Monday, 6 April 2015

The Face We Show

Although making story writing my main focus (and jogging along with the second in my paranormal series at a decent pace), I find I’m unable to give up blogging. So I decided to blog monthly, rather than weekly. Content will be variable, but I think I want to showcase my writing more. After all, that’s the reason I started blogging in the first place. Last month was a travelogue from my recent adventures, and this month a short story (probably classed as women’s fiction). I know it’s Easter, and the subject isn’t topical, but I hope you find this journey worth your time.

Melanie gropes for the clock, stubs out the alarm and eases her eyes open. Her mind, still half-mired in dreams, jolts into awareness. Unwanted images seep past her sleep-weakened defences. Swinging her legs out of bed she focuses on the roughness of the coir carpet between her toes. She’s grateful when the unsolicited memory subsides.

Tod groans as he senses her leaving the bed, and stretches out a hand caressing the warm empty space where she’d lain.

Returning from the bathroom she stands for a moment observing him. The creases and lines which had taken root and spread over the years have fled in sleep, and a flash of the young man she’d met and fallen in love with twenty five years ago flickers through her mind. He’s like a comfy old slipper now, she thinks, and I’m the other half of the pair. She bends down and kisses his stubbled cheek, adamant at least for the moment, that her decision to say nothing is the right choice.

‘If you want the bathroom before the kids’, she whispers, blowing soft gusts of warm breath into his ear, ‘you’ve got ten minutes.’

‘I love you.’

‘I know you do,’ she replies whisking open the curtains and watching bright sunlight spill into the room.

Downstairs Melanie initiates her morning ritual with a pot of coffee, its persuasive aroma drifting through the kitchen. She likes being first downstairs and relishes the feel of the house with its empty quiet spaces below and familiar stirrings of life upstairs. She takes her drink out into the garden, leans against the ivy covered wall turning her face towards the sun. The birds are quietening down after the rigours of the dawn chorus and delicate wisps of cotton wool are strung out across the summer sky. She watches the butterflies flitter like dilettantes, tasting nectar from here and there, fluttering black and orange wings lending exotic colours to the twice blooming buddleia. The air still holds its early morning innocence and even though she hears the distant hum of a workman’s saw and far away traffic noises, where she stands, stillness prevails.

‘Hey, Mum.’

Melanie startles, reaches up and strokes her son’s earnest face, his adolescent skin soft under her fingers, his dark hair still bed-tousled. Nathan bends and kisses her forehead and they re-enter the kitchen just as her youngest, Ella, flounces in. Ella heads for the fridge where she grabs the orange juice and tosses her lunch box into her backpack.

Tod walks in and plonks a kiss on the top of his daughter’s unruly auburn curls. ‘Comb your hair before you leave, young lady. You can grow your dreadlocks after your eighteenth.’

‘Or when I join the Greens,’ she teases.

‘That can wait as well,’ he says.

‘I’ll do it when I want,’ she retorts, her eyes testing her father, but she pulls the fluorescent yellow hair band off her wrist yanking her hair back into a pony tail.

Tod and Melanie’s eyes meet across the kitchen.

‘Kids,’ mutters Tod.    

‘Yeah, we know’ chorus Nathan and Ella in harmony, ‘can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ‘em.’

‘Mum, don’t forget I’ve got tennis practice after school. Be there at 4.30.’

Melanie is coping better this week but last week she’d forgotten to pick Ella up and her daughter had waited outside the school for an hour after tennis practice ended. Silence hangs in the air while outside the birds continue to chirp.

‘You’ll remember, won’t you, Mum?’

‘Of course, sweetie.’ Melanie crosses the kitchen and gives her daughter a hug. Nathan drops a plate and the normal noisy hustle of morning resumes.

As soon as Tod, the last to leave, closes the front door, she’s aware of a rising tide of panic. She needs to keep busy. Once she’s blitzed the breakfast chaos in the kitchen, she pulls out and pours the contents of the cutlery drawer onto the kitchen table.  She scours the drawer and every piece of cutlery in it, counting each item as she rubs, polishes and returns it to its allotted place. Her fears recede. She’s calmer as she scrubs the kitchen surfaces to a spotless finish. 

Melanie’s always had projects on the go, but for the last two weeks and three days she’s been unable to complete anything. Everything is on hold.  She tells herself that all she needs is more time. She still doesn’t know if she has the courage to tell. For now, all she wants is the solace of the regular known rhythm of household chores and family routines.

She cleans and bleaches the bathroom. She finishes the first load of laundry and fills the dryer. She cuts and prepares the vegetables and salad. She vacuums. Downstairs, upstairs. Ella’s room. She takes her time, performing each task with systematic and meticulous thoroughness.

She’s picking up Nathan’s clothes strewn all over the floor when she’s transfixed by a black polo shirt with a small logo on the top right hand side.

And she’s back there. She can’t scream. Someone is squeezing his hand tight over her mouth, she can feel the door handle pressing into her thigh, and she’s pushing, pushing against his chest but her arms don’t have enough strength.

She sits on the bed, forcing herself to look round.  She concentrates on what she can see; treasures Nathan’s accumulated since childhood, such as the Viking helmet from a trip to Norway, various football trophies and his small collection of replica swords. She stares at the unwanted papers and the pile of CD’s – last year’s hits - all lying discarded in heaps on the floor. Spotting a red photo album on his bedside table, she grabs it, her hand shaking as she picks it up. She turns the pages quickly at first then more slowly, feeling the edge of each photo as it lies snuggled within its thick protective plastic cover. Oh, she remembers this one...

