DON'T BRING LULU.
- Donít bring Lulu, I heard Thomas tell my mother. I want us to be alone. My mother muttered something I didn't hear and he laughed.They didn't know I was hiding under my bed as they passed by on the landing. They descended the stairs and I lay still, frightened to breathe, unless they heard me. Finally moving out from under the bed I crept to the edge of the stairs and listened. I heard them kissing and closed my eyes not wanting to see them. Then he said something about me and my mother replied in a whisper and then he laughed again and was gone. Good riddance, I muttered under my breath, good bloody riddance.
My mother looks grim in black and hers eyes are red and damp. She sits in the front room by the coffin where he lies stiff and waxy. She looks up as I enter, but says nothing. Her blonde hair looks greyish now and her features seem haunted. He did that to her no doubt, though she'll not admit it. I wasn't going to come, but now that he has gone and is harmless I've changed my mind. Funerals are usually sad, but to me this was a happy event, at least regards him. She sits, her white handkerchief against her nose, her eyes closed.
- You came, then, my mother says, her voice muffled.
- For you, not him, I reply, coolly. She lifts her head, opens her eyes and stares at me. Shaking her head, she sniffs. Her eyes close again as if she wants sleep or maybe to be with him, where ever his spirit dwells away from his stiff frame.
- He did a lot for you, she mutters moving the handkerchief away from her lips. He wanted what was best for you.
She doesn't know, I tell myself, she doesn't know. Finding it hard to believe I breathe deeply and look away. I stare at the coffin and sense a childlike fear that maybe it's all a joke he's playing and that he'll suddenly sit up and say, boo! But he doesn't. It's no joke. And I smile briefly out of relief, out of joy.
- Rosemary, that child of yours needs to be disciplined, Thomas said from downstairs, his voice raised. My mother replied in a moaning voice as if she was tired of hearing the words repeatedly. Her words, unlike his, didn't lift from the ground, they faltered and crash landed. She has to learn, Rosemary, he grumbled bad-temperedly. Mother sighed loudly, words beyond her. Then all was silent, sinister.
I pushed against my bedroom door in case he came, my seven-year-old frame too fragile to withhold his bulk. I heard soft footsteps on the stairs and pushed harder against the door. The handle turned and my body was moved as the door was heaved against. He was there. His bulk and those dark-brown were just minutes away. I closed my eyes, wishing him dead. My frame was cast aside and I fell against the wall. He closed the door and leaned against it. There was malice there, deep hid behind those dark-brown eyes.
I sit in the hearse with my mother; a small space separates us on the back seat. She is totally in black; I wear dark-grey for her sake not his. It's hard not to smile and wave at the crowds as we pass, but I keep up appearances for her sake, so that maybe she can salvage something out of this drama.†††††
- You haven't expressed any condolences to me, my mother whispers as the hearse slowly moves along the street.
- You want my sympathy? I reply coldly. You want me to say how sorry I am for his death? I spit out the words in a way I didn't intend and sigh.
- No, for me, for my loss, my mother says tearfully. She holds a handkerchief next to her nose. Her eyes turn towards me and she searches my face for some kind of softness or gentleness.
- For you, yes, not him, I say. I breathe deeply, holding back words that would hurt her too much to say. She searches my face still with a frown as if she can't believe there's no softness or ease.
- He called for you just before he died, she states emotionally.
- What did he want? I ask. The hearse turns a corner and we take the main road a little faster. She doesn't speak straight away, but looks out of the window on her side. I can hear her suppressed sobs and it angers me. Did he want to say, Goodbye? I ask cynically.
She turns and her red lips become thin and her eyes glare at me. - He loved you, she says, he wanted the best for you.
- He wanted something, I say, but keep the words back that might follow. She turns away shaking her head. Her shaking head is denying, but I knew his wants and passion as much as she did, only my knowledge was different, was cruel and destructive like a disease.
I hated it when mother was out and he was there alone with me. He roamed the house, now and then, searching me out and when he found me, he'd get me to do jobs or moan at me hoping I'd say something so that he could punish me. One day he entered my bedroom and seeing me lying on the covers grabbed me and dragged me off onto the floor.
