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Missing

Chapter 3

The two women stomped back down the path. Puzzlement battled with annoyance but by the time they’d parked the car and found seats on the train into Central station, the irritation had pretty much turned back to worry. “It’s not like her, is it?” Lucy said. “I can’t remember the last time she went away. To go without saying anything is weird.”

Suzanne left another message for Ginny, pleading for a callback or at the very least a text. She slid the handset back into her bag. “I wonder if she didn’t tell us because she didn’t want us to worry. I’ve been thinking, maybe she’s gone into hospital. She’s not been very well for a while now. I mean more than usual. I wonder if there’s something else wrong and she didn’t want to say.”

“Nah, she’d have told us, surely. I mean she has nobody to visit or anything if she doesn’t have us. Mind you, she is always going on about how she hates being such a burden, no matter how often we tell her not to be so daft.”

“Tell you what. How about if I have a word with Eileen at the surgery?” Suzanne said.

“Well, she won’t be able to tell you anything. What about patient confidentiality.”

“Oh come on, this is Eileen. You know what she’s like. She’ll make a fuss and then tell us by dropping big hints. You know she likes to feel superior. I’ll pop in when we get back.”

“Go on then. I can’t think of anything else to do and to be honest I’m upset, but I’m worried as well.”

*.*.*

They did their best to enjoy the trip. Lunch at the wonderful Italian restaurant in the old Corn Exchange and a mooch around the shops but it wasn’t what it should have been. Now and then one or other of them would come up with another suggestion, another idea about what had happened. It didn’t help and once she dropped Lucy back at her house, Suzanne drove straight around to the GP surgery.

It used to be that the waiting room would be full but now there was only the receptionist behind the counter. Suzanne organised a repeat prescription, made small talk for a while, and then raised the subject of Ginny. As expected Eileen screwed up her mouth and raised her eyebrows. She shook her head and tutted. After making a display of being forced into doing something she didn’t want to she leaned closer to the perspex screen. “She’s been in a lot lately. We know she’s not well but, just between us, she seems to be making excuses to come in. It’s very difficult” here she introduced a sad and weary expression. “I mean, appointments are as valuable as gold right now. Still, we try to understand.”

“What was she coming in with.”

“Oh, I don’t know that. I can’t access her notes to that extent and you know I would never break that confidence. It’s sacred, that is.”

“Oh, well it’s a shame. We’re really worried about her. But if you can’t, you can’t.” Suzanne turned away. She hesitated as long as possible, picking up her bag and fastening her jacket but Eileen wasn’t going to budge. She had found that Ginny had been in more often but that was all. She turned back to the counter. ”Eileen, I respect your stance I do. It’s admirable. But, I don’t suppose you could just tell me when she was last in?”

The receptionist made an exhibition of looking around, though it was obvious there was no one there. “A week ago exactly. Now, I’m sorry I can’t tell you any more.”

“Thanks, for that.”

It hadn’t helped had it? Okay, they knew Ginny was around a week ago – so what.

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My Father’s Name – Conclusion

Dylan is living with us. Of course, Frances’s family wanted him to go to them. In the end we thought it would be better for him to stay at the same school and in the area his has known all his little life. I was the one who told him about his mum. The police and the medical people all offered but I knew it should be my job. I held him close as he cried and asked me why and then asked what was going to happen to him. I promised him that we’d take care of him, me and Suzie.

I wasn’t sure what to do for the best, whether to just bring him to share our house, but it was really a bit small. Of course, he had to have his own things. We couldn’t easily move to Frances’s it would break my heart to cook in her kitchen and work in her office, it was just too hard. In the end, I had my mum’s house redecorated and we moved in there. People thought I was mad as that was where it had happened and yet, it’s been fine. We brought all Dylan’s bedroom furniture and his toys, we moved stuff around between my home and Mum’s and – yes – it’s been okay. My house is on the market. I’m staying here. All the happy memories will obliterate that one dreadful day. I am determined. I feel as though I should do it for mum as much as anything. She wouldn’t have wanted that man in her place and so we will destroy any trace of him being there. We will drive him away with love and laughing.

I am fostering Dylan officially. You do get some money for that, but it was nothing to do with cash. In fact, it’s going into his savings for if he goes to university or whatever he does after school. I just wanted it organised so I was his official guardian for school trip permissions and what have you. The whole family were in agreement. Of course, anything very major will be a joint decision between us all. He’s not mine, though I love him as if he is.

