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Caution: this book contains references to sexual and other physical abuse, self-harm, addiction and suicidal ideation.

Some names and identifying characteristics have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals involved.

First published in Great Britain in 2020

by Canongate Books Ltd, 14 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1TE

This digital edition first published in 2020 by Canongate Books


Copyright © Terri White, 2020

The right of Terri White to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available on

request from the British Library

ISBN 978 1 78689 678 0

eISBN: 978 1 78689 679 7

For Margaret Noreen Carter.

And all the girls who fear they’re forever lost.


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30



In my right hand is a transparent bag holding my clothes, basic toiletries and loose items of make-up. I step towards the automatic doors, which, sensing the movement, open with a whoosh: curtains announcing the matinee performance. I move forwards one small step, a second, and I’m through them, out on the street. I stand entirely still, close my eyes, breathe in, hold for two beats and then open my eyes wide and allow the world outside in.



A yellow cab speeds past, horn blaring at a weaving cyclist who narrowly misses bouncing off its front bumper. A woman in a beige woollen skirt suit with a thin pink trim, short rigid curls and a face worn tight, bends down to scoop up her small white dog’s neatly laid shit with a tinted plastic bag, turned inside out and worn over her fingers and thumb. The bag might be scented, probably is, but I can’t isolate and identify that smell over the other smells writhing on top of each other, vying for attention. The odours of an average New York City street on an average spring day: garbage, coffee, noodles, piss, hotdogs, burnt sugar, beer, bagels. Sweet, bitter, soft, strong and sharp. The smells that become tastes when they travel up into your nose and down through your throat.

The grey, uneven patchwork pavement shakes, sizzles and bakes beneath my feet. I look from left to right, down at the concrete and up at the sky, or what’s visible of it between the towering buildings on this block. Wisps of white clouds scatter across an otherwise blemish-free blue sky; the sun blazes, burns bright. Tucked under my left arm are the flowers I was sent with love five days ago, by one of the handful of people who know the truth about where I’ve been. I had insisted on carrying them out with me, hand tight around the base of the basket, even though the flowers, the yellow and white daisies that had brought sunshine into the green ward, died yesterday. The heads are bowed and broken and brown, the soil flaky and cracked. I pull them closer. I flag a taxi with the hand holding the bag, my belongings held aloft and bared. I step down off the kerb, open the door, climb in the back and – just like that – I slide back into my life.

‘Avenue D and Third,’ I say to the driver.

I’m going back to my apartment in the East Village. My corner was once one of the very worst corners, the darkest corner of Manhattan’s drugs and crime-controlled no-go area. It’s now home to people like me, who push rental prices up and up, encouraging a Starbucks to open just two and a half blocks away.

Arriving home, I check my mailbox, which is overflowing, walk up the three flights of stairs and open the grey front door to my apartment, expecting resistance on the other side. Thirteen days ago, it was a wreck; more specifically the wreckage of a life in bits. The sink was stacked with dirty dishes, the worktops covered with take-out cartons and empty bottles. In the living room a carpet of crunched-up beer cans, wine bottles rolling on their sides, the prongs of plastic forks sticking in my foot every time I tiptoed to the bathroom, which was covered in damp towels, dirty clothes. In the bedroom, there were more discarded clothes, twisted stained sheets, fallen single shoes and bobby pins scattered like tiny traps across the bed and floor.

I feel both a rush of gratitude and a wave of shame crash into my chest as I walk into a transformed apartment. I don’t allow myself to think of my friend’s reaction when she came in, the door proving unyielding at first, after I gave her my keys to pick up some clothes. The message she will inevitably have shared, flying from Manhattan to Brooklyn and back again: did you all know about the mess? About how bad things were? Should we clean it? She can’t return to that, surely?

I picture her, picking up the discarded pills, one by one. The survivors that were last seen falling from my mouth, sticking underfoot and skidding into dark corners. The breadcrumb trail that didn’t lead me out of the woods, but was proof that I had been deep, deep in there, lost among the trees.

I drop my bag by the door, put my dead flowers down on the desk. A curled, crisp leaf lands by my feet. I look out of the window, hear sirens ringing out on the streets below. I become cold with fear, unable to move. Are they coming for me?


Eight days earlier.

‘Hi! Um, I think there’s been a mistake,’ I say casually, with what I hope is an easy smile, high on the smallest glimmer of hope. There’s a noise, meant

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