A Silent Lament (Short Story)

A Silent Lament

They keep asking if I regret what I’ve done, if I feel remorse. I try not to scream that I’d do it again and again, only I’d make sure that they didn’t find me. But I know I can’t say that. So I just sit … sit and stare.

Every Saturday I walked around different towns, unnoticed on the crowded streets, searching. I worked methodically, the towns mapped out, listed alphabetically, a red line crossed through each in turn. I’m like that. A planner. Knowing what I’m going to do next. I learnt the hard way that you’ve got to take control.

I was in Sheldon on that Saturday, ‘S’ on my list so I knew I was close. The centre was claustrophobic with young girls screaming their adoration at some pop star signing CDs at the music store. They were like flies, swarming all over the place, but I still heard her, over their cacophony. Standing on tiptoe I saw her, just a little away, her face screwed up an angry pink. My heart pounded; my breathing quickened. It was her, I knew it was.

‘Mira.’

I pushed my way through, ignoring angry frowns.

‘Mira.’

Sweat trickled down my back. What if I lost sight of her? What if they saw me and took her away again?

Tears were falling freely down my cheeks when I reached the pram. I peered in and her crying stopped. She kicked her little legs free of her blanket. My shaking hand hovered, too afraid to touch. How many times had this happened before, only for it not to be Mira? I’d be left standing, muttering apologies to the angry mother hastily pushing her baby away.

But not this time. It was really her.

‘Sh … sh … Mummy’s here now, Mira. Let’s get you home.’

The house was quiet and her cry startled me. I recognised her hungry cry and I prepared her bottle. Everything was waiting in the kitchen.

She nestled into the crook of my arm, her warmth seeping to my soul. We lay on my bed afterwards and she fell asleep. I watched her tiny chest rise and fall, her breath whispering softly on the inside of my arm. She was home. My Mira. My miracle.

I’d never been one for socialising. I couldn’t relax, always on edge, you know?  People, they made me like that ‘cos I didn’t know what to expect, didn’t know what they were going to say next.

Being passed from foster home to foster home had never given me the chance to connect, I guess. I just did what I was told to do, even when I knew it was wrong. I let them put their dirty hands on me ‘cos I didn’t know how to stop it. I had no control.

It was when I was finally free that I decided. It just made sense. If I had a baby, I could release all that love that was locked away inside me. And I’d have someone to love me back. The thought became the blood pumping through my veins.

So I got planning. Searched phone directories. Tim I chose. I phoned and he came to look at the boiler on Monday morning, just as I’d come out of the shower, a short towel wrapped around me. It didn’t make me feel dirty, not this time. I was in control and that felt good.

The moment they placed Mira in my arms was the first time I truly felt my heart beating. I breathed her in and she became a part of me. I became whole.

I woke up early one morning. I knew something was wrong. She was laying there, her breathing rapid and she was so hot.

‘Mira? What is it baby girl?’

I lifted her hand to kiss it. It was as cold as ice on my lips.

They took her from me straight away. I sat in the room praying, hoping with all my being that despite all the other times He’d ignored me that this time He’d listen.

When the doctor walked into the room and closed the door gently behind him, I took one look at his face and knew that He hadn’t listened.

‘I’m so sorry, Sarah. She had meningitis. She just couldn’t fight it.’

My legs gave way, my breath trapped in my lungs, my body suffocating. I could hear screaming, howling, and I placed my hands over my ears but I couldn’t shut it out. Strong arms lifted me gently as words were whispered softly like distant echoes.

They didn’t let me see her again. They sent me home, the doctor visiting every few days, feeding me pills that disappeared into the black void inside me.

‘You will get better. You’ll live your life again, you’re only young. You’ll learn to forget. It won’t always be like this. Look to the future now, no looking back. Give yourself time.’

Who made time the miracle cure? When your heart is ripped out what’s the use of time?

At the meetings they said I was getting better. They sat smiling at me, but I’d worked it out by then, see. I knew what they’d done. I knew that Mira would never have left me. They’d taken her from me to punish me for all the bad things that I’d done and given her to someone they thought deserved her. Someone better.

