At this time of year the advice was always the same: don’t let the bastards bring you down; live your life; be yourself. The message may be prettified but the meaning was the same. Well, this coming year Beth was going to listen. Beth was going to stop being a doormat, a vassal, a martyr to her family’s wishes. This coming year things were going to change.
Christmas came and went with the usual obligations fulfilled. There were fewer hot tears shed in secret, fewer jibes and insults hit home. She fulfilled her role without fuss, accepted her place at the bottom of the hierarchy. All proceeded as expected.
As the wider family bade their farewells and the household returned to normality Beth packed her bags. Nobody noticed because nobody cared. She was a shadow, a cog, necessary for smooth running but mostly ignored. She hated that she had allowed herself to accept this.
In the small hours of the morning she closed and locked the door behind her, walking purposefully through the empty streets despite the unaccustomed weight of her brother’s rucksack on her back. It weighed less than the misery she had carried for so many years.
By dawn she had reached the neighbouring town where a bus would take her to the airport. She rested her head against the window as the familiar streets were left behind. The layers of pain fell away with the miles. Exhaustion mingled with elation.
Beth’s funeral was surprisingly well attended. She had remained stoic throughout her short illness, refusing the invasive treatments on offer which may have prolonged her life. She insisted that quality was more important than quantity. Regarded as a little odd but kindly she had no desire to do as others asked if it did not suit her.
Towards the end there had only been one episode when she appeared to lose control. Her daughter had mentioned trying to contact the brother and seen fear in her mother’s eyes as she grasped at her daughter’s hand and begged her never to do this. The reaction was so out of character it had frightened Clara who had quickly offered reassurance.
Now that Beth was dead though, Clara wondered again about the wider family she had never known. She had asked her mother of course, but been told that the past should be left well alone.
Sorting through her mother’s well ordered papers there were few clues about the life she had led prior to settling in Adelaide. She had spoken of travelling the world but never of her earlier life. The brother had only been mentioned the once, when Clara complained about her lack of siblings and her mother had let slip that the alternative could be worse.
The letter told him that she was dead; he hoped it had been as painful as the deaths she had devised. The search for her had gone on for so long as each potential lead ran cold in yet another far flung corner of the world. And now it looked as if she had got away with it; that was a bitter pill to swallow, although not as deadly as the nightcap she had concocted for their parents.