Mort Island Lighthouse

Mort Island, 1828

‘You know, up until a few years back this was called Gull Island, the birds used to flock here in their hundreds, nesting see, perfect for nesting.’

‘Pretty cold though.’

‘Ah, tough things gulls.’

‘ Yeah, noisy too,’ Anton looked above at the gulls flying over the boat as it pushed on through the waves, spraying water up onto Anton’s glasses. Wiping them with a brown squared handkerchief, Anton continued, ‘so, how come the name changed?’

‘Ah, it was the Mort couple, such a tragic end.’

‘Tragic?’

‘Yes, there are rumours he killed her.’

‘Who?’

‘Harry Mort, they say he killed his wife and threw her in the deep, but who’s to know eh? He kept this lighthouse for years after she died. They couldn’t prove whether he had killed her see, and he pleaded innocence, so, they just left him to it. That’s how the name changed, just become known to be the Mort’s Lighthouse. He was there for years.’ The boatman took a long drag on his pipe, still lit despite the seawater spraying up over the side of the boat, smoke bellowing out of his mouth as he continued, ‘well, until he went missing a few years back of course.’

‘Oh god, so somebody died here?’

‘Well, that’s how the story goes.’

‘Oh, right, uh, well, has anybody kept it since he went missing?’

‘There were a few, never staying long, always complaining about the place and coming back on the first boat they could. Nobody for a while now, and it’s in dire need of repair that lighthouse. The owner wants it back working as soon as possible.’ The navigator gestured towards the island with his hand, letting out a small chuckle and coughing his words through his blackened pipe. ‘You two are the only two that turned up for the job.

‘The only two?’

‘It’s all the stories see, lights flashing, strange noises, they reckon it’s Lady Mort, haunting the place because her husband killed her, who’s to know eh? ’

Anton’s eyes widened as he turned to Ernst, a mocking smile pasted across his face, peeking through his curly brown beard.

‘Hear that Ernst, it’s haunted. ’

‘What? Sorry, um, haunted you say?’ Ernst sprayed his whiskey infused saliva at Anton’s face as he mumbled his words, the smell of Mellwood bourbon lingering on his breath. Ernst held out the half-empty bottle towards Anton, ‘go on. Have some of this, this’ll get rid of your hauntings.’

‘Uh, no thanks, you crack on with that.’

As they neared the shore, the boat slowed as it drifted towards the small beach, the boatman looking ahead as he guided the boat onto the sand. ‘I’ll be back in a few days with supplies for you and to see how you’re getting on, it’s only me that’ll come here from the docks, and I’m at sea next week, so it’ll be sooner than usual.’

‘No problem.’

After helping the men off the boat, the boatman offered his last words of ‘good luck,’ and pushed off from the beach, the water parting as the boat thrust through, the waves crashing back towards the shore. Anton and Ernst started up the beach, the boatman lifting his pipe in a goodbye as he continued back to the mainland. The shell-filled sand crunched beneath the men’s boots as they made their way up to the lighthouse, duffel bags on their backs and each with a crate of food in their arms.

Anton stopped as the lighthouse came into view from behind the rocks, staring up at the stone bricks and little windows dotted around it like protruding buttons. His eyes followed the windows up to the top of the lighthouse, the glass of the lantern room dirty and the balcony railings around it rusty. This place could do with rebuilding, not renovating.

Reaching the door, Anton placed his crate on the rocks, searching in his coat pocket for the key he had been given, as Ernst struggled over the rocks behind him. How much has he drunk already? Anton’s nails scratched at the long rusty metal of the key, cold and jagged between his fingers. How old is this place? No wonder nobody will come here. The key turned in the door like a knife, catching on something as it twisted, the door creaking open on its one remaining hinge into the living area, the smell of damp thick in the air.

‘Oh, well, I can see why we’re here Ernst.’

‘Hmm,’ Ernst stumbled through, dropping his bag and plonking himself onto one of the wooden chairs around the lopsided table in the middle of the room, the front door slamming shut behind them and showering splinters of wood into the air. Ernst jumped at the bang, ‘well, apart from that, it’s not too bad.’ Anton, his face scowled, scratched as his chin as he looked at Ernst leaning back in the chair. What a drunkard, what the hell is he going to do around here?

‘Come on, let’s have a look around.’ Anton was already making his way up the spiralling stairs as he asked Ernst to join him.

‘Oh, yes, of course.’

Each step creaked under their feet as they climbed, the old wood seeming as if it would break with any more weight. Reaching a small landing with a door, they entered, ducking as they went through the doorframe into the dimly-lit bedroom. ‘There we are, you can sleep in here Ernst.’ The dust from the neglected room swept up at the men as they moved around in the room, Ernst twisting his face up at the thought of sleeping in there. A double bed, stripped bare, with what looked like brass posts and a thin, flimsy mattress, lay still in the middle of the room, as if it was sleeping itself. Anton rubbed a small patch of the window, the thick layer of dust clogging up on his sleeve. He looked out at the rocks opposite the lighthouse, the waves turning to white foam as they crashed at them.

‘Look at this brother,’ Anton turned his head to Ernst, standing at the dresser holding a small oval picture frame with little pearls around the rim. Ernst blew the picture, thick dust strewing off and covering the floor, ‘these must be the Morts.’

‘Let’s have a look.’ Anton stepped over a pile of dirty rags on the floor and focused on the photo with Ernst, ‘yes, they fit the bill, wedding day too.’ Ernst passed the frame to Anton and began opening the drawers of the dresser. Anton’s fingers felt along the cold pearls of the frame as he turned it over to look at the back, finding an inscription in tiny scrawled writing, difficult to make out with the faded ink.

MY LOVE HAS GONE –  HM

Anton gasped for breath, struggling to find it in the musty room, the thought of the dead Morts spooking him as he stood there in their bedroom. In an attempt to disguise his fright, he jabbed Ernst in his sides with his fingers, ‘lucky you, you can have the honeymoon suite.’

