Heart's Desire by Claire Macrae
The summer of her tenth birthday, Lucie’s family went to live in the woods.
It was her dad’s choice. Living somewhere beautiful was his heart’s desire, and Lucie’s too. She wanted Narnia, and this looked almost right.
Her parents tried hard to make the house decent. An old man and his son had lived there before. The son was grown up, but he had a Condition. When the old man died, the son was taken away, Lucie didn’t know where. When she found out that her bedroom had been his, she was scared. Supposing he hadn’t really gone? Or only out through the wardrobe, into the woods. If he’d done that, he could come back. At night she lay taut and silent, listening for warning sounds: footsteps, the clink of hangers, his hands peeling a path through her clothes.
She wished she could share a room with one of her sisters, but they wouldn’t have had that. They were both much older and Susan-ish; they didn’t want to live in the woods. They missed their friends, and shops, and places to go.
Too soon, they left home. That was when their mum went strange. At weekends she stayed in bed till afternoon. She was angry with everyone, especially Lucie’s dad. It was his fault, she’d only come here to make him happy, and look what happened. She’d lost her girls.
You’ve still got me, Lucie said. Her mother hugged her till it hurt.
Lucie played alone in the woods. The smell was mushroomy and damp, but the forest floor was lovely, brown needles softened by rain and time. The trees weren’t right for climbing, but you could explore.
Each time, she dared herself further. She wanted adventures, the kind you got in books. She knew that, really, none would come – there’d be no lantern, no parcel-laden faun, no witch or magical gifts – but tests of courage always could be had. Going further into the gloom. Finding a tree up-ended, its torn roots dressed in moss. Stopping to look: letting your eyes lure you into seeing something else, a great face curtained with grey-green hair. Finding crevices for eyes.
Hoping they wouldn’t blink.
One autumn Saturday, her dad away at his work, her mum didn’t get up. Lucie peered at her huddled shape, scared of disturbing her, scared even more that she could sleep so late. She didn’t know what to do. She went into the woods.
She found nothing new. Legions of trees. No animals, unless you counted the sneaking oil-black slugs; nothing to lift her heart. She knew then that her mum and sisters had been right. This was no place to live. The trees breathed out loneliness, and for months she’d breathed it in. She was doing it now, sucking it down as she stumbled between the trunks, desperate for signs of home: smoke from the chimney, radio voices turned up loud, a light at her mother’s window.
by Claire Macrae