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Waiting for the New Skin to Grow
“Mum! I’m home!” My world is silent except for the sound of cheap velvet brushing against the stone of the south corridor. My home is shadowed, which is strange and unsettling. Clarissa, our maid, keeps the fire burning on the hearth all the time in the winter, and on her day off, my Step-Father, Edmund tends to it. Edmund is the Chief of Police, and I guess in his hurry to the Station this morning, he forgot about the fire. I begin to climb the steep stairs to my chamber in the West Wing of Clarke Manor. This large estate has been the pride of my family since they moved from Ireland to Britain. “Mum, where are you? I’d like to show you this new gown that I saw on my way to Timothy’s. I think it would be perfect to wear to Lady Genevieve’s sociable at the end of this month.” I pause at my Mother’s chamber door, and admire the intricate carving in the wood. “Mum, are you listening to a single word I’m saying?” I gently push the door, but it swings open and hits the wall, breaking the painting of my Mother and Edmund in half. A chill runs down my spine as I look beyond the doorway and see my mother lying on her bed. I tentatively step forward, not making a sound. Her face looks pained and her royal blue gown is stained across the front of the bodice. There is a glass on the floor and its contents have been spilled on the carpet, turning it from a lovely green to brown. A tear slowly rolls onto my cheek as I notice that her chest is unmoving and her face is pale. The sound of my heart beating fills the room as I realize that my beloved mother is dead.
Silence is a peculiar thing. It slithers through the air like a snake and before you know it you’re suffocating from within its firm grasp. You cannot think, you cannot feel, and you cannot breathe. Standing before my Mother I take in the silence around me. I hear it ringing in my ears and pounding in my bones, but I push it aside. My eyes dart about this sumptuous room and desperately look for the answers that I know are hiding somewhere deep inside. “Who could have done this to you?” I whisper almost inaudibly.
The sound of my own voice startles me. The second the words are out of my mouth I get an answer to one of the million questions running through my mind. My mother was murdered. The glass on the floor must have held the poison that killed her. It was one of the glasses from our own kitchen. Suddenly I can't bare to stand the pain any longer. I run down the familiar stairs of the Manor and I’m almost blinded by my own tears. I enter the usually elegant and grand kitchen, but now I am horrified. ‘The person who took my mother’s life stood right here!’ I scream inside my mind. I want to shatter every glass that my family has ever owned but I don’t. Instead I fall to the floor, because it is me that has been shattered.
“Sophie I’m home!” Edmund’s voice is tired and worn out from his day of work. I don’t have enough energy to speak or to move from my sprawled position on the kitchen floor. I watch as Edmund enters the kitchen for his usual glass of wine. “My goodness Sophie, what is the matter? What are you doing on the floor? Where is your Mother?” This last question brings tears to my eyes and quietly I say “Edmund, she’s dead.” “What do you mean she’s dead?” “I came home and, and she was lying there on her bed dead!” I begin to sob again, my auburn curls cling to my shoulders, drenched in my own tears. Edmund holds me tightly as if he is trying to protect me from the sadness that has overwhelmed my being. “Shhh, Sophie everything will be okay.” His words are just words, and we both know it. He is devastated, because he loved my mother with all his heart. His eyes lit up at the sound of her voice and at the scent of her perfume floating down the stairs before supper. “I will find this awful person and I will make them pay for what they have done. They have taken away the love of my life and the smile from my daughter’s face. The whole Police Station will be looking for this person and will not rest until they have been put to death!” Edmund is shivering and beads of sweat combine with the tears falling from his deep green eyes. He rises from his place in front of the fireplace suddenly, and stiffly walks out the front door into the cloudy streets of Penistone.
Loneliness fills my home once again. Loneliness is silence’s tender child. Just when you think the silence of a grey winter’s night will kill you, loneliness creeps out from the shadows and aims directly at the heart. You feel desperately alone, and all of the sounds that normally go unheard are louder than a million fire crackers. Every sharp gust of the crisp night air will send a shiver down your spine and make you want to scream at the top of your lungs, but you don’t. The silence still holds your mouth and lungs hostage, while loneliness works at your heart, pulling it apart piece by piece.
The Grandfather clock chimes nine o’ clock but I don’t even flinch. Clarissa comes in through the grand front doors and sees me sitting and staring out the window into the streets of Penistone. She senses my sorrow and runs to me pleading with me to tell her what the matter could be. When I finally give in to her pleads she stops dead in her tracks. Her face goes pale and she sucks in her breath. She cannot believe what I have just told her to be true, but horrifyingly it is. As the ladies of Clarke Manor my Mother, Clarissa and I have an immense bond that we show by the golden lockets we wear around our necks at all times. Just when I thought my eyes could not produce another single tear I weep again in Clarissa’s arms. Never before have I ever felt such an intense sadness that has enveloped my entire soul.
When the Clock strikes midnight, Edmund returned to see me in the same place he had left me hours before. He gives swift instructions that we should both go to bed immediately and silently we comply. The next morning I find him in the same place that I had sat, staring out the window into the foggy morning. The blackbirds feed on the garden that my mother so carefully tended to and at the sound of my voice a single tear rolls down his face. “Edmund?” “Yes, dear?” He asks without turning his head, “Promise me please that you will find him.” “Sophie, I promise you.”