‘I don’t think so,’ Ernst’s pungent breath blew at Anton’s face as he pointed behind the door.

‘Oh god.’ A wooden cradle with dark wood slats on the sides and a rounded bottom sat there, hushed and still behind the door. A large cobweb connected from the end of the cradle to the wall. A baby? The men looked over into the cradle, the bare base of the wood staring back at them, covered in the same thick layer of dust that everything else was. ‘I didn’t realise they had a baby. Did the boatman say anything about that?’

‘Don’t think so, it was probably just here ready for when they did. I mean, hadn’t they just got married?’

‘Hmm, yeah,’ Anton looked around the room, moving his gaze from the wedding picture and the cradle, ‘you sure you don’t want this room?’

‘Let’s just see what the other one is like first.’

On the next landing up was another door, open, and with scuffs of the pale paint it had been coated in scratched off the bottom of it and scattered on the floor. Inside, a single bed, its iron cast frame rusted, and a small dresser underneath the window. Anton laughed as he turned to Ernst, ‘well, take your pick, they’re both as bad as each other.’

‘Crack on with the double, I’ll take this one,’ Ernst fell back onto the bed, the frame grating against the wall as his body forced it against it, dust from the mattress exploding into the air.

‘Look, I don’t mind this room, you can–’

‘No, no, you have it brother, honest.’

‘Okay, thanks,’ Anton felt his skin tighten, the stories the boatman had told him flashed through his head. Their bedroom, eugh, and that cradle, it’s just too spooky.

*

As the unstoppable black night drew in, and with Ernst passed out on the chair he had adopted upon arrival, Anton patted the fire out and made his way to his bedroom. Shuffling around the room, Anton brushed off thick cobwebs from three pillar candles on the dresser and struck a match in a satisfying swipe, the crackle of the match amplified in the small room and the smell of the burning wood warming him almost instantly. Anton laid his blanket out on the bed, barely reaching the four corners of the mattress. He grabbed a book from his bag and lay there, his eyes squinting as he tried to read, the warm breath rising up from his mouth and fogging the glass on his wire framed spectacles. The whistling draft swirled its way up the winding staircase and under his bedroom door, making reading even more difficult by extinguishing the candles with its swoosh. Creepy.  Reaching over to get the matches from the dresser, Anton knocked the wedding picture of the Morts onto the floor, the glass smashing as the frame hit the wooden slats, sending some of the pearls rolling across the floor. Shit. Anton threw the matches back on the dresser and settled into bed, leaving the broken frame beside the bed in a pile. That can wait, time to sleep. Arms crossed, and the bed sheet pulled up over his lower body, Anton lay in bed, the sound of the harsh waves lulling him to sleep. As he lay there, listening, he heard a large bang on the stairs and then quiet footsteps going up, the door above him opening. What a drunk. He shouted a goodnight to Ernst as he heard the bedroom door close, and drifted off to sleep.

*

Anton woke the next morning to the rain lashing against the round window of his room, as if the weather was knocking to wake him up. What a fine day. He heaved himself out of bed, picking up the frame he had broken and brushing the broken glass to the side of the room, knocking the cradle with his foot as he did. Sitting on the edge of his bed to put his boots on, Anton noticed the cradle gently rocking in the corner, creaking against the floor as it swayed from left to right, breaking its connection with the wall by pulling the cobweb. This place is just too much.

‘Ernst?’ A reply of grumbles greeted Anton as he entered the living room, Ernst still half-asleep on the chair Anton left him on the night before. ‘Didn’t you, uh, go to bed last night?’

‘Who needs bed when you’ve got a perfectly good chair, eh?’

‘No I mean, I heard you going to bed, I thought I heard you drop something. I shouted goodnight up to you after I heard you passing my room.’

‘I can safely say I have been here all night, close to my whiskey see, don’t want it getting lonely.’

‘No, you’re not listening, I heard you climbing the stairs, and your door closing,’ Anton looked at Ernst, raising his hands behind his head in disbelief and tugging at the thick curls on the back of his head, ‘so, it definitely wasn’t you?’

‘Nope. I’ve been right here.’

Anton felt his throat tighten into a choke, his mouth growing dry as he thought of what he had heard the night before. Must’ve been a dream, must have, what else? Anton paced around the living area, tapping his lip and chin with his index finger in a rhythmic fashion, his mind ticking over. This place, I don’t know, there’s something about it. Using his thumb he felt the hard yellowed calluses on the tips of his fingers and picked at the fraying skin around his cuticles. Those stories can’t be true.

*

After a quick breakfast the men made their way to the store house just opposite the lighthouse, beginning to scout out what needed repairing. ‘Look at this,’ Ernst held up a long, wooden fishing rod, pretending to cast it over at Anton as he tapped the frame of the window, the rainwater running along the glass on the outside.

‘Put that down, come on, we’ve got to get this place sorted out.’ Anton sifted through the store house, piling up jagged pieces of wood and broken tools in the corner of the room. ‘Looks like Harry Mort was a bit of a hoarder,’ Ernst grunted in agreement, still fiddling with the fishing rod on the wall. ‘Let’s go back and start work in there, tidying up out here can wait.’

Anton pushed at the wooden door to the lighthouse, the top half bending in slightly, ‘did you lock this behind us Ernst?’

‘No, I left it open to get the smell of damp out.’

Anton tried the door again, pressing his shoulder against it for force, ‘it won’t budge.’

‘Let me have a try brother,’ Ernst took a small run at the door, snapping the bottom hinge off and sending the door flat to the ground.

‘Well, I could’ve done that.’

‘We’re in aren’t we?’

‘Yes, but look,’ Anton lowered to the floor to look at the lock, ‘the key’s in here, it’s been locked from inside Ernst.’

‘Nonsense, you must have left it in the door last night didn’t you?’

‘No, no, I remember putting it on that hook there.’ The men looked at each other with blank expressions, Anton’s face growing pale and Ernst swigging from the bottle of Mellwood in fear, his hand clawed around it. What the hell is going on here?

