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Elsa May Green. Chapters thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen.

by Peter Culbert 7 months ago in Mystery

A twisted tale of want.

Elsa May Green. Chapters thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen.
Photo by Vladimir Yelizarov on Unsplash

Chapter Thirteen.

Trouble at mill.

Market square bustled with eager consumers hoping to get their hands on a bargain as I pushed my way through the hoards of vultures turned the corner onto Tavern street. Finally, I reached my chosen destination and entered the King’s head. The bar had already filled, and seating was scarce. I noticed that our usual table now played host to a bunch of college students and their technological regalia.

‘Pint of your finest please Dave,’ I said, in a somber tone.

We used these words every time we entered the pub and Dave just pulled a pint of whatever he chose, so the comments were pointless and more of a sarcastic announcement of arrival, because the beer he served tasted watered down and bitter mostly, it wasn’t the finest by any stretch of the imagination.

‘That looks nasty mate, what happened?’ said Dave, pointing out the bruise on my face.

‘Long story Dave, perhaps another time’ I replied, lifting the glass of unknown contents from the bar and making needed haste to a corner table by the window out of the sight of the world and its inhabitants.

I sat and listened to the surrounding conversations. A few tables away from me were a man and woman having a heated discussion about money or the lack thereof. Just to my right perched an elderly couple, reminiscing about their life together. I studied them, their faces eroded from the sands of time, and yet the way their eyes investigated one another was magical. It was like they were meeting for the very first moment. The elderly gent rested his thin and aged hand strategically resting on hers. To me, he sat protecting her from all foreign invaders, her knight in shining armour.

I smiled as her fingers brushed gently against his wrist. They were one, an unbreachable castle, a single intertwined soul life could never tear apart. I imagined me and Elsa at that very table, sharing a precious piece of time in the winter of our existence. Our years together crammed with adventure and pure love, yet I knew recognised my thoughts as nothing more than a pipedream.

My sweet reverie was demolished by the sound of unmistakable voices, shattering my blissful daydream as I switched my view from the elderly couple to the bar to the horror that presented itself to my vision. It was Michael, Elsa, Ruben, and Gabriel. I quickly dragged myself out of my glare and stared down at the contents of my glass. But something inside of me would not let me shy away from this moment. The words my father had used occasionally rang in my mind like the bells in the old church.

‘Cometh the hour, cometh the man, son.’

That hour had certainly cometh, I would not back down, no matter what. There was a monster inside of me, a fighter was ready to battle.

‘Please don’t see me, please don’t see me,’ I thought, using the bar menu as a makeshift invisibility cloak as the warrior inside me decided he would hide rather than let himself get hurt.

I peered over the menu and straight into the eye line of Gabriel. He was nudging them all to inform them all of my presence, but his actions did not deter me, I would not get up and leave with my tail between my legs like I had done so many times before.

I picked up the menu lying on the table with a sense of nonchalance and I perused the selection of savoury bar offerings.

There was everything you could want, from pickled eggs to ham sandwiches. I knew I had no intention of buying any snacks, I just attempted to create an invisibility cloak to shroud me from existence and hopefully force my foes to concentrate on something else. I also saw the state of the Kitchen, the rats packed their bags and left many months ago. It still surprised me to this day that they allowed him to sell food.

I stared aimlessly at the menu, choosing to lift my eyes every few moments to see if they were still there. They had taken ownership of our usual spot, forcing the college brigade to perch at the bar, much to their disgust. I eyed my empty throne at the knight’s table; it looked lost, desolate, and its sorrow slowly pushed a dark shadow across the dusty floor, gripping my ankles and ascending upward to my very core, bringing with it a new sense of sadness and loss.

I sneakily peeped at them laughing and chatting as if nothing had happened, it was then I realised the value they attached to my friendship.

‘Here lies Thomas Atkins, the cad, the scoundrel, the womaniser, R I P’ I thought, and yet something inside of me still only felt fifty percent to blame. Part of me yearned to take a stand, walk over and drag my chair from under their table, place it in the middle of the room and sit on it. The immature part of me wanted to.

‘How could they behave in this way, like they didn’t even know me, I created the bloody group, how dare they treat me like a piece of shit!’

To act so cold towards me and so warm toward each other, they knew I was here, in the pub, and they had tossed my position of a friend to the wolves. I could feel them, especially Michael staring at me and it was getting a little bothersome, so I lifted my head and countered his stare with an icy glare of my own, my grimace had the desired effect as he turned away and flung himself into their childish conversation once again. I wanted Elsa to look, but she didn’t. She was lying low and doing her absolute best to get back into bed with Ruben and the other two.

The wooden clock on the torn papered wall chimed as the contents of my glass ebbed away, leaving an abyss of emptiness. The glass represented me and my life, a big fat pot of nothingness. I began growing tired of the sight of them all but aware it was time for a refill of my existence, but first, a pint of Dave’s so-called finest, and I would not allow the jokers at the table intimidate me, so I rose like a warrior to my feet and mounted my trusty steed with one goal in mind, liquid refreshment.

