Here once more for your delectation is another glimpse into our unpublished book about the life of Bella Hatherley. The Gerts are somewhat divided on this book. One, myself, who has just reread it recently, finds it rather good. The other, while quite liking it, feels that a book narrated in the voice of a seven-year old girl is not to the taste of many readers (she is nine years old by the end of the book.) No matter how much I remind her of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, or Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, or To Kill a Mockingbird or White Oleander or even Great Expectations, she remains unconvinced.
Bella is attending Commons a posh school she hates. it is her birthday and her mother is planning a huge party. She has told lies about her home and now her mother has invited her whole class she will be caught out. She is desperate; how can she stop the party? She asks her brother for help, but he is not interested in her plight
‘Sorry, ‘he said, ‘short of getting you kidnapped by the Mafia I can’t think of anything.’
And he turned his stereo on again and lay down on his bed with a magazine with a rude picture. But he had given me an idea. I could be kidnapped. And then they couldn’t have the party, and also Mummy would realise she simply couldn’t live without me. I didn’t have to be kidnapped very long, just a day or two, so she wouldn’t get too upset.
The next day I went to school without complaining but as soon as Mummy dropped me off and zoomed away, I sneaked round the edge of the sports field and into the boat-shed. It was a high wooden building with a shelf up near the roof where they put boats when it wasn’t the rowing season. It wasn’t rowing season now, so I thought it was a good place to hide, although it was dark and spidery and the pine trees outside the window made a nasty moaning sound. I would just have to put up with it for one night. I crawled in between the boats. Nobody would ever think of looking for me here.
When I was up there, I thought it was a pity I hadn’t brought my transistor radio so I could hear them talking about me on the news, and also it was a pity I had only brought my lunch and the extra packet of biscuits I took when Kitty wasn’t looking.
Nobody came near the boat shed. I could hear the school bell ringing but there weren’t any police sirens or even anyone calling my name. I fell asleep for a while. Then a hissing sound woke me up. I opened my eyes and let out a scream before I could stop myself. A long snake with a glassy eye and a red beak was hissing at me. I sat up rubbing my eyes. Then I saw it was a swan, a bit better than a snake, but not looking at all friendly. It flapped its wings then hissed again. Then it stuck out its neck and grabbed my cheese sandwiches. I scrambled up on top of a boat to get away from it and I heard my biscuits fall to the ground. The swan waddled off; I did cry a bit then. I was already starving. I kept looking at my watch. It was afternoon for so long I thought it must be broken.
I was feeling more and more hungry, and I only had half a bottle of orange juice left and it was getting very cold even though I put one of the life-jackets on. I sat and sat and could hear cars coming and going, children calling out goodbye to each other, car doors slamming, Mr Carter mowing the lawns, and then nothing. Silence. And not once did I hear someone call, ‘Bella, where are you? We’re so worried about you.’
It was as if I didn’t exist.