Mum wiped the blood from granddad’s mouth.
“Emma, grab me more tissues, will you?” she said.
I looked at granddad’s sad, tired face as I wheeled over holding the tissue box. He lay on a battered mattress in the corner. His body, tucked under a cough-stained duvet was half way to skeletal. When we found out his lung cancer was terminal mum moved him from the cabin by the pond to the farmhouse so he could spend his dying days here with us. His skin reeked of cigarettes even though he hadn’t smoked for weeks.
He coughed more blood.
Fear twinkled behind the dry sickness in his eyes. He moved his finger over his duvet in a circular motion while mum wiped his mouth. I had no idea what he wanted. I wish we could’ve bonded more, but in truth, he scared me and always looked anguished. Eighteen years we’d lived on the same land and I knew little about him. On top of that he was a mute. Mum said when grandma had a heart attack he just stopped talking.
“I’ll go get him some water.” Mum blew her long, greasy brown hair out of her face. Sweat dotted the clothes that had hung off her for three days. I’d been told that as well as mum’s pale skin, figure and monster metabolism, I’d inherited her smile. I hadn’t seen that for weeks. I guess it’s hard to smile when you’re waiting for someone to die. She nudged my wheelchair as she left the room.
Granddad must have felt so lonely. Grandma died in 1978, when mum was eleven, and granddad refused to look for a new wife. Grandma and granddad planned to open a bed and breakfast in Norwich, but when grandma died, he decided to stay on our 150-acre land in Lewes. He spent most of his time living in the cabin. Mum said he liked being near the apple tree. The smell reminded him of grandma.
Blood flopped from his mouth onto the duvet. He wiped the blood in a circle, running his finger over and over it.
“O?” I guessed.
He closed his eyes, pained.
“I’m sorry granddad, I wish I understood.”
He used what little strength he had to pull himself up. His face strained. His neck muscles tensed like overstretched rubber bands. “The cabin…” he forced with all his breath, unable to say the next word. He fell back.
My heart pounded.
Mum entered holding a glass of water. I turned to her but granddad squeezed my hand, hard. I looked at him and his eyes begged me to keep quiet.
Those were the first and last words granddad ever said.
I didn’t even notice the wheels of my chair sink in the dirt as I watched mum bury him. The rain battered my umbrella, accompanying the repetitive splat of soil against the coffin.
The cabin, repeated in my head.
The rain hammering her didn’t bother mum. It was just us now and she was covering all roles in the family. It didn’t help that I was moving to Newcastle tomorrow for university. I felt bad that it was at the other end of the country and that I’d added to her stress, but I needed to go and live my life.
Our family history was in this field. Generations of our family had inherited this land. The eldest, James, was desperate to own it in the seventeen hundreds. My mum said he met the love of his life in these fields, and he wanted to build a home on the land where their love blossomed. James paid a visit to the owners and charmed them with his story of true love and they sold him it.
In the short drive back mum tried to fill the silence with the radio, but every song had some lyric that felt inappropriate.
“Do you have any contact details for dad? So I can try to get in touch.”
She looked right at me, neglecting the road. “First you’re leaving me for university, and now you want to leave me for him! He ran off after the accident because he didn’t want a disabled daughter. I’m your family. ME. He’s a fucking coward, ok?”
She ignored my tears and looked back at the road.
When we got back she took my wheelchair from the boot, set it up, but didn’t help me get in. She walked off.
“I’m sorry,” I said when I got into the kitchen.
She’d dried and changed into her nightgown. She just stared at the rain hitting the grass and mud outside.
She cried. “I’m sorry, Emma. Dad dying, you leaving me… The mention of… Bastard… It just...” She saw me shivering. My black dress and jacket soaked through. She gave me a hug, grabbed a dirty kitchen towel stained with last night’s lasagne, and dried my hair and face. “I’m so sorry.”
“I’m not leaving, mum. I’m just going on a long trip.” I smiled. “This is my house and I’ll always come back.”
“I was thinking, mum. I never got to see granddad’s cabin.”
“I’d like to. Just to say goodbye, you know. Maybe there’s something I can keep.”
“Go to bed, Emma,” she said, coldly.
She went to her room.
Maybe granddad wanted me to sell some circular thing for lots of money to fund university. Or maybe he was just strange and I couldn’t dwell on anything an old man losing his mind would say.
Forget it. In the morning I’d leave and in time I’d forget about the whole thing.
I was woken by the feeling of a finger moving over my stomach in a circular motion. I smelled cigarettes. My eyes shot open but I saw nothing. The adrenaline pumped through my body and stopped me getting back to sleep. I listened to the heavy rain for an hour. I needed some water.
I heard mum’s snoring as I wheeled in to the kitchen. I filled a glass with tap water. I turned to return to my room but the back door gently clicked open.