It’s been difficult at times, of course, it has. Fortunately, Suzie wasn’t too badly affected because all she remembered was John collecting her from school. Apparently, he told her that I was meeting them at Mum’s house. He gave her some juice and she doesn’t remember anything after that until she woke up at the hospital.

He’s back in jail. Well, he broke the terms of his licence so it was a foregone conclusion anyway; never mind the new charges that he is going to be tried for. At first, I didn’t want them to take him to court for the kidnapping as he was locked up anyway. I know people thought I was wrong but to be honest I didn’t want Suzie questioning and I felt, still feel, really guilty. But I have been convinced that he should pay and there is what happened to Frances.

It was my fault.

She had been right all along. I can blame grief, the counsellor I’ve seen has told me that losing my mum had made me vulnerable and I suppose he’s right. But I’m a mum, I should have been more careful. I shouldn’t have let this man who was effectively a stranger get so close to us. I was totally taken in.

Yes, he is my biological father, there is no getting away from that. I hate the idea and have to just accept that it’s a fact. But, he had never been anything to me. He had only ever been a bad memory for mum, and I should have refused to have anything to do with him. But I didn’t and I have to carry the guilt about what that led to, forever.

I watch Dylan and Suzie playing in the garden and I can hardly bear it. But, I have to. I have to be strong for both of them and for myself. We all have to be strong because Frances will be coming home from the hospital tomorrow. She is still very weak and they reckon it will be a long time before she is back to normal and it’s already been many, many weeks. There were several operations to repair the damage that the knife had done and for a while, they didn’t think that she would live. She was unconscious for what felt like forever. I didn’t understand all of the medical stuff but it was loss of blood and internal wounds that they had to repair; sometimes more than once because the damage was so bad. Parts of her were torn inside from where she did that macabre dance with him with the knife between them already thrust into her body. His solicitor says it was accidental and if the police hadn’t burst open the door it wouldn’t have happened. I just think that if he hadn’t taken my daughter; if he hadn’t broken into my mum’s house, and if he hadn’t been holding the knife it wouldn’t have happened. But he did and he was and my friend almost didn’t make it.

But she did. My dearest friend fought her way back from the brink and now I am going to take care of her. I’ve reduced my work hours and I’ve converted the downstairs office into a lovely bedroom. It’s filled with flowers now, and books for her and all the special things from home that she said she wanted to have around her. She’ll be here this time tomorrow and though I can never make up for what happened to her I can start to repay her for her love and her bravery and we can try and rebuild our lives and forget him; forget my father’s name.

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 22

I had bought the set of knives in a block for my mum. They were very sharp, that was why she loved them. John had the big one, the chef’s knife, in his hand; the hand that lay across my little girl’s stomach. It had been down by his side. Frances must have seen it and that is why she had held me back. Now he moved and twisted it. It caught the light through the window and the blade gleamed orange.

I felt Frances’s finger ends digging into my arms as she held me. I couldn’t speak because my throat had dried and all I was aware of was the screech in my head and then the screech had found its way out of my brain and I was pleading with him not to hurt my baby. My knees were jelly and I think if it hadn’t been for Frances I would have crumpled to the floor.

He moved the knife, trailing the sharp edge of the blade upwards across Suzie’s dress until it was laid over her chest the sharp point just below her chin. I couldn’t breathe.

He smiled at us. “Now you see, I don’t want to hurt this little one. She’s my granddaughter after all, isn’t she? I know you don’t want me to hurt her so let’s just all keep nice and calm. I’m sure I can trust you not to go telling people where we are. I’m sure that in the morning you’ll be off to the bank like a good girl. Oh, don’t worry I realise you’re not going to be able to get the proper money for a little while. I’m not stupid. But that’s okay. In the meantime, I’ll just stay here, it’s nice and comfy and nobody needs to know. Though I’ll be turning the heating up. We don’t want little Suzie here getting cold, do we? She’s not going to be running around much is she after all. We’ll just let her snooze away nice and quiet.”

“You can’t. You mustn’t. Please don’t do that. Please don’t give her any more of whatever it is. I’ll stay here with her. I’ll keep her quiet.”

“Oh but that’s not going to work now, is it? How are you going to take care of business messing about here? No. I think we’ll just keep her nice and sleepy.”

