Sins of the Father

The taxi drove past the house at a quarter past eight every weekday morning. Annabelle could see the girls sitting stiff and upright in the back seat as they went by. They reminded her of mannequins with their blank expressions, always staring forwards, never seeming to see what was ahead. She wondered how much of all that had happened they understood.

The experts consulted by the court had decided that their daily needs would best be met in another town amongst strangers. The few friends that Annabelle had managed to keep, those who had not joined in with the general condemnation and subsequent ostracisation, reported that the girls were calm but unresponsive in this new setting. The staff had tried at first but with so many challenging cases in their care it was easier to let the quiet ones be.

It would have been easier for Annabelle to let things be except then she couldn’t have lived with herself. She had a stubborn streak and a desire to do what she thought was for the best whatever the cost to herself. This latest attempt at improving the world for those she cared about had cost them dearly.

When she had first arrived in town and the twins had ignored her she would not accept that this could never be changed. Her predecessor had warned her to expect nothing more but she observed the girls ability to understand each other’s needs and slowly learned to join in. It had surprised everyone when, at the age of eight, they had uttered their first words.

Words can be dangerous weapons.

When confronted their father denied everything and threw Annabelle out of their comfortable home, angrily terminating the contract that she had naively imagined would offer them all some protection. The unwanted attention of subsequent investigations sent the girls back into their own little world. It was clear from the medical evidence that they had been abused but not by whom.

There had been seven carers since their mother had hanged herself from a tree in the back yard one sunny afternoon in the summer of the girls’ third year. None had noticed anything amiss.

The townspeople were suddenly noticing a great deal.

Some claimed that Annabelle’s non-existent advances had been spurned by the father, others that the stress of caring for the girls had driven her over the edge as it had their mother. Some speculated that the mother had made the same discovery and could not live with it, cruelly pondering why she had not taken her damaged daughters with her.

Annabelle had watched the storm that she had unleashed spin wildly beyond her control leaving nothing but hurt and destruction in its wake. Her beloved girls, spurned by society for being born different, were now beyond her care. Their father had completed his time in court by taking out an injunction to ensure she kept her distance.

Perhaps she should have moved away. Perhaps she would have done had the father not courted his defence lawyer, now pregnant with their first child. Annabelle’s hairdresser had eagerly disclosed that the early scans showed a little girl.

Annabelle understood predilections, especially the sins of a father. She would bide her time.

 

 

 

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True Colours

The grass tickled the back of my neck but I was more concerned about spiders. I hate spiders. It’s all those legs propelling them along as they dash for cover. I clean the apartment so thoroughly because I worry that they could run up my legs or crawl into my ear while I sleep and eat my brains.

Dan had his arm around me so I didn’t want to move. He likes it outdoors. He tells me the names of all the birds and the types of trees we walk by. I bought a pair of boots when we started dating because he worried about me walking any distance in Keds. Those boots gave me the worst blisters I’ve ever had.

Lying in the sun I tried to relax but the grass was annoying me. Dan was talking some nonsense about the earth spinning and gravity but all I could think about was how much I needed a blanket. A picnic basket would have been nice too, with a bottle of wine, some fresh bread, olives and a selection of cheeses. That’s the sort of outdoors I like.

I was picturing myself looking glamorous in a floaty dress when Dan jumped up all excited.

‘Look over there, in the oak!’

He was pointing but I had no idea what at. I also had no idea which tree was the oak.

‘It’s a buzzard, right at the top.’

Dan was pulling his camera from the backpack he always carries. I don’t know why he doesn’t just use his phone. He grabbed one of his bulky lenses and set off without even helping me to my feet. He looks pretty cute but is so easily distracted.

I guessed we were going to walk on. I had hoped to find a pub but all we had passed were some farm buildings and an old church. Dan had told me that the church was why he had chosen the route. We didn’t even go inside.