‘Nathan, get away from that wall. It’s a long way down. Ella, come back here. Nathan, stop that, you know when you do something, your sister copies you.’

The visit to St. Michael’s Mount had started off brilliantly. The children trailing their hands in the cold sea on the short choppy boat ride across from the mainland. Climbing to the top of the castle had kept them occupied, their excitement infectious when they spotted new sights as the path rose higher. Tales of a Cornish giant had thrilled them but as the heat of the day took its toll, her feet ached and she’d been left to manage two energetic kids while Tod wandered off examining details of various architectural features.

Nathan had decided he wanted a photo taken sitting on one of the old, shiny, black cannons. He’d easily scrambled up, before holding his hand out to help his younger sibling. The photo captured their moment of pride, the two of them sitting astride the ancient relic, wearing huge grins of delight...

She puts the photo album away in one of Nathan’s drawers, tucking it carefully into a corner. She fetches a plastic bag; picking up the black shirt, she deposits it in the bag, takes it downstairs and stuffs it in the bin. She’ll make up some excuse if Nathan notices. Switching on the radio and turning the volume up, she finishes cleaning Nathan’s room.  The music and words create a background noise that hardly registers but helps outwit the memories. She thinks of them as predatory sharks, circling round, seeking entry where and when she’s vulnerable.

When she’s finished she digs out and unfolds the small worn card from where she’s hidden it in the depths of her handbag. This is a new daily ritual. She stares at the words ‘Rape Crisis Centre’. She knows she should tell. Tell Tod, tell the police, tell someone. After all, he’s still out there. He’s probably going to attack another woman. But telling would mean questions, would mean reliving her ordeal. Not speaking about the rape makes it easier to ignore. She can’t bear to think of how Ella, Nathan and Tod would look at her. Would they pity her, feel disgust? Maybe they would they think it was her fault for not waiting till morning to shop? She could hear the silent question: had she invited disaster by being alone n the car-park at that time of night? She stares at the card clutched in her hand. Is she right to bury the memory as deep as she can? After all, isn’t some measure of self-sacrifice part of the promise she’d made when she’d fallen in love with Tod, married him and borne his children?

The plop of letters landing in the hallway breaks her train of thoughts. She folds the card into a tiny square before tucking it back into her handbag. Checking the clock, she decides she has time to spare before picking up Ella.

She gathers the local newspaper along with the mail and goes out into the garden. She moves the chair to a shaded spot and settles herself. It’s hot now and every shade of green imaginable is spread before her, with pink, purple, red, orange and yellow flowers thrusting above the leaves eager to display their opulence. The overgrown privet hedge extends long delicate fingers upwards to the sun. Beyond the garden a tall row of pines stand to attention, sharp dark leaves at the ready, guarding the back lane outside the house. The warm air feels soft on her skin.

Bills and more bills. Melanie puts aside the brown and white envelopes. Picking up the local newspaper she begins to read, absorbing herself in the smallness of the news items. Opening the centre page, she freezes. The photograph on the left page is him. Her eyes skim the headline. She blanks, reads it again. ‘Man Arrested for Rape.’ He stares out at her.  His small thin lips are closed tight and his dark hair hangs in lank strings around his face. She clenches her fists grimly denying the memory entry. She focuses instead on the muted buzz of traffic, the birds’ chitterings, the thrum of an insect’s wings as it flies past. She can even hear the tick-tock of the clock from inside the kitchen. Her blood begins to hammer through her body. Her breath enters and leaves in short sharp bursts.

She has to know more; she reads the article slowly. The man had been arrested at 11.30 pm after attacking a young woman in a pub car-park. The woman had started screaming and people had run out of the pub to see what was happening. The police statement said breathalyzer tests showed that he had a high level of alcohol in his bloodstream.

The memory of his stinking breath and the gloating look in his eyes now breach the dam. She begins to shudder. She had cursed him, wishing him dead for the peace of mind he’d ripped from her. And now it’s as if a door has opened and Fate stepped through saying ‘Don’t worry. I’ll take care of this for you.’ Dry racking sobs shake her, and after, an eruption of tears which feel as if they’ll never stop.

The sound of her mobile ringing from the kitchen penetrates her sobs; snuffling and wiping her face with the back of her hands she hurries to answer its summons. It’s Ella.

‘Hi Mum. Just ringing to remind you to pick me up.’

‘Ok, darling. I’ll be there.’

‘You alright, Mum? You sound a bit funny.’

‘I’m fine. I’ll see you soon.’

‘Ok. Bye’

On time and with make-up camouflaging evidence of her meltdown, Melanie sits in the car and waits outside Ella’s school. So far she’s concentrated on maintaining normality, no matter the cost to herself but now she feels a release from the downward spiral.

She watches her daughter, surrounded with giggling girlfriends, emerge from the school gates. They stand chatting. Ella waves and heads towards the car.

Maybe now she can think about going to the police. Maybe she wouldn’t though. Maybe she would just attend his trial.  Would it be enough to sit at the back of the court listening to his sentence being handed down?  Things have shifted and she doesn’t know yet how she feels. She’ll need to think more about it.

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To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing.

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Apart from writing, I'm compiling a bucket list of places I'd like to  visit...from Iceland to Hawaii and onwards....

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