I didn’t hear the cars outside in the road. I didn’t notice the sweep of lights as they played across the wall. I couldn’t take my eyes away from John and Suzie. But he had noticed and turned to look at the window. I felt Frances tense beside me and the grip on my arms loosened.

It happened so very quickly and yet it seemed to play out in slow motion. It began with the bang on the door. At the same time, we saw a shape pass the window and then another, fast and urgent. Someone called out.

When she moved it was sudden and unexpected. One moment Frances was still holding on to me more gently although I hadn’t really been aware in the change of her position. The next moment she launched herself across the kitchen and pulled Suzie roughly out of John’s arms. I heard her hit the floor and cried out as I tried to get to them. My legs wouldn’t hold me and I tumbled to the ground. Crawling forward to where Suzie’s poor, drugged little body lay in a heap. I reached and grabbed her then scuttered backwards dragging her with me across the tiles. I knelt on all fours my body arched across hers and then looked back to where Frances was struggling with John. The knife slashed back and forth as he struggled to his feet and began to back away from her. As he reached it the door flew open hitting John square in the back. He was thrust forward across the room the knife held before him. Frances was still moving and she cried out as they were pushed together. He stumbled. For a moment it seemed as if they were embracing each other. I heard another scream but it was lost in the shouts of police storming into the kitchen; the yells from John as they grabbed him and threw him to the floor with one of them pinning him bodily roaring at him to stay down and to stay still.

I pushed my daughter into the corner out of harm’s way and made sure that she was lying in the recovery position. I sat with my eyes closed for a moment collecting my thoughts. “Fran, thank you. Frances are you okay?”

My friend lay on her stomach in the middle of the kitchen. The knife had vanished but as I pushed to my feet and stepped towards her blood seeped from beneath her body and began to spread across the tile.

Someone wrapped their arms around me and turned me away. A policeman in uniform was carrying my daughter into the lounge. Someone was calling for ambulances and doctors. When I tried to turn back and go to my friend they led me away with murmured words of comfort that didn’t make any sense. There were promises to make sure they looked after her, and me, and my little girl.

John was handcuffed and led out through the kitchen door and I heard the slam of car doors and the wail of sirens and my shattered nerves decided that it was all too much and the world greyed out and everything receded into the fog as I drifted into the darkness.

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 19

I was in the head’s office. Someone had put a jacket around my shoulder, but I was still shaking. The teaching assistant sat on another chair looking pale and upset. I didn’t have any room to feel sympathy for her. I didn’t have any room for anything except fear and panic. My arms were aching for the feel of my little girl held close to my body.

My first instinct had been to run out of the school. I had turned and started towards the door and then the girl had shouted, “Wait, wait. Where are you going?”

I didn’t have an answer for her. I couldn’t go home, not without my daughter. I couldn’t run to where John White lived it was too far and I couldn’t just run into the streets and run and run screaming her name. That is what I wanted to do. That is what I still wanted to do but they had brought me here and made me wait and someone had held my hand and someone else told me it was all going to be alright. It was just a misunderstanding. They were sure that my friend would come back when he found I wasn’t at home.

They told me to ring him. I rang him. Of course, there was no answer. I rang him again and again. There was no answer. I could tell that they didn’t really understand. The teaching assistant was upset because she had broken the rules. If anyone other than the usual person was collecting a child there should be a note on the notice board. There hadn’t been, of course. I suppose she was worried about her job. The others though did not have any idea why I was so panicked. The headmistress insisted on calling John ‘my mother’s friend’. I couldn’t blame her because it was what everyone thought. I couldn’t explain it because my thoughts wouldn’t settle long enough for me to have the conversation. I pulled the card from my jean’s pocket and rang the detective, Lily. I got her answering service. All I could manage was, “Ring me, please. It’s urgent.”

And then she was there. Her arms were around me and she was stroking my hair away from my face and rocking me back and forth as if I was her baby.

“Hush now, girl,” Frances said. “Hush now. It’s all going to be fine. Everything is fine.”

I shook my head and sobbed out a sort of story to her and because she knew something of what I was talking about she saw and understood.

“Okay. Have the police been called?” She asked, her voice urgent but calm.

I nodded. “I’ve got this number. It’s complicated; it’s the detective. But she’s not answering.”

