HELEN AND ROSALIND. | By: Terry Collett | | Category: Short Story - Family Issues Bookmark and Share


Rosalind stands near the cliff edge looking out to sea. There is a slight breeze against her face and through her hair, but she doesn't notice in her deep thoughts. Her mother's sudden death has uneased her and her father's moroseness only adds to her worries. The funeral the following day has to be got though yet and her brother Henry's return brings it own problems. She wishes she were elsewhere. Wishes she had left home when she was younger, but now it seems too late.

The sound of snapping branches makes her turn round. Through the clearing in the woods, along the path that leads down from the house, comes Helen, walking sullenly, her head bowed. Rosalind turns round and looks back at the sea, but her thoughts are elsewhere.

"I thought you said you'd never come back here?” Rosalind says when she senses Helen is near enough.

"I had to return for her funeral and for answers to unanswered questions," Helen replies. Rosalind shakes her head, but doesn't turn round.

"What do mean her, funeral? She brought you up and cared for you for sixteen years," Rosalind states firmly.

"She lied to me. You all lied to me," Helen says coldly.

Rosalind raises her hand over her brow and stares out at the horizon. "It’s beautiful here, this view," she says, her voice calmer.

Helen moves up beside her and stands looking out at the sea. For a few minutes the two women stand side by side in silence.

"I remember standing here as a child with Mother and watching the ships pass." Rosalind whispers. And for a few seconds she imagines it's her mother beside her and not Helen and that her mother's death is not real, but part of some weird nightmare.

"She lied to me," Helen says again. "You all lied to me for all those years. Pretence. One big charade." Rosalind turns and looks at Helen beside her.

"She did what she thought was best, we all did," Rosalind replies.

"And when was I to be told? When I married and needed my birth certificate? Never? "Helen asks bitterly.

"It was hard to know when to tell you. Mother thought..." Rosalind pauses.

"She wasn't my mother, was she. Years of thinking her my mother only to find out one day that you were my mother; you, the one I thought was my big sister, was, in fact, my mother." Helen glares at Rosalind and lets the words flow off in the wind.

"I was younger than you are now when I gave birth to you. Too young to know how to look after a baby, so Mother thought. She and Father had me sent away to Aunt Clare's house, and when I returned with you,Mother decided that she would pass you off as her own and I was to have nothing to do in your upbringing." Rosalind looks away from Helen's glare and stares out to sea again.

"And who is my father? Some village lad? Some one who worked here abouts?” Helen asks coldly. She feels an inclination to hit out at
Rosalind, but instead she just stares at her looking out at the sea. "Or don't you remember?" she adds.

"I was raped," Rosalind whispers. The words linger in the air.

"Raped?” Helen repeats. "You mean I am the result of a rape?”

Rosalind nods slowly, the wind brushing through her hair. "I was fourteen and quite innocent. I knew little of what was happening to me until it was too late." Rosalind stops. She bites her lower lip and feels her eyes water and for a brief moment the memory returns.

"Who raped you?” Helen asks gentler now. "Did they know? Did she know you were raped?” Rosalind nods again. She brushes her right
hand against her cheek and then pushes hair away from her eyes. "Who was it?” Helen repeats, firmer this time.

"A friend of Father's. We had known him for years. He was an officer whom Father made friends with during the war. He often bought me things and would sit me on his lap when I was a small child. I called him Uncle Edgar although he wasn't really an uncle. I thought he was
a nice man, someone to trust, someone who loved me and cared about me. Then one June afternoon when Father and Mother were away he raped me." Rosalind stops again. The image of the man comes to her mind and she closes her eyes.

"What happened to him? Was he punished?” Helen asks, her voice harder again. Rosalind turns round and gazes at Helen. She can see nothing of the man in her daughter's features and is glad.

"He hanged himself," Rosalind says quietly. "Through there," she informs pointing at the woods. Helen turns and looks at the area  behind her. She feels suddenly sick as if something has turned in her stomach. "Father found him next morning, hanging. It was all hushed up. Father informed the police that his friend had hanged himself, but said nothing about the rape."

"Nothing? Why?” Helen asks, her voice uneasy.

"Because Father didn't want the shame and fuss. And Mother wanted to protect me from any scandal that may have arisen. But I wanted you."

