Last night I could hear them through the wall again. Our walls are very thin. You can hear everything, even when you don’t want to. The voices were angry and started yelling all those words that mum made me promise never to say.
Laney started crying.
She’s my baby sister. She’s only one year old, but she can scream very loud when she wants to. The lines on mum’s forehead became deeper. She doesn’t like our neighbours very much and I can see how it upsets her whenever they fight.
The man and woman who live next door are called Mister and Missus Jenkins. They’re married, but I don’t think they love each other very much. They shout a lot, and when they do I know it means we won’t be getting any sleep that night.
Mum rocked Laney back and forth in her arms, and bounced her up and down the way she likes it as she walked around the room in circles. I found Laney’s toy rabbit under the couch. When she saw it she stopped crying and wiggled her fingers at it. That means she wants it. I gave it to her and she gave me such a big smile and mum said that I’m the best big brother in the whole world.
Mum put Laney back down in her cot and sat down on a chair. She looked very tired. There was more angry shouting through the wall, more of the bad words, and when I looked at mum she was very white.
He’s a ghost, but a friendly one. I watch him on TV every Saturday morning on Channel Seven. I wish I had a ghost for a friend so we could play tricks on everyone who’s mean to me, and we could scare the neighbours whenever they’re shouting at each other.
Then I heard a big crash that made me jump. Something smashed against our wall, but on the other side where Mister and Missus Jenkins were still screaming at each other. The voices kept yelling and yelling. It made my head hurt.
‘Mum, why don’t you call the police?’ I asked.
She looked at me like she was surprised to find me in the room, and then she shook her head very slowly. ‘It won’t do any good, buddy. They never come in time.’ I thought I could see tears about to roll out of mum’s big brown eyes.
‘In time for what?’ I asked, but she never answered.
Laney started crying again. Mum picked her up and all three of us sat on the shaggy rug, with all of mine and Laney’s toys around us. Mum took out her special necklace from a pocket. She told me it had been her mother’s. There are lots and lots of little blue beads on it that sparkled in the light, and they were so pretty that I wanted to reach out and touch them.
Mum’s fingers touched every single bead as she whispered something too quiet for me to hear. Me and Laney watched. The voices through the wall were getting louder, but I couldn’t understand them anymore.
‘Mum, what are you doing?’ I asked.
She stopped whispering, opened her eyes and looked back at me with her big brown eyes. ‘These are magical beads, buddy. And when I touch them, and close my eyes very tightly, they help me talk to God.’
Laney reached out with her wiggly fingers. She touched the beads and so did mum, and mum started whispering to God again. When her fingers found the last bead, there was a very high scream from the other side of the wall, and then all the screaming and the yelling stopped very suddenly.
‘It worked, mum! Do you think God heard you?’ I asked.
Mum only smiled.
I didn’t believe her smile. It didn’t look happy at all; it looked kind of small and sad – like she didn’t believe it either. We put Laney back in her cot. Mum tucked me in too, turned off the light, and I watched her lie down on her couch to go to sleep.
Early in the morning there are lots of cars outside on the street. Mum opens the door. I can see policemen in the corridor. Mum tells me to stay inside our room, but I don’t listen to her. She goes up to one of the policemen and asks him what’s happening.
He doesn’t say anything.
He just shakes his head.
Mister McEwen from the end of the hall asks the policeman what he’s doing here.
‘Just here to keep the peace,’ he answers in a deep voice.
‘Where were you last night?’ Mister McEwen shouts back, and then he uses some of those bad words that mum made me promise never to say.
Soon there are more people in uniform, but they’re not policemen. I don’t know who they are. They come out of Mister and Missus Jenkins’ room carrying a long mattress with handles on both ends. I can’t see what’s on it because there’s a big plastic sheet covering it.
They don’t see me watching from the door.
But when mum turns and spots me, she makes a funny noise and pushes me back into our room so quickly that I nearly trip on the shaggy rug. I think she’s going to be angry with me. But she’s not. She stands inside our room with her back against the closed door and her hands shake as she breathes. I can hear every breath.
‘I’m sorry, mummy,’ I say.
She opens her eyes and smiles at me, but it’s that same sad smile she wore last night that I didn’t believe. ‘It’s okay, buddy,’ her voice is shaky. ‘Go and pack a bag, okay? We’re going to go far away from here. We’ll go on an adventure, what do you think?’
‘Sounds good, mummy.’
I pick up my backpack and put all my toys in the pockets. I put Laney’s toys in there too because she’s too little to pack her own toys, and I know she’ll be sad if we leave any behind.
Mum waits at the door, pressing herself against it as if she wants to keep it closed forever.