Anton stretched, in straightening his back and twisting his neck left to right he spotted the bookcase in the corner, moved to the side, the wall behind it a lighter shade of grey, and a square hole of bricks knocked out. ‘Ernst, look at that.’ Ernst turned on his heel, bottle in hand, gulping another mouthful of whiskey as he looked at the hole in the wall.

‘That wasn’t there before, was it brother?’

Anton crept towards the bookcase, peering around it and looking into the hole, the smell of mould pouring out from inside the wall. What the hell is this? Anton called Ernst’s attention with his hand, pointing his fingers and clicking at an oil lamp on the mantelpiece.

‘We’re not going in there are we?’

‘Come on, we’ve got to see what it is,’ Anton’s voice was low, his feigned bravery hiding his worried face, his lips trembling as he spoke.

‘But–’

‘Come on.’

Anton took the lamp and held it out to light the crevice, the grimy walls shining back with their glossy green texture. Stretching his right leg over the small wall and onto the ground the other side Anton made his way into the hole, and his other leg following. As he stooped in the narrow passage, he could see a stone staircase leading downwards, wet with damp, making him shiver. The cold pierced through to his bones, his muscles tensing around them, unsure of what may be down the staircase. Ernst followed as Anton made his way down, each step they took rigid with nerves as their shadowy figures moved through the darkness. Anton felt along the wall with his hand for balance, feeling the ridges and cracks in the stonework, his other hand tightly gripping the handle of the lamp. ‘I don’t think I want to be going down here,’ Ernst spoke in a whisper as he followed Anton down the uneven steps.

The men continued down the staircase, Anton growing more nervous with each careful step they took. What’s the worst that could be down here? A dripping sound persisted, growing faster as they neared the bottom, the light from the lamp making the small puddles on the steps glow orange, like tiny eyes looking back at them from the water. Oh god. The men came to a corridor, its floor a few inches flooded with dirty water. Can’t turn back now.

Their breathing grew deep and shaky as they headed through the corridor, the water engulfing their boots. What the hell are we doing? At the end of the corridor was a door, confronting the men with its large metal strips across it, shoddily nailed on. The door was ajar; Anton pushed it forward into the room, his fear keeping him alert and the pumping adrenaline raging through his body ploughing him onwards. With the scrape of the door opening, the men entered, the lamp lighting up the room as they walked in. Anton’s stomach churned at the sight of a skeleton propped up on a chair, its black teeth smiling back at them. This is enough. Anton turned to find Ernst already making his way along the corridor. The men bound up the stairs, splashing water up their trousers, their coats snagging along the mossy walls as they ran.

‘What the hell was that?’ Ernst shouted at Anton as they climbed back into the living area, the smell of smoke from the fire a reminder of the night before. Anton shook his head in reply, his index finger and thumb placed between his knitted brows.

‘I don’t know, but I think we need to leave.’

‘But how, there’s no boats.’

‘We can’t stay here, something’s going on, it’s got to be.’

As the men hurried around the room collecting their belongings, footsteps echoed down the staircase, followed by a voice, breaking as it spoke, ‘don’t go, wait.’ Anton and Ernst froze, looking over to the staircase at a man, hunched over and clinging to the handrail, his grey hair pointed towards them as he looked down at the floor, limping down the stairs. ‘It’s gone on too long, I’m ready now.’ Anton’s mouth opened, unable to speak at the sight of the man and the crack of his croaking voice. As the man took the last step off the stairs he looked up at the men, the left side of his face scarred and pink, and his eyes colourless except for thin red veins in the corners.  Anton swallowed, his throat still dry but able to utter a few words. It can’t be.

‘Harry? Harry Mort?’

‘Ha!’ The man laughed with his throat, wheezing through his rotten teeth as he spoke, ‘I haven’t heard my name in a while. They stopped sending people you see,’ his chest wheezed again as he spoke, ‘you two are the first in years.’

‘They think you’re missing.’

‘They think I’m dead!’ Harry struggled over to one of the chairs and sat down, ‘they tried evicting me, tried to get me out of my home. My family’s home.’

‘Evicting you? Who?’ Anton spoke to the man, Ernst still in shock by the door, polishing off the last drops of his whiskey.

‘The owners, they bought this place years back, bought it from the town hall and tried to kick me out of here.’

‘And you didn’t want to leave?’

‘Would you leave your family behind? Your family’s home?’

‘Uh, no, I just meant–’

‘I know what you meant, and I’ve tried to go, honestly I have, look,’ Harry pointed up his face, the skin torn and ruptured on one side, ‘I have tried, I have tried, I’m always trying. I just wanted to be with my family.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘My wife, my child, I lost them so long ago, I kept this place going, I just, I just kept it going for them. It was the only reminder.’ Harry sniffed, his heavy head dropped down towards the floor, his dry chin landing on his chest, ‘I’m sorry.’

‘No, no, I under–’

‘Do you? Do you really? Nobody does.’ Harry shook his head in an angry twitch as he spoke, ‘I stayed to keep people like you away, to keep people like you from destroying our home.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I’ve been creeping around, locking you out, same old tricks. People think this place is haunted.’

As he spoke, he reached inside his pocket, pulling out a stained envelope and bringing it close to his body in a groan. Anton and Ernst watched as his head went limp and dropped forward, his grip loosening, causing the envelope to drift down towards the floor. Both Anton and Ernst rushed over and lifted his head up, cold and heavy in their hands. Anton felt around on Harry’s neck trying to find a pulse as Ernst moved away from the body.

‘I think he’s gone brother.’

Anton grunted in agreement and paced around the table, ‘what just happened Ernst, what the hell was all that?’

‘I don’t know, it’s got me spooked though.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Look, the envelope.’

Anton bent down and picked it up, the envelope was creased and worn, its edges bent from being kept inside Harry’s pocket. ‘Do you think we should, you know?’

‘I think he was trying to show us brother.’

‘Yeah, let’s have a look.’ The flap on the envelope lifted with ease and Anton slid a small note out from inside, ‘oh.’

