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.





What it takes to survive

I’ve come to love the silence. There are unwelcome disturbances that I cannot avoid, but I hear the warning sounds before they arrive.

Sometimes an engine approaches and I hide, crouched down on the floor until it goes away. Most times though it is the crunch of boots heralding a lost hiker who will disappear more quickly if I offer directions.

The city types act hard done by when they can’t get a signal for their phone. Way out here amongst the tall trees what do they expect? They look shocked when I tell them that I don’t have a land line for them to use, as if I would want to share with them anyway.

I am not as alone as I would wish though. The postman rolls up most days just after ten. He brings the junk mail that I use to light the fire in my stove. I’ve learned to manage with just the one monthly grocery delivery. Jenny laughs when she sees my store room, thinks I’ve lost it out here on my own. It is not me who gets hysterical when we talk.

I got rid of the TV a month after Freddie died. All the stupid people, fatuous shows and bad news that I could do nothing about depressed me. The computer is my chosen link to the outside world. Jenny wanted me to install Skype but why would I do that? Someone might try to call.

The tree that I planted over Freddie’s body is taller than me now. I go out sometimes and stand with my back to it, talk to him and imagine  his arms wrapped around me. Then I catch myself on. He was as likely to show me his fist as affection in the months before his fall.

He blamed me when Caleb died, said a loving mother would have known that her child was sick. He raged at my silence and at the world for robbing him of the one thing he had ever loved. There isn’t a day goes by when I don’t shed a tear for my little angel child.

Freddie changed after that but what could I do? I got through each day, sweeping floors and cooking meals, a punch bag for his verbal assaults. I didn’t realise how much hate I was brewing until it boiled over.

He had just finished replacing the broken shingles on the roof when he fell. I’m grateful that he got the job done. I heard him call out and the sounds of his tools sliding and following him down to the sun baked earth. I looked at his limbs, ragged bones emerging from skin, white muscle visible beneath the blood. I realised then how weak he had always been.

If the spade hadn’t caught my eye in the back of the truck I might have done as was expected, taken him to seek help. I remembered though, years before, watching him use it to cave in the head of a pretty young deer caught live in a claw trap. It felt good to silence his cruel voice.

I dug the hole deep, working into the night. He was heavy, rolled in all akimbo. It didn’t rain for another week so I hosed down the yard and the roots of the young sapling that would feed on him. Nobody came by to ask why I had disturbed the ground.

I told Jenny that he had gone and she wanted me to leave too, but why would I do that when I could be happy here now? Nobody else questioned what I said. This community is chock full of people who want to keep their sordid little secrets.

Jenny asked me once if I had felt any sorrow when our Da was found dead. Hunting accident they said, not knowing that I had been the prey. I use Freddie’s rifle now to keep the local predators at bay, although they threaten me less often as I age.

Solitude suits me. I live off the proceeds of the nefarious dealings that the men who tried to crush me left behind. I may be damaged but this life is the best I have ever known. I look around me, at the men leading their pathetic lives filled with pride and imagined power over their tiny domains. They will never understand that pleasing them has never featured in my dreams, my ambitions, my desires.