Lily' by Joanna Campbell

As the clock struck four our little sister, Lily, disappeared.

We were at the table in the nursery. Lily sat by the empty chair, the one where our big sister Rosie used to sit. Nanny scolded Johnny and me for bickering.

Lily never quarrelled. Light shone through her when she smiled.

Johnny and I tugged the tablecloth until the plate of crumpets teetered on the edge.

Humpty Dumpty Sat On The Wall.

The butter wept, slow-dripped. The cuckoo in the clock pressed against his door.

The crumpets and the milk-jug had a great fall.

Johnny and me, innocent, tucked our hands under the table.

Nanny pounced.

Lily’s eyes welled. Her mouth crumpled. Her blonde ringlets spilled over her face.

Hush Little Baby.

Me and Johnny wanted Mother, but she was troubled since the last baby came. She chanted nursery rhymes at us, her mouth twisted, waking us in the middle of the night.

Nanny’s black-cloak shadow hung over our little sister. But Lily never told on us. Johnny and me, we got away with it. Lily was sent to bed. The cuckoo piped as she left the room.

Hickory Dickory Dock.

Mother once told us the clock in the rhyme was the gallows. The mouse was the blade, slamming down.

Nanny banged the mop in the pail. The butter I licked from my fingers tasted of shame.

Nanny left to see to the butcher's boy, she said, although we never heard his whistle.

We tucked our chairs under the table, Johnny and me. Mother had painted a thick yellow flower on the back of Rosie's chair. I traced its bumpy outline with my finger.

The milliner called with Mother's new hat. Peacock blue with an ostrich feather. The windows turned black with rain. The gaslight pulsed yellow.

The scream came later, as Johnny and I played chess before bed.

Guests were arriving for Father's bridge evening, the hall bristling with canes and hats. Maids were turning down beds, Daisy with the limp and Alice with the turned-in eye.

The scream brought us all to Lily's room.

The lamp swung from her ceiling, the window gaped wide open. Rain spotted the pink rug. Her doll's china face was broken, but it was still talking.

Rain, rain, go away.

It couldn't tell us anything about Lily. Mother stood among the fragments, with her book of rhymes.

Bye Baby Bunting.

The hall stiffened with navy-blue helmets. Mother tried to feed the baby, her gown soaked with milk and tears.

Rock-a-bye baby.

Someone passed smelling salts. Everyone helped to fold up the card tables. The cuckoo hung out of his hole, dead as dust.

Here comes the candle to light you to bed. 

Next morning, Nanny left with four men in a black car shiny with rain, hissing through the puddles.

Here comes the chopper to chop off your head. 

Mother kept saying she must hire a replacement. She said that after Rosie left us, the last time the clock stopped.


  1. Wow! I do love your stories and can read them over and over.

    1. Thank you so much, Sherri. That's a lovely thing to say - hugely appreciated! xxx


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