The Last Family in England: Deleted Chapters 1
Adam reads toddler Charlotte to sleep
Originally Prince was to be older, and could therefore remember when Charlotte was a little girl. It made more sense for him to be younger though, so this scene had to go:
A memory. My first night with the Hunters, ten human years ago. I was young and naïve, but I still knew enough about my duty. So I was keeping guard by Charlotte’s bed as Adam read her favourite story. The one where the talking dog takes the little boy to every continent of the world in a single night. The bit she liked the best was when they were in a boat on the River Nile and the dog exchanged a few words with the Sphinx as they passed the pyramids, causing the Sphinx to reach forward and pick up the boat. Then on the next page, there was a picture of the Sphinx standing up on its hind legs, boat in paw, with the whole of Africa laid out for the dog and the little boy to see. From my sentry post I could view it all.
Charlotte clapped her hand down on this page. She did not want her father to read on. She wanted to take it all in, the view from the Sphinx’s paw. Her eyes zigzagged across the continent, from north to south, widening with every animal they reached. Snakes, lions, giraffes, hippos, elephants, zebras, tigers, camels. Throughout the whole of Africa only one human was visible: a man serenading a sleepy-looking snake as it rose from its basket. The man looked uncomfortable, as if he had been sitting in the same position, wearing that same costume, for far too long.
‘“Look out there, Billy, what do you see?”’ This was not Adam’s real voice. When he was speaking as Patch, Adam always tried to throw himself into the role. For added dramatic effect he tried to say the dog’s lines without moving his mouth because this, after all, was how dogs talk.
‘“I see Africa.”’ Adam’s Billy voice was equally inventive. High-pitched, with every syllable stretched to its limit, ‘Africa’ was pronounced as three separate words.
Charlotte liked his voices, and greeted them with a respectful ‘Siweedaddy’ and a dribbly giggle. With his free hand Adam rubbed his eyes and traced the shadow lines beneath with his thumb and point-finger. He paused as he heard Kate’s feet shuffle outside Charlotte’s bedroom door, then took a deep breath.
‘“And what animals can you see, Billy?”’ He looked up from the book and spoke directly to Charlotte in that same dog voice. ‘And what animals can you see, Charlotte?’ She loved this so much, Billy talking directly to her, that her head fell back under the weight of amusement before answering the question.
‘Dodu,’ she said to the sound of her finger landing on one of the camels.
‘No,’ said Adam as the wind whistled its night tune outside. ‘Camel. Come on Charlotte, say Camel. Ca. Mel. Camel.’
Adam’s arm reached over his daughter’s tiny shoulder and pointed to the sleepy looking snake.
‘Okay, what’s that? What’s that one called. Ssss – ?’
‘No. Snake. Suh. Nah. Ake.’
‘Come on Charlotte. We went through all the names yesterday, didn’t we? You know the different names of animals. What’s this one?’
‘No. Elephant. Not Dodu.’ Adam stabs his finger in my direction. ‘That’s Dodu, Charlotte. He’s Dodu.’
‘Yes. Dodu. Doggy. But that,’ he pointed back at the book, ‘is elephant. El. E. Phant.’
But it was no use. The whole of Charlotte’s world was still shaped in my image.
Charlotte turned to look at her father and, in a carefully engineered display of cuteness, silently mouthed her new favourite word. With his defences down, Adam surrendered to her Doducentric worldview and turned over the page.