was of the girl in school uniform. Another showed her smiling on a desolate beach. There were at least seven or eight of these images: it was like a small shrine.

“My daughter,” she said, noticing his interest. “That’s our Tessa.”

“She’s a beautiful girl,” he said.

“She was. She was very beautiful… my little Princess.”

Marc knew what was coming. He should have known that the woman’s damage must have come from something like this, but he’d been too drunk and aroused to stop and think about what he was doing, who he was really with.

“She went missing five years ago. She was only ten years old.”

He looked again at the photos. Placed among them were other items: a few crude, childish examples of arts and crafts. Perhaps they’d been created by the girl when she was at school or attending a day nursery. There was a fired clay saucer, a primitive pottery figure, and two small macrame animals. This was the art of loss, bespeaking all manner of private grief.

“Should I go?”

She shook her head but remained silent. The television flickered like a faulty god from across the tawdry room.

“Are you sure?”

She nodded. Her eyelids fluttered in the gloom. She slid across the sofa so that their thighs were touching. This time the contact was electric; he imagined sparks flaring between them, forming an arc of white light. She leaned in close. He felt the soft warmth of her breath against his cheek. She closed her eyes and opened her mouth, and this time when she kissed him it was less hungry, more relaxed and intimate. This time it felt like she knew exactly who she was kissing.

He embraced her, running his hands across her back, feeling her bra strap through the thin blouse. She was breathing heavily. He felt constrained, wanted to get out of his clothes and feel her naked skin against him. He moved his right hand, bringing it around to the front and slipping it between them. He cupped her left breast. She took a sharp breath and smiled into his kiss.

They were upstairs before he’d even registered that they’d moved off the sofa. They picked at each other’s clothing, pulling away garments like hunters skinning an animal. That’s how it felt: primal, necessary. An act born out of need rather than want.

Her body was so thin that she was made up of angles. Her elbow bones were sharp points in the dark and her kneecaps stood out from the skin. Her breasts were small, with large nipples and dark areolae. He bent forward and kissed them, one at a time, teasing the nipples erect. She tugged his trousers down to his knees and he backed away from her to take them off and throw them across the room. She slipped off her knickers and displayed the darkness between her thighs. He knelt like a supplicant, moved his head forward, and began to lap at her crotch, feeling her open up for him. She reached down and pushed the back of his head. He tensed his tongue, jabbed the tip into her clitoris.

She moaned something under her breath but he couldn’t make out the words.

The sex was both hard and soft, it was desperate and yet it was also strangely rhythmic. They felt their way towards separate climaxes, and then, after a short and silent period of rest, they made love again. This time it was slower, more relaxed, and although lacking the same urgency it was no less intense.

Afterwards, Abby fell asleep in his arms, her head resting against his chest. It was uncomfortable but he didn’t want to move in case he woke her. After several minutes she shifted, turned her back to him, and curled up with her spine bent, the bones prodding her skin. He reached down and touched her flesh. She was hot to the touch.

He was sober now, and unable to sleep. The sex had invigorated him, washing the tiredness from his system. He stared at the ceiling, and then at the walls. In this room, too, there were several photographs of Tessa. She was a pretty girl with a wide smile. She looked a lot like her mother, with a similar long face and thin lips. She had the same ice-blue eyes.

The walls were covered with a type of wallpaper that had been in fashion half a decade ago. The ceiling was plastered with ridged white swirls of Artex. The furniture in the room — the double bed, a built-in wardrobe, a dressing table and chair — looked inexpensive, mass-produced.

Gently, he slid out of bed and went to look for his trousers. He found them near the door and put them on. He didn’t bother looking for his shirt. The heating must be on; it was warm inside the house.

He glanced back at the bed but Abby hadn’t moved. The skin of her back was white in the darkness, like dead flesh. He could make out the individual bones of her vertebral column through the papery flesh. Her shoulders were so narrow that she could have been a child lying there on the mattress, sleeping uneasily in her parents’ bed.

He opened the door and left the room, closing it gently behind him. He padded across the landing and paused at the top of the stairs. There were two other rooms up here — one must be the bathroom. He moved further along the landing and tried the first door. It opened onto the second bedroom. This must have been where Tessa had slept. There were posters of ponies and fairy tale characters on the walls. The bed was covered in a pink duvet. There was a small TV, a stereo, an Xbox, and all the books on the shelf above the headboard were storybooks about princes and princesses and faraway lands.

Abby must have kept the room exactly how it had been when her daughter went missing. He was again reminded of the small table-top shrine in the living room. At the centre of the bedroom there was a large, roughly triangular pile of what at first he took as random objects. Then, when he moved further into the room to take a closer look, he realised what the objects were. Broken toys, the pages from what might have been her favourite books, stuffed animals that were missing an arm or a leg, and in one case even a head. There were doll parts, oversized jigsaw pieces, fractured board games, foreign dolls in national dress, and the remnants of a destructed playroom: all the sad parts from the broken toys that nobody ever got around to fixing.

The pile of discarded playthings formed a small pyramid, the apex of which was level with Marc’s mid-thigh. He stood before it and wondered how long it had taken to build. Had Abby created it all in one go, or had she added to the mound gradually, forming a kind of homemade monument to her memory over the past five years since her daughter had disappeared?

He put out his hand and let it hover above the totem. That was how he’d begun to think of the weird construction: with each layer of toys representing a period in the girl’s life. The older toys were nearer the bottom — baby things, the mobile from above her crib, perhaps even her first stuffed toy — and the newer stuff was at the top.

As he stepped around the mound, he noticed a photograph attached to the top of the pyramid. A small monochrome portrait of the girl, possibly taken not long before she’d gone away: her last school photograph, or maybe one taken by Abby on their final family holiday? The background was a greyish blur, so he couldn’t make out where the picture had been taken. It wasn’t even clear if the girl had been indoors or outside in the open air.

When he looked closer he realised that her eyes were shut. What he’d at first assumed were the girl’s eyes were in fact drawn on; somebody had sketched false eyes onto her eyelids. He bent down to inspect the photograph closer, to try and understand what it was he was looking at.

Was it an image of a dead girl, like Victorian post-mortem photography? Or was she simply asleep, and whoever had drawn the eyes had been playing a joke? There wasn’t enough detail to be sure, but the image disturbed him. Perhaps if the photograph had been in colour, he might have been able to discern more detail. As it was, this was just a girl with eyes drawn onto her closed lids.

He backed out of the room slowly, trying not to make a sound. He could not turn away from the grim totem, and now that he’d seen the photograph he was unable to think of anything else. Even when he closed his eyes, he saw that face: the drawn-on eyes stared at him from the red-tinted darkness.

He shut the door on the dreadful image and went to the next door along the landing. It was the bathroom. He locked the door and sat down on the toilet, trying to clear his mind. But all he could think of — and all he could see, like a flash against his retina — was the girl’s small, white face and those crudely drawn eyes.

He stood and lifted the toilet lid, took a piss and stared at the clean white tiles above the cistern. As he washed his hands, he tried not to meet his own eyes in the mirror above the sink. He knew that they would look haunted, just as this house was haunted by something that was not immediately apparent — a quiet spectre, a ghost of sadness and decay. He wasn’t afraid, he was mournful. The death of this child — if she even was dead, and

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