No Escape

Free No Escape by Hilary Norman

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Authors: Hilary Norman
enough. Far too much of Irina’s development between the ages of one and three had been influenced by tension, fear and pain. Joanne knew it, shared it, but
felt ever more helpless and inadequate as she observed Irina reverting, in one way, to how she had been when she’d first come to them.
    Soon after her second birthday, she had stopped crying.
    ‘Bloody hell,’ Tony said, after three or so evenings of peace. ‘This is great.’
    ‘Yes,’ Joanne had said quietly.
    ‘About fucking time,’ he’d added.
    Joanne had said nothing after that, because the silence was making her feel sick, because she realized what had created it. Like an animal submitting to a whip, Irina, feisty little girl that
she had been, had finally learned that it was better, infinitely less painful, not to cry.
    ‘Good, strong character,’ Joanne remembered Dr Mellor saying.
    She’d wondered, shuddering, what the paediatrician might say now.
    The peace hadn’t lasted. Irina’s new introversion and lack of responsiveness had begun to irk Tony almost as much as the crying had.
    ‘All I asked for was a loving child,’ he had told Joanne.
    ‘She is loving,’ Joanne had said, fearfully.
    ‘With you, not me.’
    ‘Maybe if you—’ She stopped.
    ‘What? Maybe if I
what
, Joanne?’
    ‘Nothing,’ she’d said, quietly. ‘I know you try.’
    ‘Bloody right, I try,’ Tony had said. ‘I sweat blood for her, and what do I get for it – an ungrateful kid who hates my guts.’
    ‘She doesn’t hate you,’ Joanne had protested. ‘You wanted her quiet, so that’s what she’s given you.’
    And Tony, as usual, had gone to the pub.

Chapter Thirteen
    Jack’s tendency to stumble had been sufficiently apparent, when he was only two, for Lizzie to have mentioned it to Dr Anna Mellor during his annual check-up, but the
paediatrician – married to Peter Szell, a cardiologist and a close friend of Christopher’s – had been reassuring, had pointed out, after her examination, that falling was
perfectly usual in new walkers.
    Lizzie had put it, if not completely out of her mind, at least to the back.
    ‘He’s so gorgeous,’ grandmother Angela had said,
everyone
had said, for Jack, with his beautiful grey eyes and golden hair and happy disposition, was decidedly
gorgeous.
    Edward adored his little brother, but teased him frequently as they grew.
    ‘You’re so slow,’ he complained when they played together.
    ‘He’s only little,’ Christopher had reminded him. ‘You have to be patient.’
    ‘I am,’ Edward had said, ‘but he’s so clumsy.’
    ‘Can’t all be natural athletes like you, Ed.’
    ‘What’s an athlete, Dad?’
    ‘People who run races and do high-jump, that sort of thing.’
    ‘Jack can’t jump,’ Edward had said.
    ‘Of course he can,’ Christopher had said.
    When Sophie had come along, three-year-old Jack had revelled in his opportunity to be a big brother, cuddling his baby sister every chance he was given, liking to watch her being bathed and
changed, taking pleasure in stroking her soft cheeks.
    A gentle boy.
    A boisterous, inquisitive, even-tempered, loving boy.
    ‘I don’t think I’ve ever known a more easy-going child,’ Gilly said.
    ‘I know,’ Lizzie agreed. ‘We’re so lucky.’
    And then, in the space of a few hours, on a February morning three months after Jack had turned four, everything changed forever, when Christine Connor, the head of Jack’s nursery school,
asked Lizzie, just dropping her son off, if she might have a private word.
    ‘I’m a bit worried about Jack,’ she said.
    ‘Why?’
    Lizzie spoke the word lightly, like the woman she had, till that second, gone on pretending to be, the blessed, untroubled wife and mother of three. But in her mind, in her already recoiling
body and clenching heart, all the lightness had already gone.
    ‘I think,’ Mrs Connor said, ‘he may have a problem.’
    ‘What sort of a problem?’
    Don’t listen
,
Lizzie
.
    ‘For one

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