But I wasn’t going to let them get away with it. That stuff in the past, it wasn’t my fault. No one could love Mira more than me. So I got planning and I left. I packed up, got rid of most of my stuff. I kept her things, Mira’s. I knew I’d find her one day.

The village I chose off my list was as remote as I could possibly find. They weren’t going to find me this time. The small bungalow hidden behind a jungle of weeds was perfect. No one knew me. No one bothered me. I was left alone to search for my baby.

It only took a couple of days to get her new room ready. I painted it sunshine yellow. When it was finished, the toys and books stacked neatly, I twirled my delight in the centre of the room.

All I had to do then was find her. And I did.

She never really cried. She’d just gaze at me, like she couldn’t believe I was real. We played and I read her stories and I sang to her all the time.

‘Hush, little baby, don’t say a word, mama’s gonna buy you a mocking bird.’

Her eyes would flutter and she’d fall asleep in my arms, her hand twined tightly around my finger. I’d keep whispering words, telling her of all the things we were going to do together, so that she’d carry them to her dreams.

We went to the park when it was sunny, to feed the ducks. I’d push her on the swings and she’d raise her arms above her head and laugh. She was flying, my Mira, soaring like a bird through the clouds.

She was eating porridge that morning. I was holding the spoon out and she said mama. I stared and smiled, the tears blurring and she caught me unawares and knocked the spoon out of my hand.

‘Mira, you’re a little monkey! You’ve porridged mummy!’

The sound of splintering wood and shouting came just as I lifted her out of the chair. I stood frozen as they rushed in. They didn’t give me a chance. They snatched her from me then held my arms tight behind my back. Why were they taking her away? What had I done that was so terrible that my baby would be taken from me again?

‘Mira … Mira … No … You can’t so this … You can’t do this again …’

She was screaming and holding her arms out to me but they wouldn’t let me touch her.

‘Please … my baby … my baby …’

They walked out of the house and put her in the car and drove away. I stopped struggling as I shattered into a million pieces.

‘Sarah Davies, I’m arresting you on suspicion of abducting baby Eliza Jenkins.  You do not have to say anything, but anything you do say may be used as evidence in court.’

I felt the cool pinch of handcuffs on my wrists then the weight of a hand at my back guiding me out of the house.

I sat in the cell hugging my knees to my chest. Where was she? She must have been so scared. It was too quiet and I jumped as the door opened.

‘Where is she? Where’s my baby?’

‘Sarah, you need to come with me. They’re ready to interview you now. A lawyer has arrived to sit in with you.’

I followed the police officer to another room and sat next to a young woman, smartly dressed.

‘Remember, you don’t have to say anything right now.’

The machine on the table clicked.

‘Sarah Davies, you are being charged with the abduction of baby Eliza. You took her from Sheldon city centre on Saturday, May the fourteenth of this year. You have kept baby Eliza with you in your home for the past three months. Do you have any comments to make?’

‘I … I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know baby Eliza. Please … where’s my baby? What have you done with Mira?’

‘My client is clearly in no fit state to be placed under interrogation at the moment.  She needs to be admitted to professional care.’

‘Have you harmed her in any way, Sarah? What was your motive behind the abduction?’

Bile rose in my throat, all the old feelings surfacing and the blackness filling me. I couldn’t go through it again. I couldn’t lose her again.

‘Please … you’ve made a mistake -’

‘Sarah, you don’t need to speak now.’

The lawyer placed her hand on my arm. I looked at the manicured fingers but I felt nothing.

‘This interview is over.’

She stood to leave, the scraping of her chair deafening.

She kept coming to see me, but I didn’t really listen to what she had to say. I nodded at the right times, pretended that I understood when she talked about not having bail and going to court.

‘Is there anything you want to ask me, Sarah?’

‘Where is she? Where’s Mira? When can I take her home?’

I sat in the court, my hands wrapped tightly in my lap. I looked up at the balcony and stared at the angry faces of young girls, painted brightly. I wondered who they were and why they were shouting.

