Table of Contents - Vol. VIII, No. 3
They move you out of the sun and in beneath the shade of the copper beech. “Don’t want you getting sunburnt do we, Emily?” Harry says. Harry, your brother doesn’t wait to hear a reply from you because he knows he won’t get one. No one has heard you say a word for the last two years since you left the asylum or maybe just before that, though none seem to remember how long ago it was. He wanders back to the cricket game where the other members of the family are waiting for him.
You look at them waiting. Your father behind the stumps crouching down, his head looking upwards at the sky. Your brother Tom waiting at the other end ready to bowl again, throwing the ball up in the air, catching it and throwing it up again. Your mother at the other side of Granger a friend of Tom’s who is batting. She is standing with her hands on her hips with a white hat stuck on her head like an upturned plant pot. Your Uncle Jack lingering this side of the pitch his hands behind his back, waiting for Harry, looking over at you with that stare of his. You turn away and look at your knees just appearing out of your blue skirt and a slight ladder in your stocking, which neither disturbs you nor concerns you much. Nothing much disturbs you. Only when your Uncle Jack comes near you or is left in the same room with you, do you show signs of concern or anything like panic. You close your eyes, bring your hands to the side of the wheelchair, and let them rest.
“You’re getting a very pretty girl,” Uncle Jack had said as he came up behind you that summer when you were home from boarding school for the holidays. He had put his hands around your waist and had given you a hug as he often did when you were a young girl. You didn’t squirm away from his grasp, but tried to discourage him by moving from his hands as if it were all a game and laughing. “How you’ve grown,” he added smiling broadly, his hands becoming unemployed for the moment. “What are they feeding you at the boarding school?” You look around for other members of your family but they are outside on the lawn preparing for the afternoon tea. He moved towards you and cornered you against the wall as if he too tried to pretend it was a game, and having cornered you, he leaned close to you and kissed your cheek. It was damp and warm.
“Howzat!” You open your eyes at the shout from the pitch and the sunlight flickers through the branches above and makes you blink. Granger is caught out and he hands the bat to Tom who swings it around as if it was a sword.
They clap Tom and Granger moves to bowl. You look at Uncle Jack who moves to replace your mother and she replaces your father behind the stumps. Their voices seem muffled as if they were all speaking and shouting through a gauze cloth. You look away from them and look up at the branches. The birds are talking. You seem to hear them chattering across to each other; their words violent and sharp, as if they were angry at the noise from the game of cricket and the laughter and shouts from the humans. The blackbird especially seems to be having a go. You hear it distinctly saying things about your brother Harry, and then the other bird chirps in, and then a chaos of sounds surrounds you and you put your hands over your ears to shut it out. You want to scream at them to be quiet; to yell at the top of your voice, but nothing comes, only the movement of your lips and the gesture of your hands and your eyes glaring wildly at it all. No one notices. The game goes on. Tom hits a six into the hydrangeas, and there is a sea of voices around you, and you try to stand up, but your legs refuse to move, and your hands bang on the side of the wheelchair angrily until your hands hurt and you stop.
Then there is a voice behind you and two hands place themselves over yours. You look back behind you and there is Charlotte. She is blonde, short and has two deep blue eyes that hold you now and she says:
“What’s got you into a paddy?” She doesn’t expect you to answer. She turns you towards her and touches your face gently as if this might calm you. She pulls your skirt down further over your knees and taps your knees. “Too much sun,” she suggests with a smile. You do not respond. You stare at her and try to remember who she is and where she fits in with the rest, but you don’t know. Somewhere in your mind she must have a place, but she seems to be lost in there; lost in one of those corridors of which your mind seems composed.
After the kiss, Uncle Jack put his hands on your hips and moved them up and down as if he were searching for something he’d lost. You felt uneasy. You wanted him to stop, but didn’t know what to say or how to say it. You tried to move from him, but he had you tight against the wall. “You used to love a cuddle and tickle with your Uncle Jack,” he said, looking into your eyes with those dark brown eyes of his. “You used to jump at the chance to climb on my lap at one time,” he added, his smile broadening, his hands resting on your thighs.
You looked out of the window and saw your family moving around the lawn preparing things for afternoon tea like ants preparing for the new queen. “I must go and help,” you said, but found you couldn’t move and so rested against the wall and tried to smile. “Please, Uncle Jack, I must help or Mummy will wonder where I am.” He released you reluctantly and stood back.
“I’ll be watching you,” he said smiling, tapping you on your backside as you moved passed him. You moved out of the room as fast as you could and along the passageway out into the garden. You felt perspiration dampen you all over. Your head was spinning and your nose seemed to be full of your uncle’s sweat and aftershave, and the voices of your family seemed to be strangely unfamiliar.
