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American Atheist: #16

by  Nelly

Posted: Saturday, September 3, 2005
Word Count: 5948

Content Warning
This piece and/or subsequent comments may contain strong language.

In her thirteenth year, Unita met Sandy Otway, a loud energetic girl from Wisconsin.

The Otway family moved into their new house in the summer of ’54. It was home to mice and insects, of great spiders the span of her hand, which made their webs in its dirt-stained windows. It smelled of damp, of many summers abandoned, lost amongst the endless woods of Democritus hill. But the Otways didn’t seem to mind its dilapidated condition; they set about the task of restoring S’antamblio to its once former glory with obvious enthusiasm.

S’antamblio had belonged to the Louvares, but when Jon Louvare was found buried beneath autumn leaves, dead on his own front porch and still in his slippers, the home had fallen derelict. Its smooth stone walls made from finely cut ashlar became peppered with age, weeds cracked the patio floor and the once expansive gardens were left to grow wild.

Unita usually avoided the place.

It was rumoured Mr Benjamin Otway brought money with him from Milwaukee, arriving in a sleek-red Cadillac with his household belongings following, in not one, but two furniture vans. At his welcoming in Nonchurch, he declared his intentions to put the village of Woolston back on the map, an ambitious statement that raised an eyebrow of concern from the Nonfather, but won him easy friends and flirtatious glances from the rest of the gathering.

Restoration began the following Monday, with trucks clogging up the drive of S’antamblio and builders coming and going long after the sun had set. Ashanti had feigned disinterest when the work had first began, pretending the affairs of her neighbours was none of her concern, but Unita had caught her looking through the kitchen curtains on more than one occasion.

It took Ashanti a week to buckle, but finally she could bear it no longer and had gathered together a basket of fruits, dragged Unita from her room and attempted a casual walk over.

Jessica Otway was waiting on the pillared entrance porch by the time they arrived, having observed them both crunching down the gravel drive. A young mother still in her twenties, she had a fine narrow face and short blonde hair. She was tall and unusually thin, the lines of her figure lost in a loose-fitting blouse and jeans. She explained in a friendly manner that Ashanti had beaten her to it, if not for all the restoration work she would have gathered together her own basket and come across to say hello, a fact which had endeared Ashanti to Jessica from the start.

As the two women got to know each other, Unita had been sent off to find Sandy Otway, Jessica’s daughter, last seen by her mother climbing in the apple orchard. But Unita had other ideas and as soon as she was out of sight, she sat down behind the nearest tree and pulled from the folds of her cardigan, a well-thumbed through and dogged-eared copy of American Scientist. It was the November issue from the previous year, picked up and stolen from a doctor’s waiting room. On the cover was an artistic rendition of a meteorite storm blasting its way past the cool blues of planet earth. It had caught her attention when she first saw it, partly buried beneath a stack of health magazines and it did the same now. She immediately flicked through to the colour centre and started to read. Instantly, the world around her: the apple orchard, the noise of the builders, even the soft feel of the grass, all vanished as she became lost to the pages of the magazine. So she didn’t see Sandy Otway drop down from the branches of the orchard overhead, only becoming aware of the girl when she walked over and took the magazine from her hands.

“What’s this?” she asked, flicking the magazine over to read its title.

“None of your business,” Unita shouted. She reached out to snatch it back, but Sandy danced away.

“You’re not into all this sci-fi stuff are you? Martians and long tentacled things from planet X.” She waved her arms around as if to imitate a monster.

Unita stood up and grabbed the magazine. “Certainly not,” she snapped. “I’m more interested in science fact than fiction, and I would remind you to keep out of others' business.”

Sandy’s smile faded and she looked genuinely sorry. “Hey, I didn’t mean to upset you, I’m just having a laugh.”

“I don’t see the funny side.”

Sandy held up her hands. “Sure, I understand, guess I should have thought things through first.”

Unita continued to glare.

“Okay I’m officially the moron, do I get a prize?”

Despite herself, Unita smiled. “Well, as long as you admit it.”

Sandy returned the smile. “You must be Unita, Mum has been talking about going over, guess you beat her to it.”

Unita nodded. “And you’re Sandy, pleased to meet you.” The two shook hands. “They seem to be hitting it off pretty well, looks like I’m going to be spending a lot of time around here.”

