Carmel Wakeford is eight when she becomes separated from her mother at a children’s storytelling festival (at which I think I detected a cameo role for the doyenne of children’s fiction, Jacqueline Wilson). A man who claims to be her estranged grandfather tells her her mother has been taken to hospital after an accident and that he’ll look after her now. A few days later, he gives her the devastating news that her mother is dead and her father wants her to remain with her grandfather. She’s taken to America to a new life on the fringes of society, moving between evangelical churches, where Carmel’s supposed “healing hands” are much in demand.
Novels about missing children are bound to tug at the heartstrings, although each manages to do so in its own unique way. Nevertheless, Beth got me thinking again about Olivia in The Cold Cold Sea whose daughter seems to have drowned, although no body has been found, just short of her fourth birthday. Carmel’s predicament as reluctant saviour reminded me of Chipo, the albino woman who is considered even more disturbingly special, in the novel Zebra Crossing. And I was intrigued that, like Peggy in Our Endless Numbered Days, she was eight when she went missing, old enough to have some memory of her previous life, yet young enough to be taken in by an adult’s lies.
Over on the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills is talking rocks, religious faith and connections. Her post, along with this novel (and especially Carmel’s situation) sparks a memory of another severed mother-daughter relationship. My friend’s mother, who has recently died after suffering from dementia for several years, was a healer in the spiritualist church. While she completely accepted her daughter’s scepticism about this, she insisted that I had within me some propensity to connect with the spirits and wanted me to have a “crystal”. As a staunch atheist, I found this quite difficult but, now she’s dead, it’s comforting to have that small piece of polished rock she gifted to me.
But I’m back to an alternative version of Beth’s experience for my 99-word story that shows a hard place and a connection:
Revenge fantasies kept me warm in bed. She’d lose her job; she’d crash her car; some thief would take her precious ring. The news infused my heart with joy. Let her learn how it feels to lose a husband.
The kids, though, mine and theirs, would lose a father.
I made a casserole, seasoned with rosemary, his all-time favourite. Thought I’d leave it on the doorstep, but the door opened before I could nip away. I took no pleasure from seeing her so unkempt. She opened her arms. We wept on each other’s shoulders. Soon we’d both be ex-wives.
Thanks to Faber and Faber for my review copy of The Girl in the Red Coat. Do you have a favourite lost child novel?