‘… A woman who has shown no remorse for what she’s done. Taking a child away from its mother causes extreme emotional hardship, yet Sarah Davies, snatched baby Eliza, without a second thought for the baby’s mother, or caring one bit how being separated from her mother would affect Eliza …’

I’d hear my name, fluttering into my consciousness like an autumn leaf and I’d raise my head, only to find myself staring at unfamiliar people and not understanding what they were saying.

‘… Sarah Davies has not recovered mentally from the tragic death of her baby at six weeks old. It is clear that this woman, merely a young girl, can no longer differentiate between what’s real and not …’

I became lost in days and nights. I’d soar on the swings with Mira, watching a broken woman being dragged to and from court and I cried for her.

The judge finally spoke.

‘Life can be cruel and tragic. I have no doubt in my mind that Sarah Davies truly believed that baby Eliza was her daughter, who was taken from her by that cruellest of illnesses. Under no circumstances does this woman deserve a custodial sentence for her crime. She will be sectioned under The Mental Health Act …’

So, here I am in this hospital. It’s nice enough and I get left in peace to talk and sing to Mira. I don’t have books to read to her so I make up stories; stories about princesses with beautiful golden hair. She likes my stories better anyway.

I go to my meetings and say what they want me to say. I learnt how to do this the first time. They give me the pills. Only I’m cleverer this time. I know what they’re trying to do. They want me to forget about her, erase her from my memory, so they can keep her. Only I’m not going to let them. I’ve been planning, see. I’m in control.

I place the pills in my mouth and I swallow the water, the pills safely tucked under my tongue. They leave the room and I spit them out. I’ve been doing it for weeks, no one has ever suspected.

You won’t have to wait much longer, baby girl. I want to make sure that I’ve got enough. I’ll never let them take you from me again. Not ever. A few more days, that’s all. I’ll come then. I’ll come and find you again. So hush, little baby, don’t you cry, Mama’s gonna be with you in a little while.

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Waiting For Light (Short Story)

Waiting For Light

The snow is falling much heavier now, a vanilla softness on the ground. I won’t go much further. Silly me, forgetting to bring my hat and gloves. Mum’s going to be well cross. You’ll catch a death of cold, she’ll say. But I won’t stay long; just long enough for them to realise. They’ll know then that arguing isn’t important, not when they have a daughter missing. They’ll see how much time they’ve wasted on accusing and remember what is was like to be happy. Then it’ll all be ok again. I know it.

I can’t pinpoint the moment it started. I can’t say it was when such and such happened. It’s been more of a blackness slowly smothering us, like it was lurking in the corners all along waiting to creep into our lives. Just like those spiders that skulk in the corner of your bedroom.

Dad works away, travels a lot. He says it’s the only way to get the business off the ground and that Mum should understand. He says it won’t be forever. Mum stays at home, always has done since having my big brother. Then I came along. A real shock I’ve heard them say, although they do call me their miracle mistake. I quite like that. It’s like I’ve had a purpose from the beginning.

I remember being happy. Like really happy. Everything just as it should be. Mum and Dad rowed sometimes, but that’s normal isn’t it? Ceri says her mum and dad are at each other all the time, shouting and smashing stuff. She’s probably exaggerating though, she usually does. Right drama queen she is.

But then things changed. It became quieter. Less arguing. Just quiet. That’s worse. No one saying anything. My brother’s never at home, always round his friend’s house, so I have no one to ask.

Sometimes at night, I lie on my bedroom floor in the dark trying to hear them. Do you ever do that? Really not wanting to know something, but can’t help yourself finding out anyway? It’s crazy mad I know. But I still do it. I listen hard and try to understand.

Last summer I heard Mum say, ‘After we get back I want you to pack your bag and go. Not now, I won’t ruin this holiday for Elsie, but as soon as we get back, that’s it. I can’t do this anymore.’