My dear Harry,

I cannot go on any longer.

I am afraid, and I have failed you as a wife and failed our child as a mother. I must go now and be with our child.

Please forgive me Harry.

My eternal love,

Alicia

x

‘Christ Ernst, it’s from his wife.’

‘So, he didn’t kill her then, she killed herself.’

‘Looks like,’ Anton folded the note back up into the envelope and placed it in his pocket, ‘come on, we’ll cover his body with one of the sheets, we’ll get the boatman to take him back when he delivers our supplies.’

*

Two days later, the boatman arrived with supplies, stepping off onto the beach to greet the men. ‘Hello gentlemen, I trust you’re doing well, look I’ve brought some–’ Anton interrupted the boatman as he began to speak.

‘We found Harry Mort.’

‘Found him?’

‘Well, actually, he found us, he’s been here all along.’

‘He’s alive?’ The boatman held his pipe to the side of his mouth, ‘I never, that man, I tell you.’

‘No, he’s dead.’ The boatman looked at the men blankly as Anton continued, ‘I think you should take him back to the mainland, get him buried and all that.’

‘Well, yes, quite right. Where’s his body?’

‘Up at the lighthouse, come on, we’ll help you get him on the boat.’ The three men headed back to the lighthouse, the boatman smoking his pipe profusely as they walked, gasping for breath as they clambered over the rocks.

Anton and Ernst looked at each other wide-eyed as they entered the living area, the chair empty, just the sheet draped over it. Anton uttered to Ernst, ‘he was there, right there.’

‘Yeah, on that chair, what the…’

‘Come on now gentlemen, no time for practical jokes, I’ve got a dock to get back to.’

‘No, look, we have his note,’ Anton searched through his pockets, nothing. ‘Ernst, did I give you the note?’

‘No, brother, you put it in your pocket.’

‘It’s gone.’ Anton stood in the living area staring back at Ernst, his mind heart pounding inside his chest as he thought about the events. ‘We better get on that boat.’

 

– Daniel Williams

Steeling Home

Lucille brushed the front of her blouse flat and inhaled deeply, an attempt to compose herself. Through the small rectangular window in the door, she could see the casting director leaning back in his chair and smoking a cigarette. The room was quiet, with only the casting director slouched behind what looked like a wallpapering table. Lucille was late for the casting call by at least twenty minutes; public transport was intermittent with the thousands heading to the countryside protest march, but the fact that the casting director was still there and waiting gave her hope. She opened the door and entered, the tap of her short black heels against the glossy floor echoing around the room as she walked. She stopped in the centre of the room and looked towards the casting director, straightening up her back and poising her hands perfectly in front of her stomach as she waited for him to speak. ‘Hello, Miss Johnson I presume?’ he scanned the paperwork in front of him, ‘I’m afraid you’re quite late for the–’

‘Oh, I uh–’

‘Please, listen to me Miss Johnson, I know the tubes and buses are a mess today with those tree huggers, but the fact is you’re quite late. But, I recognised your name when looking through the list, and seeing as I haven’t found what I’m looking for today yet, well, I stayed.’ The casting director raised his head slightly as he spoke, his small eyes peeking at Lucille through the smoke from his cigarette. ‘I caught your performance a few years back in the premiere of Skylight, at the Cottesloe National Theatre wasn’t it? Yes.’ Lucille grinned and nodded quickly, thrilled that he knew who she was after such an absence on the stage recently. This could be the one. ‘It’s a shame about what happened with your role in Blood Brothers at the Phoenix, but accidents happen I know and I’m taking a chance on you Miss Johnson, I thought that you might be just what we’re looking for.’

‘That’s all in the past now.’

‘Yes, quite right. Well, I’m afraid there’s only me left, it’s only natural when you keep people waiting of course, so you’ll have to make do with me reading the lines back, that okay?’ Lucille’s toes curled-up inside the ends of her shoes, the casting director’s rapid speech unsettling her as she stood there. ‘We haven’t got all day, I said is that okay Miss Johnson?’

‘Yes, of course, that’s absolutely fine, also can I just say how grateful I–’

‘Save it Miss Johnson, there’s no time left for pleasantries, let’s just begin.’

‘Sorry,’ Lucille drew her breath in deeply, rubbed her palms dry on the back of her skirt and began to read, ‘No. Truly. It’s much, much worse than you’d think. Because he’s lost. It’s true. It’s like he’s spun off his axis.’ The lines were straightforward, but her nerves were getting the better of her and she began to lose her concentration. Come on, it’s not that difficult, come on. ‘Most of the time, he acts like he’s crazy. What’s sad is, he doesn’t uh, uh,’ Lucille paused, her mouth still open but only able to make a croaking noise with her throat as she tried to continue. The casting director stared at Lucille, her muscles growing tense. Her body flushed hot and cold, her heart thumped like a doorknocker in her chest. Her pulse throbbed increasingly in the back of her head and began to panic her. ‘I need to stop.’ The white walls of the room appeared to warp as she stood there, the casting director’s voice seeming to echo as he spoke.

‘Hmm, I think we better had. That was quite, well, thank you, yes, thank you anyway Miss Johnson. Well, we’ll probably be in touch quite shortly.’ He shook his head as he spoke, Lucille’s lips tucking inwards as she listened, it was clear how the audition had gone. She left the room, her blouse damp with sweat. She made the journey back to her flat, her mind still as foggy as the pollution around her; the towering London streets loomed overhead, driving a feeling of insignificance into Lucille. The big city, in all of its so-called glory, tormented Lucille as she travelled back to her flat. The names up in lights on the fronts of theatres blinked around her, countless plays and musicals that Lucille was no longer worthy of appearing in. Commuters rushed passed on the endless escalators down into the Underground, their feet clunking against the metal steps and bags knocking into Lucille. Her hand slipped against the black rubber of the handrail, the thud of the tube trains over the tracks seeming to merge with her heartbeat. Everybody stared; Lucille convinced the sullen looks of the other passengers on the train were directed towards her.