I could see Elsa laughing and flouncing herself around like a madwoman possessed as I closed in on the bar. My legs felt weak, my brow sweaty, and my throat tight, but my sense of resolve was resolute.

‘Never again shall I let anybody push me around or take the piss out of me!’ I thought, leaning against the bar.

‘Pint of your finest please Dave’ I said authoritatively while avoiding any eye contact with the four familiar strangers close by.

‘Problems at Mill?’ whispered Dave as he put the glass down.

‘You could say that.’

A large part of me wanted to retreat to the safety of the rickety old table which now served as my makeshift and lonely drinking home.

There was a small of me, though that was not willing to raise the white flag in surrender. I had as much right to be there as they did, and that tiny devil in me ordered my legs to move toward them all.

‘I feel sorry for you, all of you, you sit here laughing and giggling as if I don’t exist, you should be ashamed of yourselves, with so-called friends like you, who the hell needs enemies!’ were the next words thrust out of my mouth courtesy the trident wielding devil on my shoulder.

‘We do not want any trouble in here, take it outside Tom!’ said Dave, who had overheard my comments and made his way back to me.

‘Just leave it alone mate, we don’t want to start anything here, we expressed our opinion toward the situation earlier, you have made your bed and there is nothing more to add!’ replied Michael awkwardly.

‘Oh, why don’t you just shut up peg leg, you knew how I felt, you have always known!’ I screamed, much to his embarrassment.

I was furious, mainly with Elsa, but with them all for the way they behaved toward me.

‘Grow up Thomas and leave us alone!’ shouted Elsa. At last, she spoke, not the words I had hoped for, but at least she wasn’t a mute anymore.

‘Oh, do not fear I shall, I am the fool here, I get that but let me tell you all I have sat around listening to the rubbish you all spout for far too long. Well no more,’ I howled back, walking towards her.

Ruben had made his way around the table and placed himself firmly between me and Elsa. His actions just added fuel to the raging behemoth that had woken inside of me.

‘Leave us alone, nobody wants you here Tom, you are making a show of yourself.’

‘Well, your girlfriend wanted me last night, she could not take her hands off me!’

‘I suggest you leave and leave now Tom before you get another taste of what I did to you by the river!’

‘You better drop that attitude, or you won't believe what happens next, even when it's happening Ruben!'

'You stole that line from a Clint Eastwood movie Tom!'

'No, I didn't, and anyway, what is I bloody did.'

‘Enough you lot, Tom, go back over there and Ruben you sit down or I will bar you all,’ snapped Dave who by this time had rolled up his sleeves in preparation of a five-person ejection from his premises.

I refused to be the first to turn my back, not this occasion, I grinned as he backed away from me, with his tail between his legs. Part of me justified standing my ground against him, but something hurt. We had been the closest in the group growing up, and even though I had held a profound love for Elsa, I too carried strong respect and fondness toward Ruben. We were brothers in arms, bounded by time and events that saw us feigning off bullies and defending each other to the hilt. Every ounce of our camaraderie lay smashed to smithereens on the floor of the King’s Head.

I eventually retreated back to my table with my head held high and sat quietly. I had forced a retreat from Ruben, but my moment of bravado left me with an even greater sadness of the loss.

‘All of this despair for one stupidly blissful and sensual kiss!’ I thought.

My mind slipped back to the unusual moments at the river earlier and the words scribed into the makeshift cross.

If this was a message for me, then I knew I would not find the answer staring into the bottom of a beer glass. There was something I needed to do, one person I yearned to connect with, and there is no better time than now.

I chose not to finish my pint as the bitter taste in my mouth from having to hear them sullied the contents of the glass. I quietly exited the pub and made my way along the street.

There was one place I could go to, one spot on this miserable planet where I felt alone and part of something, the cemetery to visit my Mother. The visit was more than overdue as it had been months since my last one. I had always found it difficult to imagine her there, lifeless and trapped for all time. I was aware though that I needed to make more of an effort to see her.

My mind was again awash with many thoughts, questions unanswered, like why she took her life and why my father bolted. I knew that my mother could not answer me in person but being there close to where she lay helped cleanse my troubled soul.

Last evening was a beautiful disaster that had added to the list of regrets, and yet through it all I not bear the thought of losing Elsa, my heart ached at the prospect of never getting to see her again, to laugh with her, to feel her silken locks brush against my skin, to inhale her sweet scent. Even after the comments in the Kings Head moments before and the fact, my allegiance with them received a massive blow, one that may be beyond repair. I wanted them; I needed them all and if there was a flickering light of hope, then maybe I stood a chance of having them all back in my life, but for now, I was happy to let them be.

The sun shone brightly as I crossed the market square and headed toward the cemetery. With each step I took a small piece of the troubles between myself and the other four fell to the ground like tiny pebbles. I could not remain angry with them, I had no right too, I just hoped over time they would relinquish any feelings of loathing and we may bond again.

