From Mother Island

An extract: Prologue

The night before she takes the child, she hears her brother’s voice.

‘Maggie,’ he says. ‘Maggie.

It is night-time and the room is warm with his urgent breath.

‘Wake up. It’s me.’

Is he really talking to her again? Can he really be here, in the brown dark?

‘Joe?’

But even as she asks she knows the answer. She can smell him. She sits up in bed, rubs her eyes. ‘What is it?’ she asks. ‘What do you want?’

‘Nothing,’ he says. She cannot see him, but his voice is close, just as it used to be when they played together behind the curtains at the old house.

‘I was just checking,’ he says. ‘Checking what?’

‘Checking on you.’

And she lies down and closes her eyes, because it seems that he will be there in the morning, that he is actually back. And soon she is asleep again. But in the morning, when she wakes to her bare Oxford flat, her brother is nowhere to be seen. How could he be? Still, for some minutes after she wakes, she’s unsure whether this actually happened, or whether it was a fantasy. As she dresses for work, pulling on her usual black jeans and T-shirt, she can hear her brother’s voice. It’s there as she selects the old, slightly rusty key from the kitchen drawer and slips it in her pocket. And it remains with her as she skips breakfast and hurries from the flat, thinking only of the island, and how she will get there.