I look up, past her knees, past her waist. Her head is bowed, lit gently by her phone’s screen. I tap her leg.
‘Just a sec, honey child,’ she murmurs. Her eyes don’t look at me, but her fingers stop tapping the screen and briefly touch my cheek. It feels warm. I like it when she touches me. ‘Mummy just needs to send this email. It’s really important. For Mummy’s work.’
I see a giant slide with three slide lanes, each brightly coloured: one blue, one yellow, one pink. There’s steps to one side and long line where lots of kids wait to climb for their turn to slide. I raise my head again to look at her; she’s still tapping away. I wander towards the line.
I am at the top of the stairs now, holding a bag. The other kids have put their legs in them, to go fast. I do the same. As I climb into the bag, I stare at the spot where Mummy is. Except she’s not there. I look around, scared, trying to find Mum.
Someone pushes me in the back. ‘Hey stupid,’ the boy says. I gaze up; his face has lots of red spots dotted on his forehead and nose. His eyes flash. ‘Whaddya waiting for? Ya scared?’
He turns to his friend and says, ‘Little kids are fucken dumb, aren’t they?’
‘My mum says that’s a bad word,’ I tell him, puffing out my chest.
‘Go tell your mum, then, dumbarse.’ He pushes me, hard this time, and I tumble onto the slide. I slip down but my legs are behind me. Everyone else has come down with their legs in front. At the end, my head lands on the large pillow as my legs flip over. Someone reaches for me.
‘Hey, are you alright?’ It’s a man’s voice. ‘Where’s your mum?’ He’s looking around the crowd of people, then at me. He helps me stand up.
‘Are you OK?’ he asks again.
I don’t answer.
‘Where’s Mum, darling?’
I shake my head. I don’t know where’s she’s gone.
‘Come with me,’ he says. ‘I’ll take you to the police.’ He holds out his hand. ‘Hold tight, love. It’s really busy. Don’t want to lose you.’ He mumbles something, to himself. I don’t hear.
‘It’s not far, love.’ He stops walking, bends to my level so his words are directly in my ear. ‘The police have a stand here at the fair. Don’t worry, we’ll find Mum. Lots of kids get lost at the fair every year. We always find their big person.’
I smile, shaky. Tears trickle, warm onto my cheeks and into my mouth. They are salty, like the sea.
‘What’s your name?’ he asks.
‘How old are you, Lara?’
‘Four.’ I hold up my fingers, with my thumb tucked under, just like Dad taught me.
‘Good girl. My name is Steve.’
We’re standing at the door to a caravan, like Nan and Pop’s. I like caravans. Steve leads me inside, except it’s different to Nan and Pop’s. This one doesn’t have a bed. The table is covered with papers, and the tiny space is filled with police men and women.
‘Hi Steve,’ says a police woman. ‘What have we here?’ she asks. She crouches, looks at my eyes, like Mummy never does, and rubs my arm. ‘I’m Julie, pet. What’s your name?’
Steve tells her my name and then uses his quiet voice to say other stuff to Julie. He touches my shoulders lightly and smiles at me.
‘I’m going to leave you with Julie now. She’ll help find Mummy.’ He walks from the caravan, waves to me at the door.
‘Right,’ says Julie, smiling with white teeth. ‘First thing we’re going to do it get an announcement over the PA. What’s Mummy’s name, pet?’
I tell her. Someone brings me a lemonade. And I sit, waiting for Mummy to get me.