As her front door shut behind her, Lucille leant back, the hustling noise of the city shut away, just a raw silence greeting her as she entered. Lucille bent over to pick up the two letters settled on the mat, the ‘HOME’ written on the doormat a reminder of exactly the opposite that her flat felt. One letter was the familiar warning from her landlord about bills, the other, a brown envelope with ‘redirected’ pasted across the front. As she bent back up, the flashing red light of her answering machine gripped her attention. The audition. She rushed over to the phone table, setting the letters down onto the side and hitting the play button. Following a lengthy beep, the message played. ‘Hi Lucille, it’s Dale here from the agency, what the hell happened today? Call me when you get this.’ There was a break in the message, and after a ruffling sound the message continued, ‘Oh, and if you hadn’t already guessed, you didn’t get the part, sorry Lucille.’ The message ended with another beep, Lucille leant forward, forcing her forehead onto the cold glass of the mirror above the phone.

‘That’s the third this week, come on, what are you doing?’ Lucille berated herself in the mirror, the screaming of sirens broke the silence of her flat, quickly muffling into the distance and back into silence. Lucille’s necklace reflected in the mirror, the blue pendant twinkling back at her giving her a small comfort. Forget it. She screwed her face up in a scowl and grabbed the brown letter from the sideboard, leaving the letter from her landlord on the side. That can wait until later.

The envelope was tatty, the crinkled paper looked as though it had gotten wet at some point. Peeking out from underneath the ‘redirected’ sticker, Lucille could just about make out a handwritten name and address:

Attn: Luci Johnson

Aldwych Theatre

London

WC2B 4DF

 

Luci? Lucille brought the letter nearer to her face, ‘Luci…’, her eyebrows drew in closer together, she hadn’t been called Luci since she was seventeen. She ripped open the letter and slid out the small piece of writing paper, bits of the perforated edge crumbling off onto her lap as she proceeded to read.

Friday 6th February, 1998

Dear Luci,

This is not a letter I ever wanted to write, but, Mam is very ill.

It is hard to process, trust me, I know. But I think you better come home and see her, if not now then when?

If something happened to Mam and I hadn’t let you know, I don’t think I’d ever be able to live with the guilt, so Mam doesn’t know I’ve sent this. It was just that I didn’t want to get her hopes up at seeing you, thirteen years away can do that you know. Don’t make me regret sending this letter.

I still can’t believe you left us, but if Mam saw you again, maybe it’d help her. Just come home.

You know where we are.

Alys

 

Lucille’s hands loosened with shock, causing the letter to fall to the floor. Her chest began to throb again; she hadn’t spoken to Alys or her mother in thirteen years. She stumbled through into her living room, clutching onto the doorframe to keep her balance as she made her way to the settee. She stared over at the letter laid on the floor; her glassy blue eyes stinging as she watched the dog-eared edges of the letter blow in the draft as if they were waving at her, tormenting her. She grew faint, her head light she shielded her eyes with her hands and tried to stop her tears from falling. All this time. Her eyelids clasped shut, the salty tears stinging her freckled face and reddening her cheeks. A thousand images engulfed her mind, rushing around like a tape on fast-forward. Memories of her past flashed through her mind, one after the other like an old picture reel, speeding through until they began to slow. Struggling to keep her eyes open, her head drooped back on the settee and a voice began to speak. Growing from a distant echo and into a clear shout, Lucille could hear her mother calling her. A memory flooded her head.

 

*

 

‘Luci?’ Silence followed the call, ‘Luci?’

‘What now?’ Why does she always have to shout across the house?

‘Excuse me Luci, watch the attitude, I was only going to offer a cuppa.’

‘Sorry Mam, I’m in the middle of something a minute, just trying to practise these lines.’

‘Oh, Luci Johnson you’re not still on about that play are you? You should be getting on with your college work. I must have told you at least a hundred times.’

Lucille responded using a low voice, ‘More like a thousand.’

‘Luci?’

‘Aw please Mam, I’ve got to learn them for amateurs.’ Lucille’s eyes focused back on her script, the Port Talbot Amateur Dramatics Society production of Romeo and Juliet was soon, and being chosen to play Juliet was a great privilege for Lucille. Perfection was key. Peggy didn’t get it wrong. Judy didn’t get it wrong. There’s no getting it wrong. She squinted at the page, studying the lines intently, her lips opening and closing as she followed along the lines, as if she was eating the words. She was going to be the finest Juliet anybody had ever seen.

Upon finishing yet another read-through of her lines, Lucille sat cross-legged on the carpet and slid a twelve inch vinyl record out of its sleeve. She turned it delicately between her fingers and wiped the dust off with her sleeve. They never stay clean. Beside her bed was the record player, where she placed the record carefully onto the turntable and propped the needle into the grooves. The record began to spin, the initial scratching sound gradually blossoming into the haunting voice of Diana Dors singing So Little Time, a lullaby to Lucille. She brought the record sleeve close to her chest, the sides of the sleeve bending around her small frame. As she listened to the track she looked up at her poster of Judy Garland on the wall, asking her, ‘I’ll be okay, won’t I?’

Over the music came a thudding through the wall, Alys was banging her fist on the wall from next door, ‘Luci, turn it off mun, I’m trying to get ready to go out.’ She banged the wall again, ‘What are you listening to anyway, you’re like an old woman mun. Borrow my Wham! record instead, that’s the kind of stuff you should be listening to.’ What does Alys know, anyway. In retaliation, Lucille stormed over to her record player and twisted the volume dial clockwise until it stopped. The music blared now, Diana Dors’s voice boomed through the small terraced house, vibrating through the walls. The bedroom door swung open, the hinges rattling as it hit against the wall. Lucille’s mother entered, her eyes wide as she began to shout. ‘Turn it off,’ she gripped her hands around her hips as she spoke, ‘Right then, come on now, do you think it’s okay to have your music this loud? Turn it off, I’m warning you now.’

‘But Alys is allowed her music on!’

