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It comes in many forms

By Rachel DeemingPublished 21 days ago 23 min read
Photo by Denis Oliveira on Unsplash

The essence of it is the same but I can see that it is different. The curtains in the front room, for starters. We had a more sedate check pattern and I can see that these are some sort of modern floral, or maybe, Cath Kidston? Either way, they are cheerful and light. And the front door is one of those PVC affairs with the mock grain, that try to look like wood up close. A cheerful blue. Looks smarter and will need less maintenance but, in my opinion, appears false in the context of the Victorian terrace for which it is the mouthpiece. The garden at the front looks good. They've used it to grow their own produce so it's alive. Beans clambering up stakes with dots of red and the yellow blooms of courgettes. There's a nice feel to the place. Mind you, when we lived there, it wasn't lacking care. To all outward appearances, it looked a happy home. And I thought it was but now, having moved out, I keep wondering if it ever was.

I knew that eventually I would attract attention and I was just about to move off when I heard:

"Can I help you?"

Standing next to me was a middle-aged lady a little older than me with a grey bob, walking a rather round pug, which was snorting a little from the effort. It took the chance to sit, tongue lolling with relief.

I could have said "No" but chose instead to draw less attention by being sociable.

"Hello. I used to live close to here and thought I'd visit the street where my grandparents lived."

I'd rehearsed my reply in case I was ever asked. I'd chosen two generations so that there was a distance between details. I would never admit to having lived here. "I think it was this house, but I'm not sure. It's all changed so much."

The lady, who had had a tone to her questioning initially of veiled suspicion, visibly relaxed and warmed. "Oh, how nostalgic for you! Well, if this is the house they lived in, it's no surprise that you don't recognise it. Yes, it has altered round here quite a lot in the last couple of years with some new development, but this house in particular has been given a complete overhaul for reasons best laid to rest."

I knew then what was coming because who says something like that, conspiratorially, and then doesn't expand on it? Even if I didn't know what she was talking about, she was still keen to run roughshod over the sunny, albeit made-up, memories of my childhood with her sordid piece of gossip. It really was too good not to share.

Wanting to appear as natural as possible, I said "Oh?" She would have been able to see my raised eyebrow too if I hadn't chosen to wear sunglasses.

"Yes, you see, that is the house where Olivia Tremple grew up. The famous serial killer. The one who killed all those...babies." She paused for effect and I let out a gasp which satisfied her. I couldn't help it. I hadn't heard that name for years, spoken out loud, never mind having it juxtaposed next to her crimes and still, after all this time, it felt like someone had their fist in my chest and was clenching my heart to stop it. But I have become the master of disguising my emotions.

I'm like a whiteboard - flat, bland, wiped clean.

"Really? Yes, I remember that clearly from the news. Terrible tragedy. Just awful," I found myself saying one of the platitudes of the general public where safety lies.

Grey Bob was shaking her head forlornly before continuing:

"Yes, it was. I didn't live around here then, thank goodness. But there are lots of people who still do and remember the family quite well."

I shifted from foot to foot, an uneasiness created by her words. I had taken a risk coming here today but it was almost like an urge I could not leave alone. Coming so close to this area and not visiting the house was too tempting , although I realise masochistic and ill-advised. This is what I had feared - being noticed - but there was just us there. The street was full of cars parked and cars passing but no other pedestrians.

Should I ask? Oh God! I wanted to know but feared her response. Would it be better if I didn't know? But part of me wanted to hear what outsiders thought. Because God knows, I had gone over and over it in my head about what was visible and could have been noticed and acted upon. Were there signs? Could more have been done? It's like a tapestry continually being unpicked, thread after thread examined and scrutinised to see the cause of the mistake, the bit that mars the work, the thing that stands out. It can almost drive a person mad, if they let it.

I found myself saying, "What were they like? I don't remember seeing them on any news reports, I only remember..." I hesitate. I can't say her name."...her."

Grey Bob is only too keen to share. "Quite normal, I think. People around here don't really like to talk about it, want to put it behind them, but everyone liked them and I think it's that that is the worst thing about it all. They were nice people."

And then as an afterthought, "All of them."

I shook my head, tutting under my breath.