Charlotte wheels you over the lawn away from the pitch. Her voice is speaking but you aren’t listening. You are trying to formulate words and put them on the tip of your tongue, but they keep running away like naughty children, and stand at the back of your head jeering at you.
You are wheeled along by the river and then Charlotte stops and peers back at the pitch and the game. “I think Tom’s hit another six,” she says. You look down at the river and see the sunlight flittering on the flowing water like butterflies. You feel the sun on your hands and neck and want it to be gone. “I don’t understand the rules much, but I like to watch,” she says, moving you further on. Then she crouches down in front of you and stares at your face. You look at her, but say nothing. She looks at your eyes as if she were trying to fathom something from them to give her clue to what you might be thinking, but there is nothing, and she just smiles and taps your knees again as she gets up. She wheels you further along, her voice murmuring behind you.
You look back towards the pitch and at the game. Your eyes focus on Uncle Jack and his hands at his sides as he watches for the ball. The hands especially hold your attention. Those hands. The way they hang there, you muse inwardly. The half curve of the hands suddenly panics you, and you bang on the sides of the wheel chair with your hands until Charlotte grabs them, and holds them tightly in her own. “What’s the matter, Emily?” she says, looking at you and then following your eyes along the pitch to where Uncle Jack stands gazing back at you both.
Charlotte shouts something to him and he nods and moves towards you. Your body freezes at his approach and you look away and stare at the green grass and then at the roses in the bed behind where Charlotte stands. The roses are red. Deep red. Like blood, your mind suggests, like blood.
You watched as your mother and father talked with Tom below by the copper beech. They were laughing and Harry came and joined them and the Fosters came over too and they all laughed. You looked at them and smiled. The holidays were going to be fun, you mused. Your father had spoken about taking you all to Switzerland later in the month and that thrilled you even more. Then you heard the door of your bedroom open and there stood Uncle Jack gazing at you with a hint of a smile lingering about his lips.
“I wondered where you had disappeared to,” he said, moving into the room and closing the door behind him.
“I was going to change before dinner,” you replied, looking back out of the window at your family below. You turn around and Uncle Jack was standing by your bed looking at you with a serious expression on his face.
“What’s the hurry? Dinner won’t be for an hour or so yet.” He walked slowly to where you stood and took your hands in his and drew you close to his body. “My little Emily has grown so much.” He looked at you with a smile. “Yet, she doesn’t seem quite so friendly these days. Once she would have never left my side, but would have asked me to cuddle and hug her and tell her tales of ghosts and goblins.” He stopped. His hands squeezed yours and his lips brushed against your cheek. “You don’t mind your Uncle Jack giving you a little kiss, do you?” He kissed your cheek. You froze and your stomach turned. You wanted to get away and go downstairs to your family, but he had you tightly in his grasp and moved you back against the wall beside the window.
“Please let me go, Uncle. I need to change. You ought not to be here,” you said. You tried to move your hands free, but he had them tight against your sides and kissed you repeatedly. Your words seemed lost on him. You wanted to scream out, but your voice seemed unable to say anything. Your legs seemed to buckle and he moved you to the bed and laid you down, and stood looking at you as if a thought had entered his mind suddenly and he leaned over you with his breath against you cheek and the sound of your family’s laughter seemed far far away.
Charlotte moves you towards the house. You do not look back at the cricket game in case Uncle Jack leans over you again as he did just a while ago. You stare at the house, as it gets nearer, and wish that Charlotte understood why you get tense and panicky when your uncle comes near. Why does she just stand there talking with him, encouraging him to touch me and breathe his breath all over me? you muse angrily, pushing your hands down into your lap.
“You really are a bad tempered young girl, Emily,” Charlotte says as she wheels you into the hall and along the passageway to your bedroom. “And your uncle is so kind and humorous.”
You sniff angrily and hammer your hands on the side of the wheelchair. Your lips struggle to speak, but only a noise like a baby’s gabble is emitted, and you become frustrated, and hammer the sides even harder, until Charlotte grabs your hands in hers and holds them still. “Calm down, Emily, calm down,” she whispers. She stares into your eyes and you want her to know what it is you feel and what happened to you, but her eyes see only your frustration and anger. “If you carry on like this they’ll send you back to the asylum. I don’t want that, nor do you.”
