What Next? by Ceinwen Haydon

A woman's relationship with her domineering mother has come to an end, but she can't bring herself to face the truth about how; by Ceinwen Haydon.

Springtime, a blackbird perched in the lime tree sang. I did not notice. Blisters bled on my heels, my new brogues chafed, tight and sore. As I turned my key in the lock, relief washed through me. I kicked off the shoes and blood dripped onto the stripped oak floor. My jaw unclenched, my neck, shoulders, back slackened. Home at last, after my time away.

As I dragged my bulging case into the hall I felt the weight of a lifetime: one that I was unable to lift or leave behind.

I stepped distracted into the cluttered kitchen, headed for the fridge and the chilled Chardonnay. As I opened the door and saw the beckoning bottle, my gut twisted with pain. I lurched to the toilet and reached it just in time.

An hour later, fuzzy headed and pissed, I sat at the breakfast bar and stared at the bulging suitcase, transfixed. Maybe if I'd asserted myself sooner I'd have avoided the carnage? At last I was liberated, but peace eluded me. Memories are persistent and then there's the small matter of guilt, and its pervasive stench.

Startled, I remembered what I had done. My stool clattered to the floor as I jumped up. An urgent burst of energy compelled me to cover my tracks. I heaved the case into the bathroom, thankful for my ground floor flat and the absence of stairs. I removed the panel from the front of the bath and stuffed the case underneath the tub; it only just slotted into the gap. I replaced the wood and screwed it firmly back into place. My mother was only 4' 10" yet she had dominated me, until now.

For a while I lay on the cork tiled floor, sweats and shakes racked my body in the unheated room. I'd never dare heat it again for sure. I could see the branches of an old beech as they swayed outside the clear upper window; lower down where the glass was frosted the same tree made grotesque shapes that shifted in a grey kaleidoscope.

I crawled towards my bedroom, crept into the sanctuary of my sour sheets and scratchy blankets and buried myself like a wounded animal.

As dreams possessed me, I lived it all again. I saw her face as it had been that last time, rigid with disgust at the sight of me, and yet she still demanded my all. Her hands clutched my arms and her nails, so neat and clean, dug into my skin. The tableau is set.

"Tell me that you love me, tell me, tell me," she incants with venom.

"You will tell me, tell me now. I will not let you go from here until you have told me. As God is your master, say you love me."

At this her hands release my forearms and reach up to grab my neck where they press onto my windpipe; as she flattens it I gasp for air.

I push her off with all my might. She falls back and she screeches with fury.

I recall the stuff of past nightmares and I know that her skull must be cracked open. I flee into the street, scared to see her bloody demise, or hear the groans that will end in a hollow silence.

I start to hum monotonically: louder and louder. I can't stop. Waves of laughter, then tears, rip through me. My senses spiral into a vortex that leaves me dizzy and disorientated. Madness, I have cut loose at last, I have fledged into the devil that she had always known me to be.

Weeks later in the white stillness of the clinic, I was told that I would get better: I could go home before too long. The staff who'd cared for me spoke kind words, 'understandable shock', 'trauma', 'you need time', 'let yourself to heal', 'do not take the blame '. But whatever they said I knew the truth. I'd longed for her to die, to be free of her tyranny. She had cornered me and it was me or her.

In childhood I'd been told by my mother and by my father, conscripted as he was to advance her interests, that I'd surely be the death of her: I was so bad, so disappointed her, so flawed and debased. These were prophecies spoken with authority, and they summoned me to fulfil them.

Until the point that I arrived home I had not let the suitcase out of my sight. Now it was stowed away and would rot where it lay, as would its contents. The odour had started already, invasive and sickening.

As one hectic hallucination merged into another, I heard the doorbell. I stiffened, taut and alert. I must not give them reason to be suspicious, I must answer.

A woman stood there, maybe thirty five years old, pale grey eyes and auburn hair.

"Hello Jane, I'm Bethany, your community psychiatric nurse. Can I come in?"

I stood to one side, and she saw the blood on the floor.

"Oh dear, have you hurt yourself?"

I gestured to the cruel shoes kicked to one side in the hall.

"OK Jane, let's sit down shall we? How are you feeling now that you're back at home?"

I looked at her face, it was kind and she seemed to accept me, I'd better give her a chance.

"Oh you know. I've done what I've done and now I must wait. It'll take a long time to sink in. But I do want to get better, to get free of all this."

"What have you done Jane?"

"What they always said that I'd do, that I'd be the death of her, or make her kill me. I'm wicked."

"Jane, you must test your beliefs against reality. You need to accept what actually happened. Shall I show you the discharge notes to help you?"

She rummaged in her briefcase

"Here we go."

She started to read in her professionally reassuring voice, enhanced by her Irish lilt.

"'On the 30th of January, Ms Jane Wade was found in the street outside her mother's home, 6 Derwent Walk, Newtown, by paramedics. They had been called by her mother, Mrs Bella Bevan, following an altercation.'"

Bethany hesitated at the starkness of what followed. She forgot that I had seen the report before and she began to paraphrase to save my feelings.

"'Mrs Bevan said that her daughter became unwell.'"

[Verbatim, 'Mrs Bevan said that her daughter became unhinged.']

"'Mrs Bevan said that her daughter was often anxious.'"

[Verbatim, 'Mrs Bevan said that her daughter was given to being unstable and overwrought.']