“If you want, we can always go to your house,” Sandy suggested.

“No, better not, Mamma wants me to stay nearby.”

“What about your dad, is he working?”

Unita’s face fell, “No, he’s dead.”

Sandy slapped her forehead. “Ding! In for round two of foot in mouth.” She glanced quickly towards Unita, “I’m sorry,” she added, “it’s like I’ve got a disease.”

“It’s alright, I never knew him, he died before we moved here.”

“Does your mamma talk about him?”

“Not really, in her rare moments of introspection she said he was a man of wonders, whatever that means?”

The two fell silent.

“What about your Dad?” Unita asked, “he seems really popular at the moment.”

Sandy made a face. “Oh him…things aren’t always what they seem.”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re not really into all this stuff are you?” Sandy said, obviously changing the subject. “I mean, its like major nerd.”

“I guess,” Unita looked down at the cover. “Nonfather Fletcher tells us to push the boundaries of science, everything can be explained by man and so things like this,” she lifted up the magazine, “are really important.”

Sandy laughed, “Jeez, how serious are you!” she stopped laughing when Unita looked quickly away. She placed a reassuring hand onto Unita’s arm. “Tell me more,” she said gently.

“Well…” Unita opened the magazine and ran her finger down a page. “The word comet is Greek,” she read, “ originally ‘kometes’ meaning `the hairy one'.” She looked up into Sandy’s wide eyes. “This issue is the best, it shows us what meteorites are, how they’re formed and where they come from.”

Sandy nodded patiently as Unita rambled on. “They can either come from the Oort cloud or the Kuiper belt, depending on what type they are.”

“Wait a minute,” Sandy interrupted, “the what not and the who?”

“Oh sorry, the Oort cloud is where all the long term comets come from, they take thousands of years to circle the sun and was found only a few years back by Jan Hendrik Oort.”

“Hence the name.”

“Exactly, but the Kuiper belt is where all the short-term comets come from, like Haley’s comet.”

“Ah,” Sandy tapped the side of her head; “My granddad told me about this, last seen in nineteen-ten.” She smiled, “only remember because he told me it was the year Mark Twain died, he famously predicted his own death when the comet came into the skies again…and he was right.”

“Yeah, comes about every seventy-six years,” she shivered, then laughed nervously. “Comets are historically always associated with bad tidings, ill omens or portents of death and destruction. Next time it’s seen, will be in nineteen eighty-six, we’ll be old women by then.”

“Speak for yourself, I’m never going to get old.” Sandy flexed her muscles. “I’m going to live forever.”

Unita started to laugh.

“Seriously though, by the time we get old they will have found a way to prevent ageing, what with the way the war advances technology, who knows what they will dream up next.”

“The war will never end,” Unita said darkly. “But you want to know the most interesting thing?”

Sandy nodded.

“It tells us when all the neatest storms are, like a guide for the year.”

“So when is the next one?”

“Two weeks from now.”

“Fancy watching it?”

“Ashanti, won’t let me.”

Sandy’s smile widened, “We can’t let a small thing like permission stop us?”

Unita wasn’t sure, “I’ll get into trouble, Mamma can be real serious.”

“As can my own mum,” she sighed, “oh well, don’t worry. Say, how old is that mag anyway?”

“Last November’s.”

“Why don’t you have one from this year?”

“Mamma won’t let me. She thinks science fiction is a waste of time and not handy for running the farm.”

“Has she ever read this…” Sandy paused and looked at the cover, “American Scientist?”

“Nope, she prefers her trashy romance novels.”

They both burst out laughing.

“But that’s worse,” Sandy declared.

“And really sad,” Unita added.

Their laughter died away and they sat in silence for a while, eventually Sandy clambered back to her feet. “Come on,” she said, “you can help me climb trees.”


