From Still Life
Adolescence is made much worse by adults. Mark adjusts to a new “dad” then finds his mum on a porn site. How do we learn not to turn to our parents when we’re in trouble?
From Chapter Eight
On the Thursday they walked from home to their grandparents’ house. Fo was already there, showing their grandfather something she had brought from school. Their parents were at a meeting somewhere and they were staying here for the night.
“Homework Mark? Helen? Grandad’s cleared the table.”
There was a table to one side in the sitting room. Mark slid his computer out of its case and settled himself. Helen found a book and sat near him in an armchair. Fo came into the room, swinging the door open noisily. Helen looked up but before she could speak Fo had interrupted her.
“All right, I know. Go and help Granny.”
Mark was just getting started but he put down a piece of paper.
“Fo, shut the door behind you.”
There was a pause and then the door clicked and it was quiet again.
Somewhere behind her, Helen could hear the soft tap of Marks’ fingers on his keyboard. She read on, aware, whenever she paused to turn a page, of the delicate sound caused by her brother’s attention to his work. Neither spoke, each absorbed in activities that settled downwards with them. From time to time, whenever one of them paused, they each wondered whether it would be the other who first found some words.
Attention to their school work brought them into a kind of peace. It was the kind of peace which allowed them to wait for words rather than struggle with some sudden demand or question, or a comment loaded with sharpness or aggression. As they settled, the threats, of a summons to a meal, a call to return home, or of Clive’s presence nearby, receded.
For twenty minutes they worked on without interruption. Then there were the words for which they had been waiting.
“What upset Fo about those pictures?”
Helen looked up quickly.
“What was she saying about his pictures?”
Helen said nothing.
“What sort of pictures does he get them to take?” Still the girl said nothing and waited for her brother’s next question.
“What do they get her to wear, Mum and that Lambert woman?”
“It’s not Fo.”
“What d’you mean? He’s always taking pictures, always making a fuss of Fo.”
“Not Fo – something Fo said.”
“Helen, I don’t get this.”
“He’s got hundreds of pictures of Fo. People always take pictures of little ones, running about with nothing on. It’s something….”
Mark sat up very still. He pushed the laptop to one side and had a clear view of his sister and the book that had held her attention until he had started again with his questions. It dawned on him now that, just as he had wanted time to answer other people’s questions so did his sister. The sooner he left his sister to cope with his words in her own time, the sooner he would get an answer.
“Fo said that she saw some photos of me when she was looking at his computer with him – you know how he likes her sitting up on his lap.”
“Photos of you?”
“Yeah, and.” She hesitated and her brother stared at her and she knew that she would have to say more. “And a video clip.”
“What sort of photos?”
Mark’s new certainty about Helen shifted a little and he sat more upright. He tried to catch his sister’s eye but she was waiting with her next answer and would not look at him.
“She said there was one of me down the garden at home. She said I was bending down to pick up a ball or something. She thought it was funny because she could see what I was wearing.”
“What d’you mean?”
“Not my clothes – underneath.”
Helen stopped for a moment.
She sensed his immediate concern at her words but knew that he did not blame her. She wondered what he would do now that she had finished. He sat opposite her and said nothing. She waited and wondered what he might say; soon their grandmother would be calling them to eat.
Mark was not hungry. He thought of the two helpless girls in the back of the car at the country park.
“But what about Fo, Mark? What can we say to her?”
It was important for him to show Helen that he had taken this in, that he was concerned about their younger sister. But there remained the other picture. It was easier for him now to think of the picture of Clive with their mother, as proof of the man’s awfulness. But, tell Helen? He could not imagine what might happen.
“What are you going to do Mark?”
Was she afraid of what he might do, scared that he might lose it all again? Was she worried about Fo, about what might happen to her? Was she worried about things that they might have to do, to tell other people? He remembered Helen trying to cuddle up to their mother.
He crashed a fist down onto the table and stood up. He wanted to stay and try again to explain matters better but he was frightened now by the prospect of further conversation with his sister and left the room.