I am adrift in this world. Propped up by caricature and vice but alone nonetheless. Shards of light intermittently pierce this darkly lit space but they are too few and far between to be held up as examples of an alternative way of life.
I am alone. In this world. It is a point which is to all intents and purposes moot as I have made my peace with all previous avenues of faith that once upon a time gave me reason to believe, have purpose… all that is except for you, sweet Angeline.
If it weren’t for you, I would have surely ended my time upon this desert many moons ago and re-joined the ether from whence I came. But just knowing that you exist, gives me reason to keep turning the pages. That and a strange feeling that my presence, albeit from afar, is somehow enough to keep you safe.
Angeline, sweet Angeline, for you I will be the guardian Angel that I never had.
“Oh but he’s such an angel, I mean really, if ya ever get sick of him making ya cups a tea int’ morning and bringing home god knows how much money, you know I’m always here to lighten the load love”
Charlene blushes inwardly, at the implicit suggestion that she has got nothing to be complaining about, even though her moaning is far more implicit than Amber’s offer of taking her husband off her hands. She tells herself that he is a good man.
He earns good money. He is handsome and charming. Everybody loves him. He also took her on at a point when it looked as though all hope was lost for her. Alone and virtually destitute with a 10 year old daughter from her previous violent relationship, which had ended when said boy hospitalised her at 7 months into the pregnancy of their second child. Everyone said it was a blessing in disguise. That Charlene would have found it very hard, after all, to cope with two children on her own and that at least she finally had the strength to leave him and go to the police. It always seemed to Charlene though that her daughter, that first child, bore the mark of her father’s evil and blamed this curse (as she saw it), on the current situation she found herself amidst.
“Earth to Charlene! Calling Charlene Timpson …is anybody there?” Amber looked put out that her subtle provocation had been met with little else than a vacant stare.
“I’m really sorry Amber, I’ve a lot on my mind at the moment but you’re quite right. I am lucky and I should stop moaning. You’ll hear no more about it from now on.”
“No, no don’t tek it like that love. I want you to talk to me if you needs to, am just saying, you know, there’s plenty of us that’d kill to be in your shoes. Life is rarely a bed of roses. Gotta count them blessings sometimes, that’s all.”
The two women, both realising that this conversation had run its course assumed the default positions of friendly next door neighbours and began to talk small and insignificant. Bustling not too far beneath the surface though was a myriad of thoughts, feelings and judgements. Judgements about the other’s character, life choices and general worthiness. Charlene was like a reactive sponge and any judgements she felt were a direct result of her knee jerk reactions to all the passive aggressive subtexts she picked up from all of those who had borne witness to her train wreck of a life in this last 20 years, which to all intents and purposes was the whole village.
I am old, in my heart and in my soul. My profession, being one of the oldest in the world confirms this to me every single time I lie squashed, beneath the weight of another greedy desperate soul. Every time I have to delve deep into that untouched space, so as to escape the rotten stench of this barren landscape. Every time I open my eyes after a prolonged blink.
Just to see the fat sweaty face of my next instalment still before me in all of its abhorrence and glory.
I am old and jaded by this desert some call home. Life as it exists for me, at points seems unbearable, un-liveable, un-viable even but unfortunately it is the only one I have. Each time their fetid meat presses against or inside of me, I am reminded of those early days when he first appeared, like daybreak inside a railway tunnel with his white teeth and generosity. All sweeties and sparkling eyes (just for me), always presents and promises, radiating love and light and yet somewhere between the lines lay the shadows of truth. The outline of his real need and desire.
Angeline is 10 years of age, the same age her birth mother was when she met Angeline’s father. All she knows is that Charlene and Bernard are her parents. Always have been. No other potential story has ever been presented to her, explicitly or otherwise. One of the unspoken rules that seems to exist between Charlene and those who know is that no one is ever to mention this to the child, that ignorance is the most blissful state they could hope for. If it wasn’t for the respect that Bernard inspired, simply by representing an image they all valued, those who knew, would have broken that unspoken rule a long time ago.
Amber has a son of about the same age. A scrawny little thing with a fragile ego and an overly developed sense of litost. He despises the way that Princess Angeline is doted on by her parents. The fact that she has parents (plural), grates even. But above all of this is the fact that Angeline is taller and stronger than him. She runs to the monkey bars at the end of
the street faster than he ever could. Climbs all the trees in the park quicker and higher than he is capable of. She never does any of these things out of malice or to provoke him intentionally. She is, to all intents and purposes, lost in her own world. But this sense of shame she causes him to feel, simply by virtue of being herself, is almost too much for this little in heart and stature boy to take. Thus he spends a lot of his time and energy trying to make her feel a little of the pain she inflicts on him daily. It never seems to work though, much to his chagrin.
Then one day he finds out the source of all the hushed voices and sideways looks whenever Angeline or her parents venture near. A dirty little secret for a lonely and sad little boy.
Before I met him, I dreamt of being a dancer or an astronaut or a clairvoyant or something that involved combining the spiritual and the physical, as I saw it as a child. I wanted the sort of freedom I felt in my dreams (and my heart) and somewhere deep down, I believed I could achieve that. How perfectly perfect to live in that head state forever. But no one can remain forever a child. I remember him speaking those words to me, as if they were a lullaby, as if they were some ultimate truth I had always been seeking and for the love of him (and because of the child in me), I believed him, with all my all.
Before I met him, I dreamt of loves first kiss and holding hands and all of that lay raw, unformed and glistening, like future unknown potentials do to most children, I would imagine. But loves first kiss was not accompanied by the sweet smell of cherry blossom or the sounds of a harp. It scratched at my face with a 12 hour shadow and left invisible bruises upon invisible scars upon invisible tears.
