Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Daddy's Girl by Maria Lucas - opening pages

 The strip of photos drops into the metal slot as I pass.
I pause, distracted by the flickering movement, the soft click as they land. I don't reach for them. They're not mine, after all. And they might be wet. They always used to be wet. In the days before selfies you had to wait, first for the machine to digest your features, then for the glistening results to slide out like a tongue.
Photo booths were a confessional to vanity. You'd crowd inside with your mates on a dreary Saturday, giggling. Or persuade your secret boyfriend to enshrine forever some mournfully precious day, snogging while that all-seeing eye blinked, flashed, and dismissed you.
No one's inside this booth. No one's claiming these pictures. There's a crumpled KitKat wrapper on the floor. The thick pleated curtain has been pushed open. It's still knocking faintly against the metallic frame.
Someone barged past me just now, over by the flower stall. . I was probably in the way, standing there weighted with worry. The mingled scents wafting off the display were overpowering and somehow mocking, especially the lilies. The nausea passed weeks ago but I still detest their sickly, funereal smell.
I heard a voice. I turned towards the street doors, towards the shops, every which way as mothers do. But I couldn't see her. Someone just called out 'Mum!'
It's strangely quiet in here this morning. Normally Whiteleys is a sea of buffeting strangers, workers rushing through their lunch hour, tourists ambling in from the neighbouring hotels, locals stocking up, humanity flowing up and down the sliding escalators. Everyone in a hurry.
But not today. My friend Maisie has left. She dashed out through the glass doors, out onto the cruel bright air of Queensway, away from all this pulsating panic.
She must have given me these tulips. She left me by the flower stall and told me to wait for the others, and that's when a stranger knocked past me. I wasn't about to remonstrate. He, or she, could have been violent, or carrying a knife.
I waited with my flowers but I couldn't keep still. I ignored Maisie's orders and was nearly at the escalator to go up to the next level, passing this booth, desperate to go on with the search, when the photos caught my eye.
A pale oval in the centre of each of the four images.
Sapphire eyes trapped behind that little metal bar.
I pluck the photo strip from the slot.
It's her. Of course it's her. I'd know her if I was blindfolded. But what's happened to her? Where's her beautiful blonde hair? It's a sludgy brown, hanging down on either side of her face. My golden girl looks like a goth. She looks like me for the first time in her life, but it's wrong. It's all wrong.
There's a cut on her chin, still raw. Will it make a scar? Purple shadows under her eyes. Or are those bruises? That hideous false hair, matted and dirty like a doll that's been left out in the rain. And her lips. Smeared with something dark.
Oh my God. Raphy. Raphy. What's going on? Raphy!
I spin round, waving the pictures. I drop the tulips. I show the trickle of shoppers my screen saver of the real Raphy in her ridiculous blue beanie hat with the appliqué pink and green Magic Roundabout flowers. That's how she looked a month ago.

'Have you seen this girl?' I shout, darting back towards the flower stall, waving the photos, thrusting my phone at people as they enter the echoing shopping centre. 'She's my height. Taller. She's 16. She was just in that photo booth. Did you see her? On the street? Have you seen her?'

Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle

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