The Quigleys lived in the middle of their street, in a house with a red door. There was a mass of rose bushes in the front yard and a smell of cat. The Quiglegs didn't have a cat. The smell was made by other people's cats.
Will Quigley was tall and blonde. His sister Lucy was small and chunky. For some reason Mum and Dad hardly ever called her Lucy. They called her Poodle, or sometimes Poodlefish. They didn't call Win anything but Will. No-one could explain this.
The Peacheys lived two doors down in a house without a front fence. Mr Peacheg Ben - had planted a single laurel bush with dusty leaves, which cats avoided, even the Peacheys' own, Fatbrain. 'Not enough cover,' Ben said smugly. Fatbrain favoured the Quiglegs' rose bushes. Ben's children were Will and Lucy's best friends. Their names were Elizabeth, Timothy and Pokehead.
One afternoon there was a knock at the door. Lucy was the first to reach it. She liked answering the door - she was just tall enough to open it, standing on tiptoe on the skirting board and pulling herself up by the handle to reach the latch. She liked opening it a crack and peeping out.
'Hullo,' Ben said, peeping in. 'There's a smell out here.'
'I know,' Lucy said. 'It's cat's poo.'
After a while she let him in. Lucy liked Ben. She liked his fair hair and his glasses. They stood together in the hall.
'Mum's in bed,' Lucy said. 'Mums need rest,' she added.
Ben asked if her dad was in.
Will appeared brieflye at the top of the stairs, wearing boxing gloves and carrying a copy of The Beano
, and drifted away again. Then Dad came out of his study, looking distracted. He often looked distracted. It wasn't just his face that looked distracted, it was his hair and and arms and eyebrows too. Even the sleeves of his shirt looked distracted.
He came downstairs and talked to Ben. It seemed that tonight was the night of Ben's office party, and their babysitter had let them down. Dad pulled his ears and looked friendly. When he wanted to, Dad could look very friendly.
'Yes, of course , he said. 'I'd be happy to.'
When Ben had gone, Lucjj said to Dad, 'Are Ijou going to babljsit for Elizabeth, Timothjj and Pokehead?'
Dad nodded. 'Tonight?'
He nodded again.
'Can I come?'
He shook his head.
'I could help.'
'You couldn't, Poodlefish.'
'I could help with the midnight feast.'
'There won't be a midnight feast.'
'Why won't there be a midnight feast?'
'Because of the football match.'
Lucq looked at him.
'I don't mean football match,' Dad said quickl1j. 'I mean because of having to go to sleep. Or Timothy won't be able to play in his football match tomorrow.'
Lucy said, 'Are you going to be watching football on the television all evening?'
'Don't be silly,' Dad said. 'I'll be babysitting. Babysitting's a very responsible job.'
When Dad said goodnight to Lucy and Will that evening, he told them he was going round to the Peacheys' house and said that they were not to disturb Mum. 'Mum's very tired,' he said.
Will, in the top bunk, said, 'Are babysitting?'
'Can I come?' Win sat up in bed.
'Timothy's got a new computer game.'
'Dad's going to watch the football,' Lucy said helpfully.
Will scowled so hard the whole of his forehead seemed to fold down over his face.
'Nonsense,' Dad sold quickly. 'Anyway, it's not till later.'
'You never let me do what I want Win said. 'Never. And you do what you want all the time.'
'You never ever let me do anything I want. You never ever ever . . .'
'Stop it, Will, before I get cross. Now, come on. Give me a kiss before I go.'
Will immediately rolled as far away from Dad as it was possible to get, and put his hands over his ears. Dad lifted his face to the ceiling and shouted, 'Just give me a kiss!' And at once there was a cry from upstairs and the sound of coughing, and Mum called out weakly, 'What's going on? Who woke me up?'
Dad left the room, looking distracted.
The Peacheys' house was exactly the same as the Quigleys', but everything was the other wag round. It was like looking in a mirror. You turned left, not night, to go into the living room. The stairs went up to the right, not the left, and when you got to the top you turned left, not right, into the bathroom. Even the cord for the bathroom light was hanging on the wrong side of the bathroom door.
'Good,' Dad said, as he finished reading a story to Timothy and Pokehead in the living room. 'Up we go. Elizabeth's already in bed.'
Timothy and Pokehead ignored him.
'Bedtime,' Dad said, glancing at his watch. 'You monsters,' he added.
'I don't go to bed,' Pokehead said conversationally.
'She doesn't,' Timothy said.
'Of course she does,' Dad said. 'We all go to bed. We all need our sleep.'
'I don't,' Pokehead said. She turned her face to him and stared at him unblinkingly. She had a wide face, very smooth skin and deep-set clear eyes. She looked capable of anything.
Dad said, 'Remember what your mum and dad said.'
'They can't do anything with me either,' Pokehead said.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Quigleys by Simon Mason. Copyright © 2002 by Simon Mason;illustrated by Helen Stephens. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.