The cemetery seemed bleak as the silence swelled my void. The branches from trees had warped themselves around the entrance gate, holding the steel in their restraint. The gravestones lonely and haunting, many of them dating back hundreds of years and a few that read merely a few days old. Their stature and shape differed with each I passed, some minimal, some colossal, and a few graves represented by a single wooden cross to mark a cherished one’s passing. My Mother’s effigy was an unassuming black marble representation, but to me, it was massive, a vast heart-breaking reminder of her and who she was. Bygone remains of floral tributes showered the ground near her grave, and the overgrown vegetation wrapped over her name, imprisoning her as an everlasting hostage. I tugged at the greenery and rubbed at the surface. To reveal her.

‘I miss you, Mum, why did you abandon me, my heart yearns for your loving words and embrace today you as It did back then. I wish you could be here to carry me the way you did when I was a little boy. Life is so bleak without you to guide me down the correct path, I need your help!’ I whispered, cradling the monument as a solitary tear spilled from my eyes and rolled down the black marble.

A part of me could sense her presence every time I visited like she was sitting there with me, holding me and keeping me safe.

‘I made such a terrible mistake Mum, I lost them all, I don’t know what to do to make it better, please help me,’ I whispered yearning for a reply, but one did not come.

I knew she didn’t have the answers for me but just being there and venting my problems usually helped me see the sense of my life, but this time, my heart was overcome by an even greater feeling of loss not only had my parents abandoned, my friends too. The deep, sickening sadness that ran through my core stood as a reminder. Elsa had been like a sister to me and Michael a big brother, guiding me through the sad moments and offering many good times. Ruben and Gabriel were the jokers that made me laugh when I wanted to cry, straightened me out when I strayed from the path. The four of them tirelessly, with no thought for their own needs, shielded me from the torment of losing my mother and father. Now they were nothing more than ghosts that would haunt my existence. All that remained was Aunt Mary and memories.

For every question I asked that day, more would replace, spilling another drop of sadness from my full to the brimming heart. I sobbed, more than I have ever grieved before, I was like a child again who needed cuddling, a mere baby in need of comfort.

Through my tsunami of tears, I realised something particularly important, a thing I never questioned until this point in my life. The disappearance of my friendship with them all created an exit, a gateway I kept locked for so long but should have opened and stepped through many years ago. They innocently stopped my grieving process with their protection of me. Being free of them allowed the dam of misery to crash open and empty my heavy heart onto the hallowed ground where I knelt. I felt released.

I spent the entire afternoon at the place of her rest and my emotional resurrection; the ground stained with each tear. My heart once bursting with sadness was empty and allowed me to bury the guilt that I once felt in the soil next to my mother. It was also clear to me that what happened between me and Elsa occurred for a reason. If it had not, my once friends would not have abandoned me. If they hadn’t, I could never free myself from the prison of misery I carried around for so very long. They released me from the chains of torment that held me open to roam unhindered by the past, to find myself once more and more importantly, to love again.

I said my goodbyes to my mother and left the cemetery with a sense of reinvigoration. This was a new chapter in my story, the start of something good. I resigned myself to losing my friends and relinquished the guilt I had attached to my mother’s death for so long. There was one more thing I needed to do, the singular event I had dreaded more than anything in my life but also longed for so many years, and it would be a time I finally laid a haunting ghost to rest. Today was going to be the day I faced my father.

Chapter Fourteen.

Death, departure and, delight.

Heading back to my apartment that day, I felt focused and determined; I yielded a strength, an inner fortitude which eluded me for a long time. I headed into the bedroom and rifled through the papers in the bedside drawer until I came across an old torn piece of paper bearing an address my father had given my aunt. I never knew it existed until three years when I found it tucked between the pages of my aunt's telephone book.

‘This is going to be one hell of a day, no matter what happens, it is time he manned up and gave me the answers I craved since a teen!’ I thought, rubbing the old piece of notepaper between my thumb and forefinger.

The thought of seeing him terrified me, I could not face any more rejection, but in some respects, it no longer mattered. I wanted answers, and I would not leave it for one more day. Whatever happened today would ultimately help or hinder the pain I dragged around for so many years. I recognised that his response to my questioning would either seal the lid of hurt or blow the box wide open and with it send me into a hate-filled frenzy.

I picked up my car keys and headed back outside and into the garage as I fiddled with to open the door of my dusty brown Austin Allegro, left to me by Uncle Sid in his will. It was a relic; struggled to drive up steep hills, often giving up completely and seeing me get out and push. The perfect vehicle for my him; a cantankerous old bugger just like he was, God, rest his soul.

Wiping away the moisture that had built up from the inside of the windscreen before starting her up and reversing out onto the street. I drove for forever, questioning my motives. My heart and mind telling me he may refuse to see me, maybe I reminded him of Mum and his loss of her.

Perhaps that is why he left. No matter the reason I carried on determined to face him and yet for each mile I travelled my anxiety grew just a little more.

Eventually, I came to a stop outside an old victorian house with a black front door. This is it; I had arrived. Nerves abound, I knew that running back home would not help. What stood before me were unanswered questions since a teenager, and today was the day of reckoning. I paused for a moment on the pathway, turning and facing the gate and then looking back to face my demons. The anxiety I attempted to drag me backward toward the car, but I held on tightly and forced my limbs to edge nearer, before rapping at the woodwork. I had made it, there was no leaving now.

