Sampler: Secrets and Lies by HM Holten

Review: A brilliant, hard-hitting story and a powerful reminder for all of us, a tale told with depth and insight.

We grow up trusting that our parents and teachers have the right answers. What if that belief brings us to fall?

What happens to persons who put their fate on one card? Win or lose, the risks can be unsurmountable.

Britta is a naïve and trusting child. Her father knows best. Will she find out that not everything is as she thinks? Will she be able to deal with the consequences of her faith?

Sampler: Secrets and Lies

The lightning bolt whizzed past the dining room window and hit the cobblestones in the backyard. Britta jumped up and down at the window until Nana grabbed her arm.

‘And what do you think you’re doing, missy?’ She shook Britta’s arm. ‘Go and sit under the table. Thunderstorms can kill you, and you’re behaving like a maniac.’


‘Hold your tongue and do as you’re told.’

‘Nana.’ She whimpered. ‘I’m scared.’

‘As you should be.’ Nana slapped her behind and pushed her under the table. ‘I’ll stay here and make sure nothing happens to you.’

HM Holten

Britta covered her eyes with both hands and leaned against the table leg farthest away from the window. She wanted Nana. She didn’t know that thunder and lightning could kill her. Would she die because she saw the lightning? Nana promised to stay. Was that because Britta might die? She spread her fingers apart and peeked. Nana paced the floor between the dining table and the window. Was she afraid of dying? Another thunderclap rattled the windowpanes, and Britta whimpered.

‘Shush.’ Nana bent down and stared at Britta, lifting the tablecloth. The girl pulled her legs up and folded her arms around her knees. She held her breath and stared back. ‘Be quiet, Britta. Show that you have some spunk and pull yourself together.’

‘What’s going on?’ Mamma giggled. Why wasn’t she afraid? Nana dropped the tablecloth and there was nothing to see, but Britta could hear mamma shaking out her umbrella. ‘That storm caught me right on the corner. My brolly turned inside out, so I’m wet through.’

‘Why did you go out at all? This morning, I told and told you that the Swedish sun was shining.’ Nana sounded angry. ‘It’s no laughing matter to be out in a thunderstorm. You should know better, Ellie.’

‘Oh please. I had to get the fabric. You know that. Don’t forget, we need to have everything ready. It wouldn’t do to wait.’

‘You should have gone yesterday. You’re always tardy. If you had the least sense, you would’ve done this long ago.’

‘Well, as you have enough sense for an entire regiment of children, why shouldn’t I take my time?’ mamma giggled. ‘You look like a thundercloud. Of course, you’re right. What would we do without you to set me right?’

Another thunderclap interrupted mamma. The noise died down, and she sighed before she continued. ‘Look, I’ll go and get some dry clothes. I put the fabric on the table in the corridor. Thankfully, the paper didn’t get wet. Would you?’

‘Oh, all right, Ellie. I’ll deal with it. After all, I’m making the tiny clothes, as your sewing isn’t worth speaking of. Hurry up and don’t forget to dry your hair. You look a fright.’


Strange sounds emerged from the bedroom. Britta sat on the corridor floor. What was wrong with mamma? Nana said that the stork had bitten her leg, but that didn’t make sense. Why would a stork bite mamma and when did it happen? Britta hadn’t even seen a stork. Why couldn’t she come in and see mamma’s leg? Nana said it would only bore her, but Britta had never seen a stork bite. Did it bleed? Would mamma die? There it was again. Mamma yelled. Wouldn’t a stork stab rather than bite? She had a picture of a stork, and it had a nasty beak, long and sharp.

Nana opened the door. ‘You can come in now and see your little brother. The stork brought him, and mamma is happy now.’

‘Is the stork still here?’ She shuddered. ‘Won’t he bite me?’

‘Come on, silly, there’s no stork, only a little brother who wants to see his big sister.’ Nana held out her hand. ‘Hurry up, aren’t you excited?’

She got up and grabbed Nana’s hand.

‘Has mamma stopped crying? That stork hurt her, didn’t he?’

She still held back, but Nana pulled her inside the bedroom. Mamma was sitting up in bed, but her legs were covered, so Britta couldn’t see if she bled.

‘Come here, darling, meet your new brother.’

Mamma sounded happy. Britta moved closer. There was a bundle in mamma’s arms. It moved and made noises. Was it safe or would it also bite? She slowed down, but Nana pushed her forward. Mamma smiled and opened the bundle. It had to be a puppet. It had a tiny head, but it was ugly. The puppet opened its mouth and wailed. She flinched, and mamma laughed.

‘Don’t be afraid. Can’t you see how little he is? He’ll need you to take care of him. Will you help me, looking after little Curt?’

Britta frowned. ‘Who’s Curt? Aren’t you too old to play with puppets, mamma?’

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