Hide and Seek

It still looks the same. The floor is dustier, the paint a bit flakier and the skirting is coming away from the wall. But the desk is still here – and the space behind it is still hidden. And that's all that matters.

As a child, I always hid here. I can still hear the others, their small voices seeping through the pinewood desk, the occasional crash as they knock over a family ornament while searching below the mantelpiece. Their voices call me, mournfully. But I don't react. I was always the last to be found.

The desk has aged. The wood is slowly coming apart at the joints, and the small hole has got larger. It looks like a bullet hole, torn but regular. I sit and watch for their tiny slippered feet, waiting for just the right moment to hold my breath. My lungs ache from lack of air.

Mother always disliked the presence of the desk in the kitchen and the inevitable interruptions in her cooking. Their ritual words slice the stillness – "Where is she? Haven't you seen her?!" – but she doesn't answer. "You know where she is!" And they say other things, threats those children all that time ago would never have thought of. Disappointed at her silence, they return to searching, the door slamming as they move through the other rooms. The heavy, steel capped footsteps ring out on the cracked stone tiles.

I relax. The space is smaller than it was and the skirting digs into my back. I shift, cautiously. There is no flash of light, no harsh voices. Only my mother, whose pans rattle on the stove. She is always baking; for us, for the church, for charity. But today she is crying, like when Grandma died. I wish I could cry too, but I'm afraid to make a sound.

There's a tiny beam of sunlight filtering through a crack. I've never been afraid of the dark, but it comforts me. Waiting, I study the patterns it makes across my feet. I pass my finger across it, and there's a strip of light bright against my skin.

They have returned. A draught blows through as the door opens and I can feel goosebumps rising on my arms. I can't move. It doesn't seem the safe place of childhood anymore. Most people return to their parent's house for an occasional Sunday lunch, to reminisce over the turkey and then return to the problems of the real world. But I come to try and return to the life of before. And I bring my troubles with me. Their laughter still sings at me from the old pinewood. Usually I'm shaking from anticipation, but now I'm still, frozen.

The desk scrapes against the stones and there's sudden glare of light, as my hiding place disintegrates. "She's here! We've found her!" I screw my eyes tightly shut against the brightness, still listening desperately for that echoing laughter and that childish cry.

"Hide and seek!"


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