‘Who is it?’ asked a female voice from behind the door.

‘Hi sorry you don’t know me, my name is Tom, Tom Jarvis I am….’

The creaking of the door closed my words. A young girl with an enormous smile on her face greeted me.

‘Thomas you came to see us I always thought you would, I just knew it!’ she said excitedly jumping up in the doorway.

I couldn’t understand who the little girl was and why she seemed so excited to see me, I had never met her in my life.

'How do you know my name? I asked before another voice joined the unusual conversation.

‘Who is it, Darling?’ the voice asked.

‘Mummy it’s Thomas, Thomas is here!’ she shouted excitedly.

‘Oh, my word, it is you, you came to see us, I am so very pleased’ said an older lady who had walked down the hallway and laid her hand on the shoulders of the young girl. I was still in a state of shock as I looked into this lady’s eyes, they seemed to express love, love for me perhaps, and yet I didn’t have a clue who she was.

‘I do not wish to come across as rude, but who are you?’ I asked politely.

‘Thomas, my name is Shirley, and this is Nicole, please come in and I will explain. I think there are a few things we need to chat about,’ she said in a caring manner.

I wanted to scarper but then I remembered that Aunt Mary mentioned the name Shirley occasionally and not with good favour, however, the lady stood before me seemed kind and caring nothing like the picture my aunt drew of her.

‘Yes, I would love to come in, thank you.’

Walking through the hallway, I stopped to glance at the family portraits which adorned the paisley wallpaper, stopping at a black-and-white picture of my Father.

‘You look like him, you do.'

'He spoke about you all the time Thomas; he was so enormously proud of you and how you had dealt with the sad times.'

I wanted to say to her; I wish he hadn’t abandoned me, thrown me away like a piece of rubbish. I couldn’t, I felt calm, warm even, and her words instilled confidence that my father would be happy to see me after all this time apart. Maybe we could rekindle all the years lost.

‘You must have a lot of questions, Thomas, but first, let me introduce you to your sister Nicole.’

Her words nearly knocked me from my chair, I had a real sister. I couldn’t understand how a part of me in the shape of this beautiful little girl existed without my knowledge. I was beyond angry with him and I craved to confront the bastard. I needed answers; I deserved them, even if his excuses left me with another hole in my chest.

‘Is my father here, I wondered if I may speak with him, please?’

I studied Shirley the light in the eyes disappeared, Nicole moved in closer to her wrapping her arms around her mother.

‘You did not know did you, Thomas, I am so dreadfully sorry, I cannot believe your aunt never told you.'

'Told me what?'

‘I am so sorry Thomas, your father passed away last November. I wrote to you, we even called to ask to speak with you. We would have loved you being there that day when we said goodbye to him. He adored you.'

I was numb, confused, and heartbroken, my conscious struggled to make sense of the words being spoken to me. My world had just crumbled around my ears.

‘I don’t understand what you are saying to me, my father left me, he abandoned me.'

‘This is all I have from my father, just an address,’ I sobbed.

Shirley picked up the piece of paper, studying it before letting out a sigh.

‘Oh Thomas, I am so sorry, this is part of a letter your father penned to you. I know this because I recognise the paper from his writing pad, he wrote to you many times and posted the letters for your aunt to give you, he felt…’

‘Felt, felt what?’

‘It doesn’t matter Thomas, we are just so happy you came.'

‘Please tell me, please tell me what he felt, I need to know!’

Shirley recoiled awkwardly in her chair at the prospect of answering my question.

‘Thomas, you are right, your father left, but he never abandoned you, he adored you more than anything. That day he dropped you with your Aunt Mary, broke him inside, but he could not cope at the time following the loss of your mother. He did struggle through the years, not with just your mother’s passing but with your absence in his life, his son. He wrote you a letter every month to tell you how much he loved you and to let you know how he was getting along. He wanted to come to get you and bring you here to live with us.'

‘He wrote to explain how we met and our journey together, with some trepidation, but he wanted to share his life with you. He told me about the birth of your sister and the milestones like starting to walk. Nicole even put some pictures in with the envelopes for you, I don’t know what happened to his letters Thomas, but he addressed them to your aunt’s home; I am so sorry.’

I could see the tears building up in her eyes as I placed my hand on hers. It was not her fault or little Nicole’s and yet I still did not understand what was happening.

‘It is okay you don’t have to explain I am the cause of too much upset in my life Shirley, please forgive me,’ I replied looking deep into her worn eyes.

‘He loved you so much Thomas, he assumed you chose not to see him as you never responded to any letters, he understood but felt heartbroken. He visited your aunt's home countless times, but she said you didn’t want any contact with him, I am so sorry.’

I couldn’t grasp what I was hearing, I didn’t receive any letters, the day he left was the last I saw or heard from him and yet I was sitting in a strange kitchen with two familiar strangers having a conversation about him, nothing sounded real, it all seemed like a nightmare unfolding before me. My heart ached, broken by the fact my dad had died and wanting to see me one last time.

