For me the attic was always a mysterious, enchanting, almost magical place. But this particular time aged eleven was somehow dark. My bare feet padded and creaked as I tripped up the attic steps, the veins pulsing in my neck as I prised the cover off the ceiling lid, clambered in, and screwed it tightly back on. All at once the rich, deep, beautiful, musty smell of that room filled my nostrils like oxygen; I inhaled the tang of childhood, bathed in it, almost. Suddenly, my bare foot crunched on something very, very, hard, and very, very plastic. Excruciating pain shot through my left foot like a sliver of glass from a poisonous bottle. I let out a cry of pain like a wounded animal, cursed as much as a little girl dared, and stared curiously down at the deadly object. Oh. It was Emily. I remembered Emily; her soft, golden, ringletty hair, big, ice-blue, glass eyes, cheeky, button nose, and wide, painted crimson lips. How could beautiful Emily, with a soul of her own and the childhood friend who had harboured many fantasies, lie here broken beneath my cracked foot? Strands of sunny hair had been yanked straight from her ripped scalp, her nose a square stump, her mouth turned down; but it was the eyes that made her truly scary, unbearable, strikingly devastating. Sticky black lashes flew down her raw, ruined cheeks like blood-sucking bats, the glass marbles wrenched mercilessly from her now hollow eye holes. Emily stared up at me; blank, unresponsive, all the life sucked out of her. I was briefly reminded of my favourite milkshake. I slurped and slurped up all the chocolately wonder, frantically licking the best bits, until there was nothing left. That wasn’t all. All around me, memorable but forgotten, lay the cracked pieces of childhood; Sam the toy clown, with his terrifying tunnel of a mouth open even wider; the golden compass with its missing fingers; the jumbo the elephant key ring with the string tied like a noose round its neck; and finally, my old Year Three exercise book. The pages were torn and dishevelled, and yet I could still make out a few childish sums; all with big, final, blood-red crosses scribbled all over them. I felt a strange sense of loss overcome me; something a child cannot ever explain. It was beyond my eleven years; wise on naive, old on young; grief on childhood. The funny thing was, the more I desperately tried to slot the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle together the firmer I realized they would never fit. So, sinking down onto the panelled wood flooring into a sea of despair without even knowing why, I felt ancient tears spurt down my cheeks. As I thought of the Pre-teen magazine lying invitingly on my bed and waiting to swallow me up, the tears came ever faster now, an odd lump rising in my throat. As I left that peculiar little world, I entered a new one. It was a sad place. For any minor, they say the worst thing that can ever happen lies in the most simple of things. The crushing end of the classic game enjoyed by children since the dawn of time… Child’s play.
June 1, 2012