I was only seven then. We went on our holiday, in the caravan. The best week of every year. We had a great time and I forgot all about the blackness as I played on the beach. In the evenings, Dad took me to the fairground and Mum stayed in the caravan reading. We’d get back really late, like ten or something, and the caravan would be dark and we’d giggle because we knew Mum hadn’t gone to bed, but had stuck the match through the wick of the gas lights and burnt it, and would be sitting there with her little torch trying to see the words. She’d be angry to start, but once Dad had the lights on again, she’d laugh with us.

After the holiday, everything was better. Dad didn’t stay away as much and there was talking. Then one Saturday it all started again. We were going out for the day, me, Mum and Dad. I was in the back of the car ready and Dad got in and started up. I thought Mum was taking her time with her make-up and that Dad was getting impatient. But he reversed the car right out of the drive and kept going. I didn’t say anything. I felt too silly to say, ‘We’ve forgotten Mum.’

On we drove until we got to Shentworth. We parked and Dad still hadn’t said a word. He asked where I wanted to go and I shrugged. He smiled and we went to the toy shop.

‘Go on, go and choose something,’ he said.

I walked around, uneasy, unsure. I picked up a few things and put them back.

‘Have you chosen?’ he asked when he came to find me. I shook my head and he frowned, lines burrowing his forehead. ‘A teddy, you like teddies. Let’s choose a teddy.’

Sometimes I think Dad’s forgotten that I’ve grown up. Even when I remind him that I’m in Year Four, he just kind of looks blank. But I suppose that doesn’t really mean anything to him. I don’t think he’s ever been to parents’ evening. He doesn’t do stuff like that.

The little black puppy sat in my lap in the car. It had two beady little black eyes and looked like the saddest soft toy I’d ever seen. I fought back the tears and tried not to sniff cos I didn’t want Dad to know. Later I put that puppy in the bottom of the chest and I never looked at it again.

On the way home, we stopped at the Halfway Inn. The open fire was blazing and the cheery chatter should have been welcoming, but it felt all wrong. Dad ordered a sandwich and a coke for me. The thick bread stuck in my throat and Dad must have forgotten that I hate coke. Dad didn’t eat.

When we got home, Mum was sitting in the dark. No burnt wicks this time. She muttered ‘straight to bed’ then forgot to come up to say goodnight. I think that was the worst day of my life.

Nothing was said after. No one explained why Mum hadn’t come. I never asked and they never said. Strange isn’t it, how everyone knows it’s there but choose not to see it. Mum smiles but the redness around her eyes can’t hide it and Dad’s laughter never reaches his eyes.

Sometimes, at night, I sit at my window and stare at the crab apple tree at the bottom of the garden. You see there’s a door on the trunk, half way up, no bigger than my thumb. I once tried to tell my brother but he laughed and said there’s no such thing as fairies and Santa. Well, I’m not stupid. I know there’s no Santa, because if there was he would bring me the present I wish for wouldn’t he? But fairies? I don’t know. Why else would there be a door on our tree?

Anyway, I sit with my eyes closed and wish myself to the fairy kingdom inside my crab apple tree and I make little wooden trinkets with the Crabble Fairies. I imagine leaving a beautiful gift for Mum to find and she’ll think it’s from Dad, and she’ll realise that he does love her really and the blackness will go away and the laughter will come back. You probably think I’m stupid too. I know how it sounds. But it doesn’t stop me.

I didn’t go to school yesterday, I wasn’t feeling too good. I lay on my bed reading and I could see Mum unpacking Dad’s suitcase to do the washing. Dad’s like that. Then she suddenly sat on the end of the bed and started crying, sobbing into her hands. I wanted to cross the landing, sit next to her and hold her hand and tell her everything’s going to be ok. But it was like I was frozen to my bed, my whole body too heavy to move.

I don’t know how long we stayed like this, me and Mum. Eventually she went downstairs and I breathed. I stayed in my room waiting. I don’t know what Mum found in that suitcase, but I knew something bad was going to happen. You just know, don’t you? It’s like something shifts, like the air changes or something and it makes you feel sick.

Dad came home really late and I must have fallen asleep for a while because when I woke up they were already shouting.