‘I don’t understand, I mean he left, and I never saw him again, and to be honest, I just thought he didn’t want to see me?’ I asked, staring at them both in search of answers.

I was so confused, I couldn’t understand what had happened to all the letters he had written. Surely my aunt would not keep them from me, she loved me and wanted to protect me but she wouldn’t directly or indirectly try to hurt me, she just couldn’t.

‘Thomas, I am not sure what has happened to the countless letters he wrote, but if you take one thing from your visit here today, please take the knowledge he loved you more than life. Never forget.’

‘I do not know what to say.'

‘Mummy, Mummy may I show Thomas my room?’ asked Nicole excitedly, wrenching me out of my weary thoughts.

‘I am sure Thomas doesn’t want to see your room right now darling, right now is probably not the time,’ Shirley replied, noticing the tears in my eyes.

‘It’s ok, I mean if it’s okay with you Shirley then I would love to see her room.'

‘If it is okay with you Thomas, then yes please go ahead.’

‘Thank you and please call me Tom,’ I said offering her a warm smile.

‘Thank you, Tom, you two explore and I will finish the dinner,’ said Shirley smiling.

Even though I was in a strange place with two strangers I felt as If I had known both my entire life and part of something, something new and exciting.

‘Come on Thomas, come on, let’s go!’ said Nicole excitedly as she pulled me by the hand down the hallway towards the stairs.

Part of me felt like a child as I followed her into her room. The unicorn wallpaper served as a delightful backdrop to shelves of endless teddy bears. The white carpet played host to a pink and yellow bear rug, and her four-poster princess bed finished this pure little girl’s wonderland to perfection. While Nicole could not remove the sadness that filled my heart, just the sight of her giggling made the perfect distraction.

‘I love your room Nicole, it’s wonderful!’

‘Daddy did it, he painted it and everything!’ she said, gliding around the bedroom with pride.

Perching on the edge of Nicole’s bed, I picked up a picture of my Dad and Shirley that stood between a pink box and an oval mirror on her bedside table. I stared at the reflection and smiled. I knew that he had been as good a Dad to me as circumstance would allow, and a fantastic father and husband to the little girl I sat with and her mother.

As I placed the frame back, my consciousness drew to another photo tacked to Nicole’s wall above a white chair, as I moved closer, I could see it was my father and Nicole holding paper boats in front of a river, the sight of this image filled me with memories and flooded my heart with the ache I felt only moments before, it was a carbon copy of a picture I had in my room at the apartment of me and him, I smiled, a tear came to my eye, I sighed.

‘I have missed you so much Thomas, I am so happy you are here, do you like my teddies’ said Nicole dangling her little legs over her bed and rocking back and forth with a massive smile on her face as her chocolate brown eyes fixated on my face.

I sensed an unusual warmth to her; I had only ever held for my Mother and Elsa. This was different though, nurturing and protective. At that moment I cherished this little girl, my sister Nicole. I stood at the precipice of a new and exciting chapter, and all the moments of heartache for my Dad began draining from my soul, replaced in my heart by the look in her eyes.

This tiny dot who looked so similar to him being the missing piece of my life; we talked that night; I spoke of him and the times I and him spent together, I would often catch her looking at me with awe, I had never seen this before but I embraced it; I felt special; I morphed into her big brother, and I knew it was the perfect thing to be.

‘Dinner time kids!’ shouted Shirley from the bottom of the stairs.

My nose followed the wonderful bouquet of home-cooked food, an aroma that took me back to my days with my mother. We giggled as we ran down the stairs and into the kitchen; I was six again, and it felt exhilarating. The feast was laden before me straight from the table of kings, meats, vegetables, and the most delicious looking Yorkshire puddings.

‘I hope this is okay, Tom?’ asked Shirley, smiling nervously.

‘Okay, this is more than okay, this is amazing Shirley!’ I replied, taking a napkin.

‘Sit next to me, Thomas, sit next to me!’ said Nicole excitedly.

I sat as Shirley placed an enormous chunk of beef and a mountain of vegetables and potatoes on my plate.

‘Mummy can I and Thomas have milk please?’ asked little Nicole, holding her glass up and smiling.

‘You can darling however, I think our guest may prefer a glass of wine,’ replied Shirley brandishing a bottle of Italy’s finest.

‘Wine would be fabulous Shirley as long as Nicole doesn’t mind,’ I giggled.

‘I don’t mind, you are old so you can drink wine!’ harped Nicole.

I couldn’t help but giggle. The way she spoke, her demeanour, her youthful look at the world was infectious. I felt at home, wanted, welcome, and wonderful. I replaced the loss I carried in my heart for my friends with a sense of new hope, excitement, and a chance to do something good in life.

We sat there, the three of us for the whole evening, chatting about Dad. I listened to Nicole as she recounted their time together, the holidays, the days out, the fun they had. Now and again her voice would drop with sadness. I knew it must have been so exceedingly difficult for her to be so young when he died, just as it was for me when my mother passed away. I dropped in the odd childish joke that I kept locked in my repertoire, which sent little her into fits of hysterics. The night ended for her perfectly.

