Day stared at Nora, her doll’s eyes wide in what seemed to be terror. Nora knew that they couldn’t stay close to the house. Her stepdad might come back, and though he had never hurt Nora before, Nora could see that things had changed. Those were the old rules, and she had no idea what the new rules were.
Her plan was not really a plan. It was just the first thing that popped into her head. She held Day tight as she walked down the street and turned left, and entered through the gates. Then it was past the crosses and past the church until she reached the far end of the cemetery. Mom had told her it was the safest place in the world. Only dead people, dirt and stone, she had said.
Not so long ago, when stepdad had been in one of his moods, Mom and Nora had come here and hid behind the headstones. They’d chewed stick after stick of gum and Nora had been allowed to play a game on Mom’s mobile. It was almost like they were out camping.
Nora could still remember the inscription on one of the tombs. She’d spent a long time trying to spell it out: In Memory of Winifred McKane. May her soul rest in peace. There was something comforting about those words, and Nora felt like nothing bad could happen to her there. And that was why she now walked about the graves, looking at the names and searching for Winifred. She would hide with Winifred. This place would give her time to think.
Snap. Whirrrr. Crack. Whirr.
The sounds made her head snap up. She was no longer alone. Something was moving towards her. It was not shaped like a person, but was shorter and wider. It seemed to be made of some kind of metal that scraped against the ground. Its shadow loomed against the yellow light of the lamppost. Nora drew her breath in sharply and threw herself on the ground, behind the closest tombstone. She was too afraid to raise her head and look if the thing was still there. Then she realized something was missing. It was Day. Day was lying on the ground, in plain sight, on the trodden path between the headstones.
Nora reached her hand towards Day, rolling on her side to reach better. Her hand grabbed Day’s tiny hand, drawing the doll to safety until she could feel Day’s black braids smooth under her hands. The thud, thud, thud, of her heartbeat was the only sound she could hear. The dirt beneath her smelt musty and cool.
“Who’s there?” At the sound, Nora scampered to her feet and tried to run, but something grabbed her jacket. Nora turned around to look, and instead of a metallic monster, she saw a black woman with a stubby nose and beady eyes. The monstrous metallic thing was a wheelchair. The woman hung on to her jacket and pulled Nora closer. Her breath stank.
“Come on, girl. Answer me. What are you doing in a graveyard at this hour?”
Nora said nothing. She just lifted her chin up as far as it would go.
“What’s your name?” the old woman asked, tightening her hold.
Nora didn’t think. It slipped out. “Winnie. It’s short for Winifred.”
“Winifred? What kinda name is that for a little girl?”
Nora stared at her defiantly. It was none of her business what she was called.
“Where do you live?”
“Here.” Nora said. She meant the neighborhood. At that very moment the woman had glanced down at the headstone next to which Nora was standing. She stared at the headstone and although she was too dark-skinned to actually turn pale, something about her softened. She let go of her jacket.
“Winifred, huh.” When she spoke, she didn’t look at Nora, but at the headstone. “Six years old, right?”
Nora only nodded, though she wondered how the woman could possibly know how old she was.
“I’ve never seen you here before. I often come here at night. It’s usually quiet.”
“My Mom’s dead.” The words fell out and spread on the ground, hard and cold, like she couldn’t hold them anymore.
The woman only nodded her head and said: “I know.”
“What should I do?” Nora asked. She was starting to feel tired and Day seemed to tremble in her arms. “Can you help me?”
The black woman seemed to think for a bit, then shrugged and said: “Well, I guess something like this was bound to happen one day. Come on, then. You can come to mine and we’ll have a chat. My name’s Mary, by the way.”
She started to roll up the path towards the exit, and Nora could do nothing but follow.