Later that morning the doctor called and told us indeed I was right, she had been poisoned. We can only nod our heads and return to our seats. Many people came to call today and not a single one of them had anything real to say. They apologize for our loss, drink our tea, and then return to their own happy lives. Not one of those people can even imagine the stinging pain that we feel, until Timothy Raunds and his father came to call. We are closest with them and they bring us a cloak. This cloak was my Mother’s and she left it at their Manor the last time she was there. This returned item is the only thing I have received today that has shown me that someone truly cares. Timothy whispers kind words in my ear as I run my pale fingers over the soft fur and delicate satin. Our fathers’ watch as we stand in the middle of the room, Timothy gently rocking me back and forth. I’d like to stay in his arms forever but I know that like everyone else today, he too will have to go.
For the next week the same routine was followed through every day: Edmund would leave for the station in the morning without saying good bye, while Clarissa prepared a morning meal for us. He would work all day reading about past murders trying to find some similarity that would lead him to the murderer. He had other police men search the room several times but only very few clues surfaced. I would wait at home anxiously awaiting his arrival hoping that today would be the day he found some good news. By Sunday night, I had given up hope. Edmund had returned home with no progress made at all and I asked him “Edmund, who could have done this? You know who Mum talked to and who visited her during the day. The answer is inside of you, which is why searching her room eleven times has not done anything. Besides me you knew Mum the best, so it is you who will learn the truth.” Terror flashed in his eyes. “Oh my…” His eyes darted around the room searching for the right words. Tears welled up in his eyes but a deep breath pushed them away. “It can't be…” he kept repeating to himself. “Edmund! What, please tell me what has just happened to you! What just happened?”
His face had gone completely pale and he took my hand. “Sophie what I am about to tell you will save you and kill me, but you have to believe me that I love your Mother with all my heart and with all my soul. I would go to the ends of the Earth to get exactly what she wanted and would sacrifice anything to see her alive and happy again.” “Edmund I believe you with all my heart.” “Then my darling Sophie, listen closely.”
“Many years ago, I lived in Stourbridge with my sister in a house that was smaller than your chamber. We had barely enough money to feed ourselves and were dressed in the cheapest of clothing. She thought that if I married a very wealthy woman that I would inherit her money when she died. She hatched this plan to find me someone to marry and that ended up being a woman named Annalyse Marie Clarke, your mother. She arranged to be a house maid for her when she was living with her parents here in this very house. As your mother’s personal aid they became very close. Time came for Annalyse to find a husband again, and as planned, Addie, my sister suggested me. Obviously she had never heard of me because she only associated herself with the extremely wealthy like herself. Addie stole money to buy me expensive looking clothes to impress her and we met at a small sociable. When I first caught her eye I knew that our plan was not going to work. The moment I set my eyes upon her pale white face I knew that I was in love with her and that killing her was not going to be an option. Her eyes were of the deepest, yet brightest blue and her hair was a red that made fire look quite dull in comparison. In fact you look almost exactly like her, my dear. But anyway, we met and I could see that she believed this act that I was putting on. Within the next seven months we were happily married. I had left Addie behind with no job, no money and the house.”
“She had lost her job waiting on Annalyse and for all I knew she was out of my life forever. Recently at the Station an officer reported a beggar woman outside the cathedral in the Square. When I arrived there I immediately knew it was Addie. When she recognized me she spit in my face and said five words and then was gone. ‘How about that money Edmund?’ I was so shaken by her words that I never saw where the other officers took her. I should have known that she would seek revenge on me.” Edmund is trembling violently as he recounts this startling course of events. I did not even know that I had an Aunt Addie, none the less one who has a perfect motive for revenge. I stare at my lap and a single tear lands on the skirt of my black gown. I can see it for a moment before it fades into the patterns of the fabric. “So it was her? Your sister?” “Yes Sophie, I believe it was. She probably stole some nice clothing and came to visit your mother that day. I wish I had known she would try something like this. I wish I had put her in jail the second I saw her face at the Cathedral. I’m so sorry Sophie, this is my fault.” “Edmund stop. You loved my mother and you did nothing wrong. The only way you can redeem yourself is by killing Aunt Addie.” “Sophie darling, I know. But can I kill the person that brought me to Annalyse? Can I kill the person who brought me to you?” “Father, you must.” That is the first time I have ever called him Father. My Mum was a widow before she married and I had always called Edmund by name, and never by Father. “Sophie, my daughter, I will.”
The Grandfather Clock strikes midnight and neither of us flinch. He stares into my eyes and I know he sees my Mum. I know he wishes he could have kept her away from the pain and suffering that his own family caused. “Father?” I ask but he does not hear me. His eyes have glazed over and he abruptly sits up straight. “Father, go.” He nods slightly and kisses me tenderly on the forehead before he gets up and moves to the door. I would remind him to bring a cloak but I know that he won't feel the cold tonight. He opens the door and glances back at me. For the first time in what seems like eternity he sees me smile. He slams the door shut behind him and is gone. The Manor is dark for a moment, but then from the fire a small flame surfaces. That flame is as bright as my curls and as shining as my eyes. That flame is all I need to stay alive. When my Father returns I am kneeling by this tiny flame, watching its every movement. I feel his strong hand on my shoulder and he kneels next to me.
We listen to the sound of it crackling and popping and we watch it send sparks of heat into the air and then watch as they fall back down again. The silence is gone and has taken its children away. The loneliness and sorrow have been burned away like an infected wound. The only thing left to do is to wait for the new skin to grow.