“Well, we’ll just call them again.” And she did. She called the local station and they reacted immediately. The headmistress had tried to interfere and stop Frances from ‘causing a fuss’. She didn’t want police cars in the playground and officers in the street. “It’s not as if the child is missing,” she said. “You know who she is with.”

“Mrs Belfast,” Frances said, “Just keep out of this. Excuse me, but in this case, you really don’t know what’s happening.”

If it hadn’t been such a terrible situation I think the round-eyed, shock on the face of the prissy woman might have been funny. As it was she just gasped and tutted and shepherded people away, all the time barking instructions about keeping things calm, just carrying on, and not causing alarm. I was only vaguely aware of it all swirling around me. I clung to Frances. She was my anchor and the only steady thing in a world of shifting dread and fear.

The school was quiet now. Most of the children had gone home. There was an after-school club in the dining hall but all we could hear was a subdued hum and the occasional burst of laughter. The police arrived and I was able to give them a rundown of the situation. It was difficult to fit it all in and they kept making me stop and go back and repeat things. I didn’t blame them; it was all so very complicated. Finally, after what seemed hours Detectives Palmer and Griffiths were in the room. They ushered everyone else out, but I wouldn’t let them send Frances away.

“Right. What we’ve done,” Lily started. “We’ve requested CCTV for all the roads around the school. We’ve initiated a Child Alert. Do you know what that is?”

I shook my head.

“It’s like the Amber Alert system in America. Your little girl’s name is everywhere and people all over the place will be watching out for her. We’ve been able to do this because of the history. But that’s not all we’ve done. There are dozens of police officers are looking for her and we’ll find her. We will.”

I was overwhelmed. Everything was unreal. I could not believe that this had happened. This happened to other people. I wanted my mum, and I wanted my child.

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My Father’s Name – Chapter 18

I felt so very alone. The two detectives had gone. Before they left they said that they’d arrange for me to meet with a Victim Support Officer. However, they didn’t know how long that might take and it probably wouldn’t be for a day or so.

I had their numbers and was under strict instructions to call them if John phoned me or turned up at the door – I promised I would. Pathetically I heard myself pleading with them to hurry and find him.

I couldn’t settle to do anything. There was no way that I was going to work. It was way too late for me to accomplish anything anyway and I knew that what had happened would fill my mind. Yes, I wanted to call Frances but how could I. Pride got in the way. She had been right all along but there was so much more than John just being ‘a bit off’.

The detectives had been with me for a couple of hours. I made a sandwich and took a pizza out of the freezer ready for dinner. Life had to go on, didn’t it?

I dragged out the albums of photographs. Me and mum; pictures of all our times together, at the beach, parties, Christmases and in all of them she had been carrying that huge secret.

Murder.

But why? Okay, when I was little it would have been too much to tell me and all too horrific for a young brain to deal with. But why not later when I was old enough to understand good and evil? Was it because it was just too hard for her to talk about? I had thought we were close. I had believed that we told each other everything and now it was clear that had been an illusion. Maybe, she had worried I would let something slip. The detectives had said that when she was relocated it was like witness protection. She was advised to tell no-one about her past. She was given the option but chose not to change her name. That decision was possibly her biggest mistake. She was told to never talk to reporters if they did manage to find her. She knew, always, there would come a time when he would walk out of jail. She had lived with that hanging over her all of my life and never spoke of it.

I cried for her bravery and for her loneliness and I wanted to tell her it was alright. He wouldn’t hurt me and she had done everything she could to protect me and I loved her for her lies.

Eventually, it was time to go and collect Suzie. I set off early hoping I could be first and whisk her away before I had to speak to anyone.

We have a system at the school where you go into the small entrance and then you have to ring a bell. The teacher or teaching assistant on duty will open the door. After that you have to give them a password and once they have that they let your child out. It seems crazy, overdone but it works and the children are safe. I remember back when I was little, hairing across the playground with my friends and searching for my mum in the crowd of other parents. Sometimes I had to wait for her. I’d be climbing on the railings and laying on the grass in the summer. It’s not like that now.

I wasn’t first but I didn’t really know the couple of other parents and so I didn’t need to talk to them. A bloke had already rung the buzzer and we waited for the teaching assistant. She gave us a wave as she came along the corridor.

One little girl came out. She went off with her daddy.