Bethany read on,

"'The medical staff in attendance noticed deep scratches on Ms Wade's arms, and Mrs Bevan asserted that these were self-inflicted. We later learnt from Ms Wade that her mother had assaulted her. A neighbour, Mr Bob O'Gorman, corroborated this in his independent account. He saw the two women in the front room as he passed the property when walking his dog. He heard a commotion, and as he moved closer to the house he saw Mrs Bevan as she attempted to strangle Ms Wade. It would seem that Ms Wade suffered an extreme stress reaction, and that this left her with residual psychosis. This has manifested in thought disorder and paranoid ideas. She holds a fixed belief that she has killed her mother, and is unable to accept that this did not happen. We were unable to ascertain whether Ms Wade has experienced mental ill-health prior to this episode.'"

Bethany paused.

"Jane this is the final paragraph and it is where I come in. 'I would recommend that she should be monitored by the community mental health team in her home area, and that she should be referred for psychological therapy. We would advise that Ms Wade should limit the contact that she has with her mother for the time being as this exacerbates her distress.'"

I felt the wetness of tears as they rolled down my face although I had no sense that I was crying. I sat stock still and paralysed. Bethany reached across to me and placed her hand gently on top of mine.

"Jane, I really do want to help you to deal with these pressures, so that you can become well again. Shall we have a break and a cup of tea? I'm happy to make a pot if that's ok with you?"

I nodded. "Thanks, if you wouldn't mind? The tea's in the cupboard next to the window and there are cups in the dishwasher."

When Bethany'd made the drinks I unjammed a bit and started to talk to her properly. I told her what my mother was like. I told her of the many beatings I'd had as a teenager, 'to get the devil out'; of the constant criticism and derision that she'd meted out to me. I tried to explain how respectable my mother had appeared to be to the outside world. People liked her because they saw a gentle and competent woman, a pillar of the local community. She saved her violence for behind closed doors. Her public persona made me doubt my sanity, and no-one would have believed me if I'd spoken out.

Looking with quiet honesty into my eyes, Bethany said, "Anyone would have lost it faced with that abuse, and over so many years. I think that you were remarkable. You did what you had to in order to get away, nothing more. Your mother is alive and uninjured, but you do not have to see her ever again if you do not wish to."

Six months later my life is calmer, my flat cleaner and I can smile again. I have remembered how my thoughts conflated when my mother cornered me. She was intent on destroying me, if I refused her. Dr Darlington, my psychologist, has helped me to understand that I do not have to put up with this abuse, this and much else that I have known. I am now beginning to take control: to be a survivor not a victim. I have found that a small miracle has happened. I have started to be kind, and this has changed everything. I think so anyway. I still have far to go, this will be a long struggle. I will return to my job as a pharmacist next week, with reduced hours at first to see how I cope. I've had friends round to mine for supper. Does this mean that I'm nearly 'OK'? I'm trying so hard. But behind the panel in the bathroom, my mother's remains are still encased, although oddly I can no longer smell the corruption of her flesh.

Bethany has asked me if I want her to help me shift the suitcase and empty its contents. She has told me that it only contains a bag of my mother's old jumpers. She said that when I was detained in hospital the nursing staff observed that I placed them all around my bed like soft toys. It seems I smelt them often, burying my face in the soft wool. The staff said that I sometimes wept and called out for 'Mummy', like an abandoned child.

I have two memories. In one I am dimly aware that mother asked me to take some knitwear to the local Oxfam shop on the day of that last row. I think she packed them in a case ready for me to take. In the other I stuffed mother in the case for good to silence her.

In my clinical notes Dr D. describes me as having an 'encapsulated psychosis', I saw it once when he went out of the consulting room for a glass of water. When he returned, I asked him what the phrase meant. He said that it is a phenomenon characterised by an abnormal belief system contained in an otherwise healthy and rational mind. I can see why he'd think that, but there are always exceptions to the rules. I might be right. She could still be in the case.

The phone rings in the hall.

"Hello darling, it's been so long, I thought that you'd forgotten your old mum! Just checking that you'll be coming down at Christmas so that I can look after you? We need to get back to normal."

I see the fading blood stains from my martyred feet on the oak floor. I stand up straight at last and reply. "No, I don't think so. Goodbye. Do not ever call again. My mother is dead."

Then I replace the receiver.

Bethany and I can junk the case and its contents soon. Outside in the gloaming the blackbird sings its sweet tune, pitch perfect and joyful. My time has come.


  1. Well done, Ceinwen! Well planned and well written; you've obviously done your homework and put much thought into the writing of this story. It's not the kind where one can say "I enjoyed this," but it certainly holds the writer's interest from start to finish. It tackles a difficult subject too, which takes courage. Keep writing!

  2. First class writing! It has the disturbing ring of truth to it. I hope not.!
    It´s been a long journey for Jane but is it really over? It certainly seems like it. I hope so.!
    Well done

    Mike McC

  3. I liked the use of a first person "unreliable narrator" and the mixing of tenses. It brought the reader into Jane's disturbed and troubled mindset. Part of me wanted even more sordid details but the minimal nature of the writing kept it from turning it melodramatic.or sensationalist,

  4. Thank you Beryl, Mike and 'frefu 1' for taking the time to read my story, and for your generous comments and encouragement,

  5. This held me rapt throughout...or should that be wrapped...as my arms tightened around me and I read on...only relaxing at the story's conclusion...however the mental images will take longer to unfold as the blurring of creative writing and the previously suppressed memories of reality have merged dangerously close together...a roll-up and a cup of tea I think...but no bathroom visits for a while at least. YoBro