Eating a bowl of muesli the next morning, Becky was pondering on whether to say anything to her Mum. She decided to approach the conversation in a roundabout way.
“Mum, is it right that nobody else is living here yet?” Mum didn’t even look up from her i-pad.
“I told you, we are alone here. At least until the flats are sold, or someone comes to use the weekend place”. Becky acted surprised.
“Oh, it’s just that I saw a girl last night, and she said she lives here”. Mum put the pad down. “Where did you see her then?”
“She was in my room when I went to bed. I think there must be a connecting door or something. She said her name was Charity”. Mum’s reaction was a grin.
“Oh really? In your room? I think you must have had a vivid dream, love. That’s understandable, in a strange new house. At least it was a nice dream”.
Becky decided not to argue about it. “I think I will get dressed and have a look along the riverbank while you’re working”. Mum nodded, engrossed in what she was reading. “That’s OK, but be careful of the river. I know you’re a good swimmer, but that water flows fast. And don’t go too far from the house”.
The water was flowing fast. Becky threw a small stick into it, and watched as it was whipped away across the bubbling surface. It would have been nice to have got a dog, but Mum had said no to that. “You will be at school all day, love, and I have to work. I simply can’t cope with a puppy at the moment”. She was still imagining a small dog running at her side when she got to the weeping willow.
Charity was sitting underneath the overhanging canopy of branches, her back against the trunk, and her legs stretched out. She had nothing on her feet, and they were filthy too. Worse than just dirty, literally black with ingrained dirt. She smiled as Becky appeared. “This is my tree, this is. It tells me things, this tree does”. Becky knelt down near her, not too close, to avoid the smell coming from the girl. “What does it tell you, Charity?” The girl reached an arm around the trunk, stroking it with stubby fingers. “Anything I need to know, Rebecca”.
Ignoring the comment about the tree, Becky decided to ask her something. “You said you lived here, but me and my Mum are the only people here at the moment. So where do you live?” Charity smiled, showing those black teeth. She pointed to the buildings behind. “There, I live there. Wright’s Mill. So you are not the only ones”. Becky’s eyebrows raised, but she decided that now wasn’t the time to start falling out with the only other child around. “Oh, alright then. I suppose my Mum must have got it wrong”. The girl’s face looked serious as she replied. “Yes she has. She gets lots of things wrong. The tree tells me what she gets wrong. It will tell you, if you ask it properly”.
Standing up, Becky carried on walking. She thought the conversation was getting silly now, and Charity was being rude. “I’m going for a walk. See you later, Charity”. She marched off without waiting for a reply. When she looked back moments later to see if the girl was following her, there was no sign of her under the tree.
Mum drove them into the village to eat that night. She had booked a table at the only restaurant there. It was in a nice big conservatory, attached to the local pub. The waitress was an elderly lady, dressed all in black, with a white apron around her waist. They were the only diners in there, at six-thirty. Some local people were already sitting drinking in the bar area, and they all seemed to be glancing at them, interested in the newcomers. As the waitress wrote down their order, Mum tried to appear friendly. “We have just moved in to the old mill. You know, Wright’s Mill. I wanted to try this restaurant tonight, it’s good to get to know the local area”. The older woman just grinned. “I will bring your drinks, madam”. Mum ignored her rudeness, and smiled at Becky, shrugging her shoulders. “Looks like it is not so easy to get accepted round here, Becks. Oh well, give it time.”
The food was very good, and cheap too, so Mum said. When the waitress brought the bill, Mum tried again. “We are the only ones that have moved into the mill so far. I am looking forward to meeting the others, once the rest of the flats have been sold. Do you know anyone who is moving there?” The woman checked the cash that Mum had given her, and replied without meeting her gaze. “Nobody from here will ever buy a flat at Wright’s Mill. Only outsiders like you would want to live there”. Before Mum could ask what she meant, the waitress turned, and quickly disappeared through a door marked ‘Staff Only’.
Back at the house, Mum was on the computer again as soon as she sat down. Becky put the TV on, and watched an episode of a teen soap opera. When it finished, Mum reminded her that she had to sort out her new school uniform for Monday. “We will have to be up and about early, Becks. It’s a forty minute drive into town to get to the school. Remember?” Becky nodded, but she hardly remembered their visit to the school. A sixties built low-level group of buildings, spread around a large sports field in the centre. The uniform was dark green, with a yellow badge and a green and yellow striped tie. “The colour suits you, love.” Mum had said.
When she got upstairs to look though the new uniform items, Becky could smell that distinctive odour.
Charity was sitting on her bed.