Molly Cottle was burying stolen spoons in the garden.
Silver spoons and gold ones with pictures painted in their bowls of sunflowers and bagpipes, and Blackpool Tower. Spoons with handles twisted like barley sugar. Fat spoons. Tiny spoons. Spoons made of horn looking like smoke and honey.
Molly was using the fat spoons to dig holes in the soil for the littler ones. She dug in silence, broken from time to time by birdsong. It was November, cold and damp. The earth steamed steadily at her feet.
Her mum had dressed her in two jumpers and a scarf, telling her to go and play in the garden. ‘You’ll hear the church bell at eleven o’clock. That’s how you’ll know the Two Minute Silence has started.’
Remembrance Day was for all the brave men and boys who battled in the wars. ‘All of them,’ Molly’s gran repeated. She always repeated things but she hardly ever answered questions. ‘Curiosity killed the cat,’ she said.
The TV was playing up, making Molly’s mum shake her head. It was the aerial, because of the storm last night. If Molly’s dad had been here, he’d have got out the long ladders and climbed up to poke at the dish with the end of a golf club.
The golf clubs were in the garage. Molly knew because she’d looked. She didn’t know where her dad was. Mum said, ‘He had to go away for a few days.’
At school, Sophie Dawe had cocked her head and asked, ‘Have they been fighting, your mum and dad?’
‘No,’ Molly replied truthfully. ‘They never fight. It’s very quiet in our house.’
On the TV, a man was saying, ‘… to lay a wreath for those who died…’
Molly went to the other end of the house, closing doors behind her. From a low sideboard in the kitchen she took the shoebox with the spoon collection, nineteen spoons in all. She removed each one in turn, dropping it into the folds of her kilt. When her lap was full, she put the shoebox back into the sideboard and shut it up. Holding her kilt by its hem, she climbed to her feet and swaggered down the steps from the kitchen to the back garden.
She dug the grave in her mother’s best flowerbed, working quickly, panting with the pace she set herself. ‘Ashes t’ashes dusty-dust,’ she muttered, her breath hanging white on the air.
The church clock started to strike. She sat back on her heels to listen. Eleven o’clock. The start of the Two Minute Silence.
‘Are eye pea,’ she muttered as loudly as she dared, poking the remaining spoons into the crumbly soil. It was what the vicar said when they buried Sophie Dawe’s granddad. Sophie’s brother told them: ‘Then we all chucked mud on the coffin.’
Molly wiped her hands on the grass. She smelt of earth, ripe. Behind her, the house was quiet. Her nose twitched and she scrubbed at it, crossly.
Silence stole the sunny spots in the house and made a No Man’s Land of its open spaces, driving Molly into corners and out of doors. It toyed with her, shredding with savage disinterest her small defences. It stalked her everywhere; at school, in shops and on the street. She raised questions like a hand to fend it off: ‘Where’s Dad gone? Why’s Grandpa’s name not on the War Memorial like Sophie Dawe’s granddad?’
‘Like father, like son,’ the woman in the butcher’s had muttered under her breath, two days after Molly’s dad disappeared.
Molly’s gran dropped two pound coins into the plastic pot on the counter, pinning a red paper poppy on her coat and another on Molly’s, challenging the rest of the shop with a stare.
‘Where’s Dad gone?’ Molly asked again.
Gran gathered her up with a glare. Silence batted her out of the shop, all the way down the street to her house where it chased her, as it always did, under the bed.
In the garden, Molly considered the plot where the spoons were buried. She put a hand on her stomach, feeling fat with wickedness.
The silence hissed at her heels.
She turned and stuck her tongue out at it. Then she poked her toe at the fresh mound of earth, huffing air out of her nostrils like a dragon.
After this, there would have to be Words.