You look at the floor and breathe slowly. The carpet has become worn and the colour has faded. Your black shoes are shiny and motionless. You look up at Charlotte and sigh. She releases your hands and you fold them into your lap. You try to move your lips to form words but they fail and the sound resolves into a long drawn out sigh. She wheels you further along to your bedroom, takes you inside, and closes the door behind her. This is not the room you had before. This is a room set aside for you on the ground floor that was once a small guest room. Uncle Jack has your old room now. Charlotte told you a few months ago when she was talking about the house and the rooms. Charlotte shares the room with you. Your mother insisted. She didn’t want you left unattended, she said. Charlotte lifts you from the wheelchair and settles you onto the bed. You sit staring at your legs beneath your blue dress and point at the laddered stocking. Charlotte touches the ladder and sighs. “I missed that one,” she says. “Better get you ready for bed.” And she undresses you slowly as if you were a young girl and needed to be shown each movement one piece at a time. You see wrinkles in her forehead as she moves close to you, and you want to smooth them away, as if they were a crinkle in a dress, and your hand an iron ready for the task. But you sit motionless. Each thought following the next going onward and onward to no particular end.
Charlotte sat on the chair in your father’s study and looked around the room. You were by the window in the wheelchair staring out at the garden. Your father looked over at you briefly and then looked back at Charlotte.
“I wondered who they would send for the job,” he said, eyeing Charlotte with a stern gaze. “You look sensible enough. I only hope you realise what it is we require of you.”
Charlotte looked over at you and then at your father. “I was told it was basically care of an invalid. I thought it would be someone older,” Charlotte said.
“Basically, Emily needs some one who can care for her and dress her and be with her as much as possible,” your father said.
“I think I can manage that all right,” Charlotte said. “Was she always paralysed?”
“No,” your father said, eyeing you as if he thought you might add something to his comments. “She has had a trauma of some kind and it has left her dumb and paralysed.”
“I see,” Charlotte said. She looked over at you, and then looked back at your father. “What was the trauma?”
“We’ve no idea,” your father replied. “My wife found her naked in the bathroom. She was in such a state that we had to call the doctor out to her. She attacked me and her Uncle Jack, and eventually the doctor and another one from the asylum sectioned her for her and our safety. She was released recently under my care and I want her to be safe, so I need some one who will be with her as much as possible.”
“Has she been out long?” Charlotte asked.
“Your job is to keep her out of the asylum. My wife and I do not want her back there again,” your father said solemnly. “Can you manage that?”
“I will do my best,” Charlotte replied.
“Good. That is what we’re after. Some one who will keep Emily at home with us as long as it takes, until she is well again.” Your father sighed deeply and walked over to you by the window.
He turned you around to face Charlotte and you stared at her and wondered whom she was and why she was there.
Charlotte came over and knelt down. She took your hands in hers and gave them a short squeeze. “Hello Emily,” she said. You tried to move your lips to speak, but nothing came. Your lips moved, but only a murmuring sound was emitted.
“She’s our only daughter. Something happened to her and left her like this. If you can help her to make some kind of progress.” Your father stopped. He nodded to himself. “I hope you will stay as long as it takes,” he added quietly.
Charlotte looked at you deeply and nodded her head. “I’ll stay as long as she needs me,” she said.
After your father and Charlotte had settled other matters, he left you and her alone together in the hall. You murmured sounds, but Charlotte shook her head. You wanted to let her know what was hurting you, but nothing would come. It was all locked away. Hidden from her view. You turned from her, hit the sides of the wheelchair with your hands, and glared ahead at the darkening passageways that lead to your room.
The cricket match is over. The others have all come into the house to prepare for dinner. You are in the wheelchair by the window where Charlotte has left you, staring out at the evening sky. She has clothed you in another dress and put new stockings on you, ones without ladders. You wait for her return. The room seeming empty and to a degree frightening. You hate being left alone in a room; you feel vulnerable; feel undone and uneasy. The door of your bedroom opens behind you and you turn around nervously and see Your Uncle Jack standing by the door gazing at you.
“How’s my little niece?” he asks. He makes no move into the room, but stands with his arms folded and a smile lurking on his lips. “Still silent as the proverbial grave?” He moves forward into the room unfolding his arms as if he were about to embrace you and the entire world with one sweep of his arms.
You stare at him, watching his every move. Your lips move, but nothing comes. You watch his hands. The movement of his fingers. The way his head is turned to one side like a bird listening to sounds.
“I was surprised they let you home again, Emily. I thought you’d be away forever. But they returned you to me. My little Emily,” he says moving closer to you by the window.
You bang your hands on the wheelchair and turn your head away from him. Your lips try to form words, but only a murmuring sounds out around the room.
“You should try to relax my dear Emily,” your Uncle Jack says warmly. “You must try and love your uncle more.” He stands beside your wheelchair and puts his hands on your arm.
You move your head away from him as much as you can and bang your free hand on the side of the wheelchair.
