Family is love, not blood. Four-year-old Magnus vanishes on a hot summer’s day and returns on Christmas Eve. No one knows where he has been and Magnus cannot tell them. He comes home changed. To his mother he is not the boy she lost, he is someone else, a changeling child.
Looking for Jonah is about family, about friendship and loss and the divided loyalties of three women caught in a web of betrayal and envy, with Magnus the musical maverick at their heart.
This is how her child is lost.
He wants to wear the candy-striped tee-shirt instead of the blue, and she lets him because she cannot resist his wide, indigo eyes and the lopsided grin that pushes up the cushions of his cheeks, making her smile also.
She rummages in the laundry basket, burrowing beneath the flannel sheets and his father’s Viyella shirts. Spreading a towel on the kitchen table, she gives the candy-stripe a quick dry-iron. As she works, he leans against her. She feels the warmth of him, and a gentle nudging as he chews on his thumb.
She wedges the iron in its metal stand and he holds up his arms so that she can pull on the top. His golden curls burst through and he giggles because the cotton is still warm. Every day she has to pinch herself. She can hardly believe it, the child she’d thought she’d never have: the strong, resolute baby that had ripped her undersized womb as if to make absolutely sure he would be her one and only.
Magnus likes to play in the front garden so that he can watch the older children through the hedge, the ten-year olds who stand in clusters on the green, scuffing their leather sandals in the stubby grass and jangling their bike bells at passers-by.
Clara prefers him to stay in the back garden where she can more easily keep an eye on him, but Hugh says she’s too protective and so she bites her tongue.
She lets him spread out her best silk scarf to make a field which he scatters with the livestock he keeps in an old Bluebird toffee tin. The cockerel is huge, as big as the dog; the collie is bigger than the horse and the horns on the black and white cow have been chewed to stubs.
Clara smoothes her apron and smiles. Magnus’s face is sun-freckled, his golden hair gleams but the back of his neck is flushed and sweaty so she runs inside to fetch a sunhat. He pulls away as she plants the floppy cotton bonnet on his head. She tweaks his ear to distract him. ‘Would you like some lemonade?’
She’d made it the night before. As Hugh tinkled on the piano in the next room, preparing his lesson, Clara slid the lemons into the stoneware jug, covered them with boiling water, sweetened them with honey and mashed them with a wooden spoon.
Now she removes the beaded lace cover from the jug and fetches the ice tray and bangs it on the counter until the cubes dance. She drops them one by one into pink-frosted glasses and the ice cracks as she pours on the lemonade. She adds a plate of animal-iced biscuits to the tray and carries it along the hallway to the open front door.
The older children have disappeared but the younger ones are clustered round the Mr. Whippy van on the far side of the green. Clara hears their laughter. Slowly, she sets down her tray and squints and shades her eyes.
Where is Magnus?
A gust of wind makes the silk scarf flutter. The cow and the collie tumble.
Her heart quickens its beat. She looks from side to side, peers over the fence into the next garden, then hurries round to the back of the cottage to see if perhaps he is hiding beneath the overgrown buddleia.
But he’s not there either so she runs back, towards the green.
His cotton sunhat lies crumpled on the path but there is no sign of him, neither this way nor that.
Her breath comes in painful gasps as she gathers in the stifling summer air – all the air she can find, as much as she will need to scream his name.
Again and again.
Each time louder and more frantic than the last.