“It’s called the Artists’ Town.”
He used his special voice, the “family, listen carefully; I’m going to tell you interesting information” tone.
Daisy wondered how her mother put up with it. She’d only had to endure it for the last ten years (if you didn’t count ages 0-5 when presumably she didn’t take account of such things). Mum, on the other hand, must have listened to him drone on for the last 17 years.
She glanced out of the car window. The scenery hadn’t improved. Trees, fields, grass, water. Times 20. It had looked the same for the last two hours. Where were the Golden Arches, the glass-fronted towers, the railway tracks and the mass of traffic that made up her usual familiar and comforting views?
Toby, luckily for him, had fallen asleep at Carlisle. His head lolled, sometimes to the side, sometimes falling onto her shoulder. When it did that, she shrugged it off as quickly as possible.
Mum turned in her seat now, her expression concerned and probing. She hated that.
“Daisy, do you want to do a blood test love? We haven’t done one since this morning.”
We? What’s this we thing – I don’t see you stabbing your finger to get it to bleed.
“I’m fine,” she did her best to make her voice sound neutral. Too aggressive and her mum would insist she test, convinced she knew better than her daughter. Too flat, the same thing.
You couldn’t bloody win when it came to sodding blood tests. Forgive the over statement. Bloody was the most appropriate adverb.
The car had stopped outside a terraced house, its exterior displaying a sign; Vacancies. Enquire within.
“What’s that love?”
They had all exited the car, Toby shaken grumpily awake. They stood in the street, the four of them, looking up at the sign: Braemar Quality B&B.
Vacancies. Enquire within.
Quality was an optimistic description, Daisy reckoned. The place was tiny – the windows meanly small and draped with dirty looking lace curtains. One curtain twitched now and the front door (red paint, flaking) swung open.
The woman crossed her arms.
“Mrs Burnett?” Her dad embarrassed her all the time. Now he was doing it again. He said Mrs Burnett like… Oooh, Missis Burrrnettt. The woman looked scornfully at him throughout.
“That’s me.” She stamped her feet on the mat, wiping them back and forth several times.
“We’re the Williamsons. We’re booked in for two nights?”
“C’mon in. You’re early.”
Daisy’s dad turned to face them and smiled widely, encouragingly. He followed Mrs Burnett into her B&B and everyone else traipsed upstairs, Mrs Burnett droning on about when they could expect breakfast and what it comprised of.
“I will do you a Scottish cooked breakfast. If you ask the night before. One sausage, one rasher of bacon, one egg, beans and toast. Otherwise, cereal and fruit.”
Daisy grimaced and then stopped abruptly. A teenage girl lounged against the wall in the hallway, her expression louche.
“Enquire/inquire?” She grinned. “You fucking snotty wee cow.”
Daisy, insulated from her own rudeness most of the time, grinned back.
“Are you the cool girl round here?”
The cool girl smirked, her mouth moving up, stopping and then tilting upwards once more.
She leaned forward, the movement enabling her to whisper in Daisy’s ear. “You cannae be cool here. This place is a dump.”
Daisy wondered if she meant Braemar Quality B&B or the town itself.
Personally, Daisy thought “dump” could apply equally to both. The Quality B&B was no more impressive inside than it was out. It smelled of burnt toast and the hall carpet had dirty foot marks on it. Someone hadn’t wiped their feet properly. There were also lots of pictures of Scottie dogs, their cheeriness in complete contrast to their host.
And the town? Well, she’d only seen a bit of so far and none of it included a cinema, clothes shops or a McDonalds.
Cool girl said she wasn’t cool, but Daisy had an instinct for the cool girls. Mainly because she wasn’t one. How could she be – her mother hovering anxiously over her all the time? And being dragged along on family holidays at her age. Daisy wasn’t one of her school’s in-crowd.
She longed to be.
“What’s your name?”
Cool girl was back leaning against the wall, arms folded.
“What’s it tae you, posh girl?”
See, this is what cool girls did. Daisy answered questions straight, imbuing a questioner with automatic authority. And being called posh. That was the biggest insult, wasn’t it? Cool was never, ever posh.
Greatly daring, she gave cool girl the bird, pushing down on her forefinger hard to emphasise the gesture.
Cool girl grinned again.
“Katrina. Ma friends call me Kit-Kat. You can call me Katrina. And you? Lady something? Bo-peep?”
“Daisy. My friends call me Daisy. You can call me Your Royal Highness.”
Katrina laughed – the noise deep and dirty.
Mrs Burnett had reappeared at the top of the landing, her three guests peering over the banister at Katrina and Daisy.
“Kitty,” she said sharply. “You’ve no’ finished tidying up the back bedroom.”
The girl looked up and then back at Daisy, who raised her eyebrows.
“Lovely to meet you, Kitty,” emphasis on the word ‘Kitty’, the person in question responding with something only Daisy could see, a flip of the bird too,
She started up the stairs, taking them two at a time. Watching her go, Daisy admired her thin legs. She wore a printed dress, much shorter than Daisy would ever dare.
As Katrina/Kitty reached the landing, the old woman startled Daisy by ruffling the girl’s hair. “Hurry up, aye? And then you can go out.”
“Alright gran,” she responded.
So… Daisy liked building up stocks of information on people. To date – rude teenage girl, knows about inquire/enquire, name Katrina (likely), known as Kit-Kat (in her dreams), called Kitty by everyone (yup), helps at the B&B, the B&B owner is her granny.
“Come on up, Daisy!” Mum did her best not to make it sound like an order. “We’d better get all your stuff unpacked.”
Mrs Burnett looked at her first and then back at her mum. Daisy read her mind – what stuff? She’s only got a backpack on.
She contemplated flinging the rucksack up with the instruction: you unpack it then.
Best not to.
Upstairs, the décor was terrible. There were yet more Scottie dog pictures on the walls of the room she’d been allocated and several creepy china dogs on the mantelpiece above the fireplace. The wall paper print was enough to give her a headache and it clashed with the curtains and the carpet.
And, she was sharing with Toby, who’d already bagged the bed next to the window.
On the other hand, it was bigger than her room back home and it was right next to the B&B’s bathroom. Daisy usually needed to get up once or twice during the night to go to the loo. At home, this meant traipsing all the way downstairs.
Mum opened the door now. “Right, we’d better get lunch. We’re a bit later than usual. Are you okay?”
Daisy gave her the same “I’m fine” reply she’d delivered earlier – careful to avoid aggression or lethargy in her tone.
Downstairs, Dad was already telling Mrs Burnett how much he liked what he’d seen of the town so far. She looked bored.
“Mrs Burnett?” Her mum sounded anxious. “Is there somewhere near here we can get something to eat?”
Mrs Burnett glanced at the watch on her wrist and sighed.
“Aye, well you’re a wee bit late for most places. They stop serving at 2 o’clock. Try the Gordon Arms and if no’, the chippie might still be open.”
She looked offended when Daisy’s mum grimaced at the mention of the chippie.
“Well,” Daisy’s dad clapped his hands together decisively. “I’m sure we’ll find something. Thanks so much for all your help Mrs Burnett.”
Mrs Burnett was back to staring at him scornfully. Even she knew the help she had offered so far had been shit.
“Well, see you later,” she opened the front door wide and shooed them out.
As they spilled out on the street, Daisy’s dad remembered to shout back – “Where is the Gordon Arms, Mrs Burnett?”
But the door had closed. They were obviously expected to find their own way there.
©Emma Baird 2016
Picture thanks to Artists Town.