘Creepy in what way?’ She follows Georgia into the kitchen and watches her open the fridge door, peer into it briefly and then shut it again. ‘I don’t know,’ Georgia says again. ‘Just walking too close.

Just being … weird.’ ‘Did he say anything to you?’ ‘No. But he looked like he was going to.’ She opens the larder cupboard and pulls out a pack of Jaffa Cakes, takes one out and puts it whole into her mouth. She chews and swallows, then shudders. ‘Just freaked me out,’ she says. Her eyes catch sight of Cate’s white wine and she says. ‘Can I have a sip? For my nerves?’ ‘It’s, like, there’s this guy.’ Her daughter’s voice lowers to a whisper. ‘He’s walking really close.

’ to the front door. Folding her arms against the freezing cold she waits for Georgia. Across the street a Cate rolls her eyes, then passes her daughter the glass. ‘Would you recognise him?’ she asks. ‘If you saw him again?’ ‘Probably.’ Georgia is about to take a third sip from Cate’s wine and Cate snatches it back from her. ‘That’s enough,’ she says. ‘But I’ve experienced a trauma!’ she says. ‘Hardly,’ says Cate. ‘But it just goes to show.

Even somewhere like this, somewhere supposedly “safe”, you need to keep your wits about you.’ ‘I hate it round here,’ says Georgia. ‘I don’t know why anyone would want to live here if they didn’t have to.’ ‘I know,’ Cate agrees. ‘I can’t wait to get home.’ The house is a rental, temporary accommodation after their home a mile away was damaged by subsidence. They’d thought it would be an adventure to live somewhere ‘posh’ for a while. They hadn’t thought that posh areas were full of posh people who didn’t really like the fact there were other people living in close proximity. They hadn’t thought about the unfriendly security-gated houses and about how eerily quiet these leafy, mansion-lined streets would be compared with their bustling Kilburn terrace. It hadn’t occurred to them that empty streets could be scarier than streets full of people.

A little while later Cate goes to the bay window in her bedroom at the front of the house and pulls back the curtain again. The shadows of bare trees whip across the high wall opposite. Beyond the high wall is an empty plot of land where an old house has been ripped down to make way for something new. Cate sees pickup trucks reverse through a gate between the wooden construction panels sometimes and then reappear an hour later filled with soil and rubble. They’ve been living here for a year and so far there has been no sign of a foundation being dug or a hardhatted architect on site. It is that rarest of things in central London: a space with no discernible function, a gap. She thinks of her girl turning that corner, the fear in her voice, the footsteps too close behind her, the audible breath of a stranger. How easy it would be, she thinks, to break open that hoarding, to drag a girl from the street, to hurt her, kill her even and hide her body in that dark, private void. And how long would it take for it to be found? Cate rolls her eyes, then passes her daughter the glass. ‘Would you recognise him?’ she asks.

‘If you saw him again?’ ‘Probably.’ Georgia is about to take a third sip from Cate’s wine and Cate snatches it back from her. ‘That’s enough,’ she says. ‘But I’ve experienced a trauma!’ she says. ‘Hardly,’ says Cate. ‘But it just goes to show. Even somewhere like this, somewhere supposedly “safe”, you need to keep your wits about you.’ ‘I hate it round here,’ says Georgia. ‘I don’t know why anyone would want to live here if they didn’t have to.’ ‘I know,’ Cate agrees.

‘I can’t wait to get home.’ The house is a rental, temporary accommodation after their home a mile away was damaged by subsidence. They’d thought it would be an adventure to live somewhere ‘posh’ for a while. They hadn’t thought that posh areas were full of posh people who didn’t really like the fact there were other people living in close proximity. They hadn’t thought about the unfriendly security-gated houses and about how eerily quiet these leafy, mansion-lined streets would be compared with their bustling Kilburn terrace. It hadn’t occurred to them that empty streets could be scarier than streets full of people. A little while later Cate goes to the bay window in her bedroom at the front of the house and pulls back the curtain again. The shadows of bare trees whip across the high wall opposite. Beyond the high wall is an empty plot of land where an old house has been ripped down to make way for something new. Cate sees pickup trucks reverse through a gate between the wooden construction panels sometimes and then reappear an hour later filled with soil and rubble.