"Did you?”

"Yes. I didn't like what happened."

"But you let them take me over."

"I had no choice." Rosalind reaches for Helen's arm, but Helen moves away.

"We always have choices."

"Not always. Sometimes we have no choice," Rosalind says anxiously.

"If you really loved me you would have kept me as your own."

"I did love you. Each moment that Mother held you and I didn't was a painful ache that burned in me day in day out. I had to snatch moments to be with you when they weren't looking. I loved you, Helen,I loved you more than you will ever know."

"You couldn't have loved me enough," Helen says stiffly.

"I did, I did. But I was a child myself."

"I don't remember you having motherly feelings towards me," Helen says walking away a few steps. She wants to rush to her and hold her, but doesn't. She stands and watches her daughter pace close to the edge. "Not too close," she says.

"Frightened I might throw myself over?”

"It can be dangerous near the edge."

"And you really care? Maybe you could pass it off as an accident."

"Why are you being so utterly cruel?” Rosalind stares at her daughter and tries to see into her eyes as if there might be an ounce of love there, but she sees only coldness.

"Why did you all lie to me? Why after so many years do I have to find out the way I did?” Helen's face softens and her eyes water.

"Aunt Clare had no right to tell you," Rosalind says firmly.

"She thought I knew. She wasn't being disloyal, just stupid." Helen turns and walks close to her mother. "She was innocent. She was an old lady who thought you all had the honesty to have told me by now."

"It drove mother to her grave." Rosalind stands with her hands clenched beside her. She gazes at her daughter's face and wants to know what thoughts and feelings inhabit her daughter's mind. But nothing comes only the emptiness of Helen's eyes.

"And that's my fault I suppose?”

"I never said that." Rosalind pauses and looks away back at the sea and the calmness there. "You ought not to have said what you did to her. It was cruel. She loved you. She cared about you."

"She lied to me for sixteen years; that's not love, love doesn't lie." Helen looks at Rosalind gazing out at the sea.

"Doesn’t it? Love protects. Love wants to save the object of love from pain, from anxiety. She loved you, Helen, don't you ever dare forget that." Rosalind turns towards Helen and grabs her arm.

"And you? You really cared too?” Helen pulls away from her mother and walks a few feet away. "You let them take me. You let them pretend to be my parents all those years. You even pretended to be my sister and not a particularly good sister at that..." Rosalind moves towards Helen and slaps her cheek. Helen stands holding her cheek staring at her mother as if for the first time she'd actually felt closeness to her. "You hit me. Why? Was I too near the truth
for you?” Rosalind stands back and holds her hand in the other, gripping it tightly in case it should lash out again.

"I love you, you foolish girl."

Helen still holding her cheek moves closer to her mother. She stares into Rosalind's eyes and feels tears run down her cheek. "Why did you hit me? She..." Helen stops. She turns her head and stares vacantly out at sea. Neither women speaks. Silence descends upon them.

They stand side by side now staring vacantly out at the blue and green sea. Wind sweeps at their hair and dresses and moves about them
like invisible maids. Rosalind thinks back to the time her mother stood here with her and held her hand when she was a child and Helen  
thinks back to the time when Rosalind and she sat here watching the ships pass on warm summer evenings. "We use to sit here watching the
ships pass, do you remember?” Helen says, breaking the silence.

Rosalind nods her head. "Yes, I do remember. We would sit here in the evenings after dinner when mother and father had guests and they wanted us out of the way." She looks across at Helen, but all is blurred with tears.

"I remember when she hit you once," Helen says suddenly. "You had taken me here to the cliff edge and she came and found us close together. I recall her shouting at you and not knowing at the time what it was you'd done or why she should hit you so." Helen stops.

"She didn't like me to be alone with you in case..." Rosalind pauses and wipes her eyes. She sniffs and looks back at the sea. "In case I said something. About you and I and the past."

"Why did you stay?”

"I hoped that one day you'd find out the truth and I wanted to be here when you did." Rosalind turns and looks at Helen. She notices the dark wavy hair, the delicate features, the dark-brown eyes. She wishes she'd had the strength years ago to stand up to her parents and not let them take over Helen as they did.

"I ought to have been told earlier, not found out the way I did."