He was beside a tree looking up when the spider dropped down from my fringe on a single thread. I screamed and jumped backwards catching my foot on the uneven ground. It twisted painfully and do you know what he said?

‘Shit, Becca, you’ve scared it away now!’

Not a word of concern.

I couldn’t even make the exit I deserved leaving him all alone and regretful. We were in the middle of nowhere and I hadn’t a clue how to get back to the car.

After that I didn’t feel bad about tricking him into marrying me. Once the baby is born he’ll have to look out for my needs. I know he’ll do right by us, everyone has told me what a nice guy he is. I wonder if he’ll ever realise that the boots were an investment.

 

 

 

Life and times

She told me that we would have plenty of time. Time to travel, build our careers, get married, have kids; if that was what we chose to do. She laughed when I told her that I loved her, when I held her hand on that deserted beach and looked deep into her eyes, those beautiful, mesmerising eyes reflecting the oranges and reds of another fiery sunset.

‘Why so serious?’ she asked.

She ran away from me then, barefoot and laughing, diving into the waves with abandon. I followed, always I followed.

My heart aches when I think back to those days, those carefree days before our savings were spent and we were forced to return to the greyness of London. She swapped her rainbow sarongs for anonymous, sharp suits and dived into the financial waves of a burgeoning economy. We would glance at the light polluted sunsets from the twenty-third floor of a monolith to corporate greed. She smiled when I told her I loved her, holding her hand as we drifted into another exhausted sleep.

‘I know’, she murmured.

It was a marriage of convenience. They would only pay for a spouse to join her on those long stints abroad, not a partner. I made a fuss, told her that I needed to be with her more than I needed to further my own career. I worried about who would ensure she got home after the benders she claimed kept her sane. She frowned when I told her that I would always be there for her, whatever she chose to do.

‘You may not have that option’, she replied.

We would have made such beautiful children but it was not to be. The disease she picked up caused too much damage. Her redundancy cheque cleared the debts but we knew that we could no longer manage the payments on our neglected home. I told her that I would look after her, that we could make a fresh start.

In silence she looked away.

The monotony was more than she could bear. I suggested she go out on her own but we both knew such a move would require capital we could not raise, contacts whose trust we had lost along the way. We were cogs now, frustrated and alone.

She told me that we would have plenty of time and perhaps we did. Why did we squander those precious days? If she had a distant dream then she never shared it with me. Looking back, she never shared.

I asked her, ‘What time is it now?’

‘Time for you to leave’, she sighed.

And I did.

Family ties

Gwen eyed the turkey with distaste. She had grown to hate turkey. Turkey meant big family gatherings, a day spent in her kitchen preparing to feed the masses who would descend on her home expecting to be welcomed and entertained. It was always the same. She had the fine house in the home town, the big table that could seat all who wished to attend. They would breeze in through her front door brandishing bottles of wine, six packs of beer, and noisy bonhomie. Tired from their long drives they would hug and stretch before filling her sofas and relaxing with their drinks. She was never consulted. They would give her their arrival time and expect her to play her part.

This past week had been spent cleaning every room from top to bottom, clearing out cupboards and disposing of anything that could be remarked upon. She knew exactly who would feel justified in rifling through her things, who would claim they needed some small item and hadn’t wished to disturb her. How many times in the past had they appeared in front of everyone brandishing an unexpected find that could feed their gossip, feigning interest or concern? She was determined not to provide them with ammunition.

Yesterday she had faced the crowds in town, wasted hours shopping for the food they would all consume. Her evening had been spent over a hot stove, preparing all that could be done in advance. Now she must deal with this loathsome turkey. She hated turkey.

Once upon a time she had enjoyed these family gatherings, had looked forward to welcoming the crowds to her home. Then Michael had decided that his perky little trainee was more exciting than her in his bed, his ego taking precedence over the well-being of their children. How she had laughed when she had heard that her replacement was pregnant with twins. How her family had berated her for letting him go, as if she had had a choice.