“None of that, now,” he says grabbing your free hand and holding both hands down. “You really are a silly girl. If only you could love better it would have saved you so much pain and distress.” He leans towards you and kisses your cheek. You squirm back as far as you can, but he kisses you again. “See, it wasn’t that bad was it?” He moves away from you and looking back at you once more he leaves the room, closing the door behind him.
You stare at the door fearing his return again. You wipe your cheek with your hand. You rub and rub until it reddens like an open wound and all the soil and grime has gone away.
“How are you and Emily getting along?” Uncle Jack asked Charlotte after she had been there a few months.
“Quite well in the circumstances,” Charlotte replied. “She doesn’t say anything and she can be quite moody and down right childish at times.”
“That’s the way with young girls,” Uncle Jack said, eyeing Charlotte carefully, watching her facial expressions and the gesture of her slim hands. “Have you any idea what has made her as she is?”
Charlotte shook her head. “No, but it must have been something quite horrendous to have left her as she is.” She looked at you over by the copper beach where you were looking across the expanse of grass where cricket matches were played.
“Her mother says it is all so very strange. She found her in the bathroom that afternoon and she says she was totally beside herself with her hair and body wet and her skin rubbed almost raw in places.” Charlotte paused and looked at Uncle Jack. She noticed his eyes were on you and his hands were fumbling in front of him as if he were struggling with an inner demon.
“Poor girl,” Uncle Jack said. “Must have been some kind of breakdown,” he added, moving his hands behind his back out of sight.
Charlotte nodded. “I suppose it must have been.” She felt quite sorry for Uncle Jack, as he seemed quite moved by your plight.
“It happens you know,” he said softly, looking back at Charlotte and focusing his eyes on her. Young girls have these breakdowns. Something to do with their changing bodies and the state of their hormones and such things.” He paused and sniffed.
You looked over at Uncle Jack and Charlotte talking by the house. What were they talking about? you mused. How could she listen to him and his lies? you thought to yourself, feeling anger rise inside you. You banged the sides of the wheelchair with your hands. You wanted to shout out at them; wanted to scream at him standing there with that look of innocence on his face. But nothing would come; only that childish murmur which made you even more angry.
“I think she’s getting aggravated about something,” Charlotte said looking over at you under beech.
Uncle Jack nodded. He gave you a long stare. “Best see what the poor girl wants,” he said. He turned back to the house and you watched him go with a sense of relief and a deep sigh.
“What’s the matter with you?” Charlotte said as she knelt down beside the wheel chair. She took your hands in hers and gave them a little squeeze. “If only you could speak, I’d know what it is that upsets you so.”
You moved your lips, but only the dreaded murmur sounded. You felt the anger rise to your throat and it almost choked you as if Uncle Jack had some hold over you still and was holding you down and down and down into that dark place deep inside of you.
When Charlotte returns to the bedroom, you are pale and shaking.
“You look as if you’d seen a ghost,” Charlotte says. She takes hold of your shaking hands in hers and holds them steady. “What is it?”
You move your lips, but only a murmuring sound comes.
“I can’t take you into dinner if you’re going to have one of your turns,” Charlotte says. She looks at you trying to decide if this is just a temporary thing or one that will go on and on for hours.
You relax yourself, pull your hands from her grasp, and put them in your lap. She stands up and looks around the room.
“That’s better,” Charlotte says. “Now, are you going to be good in the dining room?”
You nod your head. You attempt a smile, but it comes out weakly and unconvincing. Charlotte sighs, pushes the wheelchair towards the door, and stops suddenly as Uncle Jack stands in the doorway looking at you both with a broad smile.
“How’s my young niece?” he asks, looking at you.
“She’s fine,” Charlotte says, giving Uncle Jack a smile in exchange for his. You look away from him and stare at your shoes. “She has her moments, but she’ll be all right, now,” Charlotte adds.
Uncle Jack moves backwards and allows you and Charlotte to move pass him. He looks at you and winks at you with a small grin. “Hopefully one day she’ll be able to tell us all her woes,” he says in a voice sounding sympathetic.
“I hope she will,” Charlotte says. “Then we will be able to help her more.” She wheels you along the passageway to the dining room.
Uncle Jack moves along side like some hound out on a hunt, with the sound of his deep breathing echoing in your ears, as it did once before, in that dark place that keeps coming to you, and bringing the familiar pain once again.
Charlotte and Uncle Jack sat on a bench by the house and watched the others playing cricket. You were beside Charlotte avoiding looking at your uncle and staring hard ahead of you as if something about the cricket match was interesting you.
“I can move you closer if you wish,” Charlotte said looking round at you.