‘Yes, but Alys is allowed, she’s finished studying now and will be graduating– Oh won’t you turn that off?’ Lucille’s mother marched across the room and flung the needle arm off the record, the speakers emitting a quick scratching sound. ‘You need to follow her example, less of this show stuff and music. More of your college work please.’

‘But Mam, I’m doing fine, I don’t need good marks to act, but I need to act. I’m going to go to London after college, hopefully I can apply to RADA, but before I go I need the experience Mam.’

‘You are nearly eighteen, you need to start growing up,’ her face grew red as she spoke, spit spraying out her mouth, ‘You know what, you’re just like your father you are.’

‘Mam.’

‘No Luci, it’s all false hope and broken dreams all over again. That was the problem with your father, he “followed his dreams” too and where did that get him? Exactly. Time to think reality, there’s no way you’re going to be an actress is there?’ Lucille’s mother glanced over at her desk. Shit. ‘And what is this? A script? Romeo and Juliet? Shakespeare? You’re joking? Setting your hopes high aren’t we? You won’t need that. I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you again, you need to study hard. There’s going to be no more of this acting stuff. I’m not letting you end up like your father.’

‘Aw Mam, don’t now, Dad didn’t mean to–’

‘Luci, don’t pretend you remember him properly, you were five when he died and left me to deal with all this on my own.’

‘Mam!’

‘Mark my words, if you answer me back again, I’m telling you now!’

‘Mam, I’m not just going to let–’

‘Right that’s it,’ Lucille’s mother tugged at the script and ripped it in two, leaving the pieces to drift to the floor. As the door slammed shut, Lucille eyes filled with tears, she could hear her mother fussing over Alys outside her room. ‘Oh Alys love, have a nice night now, you deserve it. Will you be home before midnight?’ Lucille dragged her fingers across her hair, tugging at her hair and making her scalp sore. She shook her head hard, feeling like she could shake away her upset. She picked the torn pieces of script up from off the floor and placed them back onto her desk before heading out of her room. She passed her mother in the hall as she left the house, turning back and scowling at her before leaving. Caradoc Street had never felt steeper, the slope of the hill spurred Lucille’s feet along the uneven pavement. She weaved in and out between the thick cylindrical pillars under the motorway, their foreboding presence like a jungle of urban trees.

She reached Taibach Memorial Park, the bridge across into it felt like a portal, the river rushing beneath her as she crossed calming Lucille. Dylan practised almost every night down on the playing fields, so she knew he’d be there. He always knew the right thing to say.

‘Hiya Luc, what’s happening?’ Dylan’s voice was deep; he stood there in his black and yellow rugby kit, the Taibach bumblebee colours.

‘Guess.’ Lucille replied her face screwed up trying not to cry.

‘Again?’

‘It’s never-ending, she’s gone too far this time, she’s ripped my script up.’

‘What? She can’t do that, she’s meant–’

‘She has, and she’ll do it again. It’s always Alys this and Alys that, she doesn’t give a shit about me Dyl.’

‘No, come on now, she does, you know it’s just– ‘

‘Alys is doing what my mother thinks is the best thing for her, yeah, and I’m not. Is it too much to ask to want to make something of my life? I don’t want to be stuck in some office somewhere, or just stuck raising two children on my own like her.’

‘Ey, stop it now. Look, I’ll go and change out of this kit and we’ll go down to the pictures? They’re playing Psycho tonight, you know, Hitchcock? It’s a rerun, but it’s cheaper.’

‘Yes, okay, I’d love to, and yes, I know Hitchcock, silly. Thanks Dyl.’ She flung her arms around Dylan and nestled her head into the space between his neck and shoulders.

‘Whoa, don’t get mud on yourself now, see you outside The Plaza at seven?’ Lucille smiled a yes and hurried out of the park, her curly brown hair swishing across her back as she ran.

 

*

 

‘That shower scene never gets old does it?’

‘It’s scary!’

‘It’s not scary, the blood isn’t even blood, apparently, they had to use chocolate sauce for the blood ‘cause red didn’t show on the black and white. Ah, I love Hitchcock.’ Dylan turned to Lucille with a proud smile, ‘Hey, you know what, I reckon if he was still alive he’d have put you in one of his films.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah, bet he would have.’

‘Aw Dylan mun, don’t be silly, I could only dream of that. Imagine me on the big screen. Besides, the theatre is where the proper actors go you know.’

‘Oh is it now?’ Dylan joked, grabbing Lucille’s hand and interlocking fingers, ‘A few of us were thinking of going up the reservoir this weekend, go camping like, how’d you fancy it?’

‘I can’t, my mother would never let me.’ Lucille sighed and looked at Dylan, ‘On second thought–’

‘Go on.’

‘Okay, yeah, stuff her, I’d love to, it’ll be amazing.’ Lucille hunched up her shoulders and brought her hands together in excitement. ‘I’ve never been camping before mind so you’ll have to show me what to do.’

‘You’ll be fine, it’s only chuck up a tent and you’re away, or,’ Dylan’s face lit-up in a smile, ‘We could sleep under the stars, it’s meant to be a scorcher this weekend.’

‘As romantic as that sounds Dyl, I think I’d prefer a tent,’ Lucille laughed, ‘Right, come on, I need to get home.’

‘Ha! Fair enough. Okay then, but before you go, I’ve got something for you.’ Dylan fumbled around in his pockets, ‘I was going to save it for your birthday but seeing as you’ve had such a crappy day with your mother, here.’ He carefully placed a small black jewellery box onto Lucille’s palm and urged her to open it. Inside was a glassy blue pendant on a thin silver chain. ‘I thought it matched your eyes.’

‘Oh Dylan, thank you thank you thank you, I love it.’

‘Ha, I thought you would,’ Lucille squeezed Dylan, a tight hug causing the air to rush out of his lungs in a quick breath.

‘Sorry, I got excited then, thank you so much for this.’

‘Ha, it’s okay,’ Dylan reached his hands around Lucille’s neck and helped her put the necklace on, her mouth stretching into a wide smile revealing two perfect lines of glossy white teeth, ‘I’m glad you like it.’