Over the next few days, the two became constant companions. They spent time exploring the dusty rooms of S’antamblio, wandering through the vast attic with its high arched roof and incomplete flooring. At the far end a gaping hole existed, yet to be covered up by the builders, it offered a view of the grounds and all the workers scurrying like ants below. The attic felt like the last refuge of the past, still draped in the ages of its previous owners. An old moth eaten sofa lay upon its side, near to piles of wood partially hidden under decades of cobwebs and dust. There was even an old gramophone, with stacks of records dating as far back as the twenties. Once the two girls had figured out how to wind up the machine they listened to one of the records, a man’s voice cracked with age sang a melody that was faded with time. Unita didn’t like the song, it gave S’antamblio a voice, speaking of memories with deep regret. They left the attic then, Unita allowing the house this last shelter.

They talked about everything and anything that came to mind, from the weather to the war. No subject was taboo for Sandy; she spoke about the bars of Wisconsin as easily as Unita might mention her chores. She had seen the way people were when they had imbibed alcohol, and Unita listened eagerly to tall tales, spun out through long evenings of the antics of drunken men.

As the day of the next storm neared, Unita tried to talk with Ashanti one last time. She waited until Ashanti had retired for the evening, sherry in hand, before going to her. Ashanti was wrapped in her favourite white shawl, near to the bay windows, a single candle lit so she may read her pulp fiction. Unita had hovered indecisively, until Ashanti with the only slightest glance asked, “What is it?”

“Mamma, the meteor storm is in a few days, I really want to see it?”

Ashanti idly turned the page of her book; “We’ve talked about this before.”

Unita twiddled the end of her cardigan. “I know, but it’s really important.”


“But I really want to…”

Ashanti looked up and Unita fell silent.

“Don’t be so ridiculous, a girl of your age wanting to see rocks in the sky. You, my young child, need to focus on more realistic options, like helping me with the duties of the farm. This place won’t run itself!” She took a sip of sherry and casually turned another page of her romance novel. “Escapism," she sniffed, “is for those who can’t possibly be happy with their lives.”


When the day finally arrived, the skies were completely clear of cloud, not a single shred of white could be seen, everywhere she looked was a vast horizon of unending blue.

She met Sandy in the orchard and over a shared lunch of cheese and pickle sandwiches, talked about her conversation with Ashanti.

“Let’s do it anyway,” Sandy said, once Unita was finished. “Come on, what have you got to loose.”

“She’ll beat me if she finds out,” Unita said, feeling a twinge of excitement.

“Better make sure she doesn’t find out.”

Unita laughed. “But how?”

“Stay around mine, Mum won’t mind, we won’t tell her and my bedroom has the best view in the house, it overlooks the woods and you can see for miles.”

Unita didn’t dare to hope, going against Ashanti’s wishes would put her into a position she had never been in before, but then the possible results were more than she had hoped for…

“Okay,” she said in a rush, “I’ll ask Mamma and see what she says.”


Ashanti said yes almost before she had finished asking. Dumbstruck, Unita had wandered out of the room in a daze, before running to her room practically screaming with excitement. She packed her schoolbag full of clothes and scrambled out of the house, sprinting all the way to S’antamblio, before collapsing on the porch in breathless excitement. The sun was already touching the tips of the woods and soon she would see one of nature’s rare grand displays.

Eating with the Otways, was a strange occurrence. Ashanti had entertained guests before, so Unita had a good idea of how these things went, but dinner was an uncomfortable experience, there was a forced politeness to the family and a heavy tension, which she sensed as soon as she entered the room.

“How did your day go Unita?” Jennifer asked, once they were all settled.

“Fine, school was pretty much the same…”

Benjamin Otway spoke over her, his voice slurring, his cheeks red. “Oh, she doesn’t really care about school, she’s just making small talk.” His voice suggested humour, but there was an edge to his eyes.

“Please don’t start Benjamin, we have company.” Jessica said, picking up a bowl of mashed potato.

“Of course,” he replied, his voice laced with venom, “don’t want to let the side down.”

The meal continued in silence, the Otways were -while being civil to each other- keeping a clipped icy quality to their words, that left for stilted conversation and long embarrassing drawn out pauses.

Unita lost her appetite, she pushed her meat around the plate until the plate was removed and ate only half her pudding.

Finally, Sandy asked if they could leave the table and both her parents readily agreed.

They wasted no time in going up to Sandy’s room, Unita noting the last of the suns rays were fading from an already darkening sky.

“Don’t mind my parents, they always argue.”

“It’s fine, don’t worry about it…”

“But its not fine though is it, its got worse since we moved, not better like Dad said it would.”