"Yes, you ought to have been told." Rosalind moves away from the cliff edge and walks slowly along a path down towards the sands below. Helen follows apprehensively, watching her mother's slow pace.

"I think she ought to have told me," Helen says to her mother's back. "She was the one who ought to have said something."

"The shame was too much for her to tell you," Rosalind says.

"Was it your fault you were raped? Was it your fault that animal hanged himself?” Rosalind stops and stares at her daughter.

"I ought to have stopped him. Maybe I ought to have known about things. But I trusted him." Rosalind senses tears in her eyes.

"You were fourteen and innocent."

"Ignorant. Pig ignorant." Rosalind turns away from her daughter's gaze and stares out at the sea again. Helen sees the tears in her mother's eyes and moves towards her. She stops a few feet away. She wants to take hold of her mother and shake her, slap her, hold her.

"Why did he rape you?”

"I don't know."

"Did you encourage him?”

"No. How could you think that?” Rosalind turns and looks at Helen.

"Girls do in their innocence."

"I didn't." Rosalind tries to think back, but fails to recall.

"Did you like him?”

"Yes, before he..."

"Did he hurt you?” Helen asks softly.

"Not intentionally."

"Bastard!" Helen slaps her thigh wishing it was the man's face.

"He hanged himself."


"Helen, he was your father."

"Don’t call him that. He raped you!" Helen moves closer to Rosalind. Both stand staring at each other in silence. The wind blows against them and their hair. Helen turns and stares at her mother's face. She notices the loose windswept dark hair, the delicate features, the dark-brown eyes, red and full of tears. "Did you really love me?”

"Yes. I still do." Rosalind turns and looks at Helen. "Not a moment has passed when I have not loved you. Even when I couldn't hold you and Mother kept me from you in those early years, I still loved you."

"She had no right to keep you from me. And what about Father?  Or Grandfather or whatever it is I'm supposed to call him now, what did he have to say about this?" Helen looks over her shoulder towards the woods.

"He didn't say much. I think he blamed me for it all."

"And Henry, what did he think about it all?”

"He was at boarding school most of those early years."

"Did he not have an opinion?”

"He knew you were mine, but was sworn to secrecy."

"Sworn into the lie." Helen moves forward and grabs her mother's arm. Rosalind shakes herself free and moves away from her daughter.

"Yes, yes, we all lied! We are all guilty. Now go if all you can do is hurt me." Rosalind breaks down in tears and moves further down the path to the sands. Helen watches her go for a few seconds then follows her mother until at last she catches her up and takes hold of her arm again.

"Wait...I'm sorry. I ought not to have been so cruel. It's just that it's hard to take everything in. One minute you think you have parents who are perfectly normal, an elder sister and brother and the next you find out your sister is your mother and your mother is ..."

"We lied to you. We all did. Facts are facts, but they can be hidden or misinterpreted." Rosalind puts her hand over her daughter's hand which is clutching her arm. "But I love you, no matter what else you say," Rosalind whispers.

"She died through her shame?” Helen asks softly.

Rosalind nods. "When she discovered that you knew the truth it brought on her heart trouble. And when you walked out she gave up."

"It’s not easy to forgive people who have hurt and lied to you."

"We’re all human. We all make mistakes. We do things we think are right, but we don't intentionally seek to hurt."

"You all intentionally lied." Helen releases her mother's arm.

"Yes, we did. And what a tangled web that became." Rosalind walks off down the path towards the sands. Helen follows her, but wonders if it will serve any purpose, if anything can be resolved. When they reach the sands they walk down towards the sea.

Rosalind looks out at the far off horizon. "I love standing here looking out at the sea. Years ago, this use to be my place of peace."

"And now? What is it now?”

"I don't know. I'm lost. I don't know where things are going any more." Rosalind pauses. "Remember, Helen, whatever happens, I love you."

"We have a lot of time to catch up with. So many years wasted. My life is upside down. I ought to hate you and them...But you are my mother after all and I don't want to waste more of my life hating and not forgiving." Helen links her arm through her mother's arm and squeezes it.  "Do love me?”

"Yes, more than anyone ever has or ever will." The two women stand in silence looking out at the sea with its passing ships and the far off sun in decline.

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