‘I think it’s time for your bed now Nicole, say good night to Tom,’ said Shirley lovingly.

‘Mummy please let me stay up longer, please, please, please,’ she replied.

‘Beddie’s young lady, it’s time for your beauty sleep, Tom will be back, won’t you, Tom?’ asked Shirley with yearning in her eyes, I looked at them both as they stared at me with sheer hope.

‘I will, I promise you, Nicole, you won’t be able to get rid of me!’ I exclaimed, giggling.

‘Yay, we can make boats and go to the park to play on the swings and everything’ said this excited little girl before placing a big sloppy kiss on my cheek and hugging me tightly. I wrapped my arms around her and held her; the moment felt so normal and it was magical.

My heart swelled as her beautiful soft face pressing against mine, I wanted this embrace to last forever.

‘Would you like to join me in the living room, Thomas?’

‘That would be lovely Shirley but please allow me to wash the dishes, it’s the least I can do.'

‘That’s very kind of you, Thomas, but I have a specific way of doing them. Thank you for being so thoughtful, but it’s fine, I will do them later,’ she said.

Her words relieved me; I was terrible at washing dishes.

The living room mantelpiece a focal point for the family portraits that stood proudly side by side on its surface. From trips away to what looked like Nicole’s first day at school, she expressed such perfection in her little uniform. I picked up the centre picture of Dad and Shirley, Shirley beautiful in a long white dress with my father looking proud standing next to her.

‘Ah, what a wonderful day. Your father chose that wedding dress for me. I still have it hanging in the wardrobe next to his suit. He was such a handsome man,’ she said, smiling.

I watched as this woman ran her finger across his face. She looked besotted by the reflection staring back at her.

‘It has been a bit of a whirlwind for you this evening, hasn’t it, Tom?!’ she asked.

‘A whirlwind is an understatement Shirley, it’s almost like I have stepped directly into a new life and left my old one in the past.'

I knew there were a lot of questions inside me I hoped she could answer. I had now replaced all those years of contempt for this man with sadness, joy, and confusion, and each emotion sat side by side in my mind.

‘Would you like to know more about him, Thomas?’ she asked sensitively.

‘I would love to know more please Shirley,’

Shirley explained that she met my father many years ago at a dance in their local sports hall, I knew Dad enjoyed a good boogie, so her words did not surprise me. She told of the time they first encountered each other and that his dark eyes consumed her, knowing at that very moment she loved him and needed to be with him. She giggled telling me how nervous she felt that evening but gained the courage to walk over to him, taking him by the hand into the middle of the floor, and spent the next few moments in his arms swaying back and forth. Recalling how the music ended swiftly and as quickly as she found him, he had gone. Her fears at never seeing this man again broke her heart, however by complete coincidence they met again. He took a job as a plumber, and by complete fortune, she had rung his company to fix a burst pipe in the loft. He turned up; she melted into him and the rest is history.

Nicole, born seven years ago and their only child, the apple of her Dad’s eye she told me, however, a part of him missing, she would see the longing in him, a wish for the absent piece of his puzzle, me his one and only son. She smiled, telling me how my father would often mention me to friends and all the love he held for me. She recounted how proud he was of me and how desperately sad it made him leave me, but at the time was not in a fit state to look after me.

The letters he had sent were his only way of contact as my aunt’s number had changed and the times he drove to the house and knock on the door to no avail.

‘Could I ask how he passed away Shirley?’

‘Cancer Tom, it was a quick parting, no pain, he had come home complaining of a headache on Friday and by the Monday,’ her voice crackled as she struggled to hold back the sadness prevalent inside her.

‘I never knew about any of it, the letters, his life with you and Nicole, I have spent so many years blaming him for everything and now I feel stupid, so stupid,’ I said staring at her for help and direction.

‘You have nothing to be sorry for Tom, I can completely understand, I am just so happy you visited this evening and I hope the words about the love your father felt for you will bury some demons and help you,’ Shirley said.

She was right, I could now lay the ghost of my father to rest, the anger and hatred I spent many years feeling toward him had ebbed away and replaced with happy thoughts and I would remember him for the man he was to me, my Dad and he adored me, and I loved him again.

‘Would you like to stay the night, Thomas, we have a spare room?’

Noting I consumed three glasses of wine, I took Shirley up on her offer and headed to the spare room to lay my head for the night. The cursed memories of my Dad could settle now, but there was another outrage brewing inside of me, a fury stronger than before, and tomorrow I would confront my Aunt Mary. I demanded answers; I wanted to know why she hid all my father’s letters away from me.

Had I not come to this house this evening; I would have spent the rest of my days hating a man who did not deserve my hatred. Her actions, if true, would devastate me, either way, I would face her.

Chapter Fifteen.

September 23rd, 2007.

I awoke from the most blissful sleep in years; the surroundings unfamiliar for a moment however the two glasses of wine, which, by my consumption standards, merely a small indulgence and left my mind recalling our conversation last evening and the devastating actions of my aunt. This clarity made me more determined to head home and confront her. I quickly got dressed, knowing time was of the essence.