“Is that why you moved?” Unita asked and then hurriedly added, “you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

“I don’t mind, but kind of, we moved because Dad told Mum he had an affair.”

Unita felt herself blush. Nobody ever talked to her about such things and now here Sandy was, baring her family’s dirty laundry; she didn’t know what to say.

“Wasn’t his first mind you, won’t be his last, but it was the first he admitted to. Mum thinks he told her hoping we would leave, pack our bags and go back to my gran’s house, but it didn’t work out the way he wanted. She convinced him to leave the other woman and then make a fresh start out here.” She looked down at the floor and whispered, “Only she hasn’t really forgiven him and he knows it, which is why they argue so much.”

Unita reached out and touched Sandy’s hand, “I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be, it’s his mistake, he’s the one who will regret it all.” She couldn’t hide the bitterness in her voice. “I just wish he could be more of a…well you know, more of a… father to me,” she paused, “is it selfish to think this way?”

“No, I don’t think so. I wish I knew my Dad.”

Sandy put her hand to her mouth and her eyes widened. “I’m so sorry,” she blurted, “here’s me talking about what an Asshole Dad is, when you never knew yours. You must think I’m really petty?”

“No I don’t,” Unita said sharply. “ I think I would feel the same way if my dad was a cheat.”

Sandy smiled and wiped at her eyes, she leant in closer and placed her head upon Unita’s shoulder. “Thanks,” she said, “you’re a true friend.”

“Same to you,” Unita replied with a widening grin.


“How long before we see anything?” Sandy asked, flopping down onto a beanbag and staring out through the wide-open windows.

“Not long I imagine, as soon as it gets really dark we should…” Her words trailed off as a single line of white and orange shot across the sky.

Both girls said “Wow” and let out long sighs of excitement.

Six more followed, each blazing a trail across the night.

Sandy laughed and clapped her hands together; “it’s even better than I imagined.”

“We got lucky,” Unita said, enjoying Sandy’s excitement, “if we had cloud cover, we wouldn’t have been able to see a thing.”

“Even so…” Sandy’s words trailed off as several more streaked past. “It’s fantastic.”

“Yeah, pretty cool.” Unita felt an odd smugness at watching Sandy, a satisfaction from the contentment of the others face. “It will go on all night, should intensify about two in the morning and then fade out by five.”

Sandy leaned forward and laughed, as line after line of brilliant white shot past, “Well I don’t know about you, but I’m going to stay up for the whole show.”

“Absolutely,” Unita agreed.

They settled back and watched the storm, the heavens coming alive with a mix of blossoming reds, stark whites and surreal yellow glows. True to Unita’s words, in the early hours of the morning the storm intensified, so the whole sky was a wash with the meteorites, so bright it cast a pale reflection upon their faces.

“I’ll never forget this moment,” Sandy said.

“Me too,” Unita whispered.


Eventually the summer faded and the nights drew in, the sun became a faint shadow of its former self. A bitter wind blew in through the valleys, signalling the cycle of change; autumn had come again.

On Wednesday mornings, Unita and Sandy shared physical education. Regardless of the weather they were marched out onto the school-field and made to run. Usually four laps and then back in for a tepid shower. Unita had dutifully ran with the other girls, keeping an easy pace with the leaders when she had been gripped with intense stomach cramps. Something warm trickled down her leg and she first thought she had wet herself. Her actions caused others to slow and the nearest girl stopped altogether, then laughed. Suddenly worried, Unita looked down and saw a widening red patch upon her knickers. Her worry turned to revulsion and tears sprang unbidden to her eyes.

Sandy came running over, she took one look at Unita’s damp skirt and grabbed her by the arm. “Come on,” she insisted and marched her from the field, pausing only to tell the teacher they were going to the restroom. The teacher gave Unita a sympathetic glance; more condescending pity than any empathy and moved in to break up the gathering crowd.

Once in the toilets, Sandy ran warm water into a sink. “Don’t listen to the others,” she said, “there’re just idiots.”

Unita reached down and touched the inside of her thighs, bringing back fingers that glistened red. “What’s happening to me?” she whispered.

Sandy stopped in the act of unravelling toilet paper.” Don’t you know?”

