Blog tour: 17 September to 1 October 2020
One little girl.
Mirabelle’s mother loves her. She’s her ‘little doll’. Mother dresses her, paints her face, and plaits her hair. But as Mirabelle grows, the dresses no longer fit quite as well, the face paint no longer looks quite so pretty. And Mother isn’t happy.
Two little girls.
On Mirabelle’s 13th birthday, Mother arrives home with a present – a new sister, 5-year-old Clarabelle, who Mother has rescued from the outside world.
But Mother only needs one.
As it dawns on Mirabelle that there is a new ‘little doll’ in her house, she also realizes that her life isn’t what she thought it was. And that dolls often end up on the scrap heap …
I’m delighted to share an extract of Chapter 2 of Mother Loves Me with you today.
Mother loves me. I listened to the sound of her locking and bolting the front door and bit a chunk out of my apple, careful not to let any juice spoil my face. After tidying up my little white desk, I ran downstairs into the living room.
Mother owned at least a thousand books. Every week she turned up with a couple more. Most of them were adult books that I wasn’t allowed to go near, but sometimes Mother let me read what she called the ‘not so corrupting’ ones. She also liked me to look at her big picture books from time to time – the ones that contained amazing glossy pictures of animals and buildings and cities – so that I knew more about the outside. She said it made me less boring to talk to. And next to the door connecting the living room to the hallway there was a small bookcase that was just for me.
The room was gloomy because of the wooden boards and blackout curtains, the red sofa a murky brown in the darkness. I flicked on the orange lamp beside the rocking chair then walked over to my little white bookcase. I saw the present immediately. There, at the end of the third row of books leaning against Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, was a book-shaped object wrapped in scarlet paper. I smiled and plucked the present off the shelf.
In Mother’s slanted hand my name was spelled out in capital letters.
Underneath my name were the words:
For a beautiful little doll who works so hard and behaves so well. All my love, Mother. P.S. You may open this now!
I tore into the paper and stared excitedly at the book. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. This was Mother’s way of giving me a piece of the outside world. I half-smiled and lifted up the front cover. The pages were yellow with age and a little rough. I had a sniff. The book smelled intensely booky; good and musty. It was perfect. I curled my legs beneath me in the rocking chair and lost myself in the story, escaping into another girl’s world.
I was at the part where Mary Lennox meets a chirpy little robin, a bird which I had only ever seen in Mother’s bird books, when I heard something. My heart seemed to jump into my throat. I held stock-still. The sound was coming from the back of the house, but Mother wasn’t home yet. I was home alone. No one else lived in the cottage. Just Mother and me. And, horrid as he was to think about, Deadly, the spider who lived in the bathroom.
Without moving, I trained my ears on the direction the sound was coming from. The sound was strange, unidentifiable. Uneven and raw. It was definitely not coming from the front door and it wasn’t coming from upstairs, so it couldn’t be the boiler having a tantrum.
I remained where I was for a while, my legs pinned under me, eyes wide. I listened. An idea crossed my mind. No, I told myself, you’re not imagining it. You’re not a little girl any more. You know what’s real and what’s not. But I thought about Polly and doubt crept around my mind like a sneaky rat. As a little girl I’d had an imaginary friend called Polly. Polly had looked exactly like me, but she’d been mute. I had played imaginary games with her whenever the opportunity arose and sometimes we just sat beside one another, keeping each other company. One day when I was six, Mother had said I was too old for her and told me I had to make Polly disappear from my head or she would. Worried about what Mother might do, I had ignored Polly until she had shaken her head sadly at me and vanished. I never saw her again, no matter how hard I tried to.
With a frown, I pushed myself up from the chair. The sound is real. It’s real.
I had to see where it was coming from.
I tiptoed across the living room and carefully opened the door to the dining room. The noise was slightly clearer here. The oak floorboards creaked underfoot and I cringed and leapt through the door into Mother’s kitchen. Again, the noise was louder in here – louder than before. My eyes fell on the Venetian blinds and I froze. The strange sound was coming from outside. Outside in the back garden. I was sure of it.
The blinds remained, as always, shut, drawn down over the wooden boards that had been nailed over the windows. Nailed firmly over the glass so no light could break in.
I had never heard anything like this sound from outside before. Outside sounds to me were the perfect twitter of busy birds, the mad onslaught of hail-beasts and the pitterpatter or hammer-attack of rain – depending on its mood – spooky wind wails, thunder roars and the grumbly engine of Mother’s car.
Just as I wasn’t allowed outside, there were certain places in the cottage that I was not allowed to go. I wasn’t allowed in Mother’s room and I had been banned from the spare room a few months ago. I thought about the spare room. Mother had carried boxes into that room and spent a lot of time in there recently, but she wouldn’t tell me why. I wanted to know but didn’t dare ask.
