We were told to look both ways when we crossed the street and never talk to strangers. And if a stranger asked you to get in a car with them, you must say no.
I listened because I was a good girl who wanted to please. Being naughty meant no pocket money, no afterschool treats, penny sweets or sherbet dips.
But worse still, was the thought of Mum’s anger. She never shouted but I always knew when I’d done something wrong. She’d call me by my name — Rebecca — and her voice would send shivery bolts of dread zigzagging through my body.
It was a hot summer’s day when the man got out of his car and walked across the street towards the village shop. He knelt beside me, silently watching as I stroked Mrs. Carter’s leashed dog.
“Do you like puppies,” he asked suddenly.
“Oh yes,” I replied: the words jumped right out of my mouth before I could stop them.
“Well, I have ten puppies at home,” he said, smiling. “If you’d like to see them.”
I looked down at Mrs. Carter’s dog and imagined the puppies. I thought about their floppy ears, hazel-brown eyes and patchwork patterned paws.
Then I thought of Mum.
I remembered what she’d said and got worried. Even though the man wasn’t frightening — the way I’d imagined a bad person or stranger might be.
He stretched out his hand. But his eyes had turned narrow and mean and that’s when Mum’s — No! — and — Rebecca! — echoed louder than ever.
I panicked. And told a lie. I said: “I have to get home for dinner and can’t be late. Mum will be waiting.”
The man didn’t answer or move. So, I picked up my bike and pedalled away fast. My feet felt like hot jelly on the pedals and the banging sensation of my heart rose skywards into my throat.
And later that night, just as I was falling asleep, the man’s face appeared; the spindly straight caterpillar line of his moustache reached out towards me — just as his hand had done — but I didn’t tell anyone. I never told Mum.
I was too scared I’d done something wrong.
Becky Jeeves was born and raised in England and now resides in Massachusetts. Her writing has appeared in HerStry, Months to Years and is forthcoming in Happiful Magazine. When she is not writing, she is busy curating vintage finds for her home and antiques booth.