Ambling down the stairs, I stopped to see Shirley and Nicole from the hallway, sat in the kitchen eating breakfast. They looked so perfect and for a second thrust my memory back to when I and my mother would sit and eat together before school.

‘You do not have to leave yet, Tom, I am making breakfast in a moment.’

The fact is, I did. My heart and mind focused on answers from one woman and why she had behaved so reprehensibly.

I meandered down the hallway towards them, I could see the look of disappointment in the eyes of the little girl who was now an additional and wondrous part of my reality.

‘I have to go as there is something I need to do, but I will be back. I promise you, Nicole,’ I said, kneeling before her and stroking her soft cheek.

‘Take this Thomas, something to remember me by!’ said Nicole holding a paper boat bearing the name H M S Nicomas. It took me a few moments to realise this word formed both our names, and the writing was that of my dad’s.

‘Daddy always said this was the best boat he had ever made!’ her eyes were sad and yet hopeful.

‘Thank you, Nicole, I will cherish it forever, but I need not remember you as it would take a million soldiers and more to stop me seeing you, and even, they couldn’t stop me,' I announced hugging her before saying my goodbyes and making haste to the car.

I had replaced the thoughts of my friends or lack thereof with a succinct focus, one goal, the need for answers. My heart aching with despair and love for my dad more than ever before. I stopped for a moment to look at the tiny paper boat, before placing it gently on my dashboard. I sighed, started the engine, and drove back toward town.

Pulling up outside my Aunt’s house, a sense of foreboding and a feeling of deep anger toward her met me, however, even though I wanted to rush in all guns blazing, I needed to give her have the chance to explain. I wrestled with my keys, forcing them into the lock of her door and walking in.

‘Aunt Mary, where are you?’

‘I am in the parlour, Thomas.'

My aunt ancient in her outlook and terminology and referred to the living room as a parlour, also archaic in furniture and decor. She was sitting in her favourite chair by the light of the window, her silver hair adorning her pale and aged skin. I sat down before her, not knowing what would happen now, but I knew I needed resolve.

‘I saw them, aunt.’

‘Saw who, Thomas?’

I paused for a moment, frightened that what I was about to unravel onto the parlour floor may end up devastating her and creating a wound that would remain open for eternity. She, before yesterday, signalled the remaining member of my family and the thought of losing her was unbearable, but I couldn’t be quiet about this. She had deceived me; she took my father from me.

‘Shirley and Nicole, you remember them, don’t you, aunt? She married my dad, and they have a daughter, a beautiful little sister I didn’t know of until yesterday existed!’

‘The words that come out of your mouth next will determine whether I see you again!’

My Aunt sighed, placing her bone china teacup gently back onto the saucer before looking at me.

‘I tried to protect you, Thomas, I am sorry, please understand,’ she said.

That poor excuse of an explanation was not what I deserved after all these years of torment, all the pain. The night’s crying on her shoulder; the days watching fathers playing with their children yearning for that to be me and my Dad. Her answer was not good enough, not by a country mile.

‘That’s bullshit protect me from what, a sister?’ who adores me, or my dad, who loved me, he wanted me in his life, he was proud of me and wanted to see me, he even knocked on your door. You stole that love; you have taken him away from me.'

‘Where are the letters he wrote, what have you done with them?'

‘Thomas I am so sorry, I didn’t want to lose you, it’s selfish I know, please I am begging you, please forgive me!’ she begged.

I couldn’t forgive her; she had betrayed me in a way that I never thought possible.

‘You know what hurts the most, I sat and cried on your shoulder while you tucked away all the letters, out of my sight, I grieved for him, I longed for him!’

‘Who does this to someone they claim they love so much, you promised me you would never upset me, and yet you have hurt me more than anyone else in the world! Right now, I cannot forgive you!’

My aunt stood up tentatively, her arms stretched out ‘I am sorry, I just wanted.’

‘I know what you wanted, to imprison me for yourself, well you achieved your goal because he died, my Dad is dead, I hope you are happy now, I hate you!’ I shouted before turning my back on her and walking out of the parlour, and heading to the front door, slamming it hard behind me.

Wrestling with my key fob and removing her keys, posting them through the letterbox. Days of being kicked around like an old football on a sodden pitch were over. No more would anyone fool me about anything, no more would I go through life without being the Captain of my ship. I walked away from her house and across the market square toward the King’s Head. Mind and soul wounded by a woman who promised she would never hurt me. The bar was quiet as I entered, which was perfect as the silence would help me gather my thoughts and emotions, which were all over the place.

Dave whistling while polishing the glassware, the atmosphere foggy with the pungent smell of his cigar.

‘Tom, Sunday greetings to you, what can I get you?’ he asked, reaching behind the bar for a bottle of my customary tipple.

‘Just a lemonade please Dave.’

Dave looked behind me in amazement, as if I was a puppet being controlled by the invisible sobriety puppeteer.

‘Are you ill, Tom?’

‘Ill, no Dave, I am not, I’ve had better days but not ill.’

‘Oh, okay, well a lemonade it is then. If trade carries on like this today, I may afford a bag of chips for dinner,’ he said sarcastically.

