Her face stares out at him from the newspaper. He doesn’t want to believe it’s the same little girl, now a young woman, and he doesn’t want to remember the day he met her, but he can’t help it.
Arnold Reginald Cuthbertson, sober diplomat, strolled down the cobbled street, hands in the pockets of his cerise shorts, ginger hairs springing from the open neck of his Hawaiian shirt, and surveyed the early morning harbour.
It wasn’t Long Island, sure, but he’d wanted something different this year, and he’d found it.
Mousehole—the locals pronounced it ‘Mouzall’. Fishing boats fidgeting at anchor, seagulls plunging into dark water, catching more chips than fish. And what was that floating a few yards out? Something hairy. A toupee? Someone would have to face the world bald today after one too many at the Oar and Anchor. He chuckled. Ah, the Brits.
It was then he heard crying.
He turned on the spot, searching for the direction, and saw her. Crouched down behind a bench, a little girl in a dirty dress, her corn-coloured curls trembling as she sobbed.
Workday Arnold would have ignored her, but vacation Arnold was different. He strode over and sat on the bench, leaning back to speak to her.
‘What’s wrong, honey?’
‘Patch – my dog – ‘ the little girl sniffed and wiped her nose. ‘He’s gone.’
Arnold glanced up and down the street—no dog. First things first, though. ‘What’s your name?’
‘Audrey Rose Tremain,’ she said in a sing-song voice.
‘Well, Audrey Rose, when did you last see Patch?’
‘This morning,’ she whispered. ‘I took him to the sea.’
‘Did he get lost there?’
‘No. Not lost.’ She looked up at him, and the expression in her eyes troubled Arnold.
She said, ‘He’s still there.’
‘At the harbour..?’
‘At the bottom of the sea.’
Uh-oh. No wonder she was upset. ‘Shall we go and look for your Mommy?’
‘I drowned him.’
Arnold started. ‘I’m sure it was an accident.’ Where on earth was her mother?
‘No. It wasn’t an assident.’
He felt panic rising. He’d never been any good with young kids—or any kids. ‘Come on, now. Cheer up. Everyone makes mistakes. I expect the writing was on the wall for old Patch.’
Her smile was so broad and so sudden, it startled him.
‘Yes,’ she said. ‘He was a bad boy.’ She jumped up and smoothed the skirt of her dress. ‘Patch was naughty!’ Then she skipped away, back up the cobbles, round the corner and out of sight, and Arnold forgot the incident with a good English breakfast and a walk along the cliffs.
Twenty years later, Arnold looks again at his paper:
‘Audrey Rose Tremain, 24, found not guilty of the murder of her partner and two children on the grounds of criminal insanity. ‘They were bad, all of them,’ she said at her trial. ‘The writing was on the wall.’
He closes the paper and shuts his eyes.