She is so small, small for her age. Although he is only five and she is six, Sammy has overtaken her. He is already long and thin, and she is a speck of dust hiding in the folds of green velvet curtains.

Stella’s bedroom walls are creamy white, scattered with tiny green flowers. The carpet is pale brown, dark brown and red brown, all swirling together and away. The carpet doesn’t go with the curtains or the wallpaper. But it is good enough for children who never appreciate anything, who make everything a mess. There’s no point putting down a brand new carpet in that room. It will only be destroyed. Especially by Stella.

The dust in the curtain catches in her throat. It is invisible, yet it chokes her. If she was dust she could disappear, and no one would ever find her. She has to lie down and wriggle up to get between the curtain and the lining. Inside it is dark, but she closes her eyes and sees magical pictures. It is like painting, except the pictures are inside her head, so she can have any colour she chooses: pink, red, yellow. Stella can see anything when her eyes are closed.

Sammy is afraid of the dark, and of squashed up places. If he makes a noise, Stella has to dig her nails into his hand. You must be quiet inside the curtains, so no one can find you.

One day, in a game of hide-and-seek, Sammy trips as he is looking for Stella. He runs up laughing because he knows where she will be, but his foot catches in the lining and it tears. The hole is the size of a teddy bear and the shape of a banana.

Mummy doesn’t know, but one day she will find out. One day she will blame Stella. One day she will say,

You are the most careless creature I ever met. And you didn’t have the common decency to tell me. Did you think I wouldn’t find out you stupid girl? These are no good now, no good at all. Well, I’m not buying new curtains for someone who cares so little, who looks after her things so badly.

Stella doesn’t like the curtains any more. Besides, she likes to draw, and you can’t draw between the layers of velvet and lining. She takes pencils and paper and sneaks past the kitchen, down the basement stairs to her own secret place where nobody goes, not even Sammy, where no one will ever find her. She goes past wallpaper ends, empty paint tins, carpet off-cuts, and a half-finished model ship. She goes deep into the basement, sliding her hands over the cold damp walls until she gets to the place where she wants to be.


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