He was right; I understood his shock. My love of red wine flourished from the day I tasted it, and Elsa, that sublime day at Badgers rest. I self-medicated for a time to forget the pain following the loss of my mother and my Dad. I am sure if I had the chance to do it all again, I would be still be standing here in the King’s Head today asking for the same glass of lemonade, much to Dave’s disbelief.

I sat upon the blade of a double-edged sword near the window of the bar that day, meeting Nicole and Shirley last night was amazing, but then finding out my father passed away and my Aunt kept a secret from me for all this time took my sense of euphoria and threw it down the toilet. The effervescence of the lemonade did not tickle my taste buds, I needed a change.

‘Dave, scratch that, I have changed my mind. A large glass of red please,’ I said walking back to the bar.

‘That’s better Tom, I could be in line for fish and chips after all!’

He placed the glass before me and headed into the back, I was alone in this empty place with a heart rich with love, a mind full of questions, and a weary soul.

I had found a hidden treasure, buried old memories, and faced my demons in the space of a whirlwind twenty-four hours.

‘Here’s to you Dad, I love you’ I whispered, raising my wine glass in honour of him.

I moved away from the bar and took a seat by the window, pulling the crumpled paper boat Nicole had given to me out of my pocket and staring at it. The sight of the tiny craft invoked a gushing torrent of images. This man I had seen as nothing but a bastard from the age of sixteen, yearned for me and cared for me. Chuckling to myself at the thought of him tickling me on the bed to wake me in the morning, and both of us sitting by the fire toasting our feet after our time by the river. He said he loved me; he told me every moment I saw him; he called me his little superstar. Me and you forever, Tom, me and you, he would say. I sat there emptying the newly found recollections of him onto the table, and with each reminder, my smile grew wider and wider.

‘Me and you forever Dad’ I whispered to myself as a single joyful tear fell from my eye and hit the paper boat pressed firmly against my heart.

I placed the little symbol carefully into my shirt pocket and leaned in my chair. I sat laughing through the tears as the metamorphosis of memory blackness evolved before me, creating a myriad of times and moments with this man. I realised I no longer desired to hide in the scrummage of my friends to protect myself. What I required was to open my heart and allow the past to flourish inside of me again like the daisies that flourished in their hundreds on Badgers rest. The next couple of hours were reflective, just me, my paper boat, and my glass of wine. My mind was repairing itself and it felt wonderful as I remembered my Dad and welcomed in my love for my sister.

Time transcended and wine glasses tripled; I looked at the dusty old clock on the wall, time was ticking so I decided it was time to leave.

‘Cheers Dave, I might see you later,’

‘Cheers Tom, not if I see you first,’

I departed the King’s head with a newfound sense of who I am, my soul took flight, releasing all the past misery attached to Dad. There was another fraught journey facing me today. A task no matter how much it scared me, a duty I could not walk away from. Walking down Anchor street and across the market square before arriving outside Elsa’s. The curtains were closed, the house was beautifully bleak. Maybe her home always appeared dark and cold like this and I never noticed, preferring to focus my concentration on her and her alone. It was obvious at that moment I had replaced my love for her with stark reality. I reached into my pocket, pulling out the pink envelope I had pondered over just days before. I knew, irrespective of the outcome, I had to wish her a happy birthday. It was the right thing to do. I crept up the garden path. My nerves got the better of me opting to post the card through the letterbox than face her. Nervously I pushed it through, then the door flung open. It was Elsa; she looked appealingly vexed.

‘Nice to see you made the effort Thomas to come and wish me a happy birthday, or were you just going to run away with your tail between your legs?’

Her words lit a firestorm in me. Who was she to talk to me about effort, only days before she had hung me on a makeshift cross and crucified me.

‘Yes, well, I found the card in the reduction bin at the shop, a bargain at one pound fifty, so I thought why not, you are worth it!’

She sighed, looking down at the floor and shaking her head.

‘Sometimes I don’t even know who you are Thomas, one minute you are up and the next you’re down. I have put up with it because I never wanted to see you hurt, but enough is enough, if you can’t be happy for me and Ruben then so be it, you can add your misery to the cross attached to you for a lifetime, alongside every other demon you carry around with you!’

‘Yes, you are right, I carry my problems around with me. However, unlike you I possess a heart, which incidentally has shattered many times over the years but I wouldn’t expect you to understand. I live by a code, one that I am immensely proud of, with it comes morals and feelings, camaraderie and comradery, I will never stop living by it, not for you or anybody else. I hope you have a lovely birthday! goodbye, Elsa.’

I had abandoned her, left her behind, this woman I craved for all my life, cherished with every single ounce of me and it hurt, it wounded deep but I would never let her see this. I felt different, strong, and in control of myself again. There was another lady in my world now, a girl who had I met for the first time yesterday and loved instantly, this tiny little dot with flowing locks needed me as I did her.

Mystery

Peter Culbert

I am a fifty three year old father of three. Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder late in life I have struggled at times with the road on which I tread. I have a real passion for writing, I may not be very good at it but this will never stop me.

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