They’ve been living here for a year and so far there has been no sign of a foundation being dug or a hardhatted architect on site. It is that rarest of things in central London: a space with no discernible function, a gap. She thinks of her girl turning that corner, the fear in her voice, the footsteps too close behind her, the audible breath of a stranger. How easy it would be, she thinks, to break open that hoarding, to drag a girl from the street, to hurt her, kill her even and hide her body in that dark, private void. And how long would it take for it to be found? 3 ‘Georgia had a scare last night.’ Roan looks up from his laptop. His pale blue eyes are immediately fearful. ‘What sort of scare?’ ‘She got a bit spooked walking back from the Tube station. Thought someone was following her.’ Roan had been out late the night before and Cate had lain alone in bed listening to foxes screaming in the wasteland opposite, watching the shapes of the branches outside waving like a crowd of zombies through the thin fabric of the curtains, overthinking everything.

‘What did he look like, the man who followed you?’ she’d asked Georgia earlier that night. ‘Just normal.’ ‘Normal, how? Was he tall? Fat? Thin? Black? White?’ ‘White,’ she said. ‘Normal height. Normal size. Boring clothes. Boring hair.’ Somehow the blandness of this description had unnerved Cate more than if Georgia had said he was six feet seven with a face tattoo. She can’t work out why she feels so unsafe in this area. The insurance company offered to pay up to £1,200 a week for replacement accommodation while their house is being repaired.

With that they could have found a nice house on their street, with a garden, but for some reason they’d decided to use it as a chance to have an adventure, to live a different kind of a life. Flicking though a property supplement, Cate had seen an advert for a grand apartment in a grand house in Hampstead. Both the kids were at school in Swiss Cottage and Roan worked in Belsize Park. Hampstead was closer to both places than their house in Kilburn, which meant they could walk instead of getting the Tube. ‘Look,’ she’d said, showing the advert to Roan. ‘Three-bed flat in Hampstead. With a terrace. Twelve-minute walk to the school. Five minutes to your clinic. And Sigmund Freud used to live up the road! Wouldn’t it be fun’, she’d said blithely, ‘to live in Hampstead for a little while?’ Neither Cate nor Roan is a native Londoner.

Cate was born in Liverpool and raised in Hartlepool, while Roan was born and brought up in Rye near the Sussex coast. They both discovered London as adults, without any innate sense of its demographic geography. A friend of Cate’s who’d lived in north London all her life said of their temporary address, ‘Oh no, I’d hate to live round there. It’s so anonymous.’ But Cate hadn’t known that when she’d signed the contracts. She hadn’t thought beyond the poetry of the postcode, the proximity to Hampstead’s picturesque village centre, the illustriousness of the blue plaque on Sigmund Freud’s house around the corner. ‘Maybe you should go and meet her from now on?’ said Roan. ‘When she’s walking around at night?’ Cate imagines Georgia’s reaction to being told that her mother would now be accompanying her on all nocturnal journeys outside the house. ‘Roan, she’s fifteen! That’s the last thing she’d want.’ He throws her that look, the one he uses all the time, the look that says, Well, since you have put me in the position of conceding all decision-making to you, you will therefore have to take full responsibility for any bad things that happen as a result of those decisions.

Including the potential rape/attack/murder of our daughter. Cate sighs and turns to the window where she can see the reflection of her husband and herself, a Cate imagines Georgia’s reaction to being told that her mother would now be accompanying her on He throws her that look, the one he uses all the time, the look that says, Well, since you have put me hazy tableau of a marriage at its midpoint. Twenty-five years married, likely another twenty-five to come. Beyond the reflection it’s snowing; fat swirls of flakes like TV interference over their image. Upstairs she can hear the soft feet of their neighbours, an American–Korean couple whose names she can’t quite remember though they smile and greet each other profusely whenever their paths cross. Somewhere there is the distant whine of police sirens. But apart from that, it is silent. This road is always so silent and the snow has made it quieter still. ‘Look,’ says Roan, turning the screen of his laptop slightly towards her. Cate drops her reading glasses from her head to her nose.

‘Woman, 23, sexually assaulted on Hampstead Heath’. She takes a breath. ‘Yes, well,’ she counters, ‘that’s the Heath. I wouldn’t want Georgia walking around the Heath alone at night. I wouldn’t want either of the children walking alone on the Heath.’ ‘Apparently it’s the third attack in a month. The first was on Pond Street.’ Cate closes her eyes briefly. ‘That’s a mile away.’ Roan says nothing.

‘I’ll tell Georgia to be careful,’ she says. ‘I’ll tell her to call me when she’s walking home at night.’ ‘Good,’ says Roan. ‘Thank you.

.

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