The Winds of Heaven by Judith Clarke

By Judith Clarke

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Clementine flung herself back down on the bed. ‘Oh,’ she sobbed. ’ Fan woke quick like a cat and sat up straight. ’ Fan jumped out of bed and padded across the old linoleum. ’ she whispered. ’ ‘Is it the cold? ’ She glanced towards the window where the stars in the gap between the curtains seemed even bigger now, as if they had come down closer to the earth. ’ She dragged it from her bed and tucked it round her cousin. ’ Clementine tugged it out and threw it back across the room. Fan picked it up.

She’s got wrinkles! Imagine! ’ Fan pulls a wrinkly face and lets the heavy plaits fall; they tumble down over her pointed shoulder blades and settle at her waist. She flings herself onto her bed, crosswise, head hanging over the side, plaits sweeping the floor, and walks her small slender feet up the grubby wall. The tops of them are speckled with the red dust of Lake Conapaira, and her soles are stained with it, crimson as an Indian bride’s. ’ ‘Not me,’ says Fan. ’ The utter certainty in that childish voice, remembered half a century later on this hot summer morning in a suburban park, makes Clementine’s blood run cold.

Backward. There’d been a kind of triumph in the way she’d spoken that word; she’d licked her lips on it as if it was chocolate, rich and sweet. A wave of bright crimson had flooded Fan’s cheeks, so quick and sudden you barely caught it before it was gone again and Fan’s face turned pale as milk. She’d dropped the cloth on the floor and run out of the room, and Clementine had run after her, out of the house, across the yard and out into the lane. ’ Clementine asked this silent, angry Fan. Her cousin said nothing for a moment.

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