The strange sound from outside stopped. I stared at the blinds above the dark brown cabinet and listened. Nothing. I scanned the room. Mother had nailed her new pop art print to the wall next to the one she’d brought home last month, which was of a singer called Elvis Presley. The new silkscreen print was of a very pretty lady with curly blonde hair. Mother hadn’t told me who she was yet. Like the Elvis Presley picture, it was eye-poppingly bright and colourful. I liked it a lot. It made the kitchen less gloomy.
I glanced at the pop art calendar pinned to the wall above the Formica table. Mother had circled today’s date in red pen. In the Friday, 23 April box she had written the words LITTLE DOLL’S BIRTHDAY – collect second present. Guilt lifted its hot, prickly head.
I heard something else. Jumped as the front door slammed. Heard the locking and bolting of the door.
I grabbed a glass from the cupboard and turned on the cold tap.
A moment later Mother giggled and I turned around, my heart thumping hard. Mother stood in the entrance to the kitchen wearing opaque sunglasses and a floppy sun hat. She carried a large black holdall in her sinewy arms. She placed the holdall on the kitchen table and looked at me. A smile spread across her face as she took off the sunglasses and hat and dropped them on the table.
‘This is your surprise!’ she said, spreading her hands wide.
‘What is it?’ I said, mustering up as much excitement as I could to conceal the frantic pounding of my heart.
She grinned. ‘Open the bag and see.’
I put the glass of water on the counter and reached the table in two steps. Outside, in the other world, everything remained silent.
Mother leaned over the bag as I took hold of the silver zip and tugged, wondering why she had not wrapped the present. She’s probably too excited to, I thought. The zip caught on the black material. I struggled to loosen it and Mother pushed my hands away.
‘Let me do it,’ she snapped. She ripped the bag clean open and squealed excitedly, her hands balling into fists against her pale cheeks. ‘Look, Mirabelle, look! Isn’t she perfect?’
I stared, unable to speak. Inside the bag lay a little girl. She was curled up on her side, her tiny chest rising and falling steadily, her eyes closed. She had long, fair eyelashes that fluttered every now and then as if she was having a dream or a nightmare. Her hair was the same butter-blonde as mine, but curly rather than straight and no way near as long. Like me, her milky skin was freckle-free. She wore a pale blue dress, a white cardigan and sparkly, silver tights. There were no shoes on her feet.
‘Isn’t she perfect?’ Mother repeated, stroking the little girl’s cheek.
‘Who is she?’
‘Her name’s Clarabelle. Such a pretty name for such a pretty little doll, don’t you think?’
I swallowed with difficulty, my mind racing. ‘Where’s she from?’
‘Utopia,’ Mother said dreamily.
I hesitated. There was a fiction book in Mother’s bookcase called Utopia, which meant it couldn’t be real. My textbooks had taught me the difference between fiction and non-fiction, so I knew that much. I swallowed. ‘Where’s she really from, Mother?’
Mother’s head whipped around, her hair spraying out like sparks of fire. She glared at me, nostrils flaring. ‘Don’t you like her? Don’t you like your present?’
I took a step away from the table. ‘I think she’s perfect, Mother, I do. I just want to know more about her, that’s all.’
Mother’s eyes narrowed and she tilted her head to the side. ‘If I tell you she’s from Utopia, she’s from Utopia.’
I nodded and glanced at the sleeping child, a queer, sick feeling working its way up my throat like thick treacle.
‘Thank you for my book, Mother,’ I said.
‘That’s fine. Tell me what you think of her, of Clarabelle.’
Mother watched me intently. I looked at the child’s face, thought about how oddly similar our names were. Mirabelle and Clarabelle.
‘She’s beautiful and, er, really small. She must be quite young.’ I paused, telling myself to be brave, ‘How old is she?’
‘She’s five,’ she said. ‘I rescued her.’
The sick feeling eased a little, ‘You rescued her?’
Mother nodded. She bent down and lifted the little girl out of the bag. Kissing the girl’s forehead, she left the kitchen and walked through the dining room into the living room where she placed the child on the sofa and covered her with the crochet blanket. I watched Mother perch on the edge of the sofa and stroke the child’s face over and over again, a faint smile on her thin lips.
‘If I hadn’t saved her, she’d be dead right now,’ Mother said softly.
‘What do you mean, Mother?’
‘That’s enough, Mirabelle,’ she said, her tone sharpening. She picked up the little girl and I watched her carry her out of the room.
Buy the book
Mother Loves Me by Abby Davies can be purchased from Amazon on Kindle and in paperback, and as an eBook from Kobo and iBooks.
About the author
Abby Davies studied English Literature at the University of Sheffield, then went on to teach English. She has taught at both state and independent schools, including Jilly Cooper’s and Minnette Walter’s old school in Salisbury.
She was shortlisted for the Mslexia Novel Competition in 2018 and longlisted for the Blue Pencil Agency First Novel Award in 2019.
She lives in Wiltshire with her husband and daughter. Mother Loves Me is her first novel.
Thanks to Jennifer Harlow at HarperCollins UK for my copy of Mother Loves Me, the extract material and for my place on the blog tour.
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