Mary couldn't help laughing too, the first proper laugh since that Tuesday after school when she had not been allowed to go with Mum, then everyone had gone and the whole school was empty and echoing except her and the head teacher and those two women. A kind lady who told Mary she was a doctor, (but not the doctor Mary saw with her Mum if she was ill) had come and asked Mary to take her clothes off and put them back on, then Karen had come and driven her to Jake's house, and though Mary asked and asked no one would tell her why she couldn't go home.
The first few weeks, those two women kept coming to ask her questions about Mum and Dad but when she answered, it was as if they thought she wasn't telling the truth, and seemed angry, so Mary thought she was not allowed to go home because she was saying the wrong things.
Mary thought maybe she was being punished, like when someone is really naughty in class and is sent out. She had tried and tried to think what she could have done that was so bad. She was so frightened that she would be bad again without knowing, that she hardly dared to speak.
But here was the seagull so big and bright, its voice so loud, it made everyone and everything else seem made of fog. She said "I didn't know seagulls could talk!" The seagull winked a shining yellow eye and leaned forward, "We talksquawk! alright, Mary but not everyone understands!"
Dale didn't understand. "They can't talk, Mary! Let's get up these stairs and find the canteen before Jake eats all the icecream, you don't want that, do you?" Dale waved his arm at the seagull "Go on, get!" The seagull looked at Dale cheekily for a second then said "Shocking!" and smiled with beak so wide Mary could see its long arrowy tongue. Then spreading open huge white wings, the seagull leaped away into the air, calling "Don't trust Spider and Slug! Mary, if you need an up, write me!"
"Wait!" Mary called, but Dale gave her a small shove "That's enough waiting, Come on!" Mary wanted the friendly bird to stay. What had it meant? But the seagull flew fast and was out of sight already.
Mary looked up the stairs. Karen and Jake had reached the top. Karen turned and called down "Hurry up, slowcoach!" "Slowcoach!" shouted Jake. A long white feather drifted out of the sky, curling one way then another, further then nearer, down and down till it landed infront of Mary's eyes, three stairs higher. She picked it up. The stalk-like white pointy end was still warm. Mary tucked the feather inside her coat, it was so long the tip tickled under her chin. Then she put her foot onto the next step and began to climb.
Soon they were all inside queueing at the canteen counter. Mary couldn't help noticing how the floor wouldn't stop moving. To take her thoughts off the see-saw in her tummy Mary remembered what the seagull had said instead. Soon it was time to choose their sandwiches. The others wanted sandwiches with meat in. "Chicken and Mayo," said Karen. "Bacon and salad" said Jake. "Beef and Mustard" said Dale. Mary tried saying she wasn't hungry, but Karen said "Nonsense!" Dale said kindly " You can have whatever you like, doesn't have to be vegetarian! Your Mum and Dad can't tell you off, now!"
The way Dale said "vegetarian" sounded like it was a silly thing, but Mary's Mum and Dad had not said it like that. They had explained to Mary that they did not want to eat an animal or fish or bird that had been alive but wasn't anymore just because a human felt a bit hungry. Mary liked animals so didn't want them to be dead because of her. It was strange because she knew Dale liked animals too. Sometimes he would make a picnic and take Jake and Mary to the countryside in the car. Dale knew the names of lots of creatures.
Mary liked it better out of their house, where she always seemed to be doing the wrong thing and there was nowhere to be by herself. Till the time Dale took Mary fishing. Jake didn't come, he had almost overturned the boat, Dale said, when he'd gone out on the loch, before Mary had come to live with them. So it was just Mary and Dale in the boat. Mary was excited, she felt grown up. Dale let her steer. It was peaceful, balanced between blue water and blue sky. But then Dale caught the fish. The fish was gasping, struggling on the bottom of the boat. Its eyes were frightened. It was in the wrong place and couldn't escape from the string in its mouth. Mary wanted to help it, begged "Put it back, put it back!" But Dale thought she was frightened. "It can't hurt you, Mary, stop being a scaredy. Look at the size of that thing!"
He wanted her to be happy too, but she wasn't, which made him cross. Mary was afraid, now, but had to help the fish, "Please, let it go back in the water, it's hurting!" Dale held the fish and twisted the hook out of its mouth. It was sharp as a weapon. He lifted the fish up and down a few times, feeling how heavy it was. The fish had stopped struggling, it was too tired - giving up, Mary worried. But Dale said, "Fish don't feel pain, Mary, it's just an adventure for him!" Then he leaned over the side of the boat and put the fish back in the water. In a second, it wriggled from his fingers and darted off in a streak of silver.
Mary did not know how Dale could still eat fish after having held one like that. She wondered why some ceatures got eaten and some didn't. No one ate pets. No one ate insects either. Or spiders and slugs.
"For goodness sake, Mary! Wake up! It's rude to ignore someone when they are talking to you!" Karen shook Mary's shoulder so Mary stopped thinking and looked up, to see one of those women who kept asking questions, standing next to Dale. The woman was smiling, as usual. She had a very red mouth. (Mary had seen Karen put on lipstick, but Karen's lips didn't look sticky, like suckers.) The woman's long, thick brown hair went over her shoulders, making it look like the woman didn't have a neck, or even arms, sometimes as she always wore brown or black all over. Under the short black skirt her tights bulged out like two bits of brown plasticine someone had started to make into sausages.
The woman saw Mary looking at her, and smiled even more, pulling her top's neck hole down lower so more of the pale skin of her chest showed. It reminded Mary of the feel of raw pastry when Mum made jam tarts. Dale looked down at Mary. "Well?" Mary couldn't rememember Dale's question, so she decided to ask him her question instead. "Why don't we eat insects?
It was not Dale who answered, but the woman, her face suddenly not smiling but sharp as a cat that's seen a mouse. She swooped down at Mary whispering "Is that what you eat at home? Does your Mum make you eat insects, Mary?" Dale coughed and said "No, I'm sure she doesn't, that's not what you meant, is it Mary?" The woman glared at him "Then why did she say it? You asked what she wanted to eat, and she said she wanted to eat insects!" The woman stood up almost knocking Mary over, then pulled a notebook out of her brown handbag, and began writing quickly, her thick sticky lips twisted up into a red frill.
Mary began to cry "N No! No! That's wrong! I don't want to!" She looked round for help. Jake was peering from behind Karen's legs, his eyes wide and shocked. Mary felt like she was in big trouble. Karen crouched down and said gently "No one's cross with you sweetheart. You can tell us, we're not cross"
No one was understanding Mary! She tried to move backwards, get away from everyone looking at her, but bumped into a soft shape. She looked round. It was the other woman, the older one who always wore grey baggy clothes. Everything about her was the colour of dust, even her skin and dull raggedy hair. This woman's voice was very soft and quiet, but it was not comforting. It made Mary want to cough, like there was not enough air. Now the woman held Mary's shoulders. "The child is terrified. She is terrified just remembering being at home!"