"It just goes to show, doesn't it?" Grey Bob continued. "You never can tell."

"No, you can't," I agreed and felt an overwhelming compulsion to leave.

I was about to thank her and tell her I had a train to catch, although, in fact, my car was parked a few hundred yards away, when she added,

"I had a friend who knew Fred West, you know. The one from Gloucester who killed all of those girls with his wife and buried them at the house."

I felt bile enter my throat.

"He used to come and have a pint at the pub. She said he was a nice man, good to chat to. Didn't have a clue." She shook her head again before breaking her thoughts by tugging at her dog's lead, and saying, "I better get Oscar home. It's been nice chatting to you! Take care!" Oscar managed to push himself to his feet rather reluctantly and I watched as he followed and waddled behind Grey Bob up the pavement. And there I was, left with the shock of knowing that my family was being talked about in the same way as Fred West.

I waited until I got to some trees before I vomited.


I'm not sure why this was such a surprise to me really. When the news first broke and she was arrested, it was chaos.

It wasn't just the press.

We were badgered and stalked by people who wanted to look at us, like exhibits at a freak show. Nothing like the anomalies in human nature to draw a crowd. Because to them, we were freaks who had created a monster. What do the parents of a serial killer look like? They needed to behold us, to berate us, to blame us. Their curiosity knew no bounds nor manners. We had forfeited our right to reasonable treatment with the birth of our progeny.

The doorbell would be rung at all hours until we had to remove it. We covered the door in bubble wrap to muffle the loud knocking of the outraged and their cruel shouting. We blocked the letter box to prevent the public from posting their shit through it. We couldn't stop the eggs being thrown at the windows when they weren't broken by bricks, nor the anonymous letters of vitriol and spite. The physical manifestation of anger is more blunt but easier to deal with than the insipid distaste and disgust that words can convey.

Rage had been ignited and we were its target. The difficulty that I have is that I understand it.

David had the right idea. He begged me to leave with him, to put Britain behind us, not just the town and move to Italy; to live a romantic life of olives and bright tiled roofs and red wine at sunset on the patio with a view. He couldn't stay here, he said. We could have a better life, he said.

I couldn't do it. "Well, I'm going," he said. And so he left before he broke down completely, like our marriage had. Funny thing is we're not estranged. We are friends bound by our shared shame -we still talk - but he is freer than I. I don't know how he can do it, live a life so sunny and bright, filled with warmth and joy. It feels a sham and it feels unfair and undignified. The guilt of my happiness would be debilitating if I left and David would only leave my gloom again, the gloom I'd bring with me. He is surviving this better than I.

His mantra is "We didn't do anything wrong." He believes it and I believe him. But I struggle with it.

So, I am here, in Britain, still. I am surviving. I am alive. But most days, I feel like I'm going through the motions of life. I get up, I go to work, I come home, I watch TV, I go to bed. Sometimes I eat but not well. Sometimes I sleep but not well. I earn enough to pay my bills.

I survive.

I've had to flee to gain this "normality". But it's not normal because normal doesn't exist anymore or if it does, this is it. I have years of this ahead of me. It won't change. How can it? How can you wipe the knowledge of the past?

Once David had left, I was on my own. I still had family, extended aunts and cousins but there was a taint to me now. Same with friends. Still in touch but brief, uninvolved. No lunches or getaways. A lot of them had kids and grandkids. It was too close to put aside so that our relationships with each other could continue. I think that they just wanted what had happened gone. Brushed under the carpet to be forgotten. David's family were more understanding but I could always sense a blame associated with me as the mother, more than as him as the father. Like I should have known. Or like I was responsible in some way. Like I had moulded her into what she became and that I could have tweezed out the first signs of any malice if I had been vigilant and wise: if I'd have used my maternal instinct.

Because how could I not see it?

I didn't go to Italy but without David, I had to move away. At least, when he was around I wasn't alone. They were tough times, full of misery and self-loathing. Our glass recycling bin had never been so full. We needed the numbness that alcohol brought but not the belligerence and the accusations. The drinking compounded the limited nature of our lives, how they had shrunken with the waves of animosity that greeted us whenever we left the house. My parents told me that it would die down once the trial was over and it did but there are still people who remember. It affected them too, my folks; they wilted before my eyes, like pesticide had seeped into their tired old veins and was poisoning them from the inside out. They were too old to bear it and the wisdom born of experience was no shield to combat the acid judgement of people's opinions. The strain of bolstering me took its toll too. And now they're gone.

