Dark short story by Colin Devonshire
‘MUM, BUT WHY? What happened?’ asked Yvette. Tears welled.
‘You’ve asked me every year on your birthday. And every year I’ve told you, year after year, I will tell you when you are celebrating your eighteenth. So, next year, as I promised.’
That was a year ago. Yvette counted the hours until her alarm signalled seven am. Today was Saturday, no college, and more importantly, it was the great day when her mum told her all.
She studied her phone’s clock; the minutes did not move faster, even if you counted the seconds. Then, at last, she stopped the buzzing. She jumped out of bed and slid into her slippers, wrapping herself into the old tatty but warm dressing gown. She rushed to the kitchen and boiled the kettle for the tea her mum couldn’t live without. She tapped the bedroom door until she got a ‘Come in.’
There was no answer. She tapped louder.
‘Mum, are you awake?’
The gentle creak of the door as it opened enough to allow the bedside light to shine through.
‘Ah, you are up?’ Yvette asked. The bed was made. Yvette screwed her face looking around, empty. Then, finally, she rushed to the bathroom.
‘Mum, mum,’ she screamed, dreading the worst. ‘Where are you?’ She ran downstairs, checking the living room and dining room; both were empty. Her mother’s coat was missing from the hook in the hall.
‘What game are you playing?’ Yvette noticed no house keys in the little pot on the table by the door.
‘I suppose I’ll have to drink your tea.’
Yvette entered the bedroom and drained the cooling beverage while she looked around. No handbag, and even more worrying, was her suitcase; it was gone. Yvette grabbed her phone and called her mum’s number. She heard the tone. The mobile was on a shelf under towels. It had been cleared of all numbers and messages. ‘What has she done?’
Now she hunted, like a cat chasing a mouse, cupboards, wardrobes, bookshelves, even the kitchen units. Nothing.
‘What, where and why?’ she asked the empty sink. Then, leaning back and shaking her head, she decided to sit on the sofa for a few minutes. Ideas and thoughts bounced in her skull, but nothing stuck.
‘Maybe a shower will help.’
From warm, hot, then freezing water failed to give her the idea she craved.
Yvette dressed in a t-shirt and jeans, then brushed her thick black hair, sweeping it across her brow and clipping it in place.
‘Hi aunt Maud, have you seen mum?’
Yvette called all the numbers she could recall. ‘Sorry, love, we haven’t seen her.’
After an early lunch of baked beans on toast, ‘God, I wish mum had taught me to cook,’ she mumbled. The letterbox rattled. ‘Goodness, there is a letter for me, and it’s from the bank.’
She ripped it open. “Dear Miss Yeading, Please call into our high street branch at your earliest convenience to sign documents confirming an account your mother set up for you fifteen years ago. You can collect the passbook at the same time. May we wish you a Happy Eighteenth birthday and welcome you as a customer at our bank.”
‘What the …’
She tapped the number printed on the letterhead. ‘I know it’s Saturday. Are you open? I have a question. I’m Miss Yeading. How do I prove who I am?’
‘Yes, hello, your mum told us you don’t have a passport for id. Don’t worry, I’ll recognise you by… I mean, come in. Sorry, I must go.’ The connection was lost.
Yvette went back to her mum’s room, flicking through the drawers, hoping to find a hint at whatever was happening.
‘Mum’s favourite suit, she wouldn’t go anywhere without that. And all her make-up is here. So where the hell has she gone?’
Yvette slung on her jacket and walked to her mum’s place of work. It was closed, but the boss’s number was advertised on the sign.
‘Sorry to call you on a Saturday. I’m Yvette Yeading. My mum works for you. Can I ask you a question?’
‘Hello Yvette, I haven’t seen you for many years. How are you?’
‘I’m fine, thank you. I’m calling about my mum.’
‘Yes, we are very sorry to lose her. She has been a pleasure to work with.’
‘What do you mean, “lose her”, has she left her job?
‘She gave in her notice. Oh, that reminds me, please tell her last month’s payment has been made up. She can collect a cheque whenever she is passing the office.’
A more puzzled Yvette trudged in a daze. ‘Mum has an empty suitcase, quit her job, the work she loves. She hasn’t contacted any family or friends. And has a mystery bank account. So what is going on?’
She channel-hopped for the rest of Saturday, finding nothing to take her mind off her mum. Yvette ordered a take-away meal, picked at it, and then threw it in the bin.
Sunday morning, there was a tap tap on the front door. Yvette sluggishly tripped down the stairs. She hid half her pyjama-clad body behind the door. Two uniformed police officers stood stern and unsmiling. ‘Can we come in, miss?’
‘Oh, no, what has happened to mum?’
The male and female stood uncomfortably in the hall.
‘Go through. Let me get my dressing gown.’
‘Are you Miss Yvette Yeading?’
‘Yes, get on with it.’
‘We have some disturbing news, sorry.’
‘What is it?’ Yvette squealed.
‘Sorry again, but last night your mother jumped in front of an underground train. Unfortunately, there was nothing the emergency service could do. She was proclaimed dead at the scene.’
Yvette wailed and collapsed to the floor. The female officer put her arm around her and attempted a hug. For five minutes, Yvette lay prone against the woman. Eventually, the male offered to make some tea.
‘But why did she do it?’
‘That’s why we need to ask you some questions.’
‘Was she pushed? She would never think of taking her life?’
‘There were witnesses; she was alone and carrying a suitcase when she jumped.’
‘So she was planning to visit someone? Why else would she have a case?’
‘We have the case in the car. It is filled with newspapers, photos and cuttings. Would you be willing to tell us why she thought the contents were so important?’
‘Let me see it.’
Yvette’s brushed her hair away from her face. She then shook her head her hair fell back into place.
The female officer stifled a gasp, and the male rushed to the squad car.
Amongst piles of news reports, whole newspapers, and dozens of photographs was an envelope addressed to “My Darling Daughter” Yvette snatched it and ripped it open. “Dear Yvette, I have lived with my crimes for fifteen years. You are eighteen, and it is time to explain the truth.”
Yvette’s eyes reddened as tears slipped down her cheeks.
“You won’t remember your father. I’ve kept him out of sight. Our marriage was not a happy one. He loved beating me, and the beatings got worse. I admit I spent more time caring for you than him. He was jealous of you. My bruises got bigger, so I armed myself with a kitchen knife. One day he was in a fury and lashed out at me. I pulled out my blade and slashed at him. You woke at the racket and ambled behind me. I’m so sorry I didn’t hear you. My weapon slashed your beautiful face. The doctors removed your eye and stitched the hideous wound. Every day I see your scar and remember what I did.”
Yvette could read no more. Her hair fell in front of her face, covering the glass eye and the scar. The old wound ran from eyebrow to chin, and then she covered the whole of her face with her hands.
The female officer sniffed and said,’ Your mother also left a letter for us. She admitted to blinding and cutting your father’s tongue out. If you want to meet him, we know where he is. He has been living in an asylum for the insane for fifteen years.’
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