He moaned about the covers getting dirty and the bed being messy.
- Wonít you ever learn, Lulu, he said. Wonít you ever understand what I say? He hit me. I closed my eyes. I wanted it to end, wanted him dead, and thinking it hard enough I thought it might work, but it didn't. I had failed. I had failed.
The cemetery is quiet as we decend the hearse. My mother lowers her eyes as we walk along the path leading to the chapel. The coffin is already there up at the far end. Doleful organ music welcomes us as we enter the chapel to a small sea of faces. Murmured voices greet us. Brief nods, shaking heads like puppets warming up for a show.
I wear my mask of cold grief. My mother's is real, mine a fake. I close my eyes against the farce. His coffin still brings a lingering fear that maybe itís just a joke, his final tormenting joke.
Thomas made me sit on my bed facing the wall. He said not to move until he said so; when he considered I had learnt my lesson. I faced the wall too frightened to move or turn my head, even though I had heard him walk down the stairs and all was quiet. I had been punished too often and painfully to even think about rebelling. The wall was a pale pink with no distinguishing factors to relieve my boredom. I sat and hoped my mother would soon be home or that he would relent and let me move. I needed to pee. I tried not think of it, but it seemed the more I tried not to think about it, the more I needed to go. And if I moved he would punish me and if I wet the bed he would punish me; it all made me fear he'd not come and my mother be would be too late to save me.
Once the coffin disappears from sight, I sense a great relief. Let the flames have him now, I say inwardly without letting the relief show on my face.
- He didn't want you here, my mother whispers to me as we leave the chapel. He said to me; donít bring Lulu to my funeral. He didn't want you to start a scene. We walk along the path to where Uncle William's car is waiting for us. I look at her and wonder how much she knew or knows about him and what he did to me, but she seems eaten up with her grief and I assume that maybe she didn't know. She should have known even if I couldn't say anything for fear of him. She should have known, I say to myself as we climb into Uncle's car and sit together at the back, a small space between us.
- Thatís the worse part over, Uncle William says closing his door and looking at us in the back seat.
- I hate funerals, Aunty Ellen moans from the front seat.
- It was a good service, though, Uncle states starting up the car and looking at us in his rear view mirror. I say nothing and gaze out of the window at those who bothered to come to his funeral and wonder if they knew him as I knew him, and doubt they did. I doubt anyone knew him, only me. Knew the worse of him, saw his dark side, saw the demon gleaming in his eyes.
Thomas stared at me from the rear view mirror. His eyes searching me for something to moan about. Mother sat next to him oblivious to his stare.
- Your mother's pregnant; he said suddenly, his eyes turned to my mother, who smiled shyly.
- Iím going to have a baby, she said excitedly, looking at me from over the front seat. I looked at her as if she was mad.
- A baby? I said doubtfully.
- Thatís what women have when they're pregnant, he said coldly, returning his eyes to me in the mirror. I turned away and stared out at the passing view. I felt his eyes on me. Sensed his anger at my apparent indifference to their news. I'd be punished I knew. In secret. When mother was out. I sensed the pain already creeping up my flesh. Closing my eyes I wished it was a bad dream.
When the last of the mourners leaves her house, my mother sits in her armchair and stares at the small fire in the Edwardian fireplace. I stand by the window watching Uncle William close his car door and drive off.
- You needn't stay, she says quietly. I can manage.
- Am I not welcome anymore? I say still looking out of the window.
- You didn't come when your Father was alive, she says coldly.
- He wasn't my father, I reply, turning from the window.
- He did more for you than some fathers would have done, she states
looking at me briefly. Thereís not many men would have done would he did, she adds, turning to look at the fire again.
- I hope you're right, I say sharply. She turns and frowns at me.
- What do you mean? she asks with gravity. I look into her eyes and see only anger there and a sense of loneliness. What are you saying now that he's dead? She is angry now and her voice is bitter.