By the age of 13 I began to grow sullen and moody. I knew that these secret intimacies, when mum went off to work were wrong but sickened by the enjoyment, (as I saw it) that I experienced at first, I felt culpable and unable to say no. You see, he made me feel special and useful in a way that no one had done before…or since.
I lashed out violently towards him and my mother. I became that problem child. An issue to be resolved. When it became evident that I was pregnant, I threatened to kill myself. The doctors and social services wanted to know who the father was. My mother begged me to terminate. He… suggested I have the child but that he and my mother bought it (you sweetest Angeline), up as their own. I fancied that this could be a way to bring us closer as a family…a real family. One where I could go back to being a child and no longer having to bear the brunt of responsibility of his strange desires…perhaps I thought that a baby would soften and distract him. No one ever found out who the father was. The threat was never explicit but I felt my life, with all the trimmings of security, would be in danger if I told the truth. Fact is, it was anyway. Fact is, those trimmings were less than mere decoration even…
“Angeline’s adopted! Angeline’s adopted! Angeline’s adopted!”
The chants went on through morning break, lunch time and afternoon playtime. Angeline had no idea what it meant but knew where it had probably come from. Sammy, the boy next door, who she had gathered had it in for her.
“If you don’t stop spreading such nasty rumours I’m gonna tell me mum and Mrs Stanley!”
Understanding that this probably would get him into a lot of trouble, Sammy should have tried harder to resolve this there and then but the enjoyment he experienced from seeing Angeline’s flushed little face and obvious discomfort was intoxicating. Moving out of the threat of her shadow, Sammy looked her deep in the eyes, his mouth set and firm.
“Yea, it’s nasty alright Princess Angeline but it's not a rumour! Heard me mam talking to Aunt Liz on the phone at weekend. Ya real mums a prossie!”
Angeline recast her shadow and loomed, menacingly over the tiny squawking figure of this small in heart and stature boy.
Sammy felt the fear rising within him as the temperature change was immediately succeeded by Angeline putting her bag down and tying back her hair. In the darkness of her silhouette, he could just make out that her normally doll like, clear blue, round and beautiful eyes had turned glassy, opaque and narrow.
“I just don’t see how you can possibly justify keeping this from her Mrs Timpson, especially in the light of what’s happened today.”
Charlene shrunk against the accusation of bad parenting. An accusation that she was only too used to feeling with both Angeline and her first child, the real mistake in her mind.
“You do realise that the boy has been hospitalised and that his, erm…well, his fertility may have been permanently affected.”
At this Bernard squirmed. But un-ruffling himself, he began his attack on this uppity woman, as he saw her.
“From what Angeline has said he has been bullying her for the last year or so, I’d say the responsibility is firmly in your laps for not having picked up on this and resolved it sooner.”
Ms Daily was one of the few people not taken in by Mr Timpson’s charms. She had taught Charlene’s first daughter in reception and in year 5 and saw the difference in her when he (Bernard) arrived on the scene. She had always suspected that there was at least some potential of sexual abuse when she heard about the pregnancy a few years later but what to do. Everyone and their dog seemingly worshipped the ground he walked on and Rebecca herself would not talk. Angeline was so very much like her mother in spirit and physicality and she felt an almost unreasonable responsibility towards her, perhaps because she felt she had failed her mother at the same age.
“This does not distract from the fact that what the boy said was based in fact Mr Timpson and we do live in a close knit community. You cannot expect to protect her from the truth forever and more to the point, does she not have a right to know who her real mother is?”
Charlene continued to shrink, like a child, into the pit of security Bernard was providing in the crook of his left arm, away from the cruel and harsh words that spilt forth from that obnoxious red slit of a mouth. Like the Eternal Father, he acted as a bolster between Charlene and Ms Daily, between Charlene and the world.
“Her mother abandoned her for a life of drugs and sex Ms Daily. Her getting pregnant at 13 was just the beginning. We will decide what is right for our daughter seeing as we are her legally adoptive parents. Perhaps taking her out of school is what is required here, I always thought that Angeline would benefit from home tutoring…”
Mr Timpson continued to talk along these lines but Ms Daily found herself immersed in a plan. One that she knew would have potentially disastrous repercussions upon her 30 year career as a teacher and headmistress but it came to her so fierce and bold. Like a shard of light. Like a bolt of electricity. Like daybreak inside a railway tunnel.
The day that you were born, sweet Angeline, everything that I had previously thought of as important, all of a sudden ceased to be. All I wanted was you and all you appeared to want was me. How painful it was to hear you crying for me, knowing that the milk pouring from my breasts was meant to soothe those tears. They would not let me anywhere near you though. Kept me sedated and locked in the attic room, for my own safety they said. When the hormones and the drugs they had been feeding me for months finally tipped my already fragile mind over the already slippery edge I had been balanced upon for years, I escaped and ran, for what seemed like days on end, without stopping. This world I have ended up being immersed in is a direct reflection of all that they put me through… but the knowledge that you are safe and well keeps me buoyant…how I wish I could actually see your face for real though… Maybe one of these days, who knows?
Angeline glanced at the piece of paper Ms Daily had slipped into her school bag. All that was written on it was the name and address of a coffee shop, a date and time and one line.
“This may help to answer some of your questions Angeline. Good luck”
In the last week since her fight with Sammy, her mother and father had put the house up for sale, informed her that she would be being home tutored after the summer holidays and that they were taking her away on holiday to France to stay with an old friend of daddies for a few weeks. Yes she had many questions and if they were not going to provide her with the answers, perhaps this strange and mysterious meeting, set up by her head-teacher might.
A bell above the door rang as she opened it and stepped out of the mid-summer heat and light. She had always wondered where her blue eyes had come from, as her mother and father had green and brown respectively. And there, in the corner of this dimly lit café sat the answer, staring back at her, with tears streaming from them.