Seven-year-old Jocelyn loves her nanny more than her own mother. When her nanny disappears one night, Jo never gets over the loss. How could she vanish without saying goodbye?
Thirty years on, Jo is forced to return to her family home and confront her troubled relationship with her mother. When human remains are discovered in the grounds of the house, Jo begins to question everything.
Then an unexpected visitor knocks at the door and Jo’s world is destroyed again as, one by one, she discovers her childhood memories aren’t what they seemed. What secrets was her nanny hiding – and what was she running away from? And can Jo trust what her mother tells her? Sometimes the truth hurts so much you’d rather hear the lie.
Read on for an extract from The Nanny by Gilly Macmillan!
Water closes over the body. swallows it. The rocking of the boat subsides quickly. its occupant waits until the surface of the lake is still. Her breathing sounds shockingly loud. she takes the oars and rows away from the site with determined strokes. Her arms ache and she thinks: I can’t believe I had to do this. I hate to have done this. When she reaches the boathouse, the boat glides in gently. she walks back to lake Hall in silence, taking care where she steps. she is very tired. The water was extremely cold. It’s such a bad end for a person, she thinks, so unfortunate, but so necessary. as she slips into the house, she doesn’t notice the breeze moving the tips of the weeping willow branches, encouraging them to dance in the dark on the water’s surface.
I stare at my reflection, transfixed by it. I am a grotesquely made-up version of myself, distorted like everything else. Which is the real me? This painted creature, or the woman beneath the mask?
I no longer know who or what to believe.
The door opens behind me and I see my daughter’s reflection in the mirror, her face hovering behind mine, round as a coin, with bright, cornflower-blue eyes. Unblemished.
I don’t want her to see me now. I don’t want her to become me.
‘Get out,’ I say.
Jocelyn is disorientated when she wakes up and her mouth is sticky dry. It’s light outside and she feels as if she’s been asleep for a very long time. She studies the hands on her bedside clock and concludes that the time is exactly twenty-six minutes past eight. Usually, her nanny wakes her up at seven.
She yawns and blinks. Curvy, dancing giraffes cavort in pairs across her wallpaper and soft toys carpet the end of her bed. Hanging on the door of her armoire, where Nanny Hannah left it yesterday, is an empty padded clothes hanger. It’s supposed to be for Jocelyn’s special dress, the one her mother bought for her to greet their guests in, but the dress got ruined and now it’s gone. Jocelyn feels guilty and sad about that, but also confused. She knows what happened was bad, but she can only remember little flashes from the evening and she pushes those out of her mind because they come with sharp feelings of shame.
Usually, Jocelyn’s bedroom is one of her favourite places to be, but this morning it feels different, too quiet. The door of the armoire is ajar and she imagines a creature lurking inside it, with talons and long limbs that will snake out and grab her at any moment.
‘Hannah!’ she calls. There’s a band of light underneath the door that separates her room from her nanny’s, but no sign of the moving shadows that usually tell her when Hannah is up. ‘Hannah!’ she tries again, stretching out the vowels. There’s no answer.
She gets out of bed and runs the few paces across the room to Hannah’s door, slamming shut the armoire as she passes by. The clothes hanger falls, the clatter it makes startling her. Jocelyn is supposed to knock and wait for Hannah to answer before she enters her nanny’s bedroom, but she throws the door open.
She expects to see Hannah in bed, or sitting on her chair in the corner, wearing her red dressing gown and fluffy slippers, but Hannah isn’t there. She expects to see a glass of water and a fat, dog-eared paperback on the bedside table. She expects to see Hannah’s hairbrush and make-up, her two porcelain figurines of kittens. But there is no trace of Hannah or her belongings to be seen. The bed is neatly made, the candlewick bedspread smoothed out with hospital corners, the pillows are plump, the curtains are open and every surface is bare.
‘Hannah!’ Jocelyn shouts. It’s not just the shock of the room’s emptiness but also a sudden, terrible feeling of loss that makes her scream so piercing.
Marion Harris, the housekeeper at Lake Hall, pulls open every drawer and door in Hannah’s room. Lining paper curls in the base of the drawers and empty metal hangers jangle in the wardrobe. She flips up the edges of the bedspread to peer under the bed and checks the bedside table. The girl is right, there is nothing of Hannah’s to be seen. She marches down the corridor to the box room. ‘She’s taken her suitcases. I can’t believe it.’ The light cord swings in a wild trajectory.
‘I told you,’ Jocelyn whispers. Her chin wobbles. She’s been holding out hope that Marion would be able to explain the situation or fix it. Marion huffs. ‘It’s so unlike her! She surely would have said something or left a note. She’d never have dumped us in it like this.’
Church bells begin to chime. Marion casts an eye out of the window towards the top of the spire, just visible above the dense band of oak trees surrounding Lake Hall’s grounds.
‘Stay here and play,’ she says. ‘I’ll fetch you a bit of breakfast then I’ll speak to your mother and father.’
Jocelyn stays in her room until lunch. She works on a picture for Hannah, painstakingly selecting colours and being careful not to go over the lines. By the time Marion calls her down she’s bursting to know what’s happening, but Marion says, ‘I don’t know any more than you do. You’ll have to ask your parents.’ Her lips are set in a tight line.
Jocelyn finds her parents in the Blue Room with two friends who stayed the night. Newspapers and colour supplements are spread out all over the sofas and the coffee table. The fire is lit and the air in the room is thick with wood and cigarette smoke.
Jocelyn wants to attract her daddy’s attention, but he’s deep in his armchair, long legs crossed and face hidden behind his pink newspaper. Mother is lying on one of the sofas, her head resting on a pile of cushions, eyes half-shut. She’s stubbing out a cigarette in the big marble ashtray balanced on her tummy. Jocelyn takes a deep breath. She’s trying to work up the courage to speak. She doesn’t want to attract her mother’s attention if she can help it.
The lady friend turns from the window and notices Jocelyn in the doorway. ‘Hello, there,’ she says. Jocelyn thinks her name is Milla. Milla has brown hair backcombed to look big.
‘Hello,’ Jocelyn says. She tries to smile but blushes instead. She knows she was bad last night, but not if Milla knows.
Virginia Holt’s attention is caught by her daughter’s voice. ‘What do you want?’
Jocelyn flinches and glances at her father. He’s still behind his newspaper.
‘Hello!’ her mother snaps. ‘I’m talking to you; he isn’t.’
Jocelyn swallows. ‘Do you know where Hannah is?’
‘She left.’ Two words and Jocelyn feels as if the bottom has dropped out of her world. Hannah is her everything. Hannah cares. Hannah listens. Hannah has time to explain things to Jocelyn. Hannah loves Jocelyn. Hannah is better than Mother.
‘Don’t stamp your foot at me, young lady. How dare you?’
‘Hannah didn’t leave! Where did she go?’
Lord Holt puts down his newspaper. He looks very tired. ‘Mummy’s right, darling. I’m sorry. We’ll find you a new nanny as soon as possible. Mummy will make some calls after the weekend.’
Jocelyn screams and her mother gets to her feet instantly, the ashtray falling to the carpet, its contents scattering. Virginia grabs Jocelyn’s arms and leans down so her face is only inches from Jocelyn’s. Her eyes are horribly bloodshot. Her hair falls across her face. Jocelyn recoils but her mother’s grip clamps her in place.
‘Stop it this instant! Hannah left and you may as well know she left because of you. You are a bad girl, Jocelyn, a very bad girl. Is it any wonder Hannah couldn’t stand to look after you any more?’
‘But I’ll be a good girl, I promise. I’ll be the best girl if you get Hannah back.’
‘It’s too late for that.’
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