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  • Denise Spencer

I am Winter Prequel (Sample)

Summer and Cee


I walk into the kitchen as Mum lets out a low animal-growl. She tips her head back and stares at the ceiling as though it might open up and allow the sunshine through if she stares hard enough. In her hand, is her phone.

“What’s up?” I ask. I feel a bit like a vampire, with the glare of daylight through the window—it’s past lunchtime, I’m still in my jammies, and I already want to crawl back to my room and watch YouTube videos for the rest of the day.

“Nothing.” She flashes a smile at me and slides her phone onto the counter. It’s unlocked, and I can see from the doorway that she’s been messaging someone. “You’re not even dressed.”

I glance down at my bare legs and yawn. I’m lethargic, but I still notice the way her eyes are flicking back and forth to the messages on her phone. I step into the kitchen as it vibrates and I catch the name in the bubble at the top. “Is that Dad?”


I know she’s lying even before she snatches the phone. “What does he want?” I’m trying to read the words upside down, so she hides it behind her back. Instinctively, I try to grab it, scratching her arm with my acrylics which I’ve been chewing because I want new ones.

She eyes up the raised marks on her arm. “Christ, Summer, grow up! I’ll tell you if he ever has anything interesting to say.”

“If it’s not interesting, why can’t I see?”

“Because this is a private conversation. I don’t ask to see your messages.”

That’s a lie. She always demands to see my conversations with my dad, not that I’ve heard from him in a while. He’s like that. It’s like time means nothing to him—six months to me, could be six days to him. I don’t know if it’s because he’s so busy that the weeks slip away from him without him noticing, and I’m so lazy that I don’t know how to fill my time with anything other than sleep. Or he simply forgets that I exist. I don’t like the second excuse, so I’m sticking with the first.

“Is it about me?”

She rolls her eyes and sucks in a deep breath. “Jesus—”

I don’t let her finish but try to grab the phone again. This time she drops it and I dive onto the floor before she has even moved. There’s a crack in the bottom corner of the screen that may or may not have already been there, but either way, I don’t care because the last message says:

I’ll pick her up this afternoon.

She snatches it back. “That’s another phone I’ll have to get replaced.” She means that’s another phone Gran will have to pay for.

“Is he coming to see me?” I ask.

“Not if I can help it.” She slides the phone into the back pocket of her jeans and reaches for her cigarettes and a lighter. “It’ll be just like the last time.” She turns to face me. “He’ll promise to be a good father and fuck off out of it for another two years. I can’t deal with your tears again, Summer, especially not when they’re for him. The sooner you realise he’s a selfish arsehole, the better for all of us.”

“Better for you, you mean. You weren’t even going to tell me, were you? No wonder he hates coming to see me. It’s not me he stays away from, it’s you.” I run out of the kitchen, despite the ache in my stomach because I’ve not eaten for twenty-four hours, down the stairs to my bedroom and slam my door so loudly, even I’m scared it’ll fall off its hinges.

“You break that door and you’re not getting another one!” she yells.

“Yeah, yeah,” I mutter to myself. These threats might work if she ever saw them through.

I pull on a pair of silky shorts that she bought me for my fourteenth birthday, a belly top, and the high-heeled boots that I bought with the money Dad randomly sent to make up for the occasions he’d missed. Mum said they made me look grown up. Gran said they made me look like Mum. I wish the two of them would put their heads together and realise how ridiculous those statements sound when you add them together.

I creep back up the stairs, holding my breath as if it might give me away. She’s outside on the veranda that can be reached from the living room patio doors—it’s a topsy-turvy house, the front door on a higher level than the back door, bedrooms downstairs and living rooms upstairs. Other people might find it strange, I guess, especially when I tell them that I can climb out of the attic bedroom window onto the roof and not fall off. I can hear her gruff voice—sounds like she’s speaking to Gran. She’s probably complaining about how unlucky she is that I ended up like my dad.

I sneak out the front door. If I can intercept him before he knocks, she won’t ruin things again by yelling and embarrassing him in front of the neighbours. I go to the end of the walkway that joins the houses and flats on our street and lean against the barrier. From here, I can see the woods framing the top of the estate, the railway station the other side of the trees, and the road leading to the communal carpark.

