Veena’s wittering on about some new bloke in Legal, but I’m not listening. I used to be interested in her potential boyfriends, new boyfriends, boring boyfriends, boyfriend troubles. Now everything seems just flat.
There’s 18 months of my life missing and I don’t know why. No one will tell me the truth. “You were sick,” says Mum.
“Terribly ill,” agrees Granddad, but I see something in his eyes. He’s not telling the truth. Him lying to me hurts more than the missing months.
Veena’s trying to be normal, at least. She’s not tiptoeing around me, around Lance, around any of it. She says I was completely off, mad as a hatter. A bad breakup will do that to a girl, she claims. Jilted. Left at the altar. I don’t know. None of those phrases seem right, none of them feel true.
I asked Mum. “You were too good for him, sweetheart.” She’s been different too, much nicer than ever I can remember.
Thing is, I’ve checked. I’m not the best temp in Chiswick for nothing. I know how to check on these things, and there's no record, none at all, of me being ill or in hospital or anything. Apparently I went to Egypt for two weeks. Flipping Egypt, me! I worked too, sort of. Short term jobs, two days in Health and Safety, nothing permanent, nothing lasting. But then, for several months before everyone (but me) saw planets in the sky, nothing. It's all a blank.
Veena and I are having lunch at a sandwich shop down the street from my latest assignment. A little girl with ginger hair walks by with her mother, and I watch them as they pass. I’m staring. I know it, but I can’t seem to help it.
The little girl asks her mum, “Mummy, are we real?”
Everything goes to slow motion as I watch the little girl pass, her question echoing in my ears. Veena's nattering, the traffic, everything's muffled except for my heartbeat pounding in my head and the little girl's question, Are we real?
You’re real, of course you’re real! You’re so real! My heart desperately weeps these words; it’s like I’ve said them before, but I can’t remember when or why or how.
“Come on, Ella, hurry up,” says her mum impatiently, pulling her along. Time snaps back to its normal humdrum rhythm. “We’ll be late for story time at the library.”
The library. They have all the answers there, don't they.
“Donna? Are you even listening to a word?” I can feel Veena staring at me.
“That little girl, she’s my…” How do I explain this? It's impossible.
“What little girl? Are you getting broody, Donna? Best to find a man first,” Veena laughs.
“Listen, Veena, it’s been great. Thanks for lunch. I’ve got to go. I’m sorry, but I’ve really got to go.”
“Donna, what about dessert? What about work? Where are you going?”
“The library!” I call out as I hurry away, happy for once, giddy even. For the first time in a very long time, I know exactly where I’m going.