Guilt. Guilt everywhere.

I wasn't always weak though. I tried, at the start, to hold my head high, leaving the house, facing them down. I could endure the jibes and the taunts, even the scratches on my car. Work was frosty and I noticed a polite reserve around me - they were too professional for anything else and fearful of an unfair dismissal law suit -but I could work through that, because the busyness gave me focus and distraction. I convinced myself I was okay, that I could continue - that I had done nothing wrong.

Then the day came where I was not allowed to lie to myself anymore.

It was a mother who challenged me, of course. Along with having my mental and emotional strength tested to the limits, my health suffered too. I had a lump in my breast and had been referred to the local hospital for further tests. It was benign - the lump is not part of my story.

I was not wary that day which was stupid in hindsight. Every other time I had been out of the house, I was guarded. I felt I had to be, to protect myself from the potential ambush of others. Time was passing but the trial was approaching and the anger, some of which had seeped but not all, that had been waiting diligently for its moment was preparing to unleash itself: where previously there had been cracks in the dam of public opinion where only trickles of emotion crept through, it was now about to be exploded out of the water, the full force released and I was preparing myself to be swept away and ruined in its wake. David had left - wise man. He could see more clearly than I how it would be.

I had my appointment close to the entry way to the neonatal unit. I didn't register this until afterwards; if I'd have had foresight, I'd have chosen a different route.

I could see someone headed towards me, like I was about to be charged, such was the force of her rage. It was visible in her posture as well as her pace and her expression was one of fury. I looked behind me to see who could be the object of this person's enmity but there was no-one there.


She spat this, still coming towards me, just bearing down on me, until I felt myself backing away.

She had a cigarette in her hand and hair scraped back uncombed and showing the streaky separateness of it being unwashed. Her clothes were respectable but crumpled. Her eyes were sharp and this contrasted with the deep bags under them, the hollows of sleep deprivation and worry.

I said nothing. No polite words would have been an acceptable opener and the pointedness of her striding straight at me foretold of a direct and brutal message that she was being driven to deliver.

"I know you. You're her mother, aren't you?"

Again, I waited. She didn't need me to confirm it though how she knew I do not know. Someone who knew Olivia maybe? By now, she was right up to my face, cigarette burning still, the smoke's sweet smell in my nose as she waved it around, with the wildness of her gestures, close to my face.

She took my silence and what must have been my wide-eyed and shocked expression as acquiescence. This added further fuel. I wish that she'd have hit me as it would have been easier to bear. It might have faded more easily from memory than the picture of her contorted savage features, caused by the hatred on her face.

But she didn't hit me, not with her fists.

"Your daughter is a fucking abomination! She should be wiped off the face of Earth. I hope she burns in Hell."

Having delivered this, she went to walk off. What she had said was nothing that I hadn't heard before, but she must have had a change of heart because she came back, calmer and more controlled. I was frozen by my helplessness in the face of her enmity.

"I have a baby in there. He's fighting for his life."

I went to say something at this point, like "I see" or some other acknowledgement but she glared at me and said,

"Nuh- uh. You don't get to speak."

She paused again and I could see then the tears that she was fighting back. My eyes were filling too: fear at the confrontation, relief at not being hit, compassion for this woman, all combining into tears.

"How could she? How could she? How could anyone do that to a baby?"

Disbelief flooded her face and I understood because it was something that I had asked myself time after time after time.

"I don't understand it," she said, looking away from me now. Tears had started to fall unbidden down her face. "My little one, he's so precious, so helpless..." Here, she paused to take a deep breath and looked to the sky, as if for strength, and I thought that that was the end but no.

"I got to hold him today. For the first time. He's been in there now for two weeks."

A smile passed over her face as she contemplated this, the love for her boy, but just as quickly, passed as she remembered her hate.

"I go over it in my head, how she could be that way, and I think there has to be something there, something that made her that way." It was like having my thoughts reflected in a distorted mirror - recognisable but skewed. The cigarette which had been held motionless during her calm thinking was now starting to be moved with more vigour.