She still saw him sometimes, driving his sports car to and from his bachelor pad in town. She knew that he was good to all of his kids giving them everything he could except his time. Time was the one thing that she could offer in abundance but Beth and Robbie showed little interest in that now. They were too busy travelling the world, falling in and out of love, furthering their careers. Gwen was proud of her children, glad that they had found new lives away from the prying eyes and the small town mentality that had ground her down.

The ringing phone in the hall jolted her from her reverie. She guessed it would be Mother demanding to know when her lift would arrive. Gwen could picture the old lady sitting fretting by the window, coat by her side hours before it would be required. This was the third time in as many days that Gwen had explained the arrangements. Mother would not accept that her son was picking her up on his way through. Did Gwen not know that Mother did not care for his wife? She would continue to pick at this sore in the hope of guilt tripping Gwen into doing as she wished, ignoring the fact that someone had to attend to the food and welcome the unasked for guests. Mother always thought that her desires should take precedence over all else.

At least today she would have a new audience for her grievances. Twice a week Gwen would drop by to hear the same tales being told, the same complaints aired. Mother regularly made clear how bad a daughter Gwen was for not doing everything that the loving daughters of her acquaintances did. On this point Gwen would not acquiesce. She had no wish to do time for matricide which she feared would be the outcome if she allowed her mother to move into her home.

Today Mother would have all her children around her and most of their children too. She would berate Gwen for not insisting that Beth and Robbie be there, unable to comprehend that it was the guilt she poured so liberally on Gwen that had fed her determination never to inflict such treatment on her own offspring. They would be free to come and go as suited them with no feelings of obligation. Their visits may not be regular but they were happy ones.

Gwen returned to the kitchen and heaved the dead bird into the oven. With so many dishes to prepare for this afternoon’s feast the time would go quickly enough. Whatever efforts she made there would still be complaints, vaguely coated in supposedly well meaning advice. She wished that she didn’t care.

*

The post dinner kitchen looked like a disaster zone. Closing the door against the raucous good cheer Gwen poured herself another glass of wine. Mother had outdone herself. She now had three of her four children determined that the only acceptable solution to her sadly explained predicament was that she move in with Gwen. With so much space and time on her hands it made sense to everyone else that Gwen should become her mother’s carer.

Picking up her phone Gwen clicked on the number she had carefully saved but rarely used. As she listened to the distant ringing she willed him to take the call.

*

The silence was deafening. Gwen fought her desire to laugh at their stricken faces, aware that such a reaction may sound hysterical. For the first time in many years she felt empowered.

‘You can’t just leave her, she is an old lady, she is your mother!’ her brother implored.

‘She is your mother too.’ Gwen retorted. ‘She has spent the whole afternoon complaining about her current place, I’m sure that with a bit of effort you can find her somewhere she will prefer near to you. Maybe you could even have her move in.’

It took all of Gwen’s powers to suppress her smile as husband and wife exchanged stricken looks.

Mother looked from child to child. ‘I don’t understand Gwen. Why would you wish to leave this place at your age? Where will we all go when we need to meet up?’

And of course that was the crux of the matter. Gwen was expected to be there when the family wanted her to be, to serve them all as they saw fit, as she had always done before.

‘At my age? Maybe that is why’ she replied. ‘Maybe I want to see some of the places Beth and Robbie talk about. Michael is happy for me to rent this place out, he says he may even join me.’

Her sister-in-law eyed her quizzically ‘You never told us you were still in touch with Michael.’

Gwen looked her in the eye, ‘I don’t tell you a lot of things.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frenemies

‘Well someone had fun last night.’

Karen smiled enigmatically and glanced at the three women who were now giving her their full attention.

‘Mark was out on the course this morning and came across an empty bottle of champagne in one of the bunkers…’

She paused, aware of the eagerness with which her audience hung on her words,

‘…and a pair of knickers.’

Tricia clapped her hands,

‘Oh my god!’

The friends were clearly lapping up this unexpectedly salacious sliver of gossip.

