As sleep welcomed her heavy limbs, thoughts raced around her subconscious and before long, she was drifting. Back to a place she fought to stay away from, but the fingertips of sleep drew her towards the dark and there she was, in the van’s front seat…
… her small legs straight out before her but still not long enough to reach the dashboard. Her pink patent shoes buckled up snuggly over white ankle socks with a frill. Uncle Tony had offered to take her to the party and her matching pink bag was on her knee, her favourite unicorm inside – she’d promised not to leave her behind. As they flew down the main road, Lucy watched the people in the cars they overtook, drivers tapping against steering wheels and some animatedly talking to others in their cars, they were miming like old Mrs Wilson got them to do at school. She giggled.
‘That’s a pretty dress Lucy.’ Tony was looking at the dress rather than the road ahead.
‘I got it from a friend across the street. It was too small for her.’ instinctively she straightened the hem across her thin thighs, the edge resting above her knees. She probably wouldn’t be able to wear it again herself as she was growing so tall.
‘What is the material?’ he left hand reached down to take the hem and he rubbed it between his fingers and thumb in small circular motion. ‘Nylon I think.’ he muttered to himself, staring far too long at her lap instead of the road.
Why would that matter, Lucy wondered. Strange for a man to know about materials – maybe he made things too. Lots of people made clothes Lucy had learnt and she was desperate to be big enough to work one of those sewing machines, the ones with the pedal underneath which looked like metal lace and behaved a little like a see-saw. Tony dropped the fabric, and it landed much higher up on her thigh and she flushed a little as she pushed it back down, wishing she had worn something different now.
Abigail’s party would be fun though. All her school friends were turning six now; Lucy had been the first to have her birthday and she had invited most of the group to the zoo for her treat. But it was now August and Abigail’s mum had said they could have a paddling-pool party.
Apparently there would be five, all filled to the brim. She couldn’t wait and was just thinking about where she should place the unicorn so she wouldn’t get wet, when the van slowed down and Uncle Tony took a turn off the main road.
She didn’t recognise this road but adults drove all the time and maybe he had a short cut in mind.
Soon there was a turning into some woods, a carpark with a picnic sign. Wooden tables with benches attached were dotted amongst the trees. Lucy was sure they didn’t have time for a picnic because the party started at eleven o’clock and the van’s digital clock said 10:45.
‘I am making party clothes for children, do you think this denim would be too rough and scratchy?’ Tony took her right hand and placed her pale fingers on his thigh. ‘Feel it like I did your dress; it’s the way designers decide about the clothes they make you know.’
‘Okay’ she did as she was told, while starting to wonder at his strange request. Maybe if she quickly did what he asked they could drive on to the party. That was usually what adults wanted; something in return for something else. She felt the denim briefly but snatched her hand away.
‘No, you didn’t feel it for long enough.’ He grabbed her hand more firmly and placed it in a different place, nearer to his pocket and pinched the denim into a fold to put between her own small shaking fingers which he forced closed with his own. ‘Just do this for five minutes and I’ll then take you to the party. You’re my top researcher!’ she wasn’t sure what a researcher was but it did sound important.
After a few seconds, his big hand pushed hers down and she felt his leg through the material. His hand felt hot and clammy and Lucy attempted to pull her hand back and she couldn’t stop the squeaky noise escaping from her throat.
His grip tightened over her hand and moved it round in a circle and she had no option but to follow the path he chose.
‘I want to go home!’ the words burst from her more loudly than she meant to but was immediately scared Uncle Tony would now be cross. He looked at her but said nothing. She pulled her hand again but he tightened his hold making her scream. Her left hand smacked the passenger window and the little unicorn fell from the pink handbag down into the footwell.
Almost immediately the door opened and a rush of fresh air filled the cab and Lucy felt her right hand released from its trap and turned to jump down. A woodland ranger in a green uniform stood in her way,
‘Hey missy, I heard you screaming, are you ok?’ instinctively he helped her land as Lucy made the move to escape her seat. He looked past her to the driver. ‘All ok here?’
‘Yeah I think a wasp freaked her’ Uncle Tony laughed ‘it’s flown out now.’
Lucy stood beside the van and shook her head at the man. She’d been taught never to talk to strangers but that people in uniforms could sometimes help. She noticed his walky-talky against his chest.
‘I don’t want to get back in there.’ her eyes searched his face for trust.
‘I think the wasp has gone.’ the ranger replied but made no move to help her back in.
The ranger was mumbling something into his radio as Lucy glanced at the ground and noticed the unicorn in the dirt. She crouched down to pick her up and then heard a scuffle on the other side of the van.
‘Was there a wasp?’ The kindly man sat on his haunches so he was at eye level and smiled,
She shook her head.
‘You’re ok now, what’s your name?’
Lucy held the unicorn up to him making sure it’s muzzle was facing him,
‘Spirit’ she whispered.