‘Yes, I really do, thank you so much, sorry to rush, but I–’

‘It’s fine, off you go, I’ll see you the weekend. I, uh, I lov–’ Lucille kissed Dylan quickly before he could finish, her eyes closing as their lips touched.

‘Bye!’ Lucille ran up the street, glancing back and smiling at Dylan as she did so, leaving him standing there waving back at her, a kiss on his lips as he whispered his unfinished sentence to himself.

‘I love you.’

 

*

 

The weekend arrived; Lucille snuck out of the house to meet Dylan and the rest of the group at the bottom of Margam. From there they made their way up through the forest to Brombil reservoir. As they walked the sky grew darker, only the small orange ends of their friends’ cigarettes visible ahead of them, amongst the trees.

After everybody had gone back to their tents later in the evening, Lucille and Dylan sat around the campfire. ‘See those seven stars up there,’ Dylan pointed up at the sky as he and Lucille sat on the log, the fire crackling in front of them and illuminating their faces in flashes of orange.

‘Yeah, I see them.’

‘Well, together they’re called The Plough, see how the last few curve around.’

‘Really? So that’s a proper constellation is it?’ Lucille rested her head on Dylan’s shoulder, reaching her arm across and holding onto his. ‘Thanks for inviting me up here Dyl, you know, I think you’re the only one who believes in me.’

‘Ah, you’ll be fine, I know you can do it, you’re gonna be selling out theatres all over the world when you make it big.’

‘Stop it, I’d be happy just, well, I’d be happy if my mother was a bit more supportive you know?’ She dropped her head down quickly before turning back to Dylan, ‘Actually, I’d be happy if she showed any support at all for what I want to do.’

‘Like I said before, I’m sure she supports you deep down, she’s probably just trying to direct you down what path she thinks is best.’

‘But that’s the problem, I don’t want to do what she thinks is best.’

‘Hey, come on now, I’m sure you’ll be okay, like my father always says, it’ll all be okay in the end.’

‘Ha, wise words there,’ Lucille’s laugh trailed off, ‘You know, I wish my dad was still around.’

‘Aw Luc, I know you miss him, but–’

‘There’s no buts Dyl, he’s gone, I know I was little when he died but I still remember him, he used to ring the house from the steel works on his dinner break just to tell us he was missing us and that he loved us.’

‘Come here,’ Dylan put his arm around Lucille, pulling her in tightly, ‘It’s probably hard for your mother too.’

‘Hard for her? Please, she– Look, I just can’t stand this place anymore, it’s just dragging me down! One day I’ll be able to leave and–‘

‘Luci, she loves you.’

‘She never says it, the last person to tell me was my Dad, and how long ago was that?’

‘Well, I–’

‘Yes, I know, I– uh, sorry.’

‘Come here,’ Dylan pulled Lucille in tight, ‘I love you.’

‘I love you too Dyl, thank you, sorry I’ve been–’

‘Stop now, I know.’

‘I just found it difficult–’

‘It’s fine, now, come on, let’s get some sleep, we’ll have a busy day tomorrow, we can go exploring, we don’t wanna be too tired for it.’

‘No of course not, but, what do we do about this fire? Don’t we have to put it out?’ Dylan laughed at Lucille, a large smile pasted across his face as he started towards the fire to put it out.

‘Come on.’

 

*

 

Lucille awoke to an audience of birds tweeting, their wings brushing through the trees. The sun hot, lighting up patches of the ground, the air around already thick with heat. Ah. As she clambered out of her tent she could see Dylan swinging over the reservoir on a rope swing, the others in the water swimming and splashing about.

‘Morning sleepyhead, I didn’t want to wake you, you looked so peaceful.’ Lucille blushed and shuffled her way along to the slope to the water.

‘Shurrup!’ Lucille laughed and sat down, slipping her bare feet along the bricks and gradually into the water.

‘Come and join us Luci, get yourself up on that swing,’ Dylan shouted and swung off the rope and into the water, ‘You’ll love it!’

Lucille dipped her head low and smiled shyly as she slipped her dress off. She was met with whistles from some of the group, with Dylan telling them to shut up as Lucille grabbed hold of the rope. The water splashed as she landed, her whole body submerging beneath the water. Dylan followed behind, making his way back around to the swing and swinging in behind Lucille. He shouted in excitement as he soared through the air, flailing his arms before landing hard and disappearing into the blue water.

Everybody laughed as bubbles began to surface to the top of the water where Dylan had landed. Time passed, and as the water calmed and the ripples grew slower, the laughter stopped, Dylan had been under for too long. Everybody looked at each other in panic. A few of the boys swam under the water to try and find Dylan, some of them quickly resurfacing to try and catch their breath. They swam back under, going deeper this time and spotting something at the bottom of the reservoir. Amongst the weeds at the bottom they could just about make out a dark shadow that looked like a body. Some of them swam deeper, trying to get a closer look. It was Dylan, his head resting limply against what appeared to be a rusty shopping trolley, with blood spooling out through his wavy hair. The boys resurfaced for a second time, breathlessly telling the others of Dylan’s accident.

Lucille looked around, turning her head rapidly. She opened her mouth to scream but no sound came out. The others pulled her to the side of the reservoir and sat her back on the slope. One of the group hurried back through the woods to get help from the nearby farmhouse, but it was too late, by the time help arrived, Dylan had gone.

*

 

The funeral was two weeks later, and after two sleepless weeks preceding it, Lucille laid in bed on the morning of the funeral staring at the necklace Dylan had given her. As she stared, the deep blue of the stone reminded her of the reservoir and she noticed a small black mark in the stone, imagining it to be Dylan floating in the reservoir. The door opened quickly, startling Lucille, it was her mother, bringing in a small plate and placing it on her desk. ‘Toast there for you, dress hanging out in the airing cupboard. We’ll be leaving about ten.’ Lucille’s mother left quickly, leaving Lucille alone in her room, the powerful smell of burnt toast wafting across the room.