Know?” Unita shouted. “I don’t know anything, please Sandy just tell me?”

“But didn’t your mum tell you… this is what happens.”

“Happens when?”

Sandy stepped in closer and pushed back a strand of Unita’s dark hair. “When you become a woman,” she said gently. That had stopped Unita’s tears and the two looked intensely at each other. “Congratulations, you’re no longer a child,” Sandy whispered and abruptly kissed her.

A single, powerful kiss leaving her breathless and eager for more.

“Sandy I…” Unita stammered.

“Shh,” Sandy placed her finger to Unita’s lips. “Don’t ruin the moment,” and kissed her again


“I always meant to tell you, but there never was the right time,” Ashanti had blurted when Unita came home. She grabbed Unita’s hand, her palm cold and clammy, tears rolling down her cheeks. “ You grew up so fast, it seems like only yesterday you were just a small child, but now look at you.” She brushed at Unita’s hair. “I’m so proud of the woman you’ve become.”

Unita squirmed, “Mamma,” she moaned, secretly enjoying the affection.

“Things will be different now,” Ashanti went on to explain, “your body will change and your emotions may swing from highs to lows, but don’t worry, this is all perfectly normal.”

Unita listened intently and then a thought struck her. “Was it the same way for you?” she asked.

“For me?” Ashanti smiled, her eyes hidden, “when I was your age, it was a different world, my mother, your Nanna, had already talked to me about periods, so I knew what to expect, but it still didn’t stop me from making the same mistakes young girls have made through-out time.”

Unita was intrigued, Ashanti had never talked about her childhood before, it was usually a closed book. ”What do you mean?”

“I fell in love. Not with the first boy I met, not like the young girls down on the water front, no, my heart was stolen by Jeremiah Seenbys.” When Unita looked confused, Ashanti added. “Your dad.”

Unita’s heart missed a beat. “You never speak about him, you’ve never even told me his name. Why now?”

“You were too young before, that’s all changed now. Jeremiah was a travelling doctor, dealing with,” her voice dropped with resignation, “alternative medicines. In other words he was a quack, a fake, selling cod-liver oil under fancy names to people whose aliments were real enough. Still, he was a handsome man, ten years my senior and far beyond my reach. When he first came to town, he was something of a new fad, walked in one morning out of the morning mist, wearing a fine dark suit and tipping his hat to everyone he met. What made people sit up and take notice were his teeth. Each one capped with gold, a small fortune revealed every time the boy smiled.” She became whimsical, a faint flash of a smile playing across her lips. “He set up shop by the bars and took a room across the street from my own. It wasn’t long before a thin waif of a girl -like I was in my youth- caught his eye, and of course I made sure he saw me, curse me for my own stupidity, but I was young. I quickly learned what Jeremiah wanted, he got and I was to be no exception. He tried for the first week, helping me with my chores and just hanging around the home, until one night I couldn’t resist anymore, his temptations were too much and I succumbed.”

She sighed and patted Unita’s hand. “Your father was good to me in the time we were together, he made sure we never wanted for anything, and he loved me in his own way. A month later, when his medicines failed to work and the townspeople began to grumble, he did what he had always done, must have done to a hundred other villages, packed up his belongings and left. He never even said goodbye, just vanished into the night, gone as quickly as he first appeared.”

At last Unita knew about her father, but she couldn’t help feel it was a let down, he was nothing but a con-artist, she had hoped for more. “Wait,” she said, thinking things through, “you said he died?”

Ashanti’s face dropped, “Yes,“ she said quietly, “he did die. You have to remember things were different in Mississippi in the ‘40’s, people had a different way of doing things. When your Nanna found out I was with child, but out of wed lock, she beat me so hard I lost consciousness. It’s a miracle I didn’t lose you. Your Uncles and Nephews went to bring Jeremiah back, they said they would beat sense into the boy, but there was murder in their hearts that night.” Her eyes strayed away and she studied the corner of the room. “But here’s the strange part, they found Jeremiah, but not in the way they had envisioned. His body was dragged up out of the west banks of the Mississippi, caught in the nets of fishermen. It was definitely him, he even clutched hold of his medicine bag and wore the same dark suit he strolled into town with six weeks before. But you couldn’t tell much from his face, little was left after the worms and fish had their full. A hank of hair and one single eye were all that remained. Of course the teeth were intact and that’s how he was identified, I don’t suppose there was anyone else in the whole of Mississippi, who had teeth like Jeremiah. It was Nonfather Finaagen who examined the corpse and said, beyond a shadow of doubt Jeremiah had been in the river a good two months, his body all rotted the way it was.”