I wish I’d checked her phone to find out what time he was coming. I wish I’d eaten. It’s warm and I can feel my legs sticking to the inside of my boots—I wish I’d worn my new sandals instead.

A few cars pull up driven by the neighbours from the next street down. I look away when they glance up at me, like I’m waiting for someone I know is coming. A train rumbles into the station heading to the coast.

I deliberately keep my eyes on the woods so that I can watch the road without turning my head. I don’t know how long I’ve been standing there, sweating, when I hear boys laughing in front of the garages. My cheeks grow hot. It doesn’t sound like they’re laughing at me, but it doesn’t sound like they told a joke either.

“Give it back!”

I recognise the girl’s voice. Courtney. She lives two houses along from us. I’ve avoided her ever since she chalked a stick picture of me outside our house. We’d been to the park together, spilled our secrets to each other, and she’d been laughing behind my back the whole time.

I half-turn so that I can see a group of boys in a circle. I recognise a couple of them—they’re older than us, the same age as Courtney’s brother Ritchie, although I can’t see him. Courtney is in the middle of the circle, hair all over the place and her hands outstretched like she’s trying to catch a ball. Only it isn’t a ball that the boys are tossing above her head like a game of piggy-in-the-middle. Whatever it is, it must be light because it flips and spins like a leaf in the breeze, just out of reach of her fingertips.

“Wankers!” Courtney’s face is pink and sweaty. Her T-shirt rises as she jumps revealing her pierced belly button.

One boy calls out, “This way,” to distract her so that his mate can throw the object to someone else who drops it. Courtney lunges and he shoves her away before she can get to it. Now I can see it’s a packet of cigarettes. Probably for her mum; Courtney’s always running to the shop for her.

I want to help, but I’m useless at catching anything and I’m wearing heels.

And then she spots me. Her eyes widen and then narrow as she realises that I’m not going down to help. Her shoulders droop and I think she might cry, but she stops chasing the packet and yells, “Fucking wankers!” at the boys who all stand around waiting for the game to resume. Shoving the closest one aside with her elbow, she heads down the hill towards the park.

I wait for the boys to call her back, to yell, “Hey, want your cigarettes?” But instead, they tear off the cellophane and share the fags out between them.

Courtney doesn’t glance around. She walks head down, fast in her trainers.

I hesitate. There’s still no sign of my dad and I’ve no idea how long I’ve been waiting. The boys are wandering off now, smoke curling above their heads, and I imagine how shocked they’d have been if I’d run down the slope screaming and punched one of them in the face. But I didn’t. And now I feel bad.

When I reach the park, Courtney is on a swing, rocking gently back and forth.

“Courtney,” I say.

She glances briefly over her shoulder, and says, “Go away.” Her feet push the swing a little higher but not far enough to leave the ground.

I sit on the swing next to hers anyway and study her profile. I wish I’d used some mascara because I feel plump, childish, beside her gaunt, delicate features.

“Got any fags?” she asks.

I could’ve gone home and stolen some of Mum’s, but I didn’t want to face her ‘I told you so’ death-stare, because my dad didn’t come for me and I’m a coward. Now I feel even more guilty for disappointing Courtney.

“The Ovary will have to go without then.” I stare at her profile, willing her to look at me. When she does, she has a half-smile on her face, and it warms me inside. “My mother.” She twists the swing around in a circle, so the chains lock above her head in a knot. “The fucking baby-machine.”

“What do you call your dad?”

She shrugs. “Which one?” She lifts her feet from the ground and the swing unwinds itself, lurching violently as the chains untangle.

“Where’s your brother? Ritchie.” It’s the first time I’ve ever spoken his name out loud, despite that it’s written on every bit of paper and hidden surface in my bedroom, framed with a perfect heart.

“Why do you care?” she asks. I stare at the toes of my new boots which are already scuffed. “He’s gone to stay with his dad, left without even saying goodbye.” She stops shuffling bark with her trainers and stares straight ahead. “Shush.”

“What?” I whisper.

“Can you hear the silence?” She smiles properly then. “I love it. No screaming babies. No Ovary whingeing.”

In that moment, I want to be Courtney. She doesn’t care what I think of her, she just is.

“One day I won’t come home,” she says. “Then she’ll miss me.”

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