Who would you choose if you had to – your daughter or your husband?
Eve lives in the beautiful Cumbrian town of Tarnside with her husband, Neil. After years of trying, and failing, to become parents, they are in the final stages of adopting four-year-old Milly. Though she already feels like their daughter, they just have to get through the ‘settling in’ period: three months of living as a family before they can make it official.
But then Eve’s mother, Joan, comes to stay. Joan has never liked her son-in-law. He isn’t right for Eve; too controlling, too opinionated. She knows Eve has always wanted a family but is Neil the best man to build one with?
Then Joan uncovers something that could smash Eve’s family to pieces…
‘Why don’t we see what Milly does?’
What Milly does is admirable. She asks the girl politely if she can have the swing. The girl shakes her head, but she doesn’t get on the swing herself. She stands, holding it away from Milly.
I wait for Milly to turn to us for help, already rehearsing the scenario in my head. I will walk over, smiling. I will introduce myself and Milly to the girl and ask her name. I’ll suggest they sit on the swing together.
But Milly doesn’t turn around. What Milly does is to drop her head down and charge at the girl, knocking her backwards onto the loose wood chippings that form a protective layer over the tree roots and hard ground. Neil is the one to run forward, leaving me standing, gaping and useless. It’s Neil who dusts the girl down and leads her, sobbing, back to her grandmother, with Milly dragging along beside him protesting. ‘She maked me do it! She’s nasty!’ It’s Neil who insists Milly apologise.
‘Say sorry, Milly, or we will get straight back on the ferry and go home.’ His voice is firm and carries on the breeze. And he insists she repeat her apology, sincerely, before it is accepted.
I watch all this in horror. I do not know how to do this.
What would my mother have done? I try to imagine her here. She would be confident. She wouldn’t hesitate. She wouldn’t stand here like a lemon unable to move.
I watch the grandmother reassure Neil that it isn’t a problem. I watch her question her granddaughter. She’s quite stern. Is she asking her why she stopped Milly having the swing? Is she suggesting Milly isn’t the only one who needs to apologise? I can see she’s addressing both girls and they seem to be listening. As I watch, the older girl holds out her hand, and Milly takes it. They turn and skip back towards the playground together. For them, it’s all over. Neil says something to the grandmother, and she laughs.
I stand in the playground, watching Milly on the swing with her new friend, and I feel utterly alone. The ache is sudden and fierce. A need to see my mother. To be with her. I need to talk to her about Milly, to tell her everything that’s been going on, to share these feelings, these waves of emotion I hadn’t anticipated: love, joy, gratitude, delight, but also my fear.
Loving someone, needing them so desperately, makes you vulnerable. You could lose them suddenly, brutally. When Neil’s away, I try not to imagine car crashes, random accidents. I’m not paranoid, I don’t sit fretting the moment he’s out of my sight, but sometimes the possibility that my happiness might end crashes in front of me. He feels it too; a call out of the blue, a need to hold tight for a moment.
It’s the price of love, that fear.
But loss comes in different shapes. It isn’t always solid and sudden; sometimes it trickles in. I’ve become a mother and now, more than ever, I need to talk to my own mother. And Milly needs her. Milly needs a grandmother. But I haven’t seen my mother for more than two years. She no longer speaks to me.
Neil swings back through the gate. ‘All sorted.’
‘I didn’t know what to do.’
He laughs but stops when he sees I’m serious and takes my hand. ‘Come on.’ He points to a small coffee van parked just the other side of the low playground fence. ‘He’s got a proper espresso machine.’ The van is within clear view. I follow him through the gate, glancing back to check on Milly. She waves from the swing as her new friend pushes her towards the sky.
As I warm my hands on the hot cup and sip the froth, watching Milly swing, I ask, ‘What if I was here on my own with her?’
Chillingly authentic, this story of adoption and family conflict shows that domestic abuse manifests in many ways and sometimes so subtly the victim is unaware of it until they have lost themselves completely.
Eve describes herself as a ‘glass half full’ person but she is always waiting for her happiness to be destroyed, something has made her this insecure and being under the spotlight as the adoption process draws to a close makes her seek support from an unlikely source. Neil loves Eve and their new daughter Milly, but he has secrets and areas of his life he can’t share this makes him vulnerable. Joan appears harmless, but she is manipulative and dangerous, blinkered she only sees one version of events, hers and makes a complex, sinister antagonist, a wolf in sheep’s clothing perhaps? The social workers Shona and Helen and the extended family and friends are all believable characters that enhance the story.
Eve is a strong, decisive person in her work life, but in her personal life, she feels inadequate, leaning first on her mother and then her husband for emotional support. Her weakness is a crucial flaw and one she cannot escape until she has someone to fight for. Her character shows the most development in this story told from her point of view. She is frustrating, many times during the story I wanted her to be stronger and assert herself but she is a wholly convincing character who grows with each setback and becomes even stronger as she fights for her daughter and her family’s happiness.
An absorbing, realistic story, which sends chills down your spine because this could happen. If you enjoy domestic thrillers with a sinister twist, this is one to read.
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Wand_Zosia_credit Mark Harrison, courtesy of the Westmorland Gazette
Zosia Wand is an author and playwright. She was born in London and lives in Cumbria with her family. She is passionate about good coffee, cake and her adopted landscape on the edge of the Lake District. Her first novel, Trust Me, was published by Head of Zeus in 2017.
Twitter: @zosiawand Facebook: @zosiawand