"You know it keeps me awake? Thinking about it?"

I knew.

"And I think 'what could it be?' What could be the singular biggest influence on that girl to make her what she is?"

She drew on her cigarette, the pace of the argument that she was setting out to me gathering and the inhalation seeming to fuel it.

"And do you know what I come up with? Do you?!" She was glaring at me again now and her voice was become raised and aggressive. "The only thing that I can think it can be is the way that she was brought up." Smoke came out of her nostrils, like a manifestation of her inner fury.

I knew what was coming before she even said it. It was the iteration of everything that I feared was the cause and at the core of all that had happened.

"By her mother."

And then:


She emphasised this with a poke with her finger to my chest, glaring at me for a final few confronting seconds and then throwing her cigarette butt at my feet to burn before stalking back to the neo-natal ward entrance. I could see her shoulders shaking as she walked.

I put the house up for sale the next day and applied to change my name by Deed Poll.


I have this memory of Olivia as a little girl. Golden hair, big green eyes, dainty little freckles. She always wanted to be a nurse. I can see her now, on the rug in the living room with all of her teddies and dolls, chattering away to them, caring for them in her little mini hospital, wearing this cute little nurse uniform. It used to be one of my fondest recollections, that filled me with warmth and joy and love; and now? It just makes me shudder.

I only visit it now to analyse, dissect, diagnose.


The irony is not lost on me.


That little piece of innocence, my daughter, my flesh and blood is a monster locked away so that she can do no further harm. She will never again experience freedom beyond bars.

I hate everything that she has become. I hate her as she is now. But I can't abandon her. She's my own. My own despicable blood. I have a tie to her and if I relinquish that, then I am no longer a mother and I don't think that I can do that. It's part of my essence. She's part of my essence! I don't pretend to understand her and I don't venture there. My empathy only goes so far and I have put up a shutter to block the exploration of these emotions. That way madness lies. But I can't cut her off. I want to but I can't.

I've not seen her since the trial. It's not for want of trying. She won't see me. She won't answer my calls. She won't write me letters. It's like she can sense my shame and wants no part of it. I don't blame her for that because I am ashamed and sometimes I feel like it must be visible like a badge:


Or it's like she's put me in a box, away from her because she doesn't want to think about me. The old adage - out of sight, out of mind. I don't know.

In some ways, I'm relieved. I'm not sure I'd know what to say to her face. All the trivialities of every day life would be lost in the enormity of knowing what she's done. Every encounter would be clouded, oppressive and loaded. But despite that, I still want to see her.

I think about her in that prison. Not too deeply - I can't allow that in - but I imagine what it must be like. I've heard what they do to people, who harm children, from films and documentaries, and I fear for her, for her safety. I try to gloss over it, to think that she is protected from harm.

Again, the irony is not lost on me.

David doesn't want to see her. It's only since she'd been convicted that he's been able to talk about it without crying.

I remember the last conversation I had with her. It was when she was first arrested and I visited her. It was one of the last times that I saw her face in person. Now, it's relegated to photos or screens, where I catch a glimpse of her in an article or news feature.

I must have looked awful because she said to me, from across the table:

"You don't look well."

Just like a nurse, even then.

I can remember replying, "No" and looking into her eyes, which were as sunken as mine. I searched them, I remember, looking for a trace of darkness but no, she just looked like Olivia.

"How are they treating you?" I asked, for something to say.

"Well," she said and then added, "Considering." Very matter of fact.

I didn't like that. I can remember feeling a chill as I thought about the expansion of that - considering I killed other people's babies.

"Is there anything I can bring you?" I asked, ever the thoughtful parent, when really I was stumbling for words that veered me away from what I really wanted to ask: Why? WHY?

"No. No, thanks." So she remembered her manners at least. So I must have done something right.

And then she looked at me and said, "What do you want, Mum?"

Almost bored and irritated. Like me being there was not a welcome distraction from interrogation or sitting in a cell or whatever other things she had to contend with. I have no insight into being arrested at all, other than this.

"I just wanted to see you, to see if you were alright," I blurted.

It was true. I did care, but it was about seeing her, being next to her again and I'm not ashamed to admit, scrutinising her, looking for signs again, indicators to her warped psyche.

