We're having breakfast and she's wordrunning on and on about the old photo of Mo's dog that's hanging framed in the loungeroom and how she thinks we should put it up in the loft if I'm not going to tell her anything else about Mo and how stupid it is we even have that photo and why would someone even want to blow it up to that size?

"Why don't you go take it down then?"

"Yeah right. You'd only put it back up again." Charlotte stares into her cereal bowl for a minute and then says, "Speaking of Mo, I need to ask you some stuff."

"What - now? No." I hear myself say, quickly. "You need to get to school."

"Tonight then," she insists, lift-cupping her cereal bowl with her hands and chugging down the last bit of milk. "Just a coupla things."

"I've told you, I don't know much about Mo at all."

"Just a couple of things," she repeats. "You might remember something."

"I won't."

"You might."

"I won't."

"Yeah but you might."


Later that day, Charlotte's art teacher, Miss Burney, phones. After telling me how impressed she is with Charlotte, and how she thinks Char has a "...natural artistic flare", she seems hesitant (timid?), when I ask her if there's something wrong.

"Charlotte, well, she's - as you're well aware I hope - gifted. Ahead of her years."

I ask outright if Charlotte is being rude or aggressive or messing around in class or having any problems like she had at junior school, and Miss Burney says well no, but she can certainly be challenging. She then adds quickly: "Her latest drawings. I don't want you to take this the wrong way at all Mr Sykes, but - they've given me some call for concern."

"Really?" I ask. "What do you mean?"

"Well, have you seen them?"

"Seen what?"

"Her recent drawings."

"Ah, yes... I think so."

"You think so?"


The truth is I can't remember whether I've seen them or not. A flicker of pain stabs its way across my forehead. I become acutely aware of the sound of a branch scratching against the window above the sink.

"I'm sorry Mrs Burney, I have to go."

"I'm sorry - what?"

"Charlotte's fine. Thank you for ringing."

I hang up the phone.


When Charlotte gets in from school she bombards me with a rush of questions about Aunt Mo: What was she like? How did she die? Why did she pass all this stuff onto you? Did she have any sisters? Why did she have all those bottles, was she into medicine?

I respond with murmurs and shrugs. "No idea, I don't know," I say, rubbing my forehead. "You said a few questions."

"That is a few questions."

"That's loads of questions."

"No it isn't. I just don't get it - how can you not know?"

"I just can't remember, Char. I really can't."

And that's the truth. I can't remember.

Charlotte stares at me for a few seconds like she's really trying to suss out whether I'm lying, then rolls her eyes and says I never know anything about anything when it comes to people and dates and family, but it's not like we have any close family anyway cos we're freaks, and that she's going to look all our ancestors up on the web and print out a massive Family Tree and figure it all out for herself. "If there is a Tree," she adds. "It'll be more like a Family Weed."

"Fine," I tell her.

"Fine, I'm doing it now," she says and flounces up off the settee and strides out of the room, not quite slamming the door.


Later, I find her asleep in her room, still in her school clothes, laptop open on a music video that's had 14 million likes. She has a string of tabs on the go: a number of Google searches for "Mo Sykes", a search for "why dads are so useless", a site titled "Ten Tips To Win at Chess", and some trendy looking boy's Facebook page.

As I close the laptop lid gently and lift the machine onto the bedside table, I swear I feel something whisper in my right ear: "Paaaaaawn...".