You look quickly around at her and shake your head.
“Best here in the shade,” Uncle Jack said. "Don’t want you getting sunstroke do we?”
“I suppose you’re right,” Charlotte said.
“I always had my niece’s best interests at heart,” Uncle Jack asserted, looking at you with those eyes of his that leave you cold and nervous.
Charlotte smiles. “I’ll go and get you a drink, Emily,” Charlotte said and walked back into the house. Uncle Jack moved next to you and placed his hand on your knee. You felt a shudder pass through you and pushed his hand away, but he took hold of your hand and squeezed it.
“Not very friendly, Emily,” Uncle Jack said. He put your hand on his knee and rubbed it up and down his leg. You pulled your hand from his and banged the sides of the wheelchair angrily. “Hey, hey,” he said as he put his hand on your shoulder. You banged the sides again, but he held your hands tightly in his own and stared at you deeply. “Calm down. Or they’ll have you locked away again, and you don’t want that do you?”
You shook your head and stared ahead. You wanted him to go, but he remained next to you holding your hands stiff. You tried to pretend he wasn’t there, but the sound of his breathing entered you and you felt your hands becoming numb as if he was slowly destroying you piece by piece.
Suddenly he released your hands as Charlotte came back out with a tray of drinks for all three of you. “I wasn’t long was I?” she said. “You look flushed. Are you all right, Emily?”
“I think it’s the sun,” Uncle Jack said. “Get’s her all hot and bothered stuck in that wheelchair.”
Charlotte passed you and Uncle Jack a drink and sat down again with her own the other side of Uncle Jack. You gesture to Charlotte for her to sit next to you. “I think she wants me to sit next to her, Jack,” Charlotte said.
Uncle Jack looked at you and grinned awkwardly. “Of course, silly old me.” He moved back to his previous seat and sipped from his glass.
“She’s one for routines,” Charlotte said.
“Yes, of course. Routines are a form of security aren’t they,” he said softly.
“Yes, I suppose they are,” Charlotte said. Silence settled amongst you for a few moments. You took hold of Charlotte’s hand and held it tightly. You wanted to tell her about Uncle Jack, but the words wouldn’t come. Your lips moved, but that dreadful murmuring came out and you stopped.
“Do you want something else?” Charlotte asked, giving your hand a little squeeze. You shook your head and sighed. Noise from the cricket match distracted Charlotte and Uncle Jack, but you just stared at the grass and listened to the birds laughing from the copper beech.
After dinner, Charlotte wheels you into the night air by the French windows. The others had gone off to the lounge with others guests who had come to see your father.
“I’ll leave you here for a few minutes while I get your bath ready,” Charlotte says. You watch as she goes inside and then peer out at the evening sky and outline of the trees against the horizon. You close your eyes and listen to the night and the soft wind about you.
“All alone?” Uncle Jack says coming out beside you.
You turn round nervously and glare at him.
“I don’t like it when you stare at me like you do at dinner,” he says, his voice menacing. “A word from me and your father will have you locked away again, despite what your nurse maid says."
You begin to shake as he puts his hand into your lap and squeezes your thigh. Then he leans into you and kisses you on the lips. The kiss makes you want to vomit and you turn your head away and spit.
“Don’t you ever learn?” he says, his voice cold and distant. “Where’s she gone that Charlotte girl?” He moves his hand up and down your thigh.
You feel your head spinning and your hands shaking and the sky becoming darker and darker. You feel his lips on yours again and you squeeze your eyes shut and sense the blackness getting closer and closer.
“I can always do it again you know. No one would know. It would be our little secret my dear dumb niece.” He kisses you and fondles you even more and you sense the earth spinning around inside your head.
“Leave her be,” Charlotte says, coming out of the shadows.
“I was only comforting her,” Uncle Jack says moving away from you.
“That’s not what I would call it,” Charlotte says, coming next to you and staring at Uncle Jack. “I’ve been just inside there. I heard you. What you said and what you did.”
“Your word against mine, my dear,” he says smiling. “I’ll say you misunderstood my actions. They know I have always been close to Emily. I’ll tell them you have done things to her to corrupt her. It was me who persuaded her father to put her away and get that fool of a quack at the mental hospital to sectioned her. I can do it again…” His words are cut short as you rise up from the wheelchair and point at him.
“He...He...raped...Me!” you shout out into the night air.
The birds stop laughing. Uncle Jack stands with his mouth open, staring at you. Charlotte tries to hold you back as you hit out at him again and again, until he falls to the ground with a heavy thud and a moan, and the moon glows in the corner of your eye between the leaves of the copper beach.
© Terry Collett