‘How could you? How could you lie to me? All this time I confronted you, and you denied it.’

‘I’m telling the truth. Mike asked me to bring them in case Angie found them. You know what he’s like. Angie’s told him the next time will be the last, but that doesn’t stop him. Anyway I forgot all about them. Why would I leave them there for you to find? Besides, look, they haven’t even been opened.’

‘You liar! How many have there been Sean? There’s been no action in our bed for months so they’re certainly not for us are they?’

‘Will you just listen. I’ve told you they’re not mine. There have been no others. I know things are strained between us, but I wouldn’t do that. It’s tough for you, with me being away so much … and maybe it’s coming back? The depression -’

‘Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare turn this on me. This isn’t my fault. Just go Sean. Go to whoever she is.’

‘You’re being irrational. There’s no point talking to you when you’re like this. I’m going to sleep in the back bedroom. I’ll be leaving early in the morning. We’ll talk when I get back tomorrow night. In the meantime phone Mike. Ask him. He’ll tell you.’

I listened as Dad climbed the stairs heavily and closed the door behind him. I heard Mum crying, deep heavy sobs. I cried too. Silent tears soaking my pillow.

When I woke up this morning I decided to fix this. No one else is going to. I’ve thought about it all day. I told Mum that Ceri asked me for tea and that I could walk over there and her mum would bring me home about nine because it’s the weekend tomorrow. She said ok, but never looked at me.

I had to leave quickly, that’s why I’ve forgotten my hat and gloves. But we never get much snow. It’s sure to stop soon. Like I said, I won’t go much further. When I get to the woods I’ll sit and wait and I’ll look at my breath in the air for a while and then when it’s getting dark, I’ll go home. I know Mum and Dad will be worried sick, they’ll probably call the police and everything and I’ll be in major trouble, but it’ll pass and I won’t be living in the blackness anymore because they will have realised their mistakes and we’ll be happy. I bet we’ll go on holiday next summer even though Dad sold the caravan. He’ll probably buy another one, one that has an electric hook-up so Mum can do the lights.

The sky looks full to bursting but I’ll be alright. I don’t need to stay long which is just as well ‘cos I can’t even feel my fingers and toes. I can’t see the houses anymore but I know my way. Mum always tells me not to come up the fields by myself. She says I’ll get lost in the woods or fall into a ditch and break my leg. She’s a right worrier like that.

The darkness comes quickly. I’ve no idea what time it is and I don’t have a torch. I didn’t think. My footsteps have been covered up but I know I only have to go down to get home. It’s really slippery and I keep losing my footing. Every time I fall the snow soaks through my clothes. Mum’s probably right about catching a death of cold.

Again I slip and I try to grab something but there’s only snow. I’ve hit something hard and pain shoots through me. I can’t think right. I can’t move and I hurt and the snow still falls its softness on me.

But they’ll come soon and there’ll be light again …

Wallowing in ‘The Waiting’

I recently sat on my crippling self-doubt for a few seconds and courageously/stupidly sent a new manuscript out to a literary agent. I thought, having done this, I could forget all about it and concentrate on my next manuscript, which has been about 60% completed for the last couple of months.

How wrong was I! My crippling self-doubt has not just reared its ugly head, but has brought along its entire family to have a party in my office – and boy can they party! All I can do is quietly creep in and gate-crash their shenanigans, sit in the corner with my laptop and stare vacantly at my inbox.

I’ve read so many posts on sending out a manuscript, pushing it to the back of your mind and diving head first into the next one. I’ve tried, really I have – but I’m just not that good at diving (neither literally nor metaphorically – a painful belly-flop is more my style).

By clicking on ‘send’ I seem to have completely stifled my creativity. ‘The Waiting’ has become tortuous.

It took a conversation with my 7 year-old the other night to make me stop wallowing and force myself to get on with it.

I’ve been off on maternity leave for the past year and am returning to work in September.

Son: I don’t want you to go back to work. I want you to stay home so that you can take us to school and pick us up from school. And you always have to do work at night when you’re a teacher and don’t have time to play with us.

