The Orchard Girls by Nikola Scott – two women in two time periods have to confront the truth -an extract

The Orchard Girls by Nikola Scott is released in paperback!

I am looking forward to reviewing this book immensely, featuring as it does a look back on friendships made in 1940, when the world was at war and everything had changed. Frankie’s view in 2004 is bound to be different, but can she understand a secret from her grandmother’s past?

Here is an extract to be going on with:

After a years-long rift between them, Frankie and her grandmother Violet have suddenly crossed paths again. Frankie, who was partly raised by Violet after her mum’s death, is finding the reconnection difficult. She is still unable to forgive Violet for the betrayal that tore them apart.

But Frankie soon finds something strange is going on with Violet, who seems detached –confused, even. When Frankie visits her one evening, the reality of what is happening to Violet suddenly becomes devastatingly clear . . .

Lying on the bed, Violet didn’t stir, not even when Frankie tripped over that stubborn edge of the carpet that always curled up, and banged her shin against the edge of the bed as she approached.

For a long time, she stared down at her grandmother in the gloomy half-light of the bedroom, willing her to move or sigh in her sleep, to do anything that a normal sleeper would do, let alone someone as violently opposed to naps as Violet. But her grandmother slept on, unmoving, arms folded over her chest, fingers interlinked.

At a loss, Frankie squinted at the piece of paper she was still holding. It was thick and a little grainy to the touch. Shoes, it said in big letters, above – Frankie frowned, brought the paper closer to her eyes – a series of drawings, rather crudely done but very clearly showing a shoe with six holes, a snaky line as shoelaces. It was repeated four times, one below the other, and in each picture, the snaky line took on shape, looped itself through the other end, until it was finally fully tied in a crooked bow.

Frankie looked from the paper to the shoes on Violet’s feet. The laces were thick and a slightly different colour from the shoes themselves, the loops big and childlike, secured with a double knot. She backed away, her eyes on the paper as she pulled the door closed – and stopped dead. A second piece of paper, stuck on the door at eye height. My room, it said in the same big felt-tip letters.

Slowly, very slowly, Frankie reached for the light switch, and in the yellowish light of the overhead lamp she saw a third sign: Bathroom.

Half running, half stumbling, Frankie was back in the hall, spotted another sign, attached to a basket under the table. Shoes in here. Realisation dawned, unwillingly, agonisingly slowly, because she didn’t want to take in the full implication of this – please God, no . . . The word Keys were scrawled above a nail that had been pounded crookedly next to the front door at Violet’s eye height. Hands shaking, Frankie turned on every light she could find, as if that would help her understand.

Coat in cupboard. Wear socks. Key goes into lock. Lock door.

It went on and on, like a horrific, torturous treasure hunt, the red letters on the creamy white paper swimming before Frankie’s eyes, turning into long wavy lines across her vision as she spun around, then ran down to the kitchen, vague thoughts of spooning sugar into something hot to help fix whatever this was.

Keep milk in fridge.
Hob off

Put tea bag in mug
hate sugar
Use one tea bag only

She sat down suddenly, right there on the floor next to the rubbish bin. Maybe there was an explanation, she tried to tell herself. But then she saw, on top of the overflowing bin, a whole wodge of used tea bags. There were ten of them at least, all squeezed together in one big ball, the imprint of a hand still clearly visible across the gauzy brown surface.

Use one tea bag only.

‘What on earth are you doing here?’

Frankie shot up, saw her grandmother in the kitchen door, up and awake and looking strangely, blessedly normal. Pale and tired, yes, but the way her ancient dressing gown was tied tightly, her hair brushed back, it could have been fifteen years ago, when she would walk into the kitchen in the mornings grumbling about how the authorities could possibly think it humane to force children to school this early. Only now it was eight at night and Violet had napped on her bed in her shoes.

‘What’s going on?’ Violet said, looking around her and frowning.

She seemed fine, was Frankie’s first thought, but then Violet’s eyes flicked to the signs tacked up around the kitchen and she flushed a dark red, resigned and panicked and afraid all at the same time, and Frankie knew, right then and there, that fine wasn’t even on the same planet as what was happening here.

‘So.’ Frankie cleared her throat. ‘This is . . . new.’

It was completely inadequate, but Violet nodded and then, horribly, her eyes were very bright, her mouth working, and she pressed her hand in front of her mouth.

‘I don’t know what to do,’ she pushed out between her fingers. ‘Oh Frankie, I don’t know.’

Abruptly she sat down at the kitchen table, put her head in her hands and started talking, a gush of fear about all the things she knew she must have forgotten but couldn’t remember forgetting: money miscounted, names and faces mismatched, things misplaced and then found in strange corners of the flat.

‘How long has this been happening?’ Frankie whispered. ‘Why didn’t you . . . ?’

‘Get in touch?’ Violet asked wryly, and Frankie flushed when she thought back to Violet’s many attempts to repair the rift between them over the last ten years. Letters Frankie hadn’t answered, phone calls she’d ignored, because Violet still refused to concede that she’d done anything wrong at all.

‘I just couldn’t face telling anyone,’ she said quietly. ‘And I don’t really know what to say, either, because I don’t understand it. Mrs Langley at the corner shop gave me back money I apparently paid extra, a hundred pounds, Frankie. Mrs Bellfour doesn’t return my greetings because apparently I’ve slighted her on the street. But I can’t tell you what I did; there’s this dark grey fog, an absence, a hole in my time, there’s a hole in me.’ Her voice had risen again and she pushed her fist against her mouth. ‘So I try to remind myself of everything that’s important,’ she jerked her thumb at the signs, ‘because then maybe I can go on as before.’