I thought I would give you all a little taste of my book called "The Muted Cry" which hopefully I will have finished soon. I have a publisher whom is interested, so here is hoping!
Caution: It is not for the faint hearted!!
"OTHER THINGS MAY CHANGE US......BUT, WE START AND END WITH FAMILY"
Lethargy lent itself to this hot, humid summer's evening of 22 January 1975.
Mary, my mother, sat with her legs wrapped under her feet on the sofa, daintily blowing smoke rings in the air and talking on the phone to her best friend, though her conversation was aimed at my stepfather, taunting and belittling him. Throwing her head back, she laughed. "He has no backbone, just a yellow skin. I don't know why I married the bastard in the first place - he's noting more than a pitiful drunk!"
Preoccupied with covering my schoolbooks, for a new year had begun, I pretended not to take much notice of her. The brown paper came from our neighbor, who worked for a paper factory.
My stepfather sat at his bar, his pride and joy. He had labored for months, building it to perfection, and was so proud of all his collections of bottle, glasses and bar-type trinkets from around the world, all lovingly displayed on a large glass shelf above the bar counter. A large round lamp, filled with thousand of colored marbles stood in the corner of the bar, lending a warm soft glow to the room and making shadows dance on the walls.
Precariously hanging off the bar stool, scotch in one hand, cigar in the other, my stepfather's expression was dark and menacing, his bulging eyes never blinking for a second. He stared at my mother long and hard, contemplating while deeply inhaling on his cigar.
Unashamedly her taunting continued, her expression scornful, her eyebrows rising mockingly at him as she indicated the need for a refill of her drink. My stepfather, having already left the bar to hand my mother her drink, made his way up the stairs towards the bedroom where my sisters, Linda five and Kate two, slept peacefully.
Needing to beg more paper from the neighbors, I took careful steps across the floor, as if moving too fast might set something in motion that hadn't yet begun. When I passed my stepfather on the way towards the front door, I could smell the alcohol and cigar smoke on his breath. He seemed to labour up the stairs; breathing heavily with head bend and shoulders slouched, letting out a long sigh. His whole persona was that of a man scorned.
Our house sat on top of a hill, its kingly presence surveying the houses below. The steep bank, like a robe, gracefully descended to the street.
It boasted many stairs, and each morning on my way to school I would leap down them four sometimes five at a time, stretching myself further, testing my flexibility. Tonight was no exception. The moon was full with plenty of light as I danced in the shadows while the moon smiled down upon me.
My visit to the neighbors was a short one. Brown paper tucked under my arm, I returned home. Then, walking through the front door, I sensed a strange aura of foreboding. Although I was familiar with these atmospheric changes, having come to read them as one would a map, they never failed to alarm me.
My mother, still engrossed in her conversation, oblivious to my arrival - or even that I'd left at all - remained curled up on the sofa. On guard, I headed up the stairs towards my bedroom. I shivered with fear as I passed my stepfather on the stairs, my muscles tensing tightly when I noticed the revolver protruding from the top of his trousers.
"Go to your bedroom Janie" he commanded, his tone a guttural rumble like a gathering storm.
I nodded and whispered goodnight.
He continued slowly down the stair, mindful of every step. I sat halfway down the stairwell, unnoticed, hidden by the wall. Riveted to the step, I held my breath, preparing myself for whatever would follow. I had grown accustomed to the endless conflict between my parents - the crying, screaming, fisting, and the throwing around of ornaments - as I was pulled between what seemed to be two adults who a completely lost their senses.
I carried a sense of responsibility to keep a precarious balance of peace in the household, even if it often seemed impossible - as if i were the adult and they the children. Conflict raged within me to take sides, to protect one parent and not the other.
The consequences of either choice ultimately meant I was used like a rope in a tug of war, and always left me bereft and unprotected in a battle I shouldn't have had to engage in.
Directly beneath me, my mother seemed to bring her long conversation to an end.
"He's just walked into the room now, looking very strange, I'd better.......
I could feel a hideous tension in the air, as if something dreadful was holding its breath and about to strike.
Her sentence remained unfinished as took his stance about two meters in front of her and removed his revolver. With the expertise of a trained marksman he aimed and fired, shouting, "Mary"!
As she lifted her head in response the bullet reached it mark, entering her head and jolting her backwards. The noise of the shot reverberated through the air; and the telephone receiver fell from her lim and now lifeless hand.
"No !" I screamed my voice a heart- render wail of agony.
He walked towards her, then placing the screaming receiver back into its cradle, silencing the persistent call of, " Mary, Mary, for God's sake answer me. What's gong on? Hello, someone answer me!"
I felt as if I'd sprouted antennae - not just in the back of my head, but also in the soles of my feet, which warned me the next step might be fatal. Breathing gutturally, my heart like a crazy drum, I closely watched my stepfather's every movement; poised for flight should my presence be noticed.