The assistant looked at me and frowned. I just nodded at her and whispered the password. ‘Unicorns’. Suzie had chosen it.

The girl shook her head and frowned at me. There was a strange sort of silence. I know I smiled. “Suzie,” I said. Though I knew the girl and she knew us. She glanced back into the school, and I felt my stomach clench. “Suzie,” I said again.

The girl came closer and spoke quietly. “Your friend collected Suzie a few minutes ago.” Well, I was livid. Frances and I often picked up each other’s children. It was a very regular thing in the days when we were talking. But now, how dare she. I knew Dylan and Suzie were puzzled about what was going on. I knew they were both pestering about why they weren’t playing together as much. But really, to pick up my little girl without my permission was shocking and unforgivable.

Then I saw him, Dylan, waving at me from his classroom doorway.

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Smithy – Chapter 22

You know what happened after that. I ran to the house and called an ambulance and your police car turned up with it.  The first bloke, the copper in uniform told me I had to stay in the caravan until he said different and that was it.  Your guys took over and there we are.

A coupla days later Mr Simm, the solicitors came to see me.  I was gobsmacked when he told me what Mr C. had done.  I know people think that in some way either me or Smithy or maybe both of us did something to him, but we didn’t.  I can’t say any more, just no we didn’t.  I wouldn’a known how to and Smithy – Smithy would never do anything bad to anyone.  He wouldn’t.  I wish you’d known him, just met him for a bit and you’d believe me then, you would.

Mr Chambers left me the caravan in his Will.  He left me the caravan for ever it’s mine.  I still can’t believe it. He left me that and the bit of woods where the blackbird lives.  He left me some money, but I don’t know yet how much.  Mr Simm says it’s enough to see me through college.  As well as the caravan he arranged for me to have a place at the college to study about conservation and wildlife and stuff.  In the Will he said he thought that was where my heart was and so it was where my life should be.  If we’d forced him to do it would he have written something lovely like that, would he?

He was wrong though.  I’m chuffed to bits I really am and I’m gonna work so hard to be sure he’d be proud of me and it’s exciting, but he’s wrong, about where my heart is.  Smithy and Mum when they went off, just dissolved in the air they took it with them.  Since that happened I have felt as though I’m only half here.  I get up in the morning and I hear the blackbird and go out to sit in the sunshine and it’s empty and there’s no Smithy.  I love the thought that I’ve got the caravan and Mr Simm says nobody can take it away, but I’d give it away I really would if it meant Smithy would come back.

I know now what Mr Chambers – poor old bugger – meant when he said what he said about giving everything up just to have one hour with his son.  I’m sorry I’m crying now I really am, but I can’t help it.  I didn’t do anything to hurt Mr C.  Smithy couldn’t and wouldn’t no matter what anyone says and if I could turn back time, I’d stop us coming here I really would, and I’d still be on the road with him and I wouldn’t feel empty and alone.

I know what people are sayin’, I know that they think Smithy ran off, I don’t know how they can to be honest.  All the people that he met, the ones from the charity shop and the ones in town, they must know he just couldn’t hurt anyone.  Anyway, I can’t change the way people are, I’ve told you what happened and that’s it.

It’s gone so fast, when I think about it all now, it’s not even a full year yet since Mum died and look at what’s happened to me.  I’ve been down about as far as it’s possible to go, further than I would’a ever expected, I’ve moved on and, well it looks like I’ve moved up in some ways.  I’ve got the caravan and college and I can see where I’m goin’, incredible. I’m different now, I know more, and I know that it’s okay to ask for help but that I have to keep it together, okay I didn’t want it to be this way, but it is and so I have to deal with it.

I’m gonna go to the funeral and hold my head up amongst all those people and I’m gonna do the best I can to make this all work out, but I wish I had Smithy and I wish I had my mum.  One thing I don’t wish, and I know it’s daft of me to say I, here with all of you thinking what you’re thinking, but I don’t wish Mr Chambers was still here.  He didn’t want to be here, he wanted to be with his son and maybe his wife and if you’d seen them hugging each other there in the wood and then the way that they just walked off together through the trees you wouldn’t want him to give it up either.

Can I go now, Mr Simms said that Mr C died of a heart attack and you can’t say any more than that and I don’t want to be here anymore.  I want to go and sit in the edge of the woods and listen to the blackbird and try to get my heart back.

The End

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