“Impossible!” Unita declared. “You knew him for six weeks…”

Ashanti met her stare. “So how did he walk into town, all full of life and promises, when he was lying in the mud and mire of the great Mississippi?”

Unita didn’t know, her mind considered the possibilities. “He must have been wrong, the Nonfather must have made a mistake!”

“That’s what Nonfather Finaagen first thought, so he called in two Doctors from Jackson, and both agreed with his first diagnosis. The body of Jeremiah had been in water the entire time.”

“But how?”

“We never found out, there was never any rational explanation which fitted, but you want to know what I think?”

Unita nodded eagerly.

“Despite what the Nonchurch would have us believe, there are things to this world that are not readily explained by science, or at least science for which we are accustomed. You are living proof Jeremiah was with me, of solid flesh and bone, and his corpse now burnt and scattered on Harmony Hill was proof further there are some things in this world we can never fully understand and best let be.”

That night, Unita lay awake digesting all she had been told. She reflected while it was true her father had never amounted to much, he had in some way, elevated himself beyond mere physical being. The tale Ashanti had told, it suggested a way of looking beyond the confines of the Nonchurch and who knows where that future may lead her.


The next day she ran to school, the world flying by in a rush. She was on a high, floating with the clouds, feeling as if nothing could bring her back down to earth. Better yet, she imagined she was a meteorite, surging through the atmosphere, ablaze with the light of her new-found feelings.

Only at the school gates, reality intervened with a bitter harshness. Sandy stood beneath the shadows of a weeping willow, with the Nonfather’s son, Bobby Fletcher. The two were holding hands and sharing a kiss.

A simple kiss; nothing more.

Unita stood there shocked, tears stinging her eyes. Sandy placed her hand on Bobby’s chest and together they walked into school, while Unita watched wordlessly, mouth agape, her hands clenching and unclenching furiously.

She couldn’t face her next class and ran to the toilets, locking herself inside a cubicle, tears running down her cheeks, each one a jagged wound to her heart. She hated Sandy, but secretly realised she hated herself more. She wished she felt nothing, nothing at all, but the pain never faded and eventually she cried herself out of tears.

Sandy talked about Bobby for the rest of the morning, oblivious to the turmoil of emotions sweeping through Unita’s mind. Sandy didn’t seem to care, never asking how she was feeling, never showing even the slightest concern for anyone else, other than Bobby Fletcher.

“He’s not like the rest,” Sandy explained, twiddling the ends of her hair while looking out the classroom windows. “He doesn’t even care about Nonchurch.” She whispered the last words and glanced about anxiously.

“He should be careful,” Unita said dryly. “That kind of attitude will only land him into trouble.”

Sandy glanced back and playfully tapped Unita’s arm. “You’re not jealous are you?”

Unita felt her face flush. “No,” she said hotly.

But Sandy hadn’t heard; she went back to dreamily staring out the window. “He said if I want, I can come to the Nonchurch this evening and he’ll show me the parts usually out of bounds for visitors.”

“I’ll bet he will, the full tour, no stone left untouched,” Unita snapped.

“Oh don’t be such a prude,” Sandy laughed, “besides I was meaning to ask you, have you done last week’s English homework?”

“Yes,” Unita said, then suddenly suspicious. “Why?”

“Could you copy it into mine? I know it’s cheeky, but I want to see Bobby at lunchtime, please say you will.”

Unita narrowed her eyes and glared, feeling all her sorrow and pain drain away like water down a sink, in their absence they were replaced with a cold anger, a rush of bitterness, which she eagerly embraced.

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” she said and managed the faintest of smiles.

During lunch, she copied out the homework. Taking time to think of the worst answers possible, glad of the mistakes she purposefully scribbled into Sandy’s book, aware it was petty, childish and beneath her, but not caring and continuing all the same.

