I had never thought about how I had arrived at Sandham beyond believing that I had been dropped off by my mother. I thought that she had dropped me off and just forgotten to pick me up. Something had been happening with the other world and I had the impression that all of what was going on was far greater than anything that was happening to me. That’s why Sandham existed, to take care of boys who had nobody else to care for them. I was an extra task on parents who were already fully engaged with battling something that was much scarier than autism.

“And why did they not come back to take you home?”

The easy answer was that they were much too busy, much too preoccupied with other matters, much too relieved that they had managed to rid themselves of the one big lump that was baring their way to a perfect life. In the olden days, unwanted babies were often left outside the doors of churches or workhouses. In this new world, I was left inside the empty halls of a crumbling school which had been deserted by all else.


  • the act of leaving the armed forces without permission
  • the act of leaving somebody behind in a difficult situation

I was not, nor ever had I been in the army, but some people had indeed left me behind.

“They didn’t come back for me because they never wanted me to be with them in the first place. I was always the embarrassment, the child who was special (not in an especially nice way), and I was the one who belonged someplace else, in the woods to be reared by other animals, or in a home that had been sequestered into becoming a school for special boys. Their world would work without me, the other world would not even notice my absence, and my little life would be allowed to just fade away. My dad had run away to escape the domestic disharmony that I had managed to create. I deserve to be left here until the end of time.”

I had built up to a great crescendo and I delivered my line with absolute emotional intent, but I was disappointed that Bloody Mary did not appear to be moved by my confession. I waited for a response but none came. Instead, Mary turned away from me and started to walk down the corridor that was now an endless passage leading away into a dimly lit horizon. Yet another who was walking away from me when I most needed them to stay.

“Is that what you think other people do?”

I had no time to answer my unseen questioner because the drum began to roll from beneath my feet. I followed the sound until it led me along the corridor that Mary had disappeared into. I passed the kitchen and the dining halls, the broad staircase leading to the quarters in which I had spent so much time and into the Great Hall where the windows cast a ghostly light. The tree was standing just beyond and was, I was certain, watching me. I noticed the shadows and thought that they too were watching, awaiting the moment when I discovered what had always been waiting for me.

If shadows had a collective expectation, then these had been waiting for me to act. I was once more by the fireplace and once again being led by the drumming, and there was the wainscoting revealing a hidden passage that ran deep within the building. Instead of hesitating, I walked resolutely into the darkness that eased as each step hit the timber floor with a crack of announcement. Before me was a lightened room, a space that was separated from the intestines of the school, a light that shone through from another world. And the drum played on. And then, before I had chance to notice the change in sound, it became a soft rat-a-tat padding of fingers on a keyboard. And the shape that was captured in the light was one that I would always recognise; it was my father.

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