In the title story of Tessa Hadley’s third collection, a nightmare prompts a nine-year-old’s revelation. The child loves Swallows and Amazons, but in her dream the book includes a chilling summary of how the lives of Roger, John, Titty and Susan play out. ‘Roger drowned at sea in his twenties … John suffered with a bad heart.’ Disturbed, the girl wanders downstairs into the empty, moonlit sitting room and contemplates her new awareness of time:
She was aware of their lives running backwards from this moment, into a past that she could never enter. This moment, too, the one fitted around her now as inevitably and closely as a skin, would one day become the past: its details then would seem remarkable and poignant, and she would never be able to return inside them.
Acting on a strange impulse ‘to break something, to disrupt this world of her home, sealed in its mysterious stillness’, the girl tips all the chairs in the room upside down and returns to bed. ‘Perhaps it would be funny when her parents saw it in the morning. At any