Kate Hamer: The Girl in the Red Coat

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Kate Hamer The Girl in the Red Coat
  • Название:
    The Girl in the Red Coat
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  • Издательство:
    Faber & Faber
  • Жанр:
    Триллер / на английском языке
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The Girl in the Red Coat: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Kate Hamer's stand-out debut thriller is the hugely moving story of an abduction that will keep you guessing until the very last page. Carmel has always been different. Carmel's mother, Beth, newly single, worries about her daughter's strangeness, especially as she is trying to rebuild a life for the two of them on her own. When she takes eight year-old Carmel to a local children's festival, her worst fear is realised: Carmel disappears. Unable to accept the possibility that her daughter might be gone for good, Beth embarks on a mission to find her. Meanwhile, Carmel begins an extraordinary and terrifying journey of her own, with a man who believes she is a saviour.

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My headmaster thinks that — that you won’t understand things. On parents’ day Mum was a bit late. My teacher — Mrs Buckfast — told me I could wait outside the classroom until Mum got there. While I was waiting in the corridor I heard Mr Fellows the headmaster inside the classroom say to Mrs Buckfast that my mum was ‘yet another single mum’. This made my face go a bit red with crossness because I didn’t think it was his business to say things like that. When Mum got there she was out of breath and saying, ‘Sorry, sorry, sorry. I couldn’t get away from work.’ But I didn’t mind, I knew she was only late because she had to walk when everyone else had cars. So I held her hand and said, ‘It doesn’t matter. It’s only ten minutes.’ When in fact it was more like fifteen.

When we went in together Mrs Buckfast said I was ‘highly intelligent but sometimes on another planet’.

Mr Fellows kept looking at my mum and I knew why — because she’s much prettier than the other mums. She’s got thick brown hair and blue eyes and a nose that goes a little bit up and very pretty big lips that look nice when she puts some lipstick on them.

The headmaster started talking. ‘Carmel’s vocabulary is extremely advanced. Her imagination is amazing, I don’t think she quite sees the world like the rest of us.’ Then he looked at me and said, ‘But you’d forget your head if it wasn’t screwed on.’ Which I thought was rude. Especially with what I’d heard him say about my mum. When I didn’t answer he said, ‘Like last week on the school trip when we couldn’t find you and when we did, you were sitting on a bench on your own looking like you were a million miles away. We were very worried, Carmel.’ And Mum said, ‘What’s this?’ I sighed then and stopped liking them talking about me. I started feeling upset and I was really glad when Mrs Buckfast smiled and said I’d grow out of it she was sure, so it didn’t matter too much. And Mum told me not to worry too and afterwards she took me for a pizza in town — not planned or anything — and we had a lovely time. She told me knock-knock jokes until I was laughing so much some Coke came down my nose.

These days I don’t miss Dad’s shouting but I do miss his rumbling voice. But Mum says it’s just the two of us so we can do anything we want. She says, ‘We can be two nutters together.’ Sometimes we dance in the kitchen round the old wooden table. We turn the radio right up and use big spoons for microphones.

Right now, I don’t try and stop listening, like I did when Mum and Dad were arguing. It’s like I’m all ears and they stretch towards any tiny sound. I think of Mum right under my bed in the kitchen, sitting down and drinking her morning cuppa. It makes me laugh — that I’m seeing exactly what she’s doing in my mind and I’m lying right over her and she doesn’t even know. Then I hear a noise like someone’s humming in my room.

I look up and that’s when I see a bee at the top of my window. It’s buzzing more than humming now and I kneel up. It’s the biggest bee I’ve ever seen in my life and it’s got white bits on its fur like it’s an old man — or, as Mum would say, ‘in the winter of its life’. Every time it bounces against the window it makes an extra loud buzz like it’s getting angry. It doesn’t know about the glass in its way — it can’t understand why it can’t just fly out free into the garden. So, very carefully, because I know bees have a sting like a poison dart, I open up the window. It bumps against the glass once more and then flies out. At first I think it’s going to fall and crash onto the ground but it soars up into the air and away into the garden over the top of the apple tree.

I get dressed in my leggings and my favourite purple-and-red stripy T-shirt that feels so soft and lovely against my skin and it’s got long arms and I can feel the day in front of me. Before I go downstairs I decide to draw a picture of the storytelling festival. I find a piece of paper and draw with a thick pencil a man sitting down. He’s wearing glasses and I imagine the story he’s telling so I put scribbly words coming out of his mouth. Then I do a rabbit at his feet with its mouth open because it’s listening so hard.

Downstairs there’s a toast smell in the kitchen and Mum’s wearing jeans and a flowery top — she told me flowery tops are her ‘haute couture’ and I got her to write those words down because I want to put them in my word collection — and I ask, ‘Are we still going?’ Because you never can be sure.

She turns round and smiles at me. ‘Yes, Carmel, yes.’



We took the train that day. I wanted it to be special for Carmel and taking a train rather than the usual bus was a treat.

She had crazes for things then, like any kid. Passions that flared up and then fizzled and died as quickly as they came but her love for the colour red seemed to be enduring. I’d bought her a red duffel coat and that’s what she was wearing. She’d asked if she could have red shoes the next time she needed shoes and we’d seen a pair in the window of Clarks. We looked at them every time we went into town to check they were still there. My wages didn’t go far, but I figured I might be able to buy them before she returned to school after Easter and prayed they wouldn’t be sold before then. So far, miraculously, every time we went into town there they were — on a little green felt-covered stand, like two big fat ladybirds waiting on the grass — even though the rest of the stock changed around them. As she put on her coat that morning I made a decision.

‘Tomorrow, we’ll go into town and if those shoes are still there, we’ll buy them.’


‘Yes. Really.’

To hell with everything, I’d put them on my credit card and worry about it later. That morning with the spring wind blowing through the back door anything seemed possible. Perhaps I could even ask Paul to pay for them, now he’d made a reappearance. I’d felt he wanted the connection back with his daughter, even if he didn’t want anything to do with me. Perhaps it was time to accept the contribution he’d offered that I’d recklessly turned down, insisting that we’d manage without him.

That day on the train, for a while at least, the past got swept away by the spring, the sucking hot air from the trains as they speeded through the station and the excitement of a day out, just the two of us. I thought: I’ve been in such a state, such a terrible stupid anxious state this past year since Paul left. It’s time to stop it now. Time to start afresh.

Carmel sat opposite me bundled up in her duffel coat. The train was crowded. A tall young man with a dirty denim jacket and the tattoo of a spider’s web creeping up his neck from his open shirt got on and took the seat next to Carmel. He fiddled with his mobile phone for a while and then the guard looked at our tickets. I could see from the start the man in the denim jacket was desperate to begin a conversation. Words began to form in his mouth that he kept swallowing at the last minute, but after the ticket collecting he couldn’t hold back.

‘Good little girl you have.’ He was speaking to me.

‘Yes. Thank you.’ I smiled at him. It was peaceful and comfortable on the rocking train with Carmel right opposite me.

‘Day out, just the two of you?’

I nodded, then was it my imagination or did his sharp darting eyes glance at my ring finger? Though ridiculous that anyone should note such things these days — especially at his age.

‘Left the old fella at home?’

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