Caught by the River

The Last Days

2nd August 2022

An extract from Ali Millar‘s memoir about growing up in, and then escaping, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which was our July Book of the Month.

I leave for school and the wind lifts me for a second off my feet. I think it’s Jehovah. I think this is the end. Slates are ripped from roofs and crash to the ground. Everything is too loud and echoes too much. I stand there with the wind pushing me so hard I can’t walk forwards or back. It makes me feel small, and everything else big. I am too little for the rest of the world.

I am too small for the strength of it. Mummy comes running out into the street and the wind steals her words so I can only see the shape her mouth is making. Once she’s close to me she points to the house and takes my hand, and we bend our heads and shoulders against the wind and walk back towards the house. All I can think is that this is the voice of Jehovah who lives in the windstorm. He is coming to rescue us, but first, the end must come. I don’t want the end to come. I like the world and the things in it. I don’t want to wake up to empty houses and streets. I don’t want roofs ripped off and cars tipped over and pavements split into wide-open holes. I don’t want to see the earth’s insides. I don’t want to see bodies in the street. I don’t want power lines to come down or trees to block the roads. I don’t want cars and aeroplanes to stop. I know I am a bad little girl because these not-wants are also sinful yearning for the world.

Inside the house Mummy strips my clothes off and tells me to sit next to the heating vents. Hot air blows out at me but doesn’t get under my skin to my bones. She brings me a change of clothes and dries my hair and makes me hot chocolate even though I don’t like it. I blow on the surface where the milk is getting a skin already and watch it ripple. The rain hits the window so hard I think it might be trying to come in, like Cathy always was in the book Mummy read me. Zoe and Mummy and I sit on the couch watching the empty street and the things the weather does to it. Granny phones to tell us the power might come down, and we should go to her. I think of her coal fire and the way it spits when she heaps wood on it, the warm, red and yellow glow of it. I think of the smell of her roast beef fresh from the oven and her Yorkshire puddings with their heavy bottoms always ready to soak up all the gravy, and I hope Mummy will say we can go, but instead I hear her say it’s too dangerous to travel.

All that long day and the day after the wind howls, the sound stuck in my ears. At bedtime on the second day, I pull the duvet up over my head and burrow down into my bed to try to shut it out.


‘The Last Days’ is out now, published by Ebury.  Order your copy here (£15.79). Ali joins us to read from the book at Camp Good Life in September.

Read Darran Anderson’s review here.