‘Just think where the sand could go!’

Karen sat back and sipped her coffee, watching as the group dissected her tale from every possible angle.

‘I wonder who it was. Did you spot anyone slip out?’

They asked each other the same questions, over and over, in every possible way. Names were bandied around, possibly related incidents from the past shared and discussed. Hanging in the air was the unspoken question of whose marriage would be the next to fall apart.

.

Karen did not enjoy the big night’s out but felt obliged to make an effort when her children’s school was involved. The Summer Ball was a major fundraiser. The golf club could only seat around eighty couples but as this roughly equated to the number of parents who could afford the exorbitant ticket prices it worked out well enough. She suspected that those who attended each year liked the fact that only their chosen acquaintances would be there.

The evening itself wouldn’t have been so bad if it weren’t for the expected build up: the group shopping for new dresses; the pre event grooming; the excessive drinking. Karen was not a big drinker but the same could not be said for her friends. Looking at them now, washed out and hung over, she wondered why she had attached herself to these people in the first place, and why she continued to socialise with them.

Of course it’s not always so easy to choose friends. They had all met for the first time when their children had started at the village preschool, drifting towards each other as they waited for their offspring to emerge at the school gate. Play dates had led to evening get-togethers, made so much easier for everyone as their children could be brought along and put to bed upstairs while the adults partied the night away down below. Karen had never chosen to do this preferring to employ a babysitter, a useful excuse to return home early. She would not entrust her precious children to the care of drunken adults who always believed the tattle tales diligently reported by their own irritating sprogs over any remonstrations from a visiting child.

She had not yet told these ladies that this had been her last Summer Ball. Mark had finally been persuaded that the village school did not suit their little girls and they would be moving to a better place at the end of the year. Perhaps it was her satisfaction at this little secret that had caused her to tell the story that was now so delighting her three companions. Quashing the discomfort she felt at behaving in a way that she could not approve she sipped her coffee and continued her observations.

*

Tricia’s head was throbbing despite the painkillers and copious amounts of coffee. She had expected her friends to take her mind off her discomfort, not anticipating the bombshell that Karen would drop and the subsequent effort required to act normally so that no one would realise that anything was amiss. She had had her suspicions of course. David’s claim that he had fallen asleep on the terrace just didn’t ring true. She angrily wondered who he had been with, feeling sick at the thought of what they had done out there under cover of darkness and the still, starry sky.

Opening the front door she heard the shrieks and complaints of her children fighting over a toy in the playroom. As soon as they spotted her they ran out and started their tirades, the volume rising as each attempted to be heard over the other.

‘Where is Daddy?’ she asked them, ignoring the elaborate tales being concocted to elicit sympathy for themselves and blame for the other.

‘He’s still in bed’ her daughter replied morosely before retreating with a sigh, aware that her mother had once again failed to deliver justice for the many wrongs she was expected to endure from her hated younger sibling.

Tricia walked through the debris of their partied out home and climbed the stairs. Closing the door of their bedroom she took in the sleeping form of her husband before hurling her bag at his head, her pent up impotence and rage finally finding a release.

‘What the hell!’ he exclaimed as the missile bounced off the pillow and onto the floor, lipsticks and coins scattering like confetti around him.

‘Who were you with last night? Which little slut did you share our champagne with?’ his wife yelled.

Swinging his legs slowly out of bed he observed her angry stance with resignation, ‘What are you talking about?’

Even more riled she continued, spitting out the words with venom,

‘Don’t try to deny it, Mark found her knickers! My god David, could you not even find a bed? Anyone could have seen you.’

‘I have no idea what you are talking about’ he answered resignedly. ‘What do you think I have done this time?’

David stood and stretched, provoking Tricia even more with his apparent insouciance.

‘You know exactly what I’m talking about. Last night, when you slipped off leaving me to cope by myself, having to make excuses for your absence when I had no idea where you were. So much for sleeping on the terrace. I couldn’t find you because you were shagging some little bitch in a bunker! Who was she? Was it Maggie?’

