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Space to Think, a new book celebrating ten years of the Dublin Review of Books More Information 

Vinny's Wilderness

Janet Shepperson
Liberties Press


From Chapter 1: MONDAY 15 JUNE

On the top deck of the bus, Vinny sits with the grey-mauve sky lulling her to sleep. A soft evening, as they say in the country: the promise of more rain.

Then her phone tings. A tiny, unsettling sound, a text or an e-mail. Pay attention to me, it says, I could be an emergency. Your daughters home alone isn't she, for the first time ever? And you spent half the staff meeting worrying about her?

The phone is in her bag, underneath another bag full of stories to mark, all settled on the seat beside her. Why spend her last few minutes of peace and quiet ferreting about for what'll only turn out to be some stupid e-mail about renewing her house in­surance, or the contents of her garden, or some such nonsense? Besides, she'll be home in five minutes, and Roisin's nearly eleven; she'd said if there were any problems, she'd go next door.

But even while she's thinking this, her hands are automatically shifting stuff about, and pulling out the phone. It's a text. It's incomprehensible.

No more mess and muddle for Lavinia, whether or not it is 'creative'.

There's a number at the top that she doesn't recog­nise. Who is this person, and how did he get her number? Because it's definitely a he, there's some­thing faintly bossy, unmistakably masculine. And chilling. Is it some kind of threat? Or is it just a crank? Or some colleague from the school, playing some kind of weird joke? But who calls her Lavinia? That in itself seems quite threatening.

Her stomach is tying itself in a knot. The bus lurches to a halt, she struggles to her feet, she's nearly missed her stop, she gathers her belongings in an awkward heap clutched against her chest, using her free arm to swing herself down the stairs.

Vinny's heart always lifts when she gets off the bus. Because it all worked out so beautifully, when she was skint and didn't want to take Rory's money; everybody said, 'You can get a really cheap house up in North Belfast, if you're not too fussy about what sort of area you live in.' But she was fussy, she held out until she found this place. Leafyland, the outer fringes of South Belfast, a mixed area, a modest but decent little terrace, no sectarian flags, and she and Roisin have the end house with all that lovely garden.

And here at the bus stop is Roisin, hair all ruf­fled, face as pink as a baby about to start bawling, tears, real tears streaking down.

'What's wrong, mo charaV 'Mum! Mum! It's the garden!' 'What's in the garden?'

'It's gone, they're taking it, they're stealing it—'

'Calm down, pet, tell me what happened, you should have phoned me—'

Roisin stamps her foot in exasperation.

'I couldn't! They were out there and I couldn't find my phone and they were tearing the place to bits and I couldn't phone you—'

Vinny takes hold of both shoulders and stares at her.

'Now. Do you remember, I told you not to an­swer the door?'

Roisin glares at her.

'It's not my fault! They never came to the door, by the time I got home they were already out there, in the garden!'

Vinny grabs hold of her hand and they start walking fast, the bags of books bumping against Vinny's free side.

'Nobody said it was your fault, pet, now tell me—'

'When I was coming up the street I could hear this roaring noise, and I went in the house and looked out the back window and there was a dig­ger, actually a digger in the garden - and then I couldn't find my phone—'

Yes, Vinny thinks. There's no fence in the front, and it's all open at the side, so yes, a digger could get round - but why on earth-As soon as they turn into the street, she sees the skip. It's enormous. Its piled high with earth and what looks like rubble, this can't be from her gar­den, there isn't any rubble in her garden. It must be from someone else's.

There's vegetation poking out. All clogged up with earth. As they get nearer, she recognises it: sweet amber. Straggly, reddish twigs and little green leaves blushing to red, and red berries al­ready turning black. She can smell its soft, fruity scent. It only gives off that scent if you touch or disturb it. How often has she sat on the raised stone terrace on a summer evening, drinking her coffee, watching Roisin and her friends playing hide-and-seek? And every time they brush against it, it gives off that marvellous scent.

She walks up to the skip, leans in, gathers the straggly twigs in the arms and buries her face in them. This is her sweet amber. She knows it is. Something appalling has happened.