Stroking her hair, he was cradling her in his arms, kissing her face tenderly and mumbling, "Mary, what have I done?"
Yet, the quality of his decision was like the well-timed swoop of a falcon that enables it to strike and destroy its victim. He had pondered and deliberated, he had counted the cost, for there was no cowardice displayed before he made his move to kill my mother.
Supporting her body, he picked up the phone and dialed 911. With clarity and an unnatural calmness he spoke to the operator. "Someone help me, I have just shot my wife."
Tears began to pour down his face and he sobbed uncontrollably, cradling and rocking her body in his arms. Then, as quickly as the tears had flowed they stopped. Standing up, he carefully laid her body along the length of the sofa and draped a mohair rug across her, as though he were tucking her in for an afternoon nap.
Then, he purposely walked towards the stairs, mumbling incoherently. I knew the danger wasn't yet over; he was a deranged, broken man, very capable of another murder.
Driven by fear, I dragged myself on all fours up the rest of the stairs towards my sisters' bedroom. After closing their door behind me, I fumbled in the dark for something to bar his entry - there was no key to keep us safe.
Strength I never knew I had flowed through me as I began to shift the solid wardrobe against the door, hoping this would prevent my stepfather from coming in - or at least give me time to consider an alternative way of protecting myself and my sisters.
Sitting on the floor of the darkened room my knees bent, head bowed, my arms wrapped tightly around my body as if I were trying to hold all the parts together - I tried to snatch at the swirling knot of emotions that were making my chest all blocked and tight, but they were jumbled together, and when I pulled they dragged through my lungs and caught at the aback of my throat like barbed wire.
I shivered from the shock. My ears were acutely tune, listening to his every step as he heavily placed one foot in front of the other climbing the stairs.
His voice boomed loudly through the top floor of the house. "Janie, where are you?"
I almost stood to attention, reacting to the authority in his voice despite the danger on the other side of the door. Unaware of the tragedy that had shaken our home, the girls slept peacefully.
Shoulder to door, he pushed; the cupboard moved slightly. It wouldn't take too many more heaves before it would bow to his strength. he was an athletic man, a champion swimmer, and had been a commanding officer in the Rhodesian Army.
I didn't stand a chance.
His voice ominously begging and insistent, broke the silence. He called for me again, "Janie come out"
My sisters had begun to arouse from their sleep. Chocking back the bile that rose in my throat, I gently chided them, SSSS, go back to sleep"
Linda furiously sucked at her thumb, seeking comfort, and after a few soft pats on her back Kate settled back to sleep.
At another shove from the other side, the cupboard gave way some more, squealing against the wooden floor in protest.
Making the choice to face my stepfather, I tried to move the cupboard away from the door,only now I lacked the strength I'd displayed earlier, immobilized with fear. The cupboard, unrelenting against my pushing, seemed to intuitively know I needed its protection.
I shook my head trying to clear the miasma of painful thoughts crowding it, and then managed to slide my slight frame through the small gap. When I was barley through he made a grab for me, roughly pulling me the rest of the way through, his vice-like grip causing me to flinch with pain.
With his revolver already in his hand, he placed it firmly against the top of my forehead. I stood hunched inside my senses, my breathing stopped. I wet myself, the warm liquid dribbled down the backs of my thighs as though my body were trying to flush out the fear providing an obscure sense of warmth I did not feel anywhere else.
I could not fight or flee; heart-jumping fear threatened to consume me. I knew I needed to stall for time, had to move from the victim status into a shrewd minded, wily-eyed, sharp-eared child instead. I gave him servile eye contact, and shiver that escaped caused a faint rippling over my skin and over my muscles.
There are times to shiver and run, this wasn't one of them. My limited years in the classroom had not however imbued me with any skill relevant to handling confrontation at gunpoint.
My ignorance was being broken, was I able to behold this horror and not run away. I through had to face the reality that now stood before me, where father and daughter, engaged in a dance between predator and prey.
I hadn't know that he wasn't my real father, until one evening, walking up the stairs in one of his drunken stupors to go to bed, he pointed his finger at me and shouted, "And you're not my daughter"
His words burned through me like hot wax on tender skin, my heart exploded like a dam bursting as I fought back tears of rejection.
Yet, in many ways, he'd been a good father to me. He had on many occasions tried to protect me from my mother's uncontrollable outburst of rage, abuse and beatings. He would come into my room and try to soothe away the pain, clean my torn flesh or ice-pack my bruises. He was the only tenderness I knew.
Despite the rarity of these incidents, he feared my mother as much if not more than I did; and though his need of her prevented him from confronting her and putting an end to her abusiveness, these isolated moments were sustaining for they showed me that tenderness did exist and compassion was not only relegated to Mother Theresa.
Yet now he stood in front of me threatening to kill me.