- How well did you know him? I ask.
- Better than you, obviously, she says sarcastically. The sides of her mouth turn down and her eyes darken. He was a good, loving man. He cared about people. He wanted what was best for you and me. And you suggest to me he was not... She breaks off and begins to cry.
I look at her and wonder if I actually know her anymore. I wonder if she ever knew him at all or if he had some kind of split personality. She cries and I go over and put my arm round her shoulder. She's thin. My arm feels her bones. Is this really my mother? I muse. There is a stiffness in her. She shrugs my arm away. You'd best go, she sobs. I stand away looking at her sitting there as if she were a stranger.
- I won't leave you like this. I move and sit opposite where he use to sit in his armchair. We must talk, I suggest softly. She looks at me with her red eyes and searches my face for a few minutes.
- What had he done, for you to be like this? she asks in a whisper. I know what to say it's on the edge of my tongue, but it won't come. I see her face and the trust she had in him and it won't come out. I thought we were a good family unit. You never tried hard to make it easy for your Father. You were always upsetting him, making him angry. She pauses and looks again at the flames. I didn't like it when he had to punish you, but he said you'd get out of hand, she resumes slowly. I look in the flames and hope he's burnt to a cinder and his ashes are scattered as far as possible from me.
- He was a bully, I state bluntly. She looks at me with her darkened eyes and shakes her head.
- He was the man I loved, she says firmly, glaring at me. I put my hand to my lips to stop the words spilling out all over her. I close my eyes, momentarily feel his presence in the armchair, and shudder. I won't have lies told against him, I won't, I won't. The room darkens as we sit staring at the flames in shared silence.
When Mother miscarried, she was gutted. Thomas did his best to comfort her, but secretly I thought he was glad. It showed not in what he said or did, but in the depths of his eyes, which I knew too well. She said she had nothing more to live for and he again did his best to convince her otherwise. I felt neglected and only the attention of him occasionally, when he thought me stepping beyond his power, made me wish I were elsewhere. She was oblivious to anything but her grief. He making the most of her mental absence decided to punish me physically for the smallest act of disobedience, or would abuse me to such a degree that it sickened me. I was glad the baby miscarried; for its sake not mine, despite the pain it caused my mother, too blind with grief to see or understand.
I don't want to go and leave her this way and tell her so. She moves about the kitchen slowly like one unfamiliar with the surroundings. She eyes are red and her cheeks puffy. She seems to be oblivious of me and touches things half-heartedly as if it were too much effort even to move.
- I can manage; she says glumly, you go back to your own place. She has aged a lot these last few days; even in his death, he has the final touch. She makes a pot of tea and cuts some fruitcake and I follow her back to the sitting room.
- I can stay a few more days, I say unconvincingly. She pours the tea into cups, which I haven't seen for years. They remind me of him. He bought them and wouldn't let me use them in case I broke them. Now I can use them and he can't stop me. You need company until you find your feet, I say looking at the cup in my hand, not at her.
- It's your father's company I need and he's dead, she says acidly.
- He wasn't my father, I state firmly. I break off; don't say what's on the tip of my tongue.
- Donít start that, not now, she moans staring at me. Her eyes focus on me hard. She looks away. Say nothing ill of the dead, she adds. She sips her tea slowly, her gaze far away. I sip my own tea and stare into the flames of the fire. The warmth touches me and a hope comes to me that maybe now itís over; itís done with. Him gone with the flames; her lost in her own grief as before. I want to say what it is that separates us, but say nothing. The gulf widens in the silence.
- Mum do you love me? I break the silence. She lifts her head and gazes at me as if I'd broken some taboo. Have you ever loved me? She frowns and moves her lips, but no sound comes. Her gaze falters and she looks away again into the flames.
- I could ask you the same question? she mutters weakly. Silence seeps in between us again and we sit for a few minutes both staring into the flames of the fire. Then she says, The answer is probably the same, she whispers to the room. And I sense he's still there listening, making judgement, waiting to punish as he always was.
- As likely as not, I whisper, as likely as not.