It would be inaccurate to say that my childhood was normal before they came. It was far from normal, but it felt normal because it was all I'd known. It's only now, with decades of hindsight, that I can see how odd it was.
I was nearly eleven when they came, and my sister was nine.
They lived with us for more than five years and they turned everything very, very dark. My sister and I had to learn how to survive.
And when I was sixteen, and my sister was fourteen, the baby came.
Libby picks up the letter off the doormat. She turns it in her hands. It looks very formal; the envelope is cream in color, made of high-grade paper, and feels as though it might even be lined with tissue. The postal frank says: "Smithkin Rudd & Royle Solicitors, Chelsea Manor Street, SW3."
She takes the letter into the kitchen and sits it on the table while she fills the kettle and puts a tea bag in a mug. Libby is pretty sure she knows what's in the envelope. She turned twenty-five last month. She's been subconsciously waiting for this envelope. But now that it's here she's not sure she can face opening it.
She picks up her phone and calls her mother.
"Mum," she says. "It's here. The letter from the trustees."
She hears a silence at the other end of the line. She pictures her mum in her own kitchen, a thousand miles away in Dénia: pristine white units, lime-green color-coordinated kitchen accessories, sliding glass doors onto a small terrace with a distant view to the Mediterranean, her phone held to her ear in the crystal-studded case that she refers to as her bling.
"Oh," she says. "Right. Gosh. Have you opened it?"
"No. Not yet. I'm just having a cup of tea first."
"Right," she says again. Then she says, "Shall I stay on the line? While you do it?"
"Yes," says Libby. "Please."
She feels a little breathless, as she sometimes does when she's just about to stand up and give a sales presentation at work, like she's had a strong coffee. She takes the tea bag out of the mug and sits down. Her fingers caress the corner of the envelope and she inhales.
"OK," she says to her mother, "I'm doing it. I'm doing it right now."
Her mum knows what's in here. Or at least she has an idea, though she was never told formally what was in the trust. It might, as she has always said, be a teapot and a ten-pound note.
Libby clears her throat and slides her finger under the flap. She pulls out a sheet of thick cream paper and scans it quickly:
To Miss Libby Louise Jones
As trustee of the Henry and Martina Lamb Trust created on 12 July
1977, I propose to make the distribution from it to you described in
the attached schedule...
She puts down the covering letter and pulls out the accompanying paperwork.
"Well?" says her mum, breathlessly.
"Still reading," she replies.