Beacon C of E Primary School, 1986
‘I’m going to rub your nose in that dog poo, you stuck-up cow,’ says Jackie Wells, holding Rose’s face down on the grass by the scruff of her neck.
It’s Rose’s last year at little school, and she has committed the cardinal sin of being clever. She’s won all the prizes; she’s pretty and popular and even good at netball. Of course Jackie Wells hates her.
‘You don’t even have a dad, and if you did, my dad would beat him up,’ adds Jackie, sitting on Rose’s back. Rose has no doubt about that; Jackie’s dad looks like a Tonka truck.
She struggles, trying to throw her 11-year-old nemesis off her back, but only succeeding in wriggling ineffectually on the school playing field. She glances ahead, sees flat green grass and, not very far away, a lovely pile of dog mess is buzzing with flies.
If she was on her feet, she might stand a chance against Jackie – but unfortunately for her (and for Jackie), the child takes after her father and already weighs as much as that baby hippo they saw on the school trip to Chester Zoo.
Naturally enough, there are no teachers in sight, and the small circle of kids gathered around the spectacle seem to be enjoying it. The ones that aren’t – Rose’s friends – look twitchy and embarrassed and worried, but too scared of Jackie to intervene.
Rose tries to remind herself of her mother’s oft-repeated words, the ones about jealousy being the mother of all aggression.
That might be true, Rose thinks, but it’s not much of a consolation right now. Not when her uniform is covered in grass stains and her face is smeared with soil and she’ll be eating poo for lunch.
She flails around, trying to kick Jackie with her Clark’s shoes, but can’t manage it. All that happens is that Jackie presses her face even harder into the ground, and for a terrifying few moments, she can’t breathe at all. She can hear jeers and shouts and the brave, solitary cry of her best friend, Tasmin: ‘Leave her alone, or I’ll fetch Miss Cunningham!’
That is followed by a small, sad yelp, so Rose has to assume that Tasmin has paid the price for her courage.
Jackie pulls her head up, using Rose’s long, curly ponytail like a handle, and slams her face back down into the damp ground. She feels soil smash between her teeth and into her mouth, and again panics as the world goes dark.
Just as she is about to give up and accept her early death, there is an ear-splitting screech, and Jackie’s hefty weight is suddenly gone.
Rose takes a brief moment to suck in air, then rolls around so she can see what is going on. Poppy has arrived, in a blur of violence and fury, and is holding Jackie down while she punches her in the head. Rose has no idea how she is doing that, as she is not only two years younger than Jackie, but most of a baby hippo lighter.
‘Don’t!’ she yells, punctuating each word with a blow from her screwed-up fists, ‘Ever! Touch! My! Sister!’
Obviously, it’s at that point that Miss Cunningham arrives, and the group of spectators magically all disappear off to play football or collect ladybirds or talk about Zammo in last night’s episode of Grange Hill.
Miss Cunningham physically drags Poppy away from Jackie, who is left cowering and crying and, yes, Rose notices with some satisfaction, covered in smears of the exact same dog poo she was threatening her with just moments ago.
Poppy is trembling with anger, her long, scrawny body vibrating with emotion. She looks over at Rose, who is getting to her feet now, and is instantly calmed by her big sister’s smile. The smile that tells her that everything is okay, that it will all be fine, and that there is nothing to worry about.
Rose knows that Poppy is going to get into trouble for this. But she also knows, deep down, that she wouldn’t have it any other way. Rose might be the one who seems to look after them both – but when push comes to shove, it’s always Poppy who is willing to rush right in and batter someone. She’s her avenging angel, and anyone who crosses her pays the price.
Rose dusts herself down, and prepares the case for the defence. As soon as she is upright, Poppy flees from Miss Cunningham’s lecture, and throws herself into her arms. She’s so skinny, and she’s crying, and her hair is all messed up, and she looks a bit like a tramp.
Rose hugs her, and smooths her hair down, and whispers into her ear: ‘Thank you, Popcorn. And don’t worry – it’s all going to be okay.’
‘Mum’s going to kill me . . .’ Poppy mutters, the reality of the situation starting to sink in as Miss Cunningham prowls towards them, hands on hips and scowl on face.
‘Mum,’ replies Rose, 100 per cent sure this is true, ‘will completely understand. And she’ll probably take us out for tea to celebrate.’
P is for Paris where it all began. J is for Jealousy where it all came undone. But the most important letter is F. F is for Forgiveness, the hardest of all.
Sisters Poppy and Rose used to be as close as two sisters could be, but it’s been over a decade since they last spoke. Until they both receive a call that tells them their mother has gone – without ever having the chance to see her daughters reunited.
Andrea, though, wasn’t the kind of woman to let a little thing like death stand in the way of her plans. Knowing her daughters better than they know themselves, she has left behind one very special last gift – the A-Z of Everything.
‘Moving and uplifting all at once, I devoured this book about mothers, daughters, sisters and – ultimately – love’ Sunday Times bestseller Jane Costello
‘Funny and poignant – a celebration of life and the enduring power of love’ – Carys Bray, bestselling author of A Song for Issy Bradley
‘Heartbreakingly authentic, tender & inspiring. One of my top reads of 2017’ Irish Times bestseller Carmel Harrington
Click here to get your copy of the A to Z or Everything, released 20th April 2017.