After the thing with the goldfish, the Joneses decide they need respite at Christmas. A little late notice, the social worker says, but it’s not like you can blame them. Six families in the space of a year, the girl doesn’t do herself any favours. But she’s lucky, the Wilsons have agreed to take her in. They gave up fostering years ago but they’re making an exception and the girl would do well to remember that. Mr Wilson used to be a train driver but now the only thing he rides is a mobility scooter. He sits on it in front of the television screen, cracking walnuts and almonds and tossing their half crushed shells into an amber coloured ashtray.
Each night, while the girl lies belly down on the rug, colouring in pictures of cartoon families, he watches Only Fools and Horses and laughs himself into a coughing fit. When his face turns violet, Mrs Wilson rolls her eyes, puts down her crossword puzzle and hefts herself up off her chair. She slaps him repeatedly on the back until he waves her away and the purple drains from his face.
The day before Christmas Eve, after a dinner of mashed potatoes, sausages and beans they tell her they’re all going out to play the shop game. At Christmas the shopkeepers hide something in their window displays, something odd or out of place and the game is to find it. It’s easy at first. The tennis ball resting on a silver tray in the butchers, the small garden trowel in amongst the diamonds at the Jewellers, or the old violin, wood worn and missing a string, propped against a frying pan in the kitchen shop. But when they arrive at the haberdashery they can’t see anything wrong. The window display is filled with multi coloured wool bundles, patterned lace and jars and jars of buttons and silver pins. The three of them are there staring at all of the beautiful things, but it all looks perfect. Mr Wilson says, perhaps they’re not taking part this year and Mrs Wilson says, come on, let’s go.
But the girl won’t leave. It starts raining, ice cold rain thickening to sludge. The kind of rain that wants to be snow but doesn’t quite know how to hold itself together. Mr Wilson says he’s had enough and steers his scooter up the street. The girl kicks at the wooden facade and pushes her palms against the glass. The rainy grey sludge fills the gutters and the gaps in the pavement. Mrs Wilson says, how about some hot chocolate? Come on, you’ll catch your death standing there. But the girl doesn’t move. She presses her forehead on to the glass and starts banging her brow against it. She’s staring at the knitting needles, the crochet hooks, some red thread unravelling onto the white cloth but no matter how hard she looks, she simply can’t find it, that one thing that doesn’t belong.