The Blessed Oblivion

A Story by Helen Johnson

The Blessed Oblivion

(Background- Set in 1983- when little girls were going missing and I remember my friends and I feeling scared like never before…)

The raspberry bushes were across the road and down the country lane towards the river. We went every summer to collect the ripe fruit, freshly washed seaside buckets at the ready to collect our
crop. The day was especially hot and we had grown bored of playing outside the flats. The lane offered much needed shade and we knew the raspberries would be sweet and delicious later along
with ice-cream from the van.
Lizzy was always a step ahead, skipping over the dusty path, her legs golden brown and her bare feet grubby in her sandals. The other kids from the estate were already there, twisting off fruit and
stuffing equal amounts into their mouths and tubs. The sky was powder blue and the cows were mooing lazily in the fields. On more adventurous days, we went further up Clydeside to pick
strawberries but dad had to take us in the car, and today he was at work. Mum had been outside at the drying green chatting when we left and I’m not sure she noticed us go by. We barely saw her
most days. We went out in the morning and only returned when we were hungry or it got dark. On exceptionally wet days, we hung around the house, lolling on the couch listening to old records,
getting under her feet.

I spotted Stephany Lamb walking along the lane. She was an only child who lived in the next block to us. I watched her sometimes with envy, nearly always alone, no annoying little sister following her
around like a shadow. Mum would spot her from the window and say ‘An only and lonely’. Every time. Stephany always seemed thoughtful and quiet, the polar opposite of Lizzie’s fizzing, over the
top energy. I eyed her edging her way along the lane, inspecting the hedges and straining on her tip toes to reach the higher branches. Clean white socks, white leather sandals, no scuffs to be seen.
She had a wicker basket to collect her fruit and her mouth was stained red, but in a precise, perfect way. Her clothes were always fussy and pretty and today her hair was plaited tightly with yellow
ribbons. I thought unkindly that she resembled a painted doll, one of those creepy porcelain ones you saw in films about mad old ladies. Her mum and dad were quite old. I watched as she popped
plump raspberries into her rosy little mouth, in blessed oblivion to everyone and everything around her.

Lizzie had sprinted ahead and I eventually caught up with her, her new T-shirt already splattered with vivid red stains.
‘Mum’s going to kill you’. I sneered and she shrugged her skinny shoulders.
‘And what?’ she snorted, jamming more raspberries into her grinning mouth. I left her to pick my own fruit further along the lane.
I’m not sure when the other kids drifted away, but I suddenly became more aware of the bees burring in the hedges, the soft snorts of the cows in the field. I looked back and the lane was deserted. The sun had dipped in the sky. Lizzie was always wandering off. She did it every time, and every time I thought, stuff her, she can find her own way home. The air felt strange. It was too quiet.

Where had she gone? I tore back down the lane calling her name. I climbed the gate which led into the field and roared her name as loud as I could.

‘Lizzie! Lizzie! Lizzie!’ I shouted it again and again.
I heard a door slam and then the rumble of wheels against the dirt road. I could see nothing for the hedges. I called again, my voice catching and her name coming out a squeak. I found a gap in the hedge. The field was empty. I jumped back onto the path and ran back the way we had come, dropping my bucket. At the turn of the road, I saw them, Lizzie and Stephany, standing side by side, grasping
hands. I ran over, panting, hardly able to speak. Stephany stared at me, her eyes wide.
‘What is it?’ I gasped. ‘What happened?’
Lizzie looked at Stephany.
‘It’s ok. It was just a man.’
Stephany started to cry.
I looked from Lizzie to Stephany. Lizzie had jutted her chin out. Stephany stared at the ground, her perfect hair still immaculate and her pearly white sandals drawing circles in the dirt.
I felt my body shake from my toes right up to the top of my head.
They didn’t let go of each other’s hands all the way home. In fact, they never really let go of each other again. Stephany became like my second little sister, always round at ours, always keeping us
close, eventually melting in like one of the family.

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