But ultimately, shall I tell you what I really wanted? I wanted anger. Not my own but hers. I wanted high energy and frustration, I wanted tears and gritted teeth. I was hoping so, so desperately that she would be raging! I was hoping that I would see my girl angry and mortified, pacing like a caged beast with the injustice of it all.

It wasn't me, Mum!

I didn't do anything!

I can't believe that they are saying these things!

It's horrifying!

You need to get me out of here!

They've got the wrong person!

But there was nothing. No emotion, just calm acceptance. No passion, just a blankness of expression. She was like an automaton, devoid of movement or feeling.

And any doubt that I had that she had done it dissipated in the air, like hope on the wind.

She said nothing more and I had run out of clichés. She could see that I was close to tears and it made her twitch in her seat. She was uncomfortable with my misery and wanted to go so I saved her the call to her keeper and rose.

Despite everything, I still wanted to hold her. She was my little girl! But I could see that she would push me away, maybe even recoil and I could not bear that. I was raw already. And I'm not sure that it would have given me the comfort I sought.

It would have been as hollow as her.

And so I left. And I have not seen her since.


And now, I try to endure. It's easier said than done to put something like this behind you because it dominates everything and it's in your head, pinging about like a pinball in a machine, colliding and disappearing, reemerging and making noise that you can't ignore, flashing in your face, demanding your attention.

Have I thought of suicide? I'd be lying if I said I hadn't. I won't do it though, no matter how tempting. Life is precious. At least one person in my family realises that.

And maybe some day I'll learn to enjoy it again.

And then, maybe, I'll let myself.


Some of you might have read my piece on Lucy Letby, a serial killer of premature babies. If you want to explore it, you can read it here:

Her trial and the re-examination of what she did has dominated my thoughts now for weeks as more and more details emerge. The damage that she inflicted is boundless as families learn to live with the loss of their tiniest and most vulnerable and how this could have been prevented. The repercussions of Lucy Letby's actions will ripple with them for years to come. I can only imagine how it will be for them and send out thoughts of love to them all.

Pictures of her have been shown on our screens and we can look her in the eyes and know her face but what about those who know her as a person? I have seen photos of her in groups where the faces of her companions have been pixellated out - at weddings, in the pub. Who are those people? Family? Friends?

They will be both of those and some of them will be close relations, maybe even mum and dad. And that got me to thinking about them, because, in some ways, they are victims of what their daughter did too. Not to the same extent and I am not suggesting that but the legacy of Lucy Letby's crimes will reverberate through their lives too, profoundly. How do you live with that knowledge, the knowledge that your daughter killed babies?

I have chosen to put myself in the shoes of a mother whose daughter is a serial killer and imagine a story from their viewpoint. Empathy is the well of the writer, I think.

The story above was the result.

And I did know someone who said that he used to chat with Fred West at the pub when he lived in Gloucester and that he was alright, a nice bloke.

If you read it, please leave a comment. It's a controversial one, this, so I understand if you skip it.

familyShort StoryPsychologicalCONTENT WARNING

About the Creator

Rachel Deeming

Mum, blogger, crafter, reviewer, writer, traveller: I love to write and I am not limited by form. Here, you will find stories, articles, opinion pieces, poems, all of which reflect me: who I am, what I love, what I feel, how I view things.

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Comments (5)

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  • Dharrsheena Raja Segarran20 days ago

    Fred and Rose West. I listened to a deep dive on their case on a true crime podcast! I was excited when I saw Fred's name in your story. Like Sian, I too thought that was Olivia, coming back for a visit. But it was her mom. I was able to feel her pain. I loved your story so much!

  • Sarah D20 days ago

    A murderer's perspective! Interesting! Read mine about a man who sees a mermaid for the first time!

  • Completely engrossing. And well considered, there are always so many angles to stories like these and the parents so often villified for just doing the best they could. Beautifully written as always but tragic on every level. 🤍

  • Sian N. Clutton21 days ago

    This had me hooked from the beginning. For a while, I thought it was Olivia standing outside of her old home, but I cottoned on eventually. Flawlessly written as usual, Rach!

  • Great piece! Very sad but interesting. ❤️

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