The smell of cigarettes stained the cabin. I couldn’t get my chair up the steps to the cabin so I dragged myself to a stack of old cardboard boxes that looked like they could perish if I blew hard enough. Nothing of value in any. I searched one more before I’d call it a day. Inside was a gramophone with a record on it.
He wasn’t just making a circle; he was repeating it, like a spinning record. It was Simon and Garfunkel. I’d crawled through mud in the pissing rain for this! I sat back and took in The Sound Of Silence. As anger subsided I chuckled. Maybe he just wanted me to enjoy something he liked.
I took out the envelope for Simon And Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits 1972. They both needed better haircuts. I felt something in the envelope and tipped it out. Three diaries and a pen hit the floor.
I opened the diary with an apple embroidered on the cover.
June 26th 2010
I miss you, Margaret. Every day I miss you. I even miss the way you’d tell me off for nothing in particular.
All I want to do is sleep. It’s the only time I get relief from this...
I smiled. He wanted me to learn about grandma.
Yesterday I tried to end it, but Bridget came over early. When she saw the rope she screamed ‘Family’ at me. ‘Family.’ ‘Family.’ ‘Family.’
My neck stiffened. Poor mum had to deal with his behaviour for so long. The next song started. I took a diary with entries from the year grandma died. I guess this was his way of feeling like they were still in contact. I learned that mum had difficulties growing up as he regularly wrote ‘Bridget seems back to normal now.’
Hoping to find information about dad, I skipped through the diaries until I found an entry from when I was born. The earliest I could find was this century, when I was three.
May 3rd 2001
I’d waited so long for her to let her guard down and she did when she finally let me cook dinner. I undercooked some old chicken I’d hidden in a cupboard. She wolfed the whole thing down. I still felt awful for deliberately hurting her.
What? The song cut. My eyes darted to the gramophone. The music jerked then started again. I got back to the diary.
While she vomited I snuck him a note. David’s a good man. He told me he’d help. He said she’d become violent since he suggested we all move and was snapping at him. She’d complained that the house is part of the family.
He’s going to get me and Emma out of here this weekend.
A lump formed in my throat. I fought the urge to read the next entry. Mum spent her life looking after him, and his thanks was to write horrible stories.
The gramophone crackled. I put the record back in the envelope and pulled myself towards the door.
“And what’s your name?” a man’s voice came from the gramophone speaker.
“Bridget,” an enthusiastic child’s voice announced. Mum.
“That’s right,” a woman’s voice said. It had to be grandma. Her tone melted my fear. It was so alive, so energetic.
“And what are you going to play for us, Bridget?” granddad asked. His voice was gentle and playful compared to the pained, worried one I’d heard.
“Music!” she answered. I laughed along with grandma and granddad.
The bright violin sound absorbed me.
“You can play this to our new neighbours in Norwich,” my grandma told her.
“But I like it here,” Bridget stopped playing. Her tone switched. “This, house, is, part, of, our, family. This is our land!”
She played the violin again.
“It’s ok Bridget, everything will be fine. You can stop playing now,” my granddad said.
The sound became disjointed and violent.
“Bridget. Practice is over,” grandma said.
The violin stopped, replaced by groaning.
“Bridget?” granddad said.
Mum released a deathly scream.
My whole body went numb.
“No Bridget!” granddad cried over grandma’s screams.
A crash. My granddad’s voice disappeared. There were just my grandma’s desperate pleas, and thuds, until there was a crack and just thuds.
I unplugged the gramophone, thankful for the silence. I closed my eyes, took deep breaths and counted back from ten.
The sound of mum crying boomed out of the gramophone. I could hear granddad struggle to get words out. I opened the diary.
I don’t even know what fucking day it is. David tried to get us away, but Bridget caught us. That anger is not from humanity. Those screams… They’re the screams of the dead. I’ve scabs all over my arms and burns on my chest. He’s gone. I don’t dare ask her where he is…
I felt faint.
The only thing she lets me do is smoke so I’m going to until my lungs explode. It’s this bloody land. There was no charm offensive as my parents claimed. My ancestors brutally tortured and killed the family that lived here. The great romance they preach was built on darkness, and it hangs over this place. It’s inside Bridget, and she won’t let people leave.
Poor Emma will never walk again. I saw her do it. I saw her take a hammer to Emma’s spine.
Tears formed in my eyes.
I looked up and she was barefoot, stood in the doorway. Words froze in my mouth. She smiled, turned around, and walked out into the rain. Each squelching step in the mud a thud on my heart.
That noise will haunt me until the day I die. That day is the day my mum chooses.
Mark completed an MA in Creative Writing in 2012 and writes comedy for UK TV. He had a sitcom make the semi-finals of the PAGE International Awards 2015. He loves writing and once a month invites people to submit forms on his website, www.mark-boutros.com. He then picks a form at random, and writes a story within 2 days.