Upon the death of her father, Becky McCauley turns to her abusive ex for support; by Ceinwen Haydon.
Becky McCauley leant on the banister at the foot of the stairs, frozen. She knew she had to go up, wake her mother and tell her, but she wanted to run out into the night and never return. They'd said that if he survived for two weeks after the amputation then his chances would be good. He nearly got there, it would have been two weeks tomorrow. There was so much she'd wanted to ask him and now she'd missed her chance. Her bladder was full and painful after too much wine so she made her way to the toilet. As she sat there she vividly remembered random scenes from her life. She'd adored Dad even when he was wrong and he often was. Her mother was a different story.
Becky stood up and washed her hands; she wondered how it was that she could run a primary school that OFSTED rated as excellent and yet she experienced nervous anxiety every time she saw her elderly mum. Of course, it was natural tonight and anyone would have balked at what she had to do. But that didn't explain the other times. She wished Dan was with her tonight, if not him anyone, someone to diffuse the intensity of what was to come. She checked the time, it was two thirty, half an hour had already ticked by. She returned to the living room, poured herself a large gin, downed it and mounted the staircase. She knocked at her mother's door but there was no response. Light snores came from within the bedroom where the old woman slept a Zopiclone induced sleep. Becky opened the door and winced at the stuffy, fetid air. She walked slowly across the shag pile beige carpet and reached out to shake her mother. Becky forced herself to be gentle but withdrew her hand as soon as her mother stirred.
'What, what's happening? Bernard, is that you? Leave me alone, just leave me alone.'
'It's me, Becky. Mum wake up. Please wake up, I need to speak to you. Listen, Mum. The hospital called. It's Dad, he's died. I'm sorry, so sorry to have to tell you.'
Her mother screamed and put her hands over her ears.
'No, no, no. You nasty lying girl. You wait until your Dad gets home. He'll teach you to do this to me. I wish you'd never been born.'
Becky was horrified by the proximity between her and her mother. It would be so easy to put an end to the hell once and for all. She knew she had to get out of the room. The alcohol surged through her brain and her cheeks burnt, but she was alert enough to know where being drunk could lead her if she didn't get away. She'd done it in her dreams for years, for as long as she could remember.
She stood on the top step and trembled then she felt her way down; each tread felt spongy and insubstantial but she gripped the handrail and continued. She grabbed her mobile from her tote bag and stumbled out into the front garden. The windows of the neighbouring houses were dark, but it was a comfort to know that people slept behind them and she was not totally alone.
The night air was crisp and a breeze scudded clouds across the face of the moon. Venus blazed bright. Becky's father was looking down on her, she was sure.
'Dad. Oh Dad, what should I do?'
Through her tears she was aware that her phone, clutched in her palm, had started to vibrate. Dan's number glowed insistently, she pressed 'Answer' before she had time to think.
'Becky, it's Dan. Your number came up as a missed call. What's up?'
Becky had a foggy recollection of keying in his number after she'd spoken to the doctor. She'd been desperate but she'd cut the call almost immediately.
'Sorry, yes. It was a mistake.'
'A mistake? At this time of night? Are you pissed?'
'No, yes, sort of... Dad died tonight, I took the call. I had to tell Mum.'
'Jesus, are you on your own with her? Do you want me to come over? I could be with you in an hour.'
All of Becky's energy drained out of her. She did not think about the months, even years, it had taken her to break free of him and it seemed like he was the only one who could pull her back from danger tonight.
'Yes, will you? Please?'
'Course, I always knew you'd have me back one day. See you as soon as.'
Bile scalded the back of her throat. Her brow glistened with sweat under the streetlight and she crouched behind a small privet hedge and peed in pure panic. She had to escape from the tyrant howling upstairs and from Dan. He would never let her go again once he had a second chance. It had been a miracle that she'd got away once, he thought he'd had her every move taped. On autopilot, Becky careered into the hall, picked up her bag and jacket and headed out into the street jogging as fast as her shaky legs would allow. She headed for the river that ran through the small town on the edge of the Yorkshire Moors. He would be coming in on the top road from Keighley, she couldn't risk being seen. She knew the riverside paths well in daylight, but they confused her in the dark. She believed that she was heading towards the bottom lane that went to the next village but as she turned a corner she was at a dead end. Stepping stones with strange cambers opened out in front of her, grey-dusted by moonlight. The inky water eddied around them and dizzied her eyes. She stepped out onto the first one and nearly lost her balance. Somehow, she steadied herself and headed further across the waterway.
Dan made good time and arrived at Mrs. McCauley's home forty-five minutes after Becky had bolted. He thought it was weird that the front door gaped open, but maybe Becky was upstairs with her mother and wanted him to come on up. He'd always told Becky that she needed him to keep her right, she was nothing if not flakey. He knew her better than she knew herself; he knew what was good for her. Old Ma McCauley was a nightmare and had a lot to answer for. He'd got onside with Becky in the beginning by helping her to see that her mother was a shitty cow. Bernard, Mr McCauley, was a different kettle of fish. He was a mixed bag, but when all's said and done he looked out for Becky without a thought for himself. He'd made things difficult; perhaps with him gone the two of them, Becky and Dan, would get on fine? Bernard never did like Dan.
Dan took the stairs two at a time. He heard Mrs. M. wailing and listened for Becky's voice. Nothing. The lass must be all done in. He pushed open the door and saw the scrawny biddy curled up on her bed sobbing and ranting. There was no sign of Becky. This wasn't on.
'Becky. Come here now,' he shouted in a voice that commanded rather than requested.
'Where's Becky? Why are you here? You're finished, you two,' said the old lady weeping.
Dan looked around her room then stomped off to check the other rooms in the house. Nothing. He returned to the bedroom.
'The skanky little whore has made off, hasn't she?' he said, as he yanked her cobwebby hair and made her look up at him.
'Bernard, Bernard. Where are you? Help me, help me.'
'Shut your mouth or I'll shut it for you,' said Dan.
'You? And who do you think you are? A little cretin, that's what. I don't know what our Becky saw in you, but then she's half-crazed herself.'
His gut twisted and his pulse raced. 'Enough, I'll shut you up for good.'
He grabbed a pillow, embroidered with pretty cats called Felix, a pillow that stank of her stale saliva, and shoved it into her moaning face. She wriggled hard at first. It took all his strength to maintain the pressure. Limpness came in the end and relief coursed through him. Until he realised what he had done.
Becky was back at school in four weeks, humbled by the love and support she'd been shown to her by parents, pupils and by her staff. The story was unbelievable but they do say truth is stranger than fiction. It was said that the night that Becky McCauley's dad died, her ex broke into Becky's mum's house and killed her. Becky said he'd always had a violent streak. Strange thing is though, Becky had been out at the time. Fortunate for her, or she might be dead too.
Becky had worked out what had happened in spite of her memory being more or less wiped. She knew she'd been crazed with losing Dad. She'd had to cross the river to get to him, she'd seen him in the stars, the stars reflected in the water. When she slipped, plunged into the whirlpool, she wanted to join him but he had hauled her out onto the bank. It wasn't her time, he'd said, she had work to do.
In the first assembly of the new term, Becky said, 'Now children, I want you to think about the old saying that Every cloud has a silver lining. I want you to think about what that means to you.'