The Smallest Thing
Publication date: July 18th 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
The very last thing 17-year-old Emmott Syddall wants is to turn out like her dad. She’s descended from ten generations who never left their dull English village, and there’s no way she’s going to waste a perfectly good life that way. She’s moving to London and she swears she is never coming back.
But when the unexplained deaths of her neighbors force the government to quarantine the village, Em learns what it truly means to be trapped. Now, she must choose. Will she pursue her desire for freedom, at all costs, or do what’s best for the people she loves: her dad, her best friend Deb, and, to her surprise, the mysterious man in the HAZMAT suit?
Inspired by the historical story of the plague village of Eyam, this contemporary tale of friendship, community, and impossible love weaves the horrors of recent news headlines with the intimate details of how it feels to become an adult—and fall in love—in the midst of tragedy.
It’s close to midnight before the house falls silent and I’m sure Dad is asleep. I roll out of bed and dig out the clothes I’ve stashed under my “Keep Calm and Carry On” pillow. Slipping out of my pajamas, I feel the sting of the cool night air against my skin. I pull on jeans and a cami, then cover up with a baggy sweatshirt, knowing I won’t be wearing it for long. Holding my breath, I ease up the handle of my window and feel the locks slide from their slots. With a sharp press against the wooden frame, the seals break like the pop of a champagne cork muffled inside a tea towel. I freeze, listening for any sign of disturbance from down the hall. Mum and my little sister Alice are the light sleepers, but I doubt they’d hear me tonight from three hundred miles away. Dad sleeps like the dead. I push open the window and peer at the garden below. In the long, violet midsummer half-light, Dad’s potting bench is just visible. It looks a long way down.
I know that climbing out of the window is a childish thing to do. I’m almost eighteen, for pity’s sake, close to official adulthood. I should be able to leave by the front door, like a normal person. But if Dad had any inkling of where I was going, or why—or, most especially, with whom—he’d nail the front door shut. If he insists on treating me like a child, then a child he gets. Out the window I go.
I am free.
Flashing across the open village green, I duck into the shadow of the war memorial and check for gimlet-eyed neighbors. An upstairs light is on in Dr. Spencer’s cottage. If he’s about to leave for a house call, he’s bound to spot me. News travels faster than the plague around here and if I’m seen, my dad will know about it in ten seconds flat. But I have to risk it. I have to see Ro.
I sprint for the edge of the churchyard and hunker down below the wall, out of sight, trying to catch my breath. The air is warm tonight and the breeze picks up the scent of freshly turned earth from the other side of the mossy limestone wall. I’ve had to borrow one of Mum’s black dresses twice this week to attend the funerals of elderly neighbors, a rare occurrence even in a village with as many oldies as ours. At both services, everyone talked about good people, solid members of the community, their quiet lives well-lived. In other words, two perfectly good lives wasted away in the dullest corner of the British Isles.
Alongside the churchyard’s newest residents are the sunken graves of ten traceable generations of my ancestors—the Dead Syddalls, as I call them—person after person who never had the guts or the wherewithal to leave the village of Eyam. It boggles my mind to think that most of them never even saw London, never had the urge to uproot and try a different life. When I think of all the invaders who traveled from far-off lands to conquer our little island—the Vikings, the Romans, the Normans—and all the adventurers who sailed the uncharted seas in search of new worlds, I can’t believe I ended up descended from people who never aspired to anything more than the simple country life. Well, that family tradition ends with me. I’m moving to our capital, no matter who tries to stop me, and I swear I am never coming back.
Lisa Manterfield is the award-winning author of I’m Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood. Her work has appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Los Angeles Times, and Psychology Today. Originally from northern England, she now lives in Southern California with her husband and over-indulged cat. A Strange Companion is her first novel. Learn more at LisaManterfield.com.