(It felt like a punch in the stomach and reminded me of something my 4 year old said a couple of months back. We were walking through the village one evening and he heard a lamb bleating. ‘Oh, he wants his Mum. She must be working late again.’ I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time).

Me: But I have to work so that we can have money to do nice things.

Son: But I’d rather have no money … and anyway, you’re an author now. Why can’t you just write lots of books then you can work and be at home.

If only it were that simple, eh? I guess that’s the dream for every author. And I’m not talking J.K fortunes here, just being able to write full-time and earn a decent enough living. It seems like a far-reaching dream, yes, but it certainly isn’t going to be reached by wallowing.

So my son’s heart-wrenching words have made me snap out of my ‘wallowing in the waiting’ misery. I have stories to write … after I’d played another round of ‘Match Attax’ top trumps that was.

So, my next manuscript is once more up and running and once the first draft is done and it’s having a well-earned rest, I know what I want to start working on next. And honestly, ‘The Waiting’ doesn’t seem so painful now that I’m writing again.

As to the party in my office? Those self-doubters didn’t have that much stamina after all! Besides, we’ve got a birthday party going on here at the weekend – the self-doubting family have nothing on twelve 8 year old boys!

So if you too are wallowing in ‘The Waiting’, I hope you can find a way to make it easier. And whilst I can’t forget about the manuscript that’s ‘out there’, working on my new story is making it no more than a niggling-niggle that needs checking on every once in a while, rather than a full-blown case of hives. And if that standard rejection does ping into my inbox? Pah! I’m sure the disappointment won’t come near what I felt as a child when I realised that there is no such thing as a real pink panther!

I’ve got plenty more stories to keep writing and my debut book to be ridiculously excited about (verging on human-combustion levels). And publication day will certainly warrant a full-blown party!

Obsessive e-mail checking

At midday, the 30th of June, I lost my internet connection.

The past 24 hours has worryingly highlighted my obsessiveness with checking e-mails and social media. It was like going cold-turkey. Sweat-induced panic and agitation. When the connection went, I paced the hall next to my rooter, willing the green light to come back. I gave it an hour before I rang my service provider.

‘There’s a problem in your area at the moment. It should be back by this evening.’

‘Can’t you fix it sooner?’ I asked, desperation starting to creep in.

Little did the nice gentleman realise the effect his words were having on me. No internet access for the next few hours? What was I going to do?

By last night, after two further telephone conversations with the service provider, there was still no connection.

‘Why are you getting so worked up about it? Are you expecting an important e-mail or something?’ asked my husband.

‘Well yes,’ I answered wide-eyed, still pacing.

‘What?’

‘Well … I might have a new follower on twitter or I might hear about my submission,’ I answered, then lowered my voice to a whisper and glanced around. ‘I might have made it out of the slushpile.’

‘What?’

By this point my husband was looking at me as if I was seriously losing a grip on reality.

I tossed and turned in bed. At 2.30am I got up to check. Nothing. Zilch. Dead as a dodo.

7am I rang the nice gentleman, only to be told that the problem was on-going. 10am, another phone call.

‘Ok, it looks like the problem is solved so we’ll just reset everything and you should be up and running in a few moments.’

‘Thank you, thank you, thank you,’ I said, cradling the phone to my ear.

And then there it was, the winking green light.

‘I’ve got a light,’ I said into the phone, eyes welling-up. ‘A green, winking light.’

‘Fantastic. Congratulations,’ said the nice gentleman.

I replaced the phone and rested my head on my laptop.

‘You’re back,’ I whispered.

So life is back to how it should be. And maybe it’s been a good thing. Maybe I needed this to put things into perspective. I mean, checking e-mails once a day is enough … right? And it’s ok not to have a nosey on twitter every day … isn’t it?

Oh, in case you were wondering what delights awaited in my inbox, I had a handful of new twitter followers and an e-mail to say that a short story I submitted to a competition has been shortlisted. Nothing about my manuscript, so I’m still festering away on the cyber slushpile … then again, I might just go and check quickly … you never know.

Hwyl am y tro x