Sighing he crossed the room,

‘Oh, here we go again. I was not with Maggie or anyone else. Look, I don’t know what you have been told but I have done nothing worse than drink more than I should and you can hardly have a go at me for that. I’m going to take a shower.’

Tricia watched as he closed the bathroom door before flinging herself onto the bed and dissolving in a puddle of self pitying tears.

*

Liz was not surprised when Tricia appeared at her door a couple of hours later. Her friend had been sharing her suspicions for several months now, although recently she had been convinced it was someone from work who had caught her husband’s eye. Before that she had accused one of their mutual friends which had caused a lot of bad feeling in the group. David had always denied that anything had gone on with anyone.

Tricia nursed her coffee cup and stared across the room.

‘I can’t go on like this but what am I to do? I couldn’t afford to keep the house on my own and we owe so much there’d be no deposit for another one if it was sold.’

Liz smiled sympathetically, ‘What does David say?’

Her friend swallowed hard, stifling a sob.

‘He denies anything went on, that’s all he ever does. I know though, I know there is someone else. If he’d just tell me who she is! She’ll be enjoying herself today won’t she? Thinking that she’s so much better than me. What was he thinking? I mean, sex in a golf bunker at an event run for our children’s school. He must have known that everyone would find out, it is so degrading. How could he do this to me?’

Liz could do no more than listen. Whatever had or hadn’t gone on it was clear how upset Tricia was. These suspicions had driven a wedge between her and David. Who knew if the damage inflicted could ever be rectified.

*

The ‘For Sale’ sign was the first anyone in the village knew of Karen and Mark’s plans to move. Michelle bumped into Karen at the gym and suggested a coffee afterwards, an obvious attempt to get the gossip but a not unwelcome catch up between the occasional friends.

Karen explained that they were moving house because the girls were moving schools, that it had been on the cards for quite some time. Of course they could keep in touch although she expected to be very busy sorting out the new house and getting the girls settled. Everyone knew how sensitive her beautiful little girls were.

Having found out all about it Michelle felt obliged to offer a little snippet of gossip of her own. Had Karen heard about the couple from the Summer Ball who had had sex in one of the bunkers? Knickers and a bottle of champagne had been found the next day by a golfer. The club was not amused.

Karen laughed.

‘That didn’t happen’ she said, smiling at Michelle’s confusion.

‘I invented that story to see how long it would take before someone passed it on to me. You know, testing the village gossip network.’

Naturally Michelle was affronted but Karen was past caring. She would be glad to see the back of this place and the petty minded self interest of the women with too much time on their hands. She would make new friends when her children started at their new school. The parents there would be more like her.

 

 

 

Weathered

I am the sun. I provide warmth and help you to see more clearly. I am always there for you even when obscured by the clouds that mar our days.

I am the wind. I blow through your life, moving things around, disturbing your cluttered order. You stand your ground against my attempts to rearrange.

I am the rain. You protect yourself with coats of truculence and umbrellas of silence. I seep into your conciousness. You wish that I would cease.

You are aware of my changing moods, have learned to clothe yourself in words that protect you from the discomfort I can cause. In time you may move on knowing that I will remain.

You berate me for not being whatever it is that you wish I were today. So many incarnations that you have longed for and which I have failed to become. You ask that I change then change what you ask, desires and ambitions in flux. I provide the means to enable you to flourish aware that stunted growth can be caused by too much.

There is little excitement in our temperate home. You have commented on the lack of storms, wondered at their absence. You do not see the cracks beneath the surface. The plates, should they shift, could tear our little world apart.

It is natural that you should observe all that is around, question and experiment with change. Perhaps in time you will travel, discover new climes, new means to blossom. I wonder how different your choices will be to mine.

No one region suits all living things so choose wisely where you put down roots. Your sun will shine and the clouds will pass. You will learn how to weather your storms.