It didn’t take long for Mrs Denver to discover the errors, she sat at the front of the class, pen in hand and with fluid strokes either ticked or crossed work as appropriate. When it was Sandy’s turn, a look of concern marched across her large features, she began to cross furiously, her gestures becoming more expressive and dramatic the further she went down the page, until she came to the last line and stopped altogether. She looked up and stared directly at Sandy. “Get here,” she snarled. Sandy’s face paled, she reluctantly stood up and walked up towards the desk, passing Unita as she went. Unita could barely resist a giggle.

Mrs Denver brutally tore into Sandy, spittle flying from her large lips. Sandy glanced back towards Unita, perhaps at first for support -Unita would never be sure- but she saw mirrored in Unita’s eyes exactly what had happened and understanding quickly dawned. Her look of surprise turning to shocked betrayal and finally tears under Mrs Denver’s deluge.

Unita felt something snap inside. She had expected to feel happy, even elated, but instead felt a surge of overwhelming guilt. Her anger bubbled up from within and she abruptly screamed at the teacher to stop.

Mrs Denver was more surprised than anyone else. Even Sandy had stopped crying and the two stared at each other as Mrs Denver turned her attention to Unita. The words the school teacher said were only half-listened to, instead Unita looked deep into the eyes of Sandy and read there, a finality, a line passed which could never be regained. It made the caning that followed, insignificant to the gaping hole where her heart had once been.

She didn’t see Sandy for the rest of the day or all that evening. The next day she didn’t turn up to school, or the day after. On the weekend, Unita summoned the courage to walk over to S’antamblio, unsure of what she would say. But Jennifer Otway met her on the drive, car keys in hand; she wore a pair of large dark sunglasses and was wrapped in a shawl, despite the long overcast clouds, which threatened rain. She looked ill and when she spoke her voice had trembled. Still, she made it clear Sandy would not be coming out to play and Unita wasn’t welcome at the house. As she spoke, she tried in vain to put her keys into the car door, unable to see clearly through the glasses she wore, after a minute more of frantic fumbling she was forced to lower the glasses and thrust the key into the lock.

Unita let out a soft gasp of dismay; Jennifer’s right eye was swollen to the point it was permanently shut.

Jennifer glanced at her and hurriedly pushed the glasses back up. “I don’t need your fucking pity,” she spat. After which, she managed to open the door, start the engine and left Unita standing there alone on the drive.

Moments later, a cold hard rain had begun to fall.


Unita discovered Sandy the following Tuesday, stepping out of the headmistress office; a full satchel over one shoulder, looking pale, her eyes red-rimmed as if she had been crying. The two looked at each other, but said nothing. Sandy’s eyes had become hard, like steel, and Unita’s voice stuck in her throat. She couldn’t think of what to say.

Finally, Sandy looked away and said. “It’s not about that, there’s more, a lot more. It’s not about you -not all of it.” When Unita didn’t respond, she sighed, and stepped out through the school’s main doors.

Unita never saw her again.

Two days later, Ashanti revealed Mr Otway had been caught with the wife of the Postmaster, by none other than the Nonfather –he never missed a thing. The entire family had left in the night, taking their belongings in a rush to avoid the inevitable scandal.

Unita had felt wretched, she kept wandering back to S’antamblio, which had been left only half-finished. The old house had quickly returned to its former state of disrepair and peering in to the empty rooms she became silent witness to the return of the insects and spiders, whole families of field mice and even an lone owl settling in the loft. To Unita, the house was better that way, as if it had completed its tenure with man and was now enjoying a long retirement, a forgotten relic of a bygone age.

That would have been the end of her time with Sandy Otway, if not for one heavily wrapped parcel, which came six weeks later, stamped from Texas. Unita had hidden it from Ashanti and opened it in her room, what slid out from between two thin cardboard sheets was a glossy magazine with the title ‘American Scientist’ -that months issue- and a shining, glossy covered comic, with the words ‘American Atheist: #2’ spread across the cover. It depicted the American Atheist lifting up a car, foiling a group of robbers as they surged from a bank. In the background a golden woman stood with her hand on her hips and the caption next to her read.

“Introducing Iron maiden,
Armoured sidekick for America’s no 1 superhero.”

Underneath were the words, ‘Celebrate your diversity, forever your friend, Sandy.

She had been hooked ever since.