Silence Can Hurt (A Story) and I'm Dashing (Our Racehorse)
This is the most recent story I've written. It was for the May meeting of the Uxbridge Writers' Circle. As usual, the words I had to use for the word challenge are shown in italics.
It's followed by a very short update on I'm Dashing and a friendly reminder! (See below).
Silence Can Hurt
Mabel stood in the nave of the cold, damp church and stared at the stapler in her hand. For a few disquieting seconds, she couldn’t remember what she intended to do with it. The poor lighting and the absence of any other people provided no clues. But she felt her insides churn and her heartbeat increase as an unpleasant and unwelcome recollection surfaced.
She was preparing for the marriage of her estranged daughter to a man she’d taken an instant dislike to when they first met just two nights ago. Her daughter, beautiful and intelligent, must have evolved into an extreme-right nutcase, going by what this man looked like and sounded like. Mabel couldn’t understand why Milly had gone quite so far off the rails. She and her late husband, Claude, had provided a secure upbringing for their only child. Claude was perhaps too strict, though. They even had a couple of heated arguments over the rules Claude laid down, but Mabel had no influence over her husband.
Milly couldn’t go anywhere with anyone whom Claude hadn’t met, interviewed, and approved.
His approval criteria were outlandish, even in Mabel’s view. Any person who Milly was permitted to have contact with had to be a member of their church and attend at least one church service per week, be female, dress in a similar fashion to Milly, in other words, conservatively: no ripped jeans or tank tops or mini skirts or low cleavage outfits or shorts. Mabel got red in the face and even raised her voice when Claude ruled that sandals were not allowed. And, of course, no make-up, including nail varnish. Claude wouldn’t budge an inch. To ensure compliance with the rules, Milly was home-schooled by her father, with help from Mabel.
Then he got sick. Cancer. By the time Milly turned seventeen, Claude was bedridden, and she left. Mabel didn’t hear anything from her for two years, despite sending regular emails. Those two years were full of stress and regret. She missed Milly more than she could have imagined.
Soon after she’d left, Claude died. Mabel was shocked that a wave of relief engulfed her, along with a strange sensation of freedom. She could do whatever she wanted.
But now she was afraid that Milly was about to marry a man who had some similarities to Claude. And she was certain that there was absolutely no use talking to her daughter. She wouldn’t listen.
She clenched the cold, hard stapler so tightly that it fired a staple. The noise jolted Mabel’s focus back to her task. She needed to staple two photocopied pages together for the wedding ceremony program. Milly hadn’t wanted anything sent out for printing. It was to be a very simple service and a low-key, informal reception with only twenty to thirty people expected to attend.
Mabel’s focus wavered again.
She hadn’t recognized Milly at first glance when she turned up on her doorstep three days ago. At least she hadn’t just barged in. Mind you, she’d never been permitted to have a key, and the front door was always locked, especially after the horrible incident.
Mabel almost lost hold of the stapler as recollection of the horrible incident percolated up out of past, well-buried memories. Claude had stomped about the kitchen, apparently indignant with outrage and fury. Milly was up in her bed. The doctor had advised them that Milly had been sexually assaulted. That was what had triggered the migraine. He’d given her some medication, and said he’d check on her later. But they never saw him again.
Milly was only thirteen.
Mabel came to the terrible conclusion that Claude had raped his own daughter, presumably traumatizing her for life. Guilt and anger consumed her, but the anger was directed inwards. Mabel had not protected Milly. She had failed her own daughter. But what was worse, she still didn’t take any action.
She dropped the stapler and ran from the church and arrived at the bed-and-breakfast out of breath, hair disheveled and with beads of sweat on her forehead. Milly was sitting on a bench in the front garden, facing out to the street. It was almost as if she’d been waiting for her mother.
For a couple of minutes, all that Mabel could say was ‘sorry’ in between body-rocking sobs. Milly didn’t move until Mable turned to look at her.
“I don’t expect you to forgive me,” Mabel said. “All I want is for you to be happy. I know I let you down. I’m not going to make excuses. I wasn’t there for you when I should have been. I didn’t protect you. I should have stood up to Claude. We should have left him.”
Milly stared at her mother for a couple of seconds with her mouth partly open and a frown that wrinkled her freckled forehead.
“You think Father raped me, don’t you?”
Mabel didn’t say anything. Her eyes widened, and the tears stopped abruptly.
“If we’d talked, I would have told you. But no-one talked. No-one wanted to listen. Do you want to know what happened?”
“Of course I do.”
“I had a migraine that day. You weren’t at home until later. Father called Doctor Beck because it was so bad. I’m sure Father thought it was a brain tumour. Doctor Beck was the one who did it.”
“Oh, my God. Did Claude know Doctor Beck assaulted you?”
“Of course he did. But it was covered up. That’s when Father made all those rules. When I look back on it, he was old school. He believed girls bring it on themselves, at least to some extent, by how they look and behave, and that’s why he became so over-protective. I don’t blame either of you. But I had to escape. It felt like prison. I couldn’t be my own person. I thought you knew.”
“No.” Mabel blew her nose. “Claude shouldn’t have covered it up, then I wouldn’t have made the wrong assumption. He was so controlling. I didn’t realize how much until he was gone. And, most important, Doctor Beck should have been brought to justice, for God’s sake.”
“It would have been my word against the Doctor’s. Father believed me, but who else would? There were no witnesses. The Doctor injected a sedative or something like that. I was still conscious, but I’m sure my testimony wouldn’t have stood up.”
“I’m so terribly, terribly sorry, Milly.”
“I’m sorry that you thought it was Father. How horrible.”
Mabel pulled herself together and sat in her usual upright, straight-backed position.
“So, you’re getting married tomorrow.”
“No, I’m not.”
“I’m not ready. What with the memories of what went on here and the fact that he’s too right-wing and extreme for me, I’ve called it off. I think I’m really more middle-of-the-road, and I want to be more independent. But I still have a lot to learn about myself.”
“What am I going to do about all the cheese and cress sandwiches I’ve made, let alone all the food in other fridges around the village?” Mabel looks at Milly, and smiles.
“I guess that’s what we’ll be eating for a while. I’m hoping I can stay with you for a bit.”
Mabel had forgotten what it was like to hug and be hugged. She was reluctant to let go of her beautiful daughter and vowed that they’d talk and hug, and hug and talk, every day during her visit, which she hoped would be a long one.
Vicky Earle Copyright 2022
I know I'm biased - but I really do think he's dashing. This is the racehorse we bred. He won two races at Woodbine Racetrack last year! We're hoping he'll be racing at the end of this month. I took this photo on May 11 after he'd had a romp around the track and enjoyed some of the carrots we brought for him.
Here's Your Friendly Reminder!
Join me in planting some sunflower seeds! I'm searching for some good spots in my gardens where I can grow these cheerful flowers - to show our support for Ukraine.