Standing their, inertia of despair fell on me, a desolation so empty and ageless that I thought I would die of its effects if he did not kill me before then.
My eyes locked with his, I felt crushed by them, if he shot me, I wouldn't care, I moved towards him, blinded by my own tears his body was racked by sobs and I began to weep for this man, my stepfather. I did not blame him; his demons drove him , unrelenting in their pursuit for destruction.
To an unsuspecting outsider, he presented a well,-groomed, successful image, and working in the car industry as a sales man he had learned the art of smooth talking and charm, as smooth as his taunt, strong muscular body that showed very little evidence of his age. His years in the Rhodesian army had equipped him well, but his inability to control his emotions over the years only served to build an internal dam of anger and bitterness that threatened to collapse at every attempted suicide he made.
He suffered from manic depression and his notorious car-gassing incidents had left their mark.
Now the wall had broken, the waters came flooding around him, drowning and consuming him so that he himself could not recognize the danger but functioned rather like an assassin-robotic and focused with one intent, to kill that which was the cause of his torment.
The sound of sirens assaulted the silence. Loud banging on our front door and commands echoing through a bullhorn brought relief to what was an ambiguous moment filled with mutual understanding. His wife, our mother would be irreplaceable.
He looked at me, the pain in his eyes was palpable. he place the revolver back into his trousers, turned and walked down the stairs towards the front door.
I made my way back through the gap between the wardrobe and the door and headed towards the window. The sky was beautifully lit with stars, illuminated by the full moon, sharing its radiance with the flashing lights of the police and ambulance, the sirens heralding whoever would listen.
Help had come.
The sound of the cupboard being moved caused me to turn around in startled alarm.
With my back against the wall, my hands behind my back, I slid to the floor, crouching against the wall, shrouding myself in the dark shadows of the room, my face buried in my knees whimpering.
Gentle hands lifted me to my feet; a police woman assuring me that we were safe. My sister, now aroused from sleep, sobbed inconsolably, disturbed by the unfamiliar faces of the police officers, and franticness of the scene.
Kate stretched her arms towards me crying, "Janie, pick up". Linda stared, her big blue eyes unmoving, furiously sucking her thumb and twirling at her hair.
They wrapped each of the girls in large woolen blankets and carried them from the house to the neighbors, Kate still screaming, "Janie, pick up"
Despite being told to stay where I'd been left, I wandered downstairs, mingling with the paramedics and police, unnoticed. Family had begun to arrive.
On recognizing my granny ( My mother's mother) I ran towards her. Distraught and crying, with her arm covering her face, she was shielding herself from the reporters who relentlessly pursued with no empathy or consideration. Their sole purpose, to capture our faces exposed and distort with grief.
A police woman came to take me to safely and away from the mayhem, but i began to fight myself free from her arms. I had just seen my mother being placed into a coroner's bag , and zipped closed. Like a frenzied hurt animal i ran towards them screaming, " She doesn't belong in a bag"
Despite her abusive behavior and the ambiguity of the relationship she was, after all, my mother, and although her death would end my abuse I still wanted to touch and comfort her with reassuring words, that she would be alright and I would be a good girl and that i would rather suffer her beating than have no mother at all. But the words were left unsaid. The paramedic's lifted her, one at each ends, and walked past me. The flashlights of the reporter's bulbs blinded my vision and in that instant she was gone.
I would never see her again.
I began to shake as if I were coming apart. I wasn't weeping, but terrible noises came out of my throat, sounds of inhuman keening, a lost howling.
The noise around me had suddenly changed, a hush seemed to hang over the crowds that had gathered in the street. The sound of the bullhorn resounded loudly piercing the night air, "You are under arrest. This is an order, you are to surrender your weapon and come down immediately"
Surprised, I stood up and looked around me, following the eyes of the others staring fixedly towards the roof of our hose in blatant anticipation.
There was a moment of brooding calm, like the eye of a hurricane, and then I watched my stepfather raise the revolver to his mouth.
He stood erect his stance a salute, the inheritance of his years as a uniformed officer. He watched nervously, his glance darting back and forth like a hummingbird without sensation or comprehension.
He pulled the trigger, blowing out his brains.
All I could see were his eyes staring, bulging, as they would stare at me in my dreams for a long time to follow.
When I opened my eyes the next morning I knew my world had altered. My parent's deaths seemed somehow suspended in my head, protectively encased so that I couldn't inspect them too closely.
I lay in bed, not lifting my head, trying to configure the changes.
The headlines that morning read, "Husband shots wife then himself. Three orphaned girls remain"
When children lose the most important people in their lives, their parents, they come to realize pretty damn fast that everything is fragile, that "security" is nothing more than a thin veneer that can fracture without warning. They will spend the rest of their lives building fortresses against its possible onslaught.
Tragedy is casual, indiscriminate and when it hits we look for absolution from the endless guilt of " this was my fault.... I should have.....why didn't I?