They left at ten, just as planned. It was Lucille’s first funeral, she had been too young to go to her father’s. But as she entered the crematorium hall and saw Dylan’s mother glance back at her, she felt a sense of responsibility for Dylan’s death. There must have been a way to help him. Everybody took their seats, many stood at the back, the large turnout an inevitability for such a young death. The funeral service felt slow, everybody standing like a sea of black and with a memory to share. Why is it always black? As the funeral continued, hymns were sung, everybody standing to sing them. The hundreds of voices in the hall rung in Lucille’s ears as she stood there attempting to mime along with the hymn. The white wooden walls and brown pews merged into one mismatched colour, the room feeling like it was spinning. The very moment the blue of the reservoir turned red kept replaying in her head. What if?

The wake was held at Taibach Rugby Club, something of a tribute to Dylan’s love of the sport. It was dark inside the club, the peeling wallpaper on the walls and mismatched furniture brought comfort to Lucille; she wasn’t the only one out of place. Despite hiding herself away in the corner, many of the mourners made their way over to her to pay their condolences. To everybody else, she was a kind of widow. She felt as much too, black dress, black bag and black shoes, all causing her pale skin to stand out in the dingy club. What are they sorry about? They didn’t do anything.

After the incessant questioning, Lucille hurried outside, the air smacking at her face as she exited the club, thrusting her eyes back into focus. She sat down on the side of the road outside the club, the cold pavement biting at her skin through her dress, the cold a strange comfort. She watched the mourners drinking, smoking and laughing like any other day down the rugby club. This is wrong. Lucille ran, not stopping until she got home, she had to leave.

Lucille stuffed a bag full of her belongings and emptied her money box from on top of the shelf. As she began to leave her room she stopped, turned slowly on her heel and rushed over to the bedside table to grab her necklace. Before leaving for the train station, she scribbled a note and left it for her mother.

Mam,

I can’t stay, I need to go, sorry for leaving like this but I just can’t do it         anymore, I need to be alone.

                                                            Luci xx

She was going to follow her dream.

 

*

 

Lucille wandered into London Paddington station, the curved ceiling the same ceiling she had arrived under thirteen years before. The vivid memories she had relived upon receiving the letter from Alys still strong in her mind. She had revisited London Paddington station since she had arrived, but this time felt different, this time she was going home, back to Port Talbot.

Platform Seven. Lucille made her way over, following the swarm of passengers as they crowded across the station and onto the platform. Taking a front-facing seat by the window, Lucille settled herself for the three hour journey. She felt as though she was seventeen again, her stomach knotted with a feeling that only the thought of her hometown could give her. As the train began to move forward, she rested her head on the window, the rocking of the train slowly sending her to sleep.

Lucille awoke a few hours later as the train came into Margam, the sulphuric air pumping from the steel works filling her nose. Her pale pink lips cracked as her mouth opened wide to take in a deep breath. Here we go. The door clicked open and she stepped off the train, struggling with her suitcase over the yellowed steps of the walkway, her shoes peeling off the sticky floor. Welcome home. Outside, she rushed across to the taxi rank, extending her compact umbrella above her head in an attempt to block out the large droplets of rain that had begun to fall. It was quiet; the police station, the Corner House pub, the Grand Hotel. A ghost town, Port Talbot hadn’t changed. Does it ever? The silence broke as a four-door black taxi pulled up at the taxi rank, its exhaust spluttering as it came to a halt.

‘Sorry love, got held up down Station Road,’ the driver sucked the saliva from the inside of his cheeks as he spoke, creating a glugging sound in the back of his throat. ‘Where am I taking ewe en?’

‘Oh no, it’s no problem, Caradoc Street please, in Taibach.’ Lucille’s voice was delicate, her English twang a stark contrast to the strong Welsh accent of the taxi driver.

‘Yeah love, I know Caradoc Street.’ The taxi driver let out a throaty chuckle as he switched on the meter and turned out of the station onto the road. With the taxi cruising through the streets, Lucille absorbed the sights she hadn’t seen in years. ‘Been to Port Talbot before love?’ She winced as the driver spoke, her eyelids quickly clasping shut and then creeping open.

‘Yes I uh, I grew up here. I left for London when I was seventeen.’

‘Ah, bloody hell, you don’t sound like you’re from round here do ewe? I was thinking you were English with that accent. What made ewe leave then?’

‘I uh, well, I wanted to be an actress, so I moved to pursue that.’

‘Acting did ewe say? Bloody hell, good on you girl. Have you been in any of the big shows then?’

‘Well, it’s mainly plays really, nothing for a while though.’

‘Ah well, still, acting, good for you!’

‘Yes, I always loved films, acting just seemed to be the right thing to do.’

‘Follow your dreams, that’s what I always say. So whereabouts did you used to live around here then?’ Lucille bit the inside of her cheek before she replied, reluctant to answer.

‘Caradoc Street, well, my mother’s house, right at the top.’

‘Well, I never, a Taibach girl are you?’ The driver clicked with his tongue, ‘My old man used to live round there, not far from Caradoc Street, down the bottom by the school, on the flat bit see. Lived there years he did.’

‘Oh.’ Lucille stared out the window, the wet Victorian terraces another firm reminder that nothing ever changes in Port Talbot. The Plaza Cinema came into view, prompting Lucille to bring her face up to the window and stare as the taxi continued past The Plaza, her blue eyes focused on the art-deco design and backlit posters on the walls. ‘I used to go there with– ’

‘What love? The Plaza is it? Oh aye, used to be great in there, not anymore mind, it’s closing see, no more money left. Well, saying that, there’s never been money here has there? Good old Port Toilet. Only your good mates Richard Burton and Anthony Hopkins have had the money, you looking to get as famous as them then?’ Lucille hummed a yes and slumped back down on the leather seats, her head dipped down towards her lap causing her chin to land on the top of her chest. She reached up to her neck and held her necklace, still wearing it after all these years.

‘January I think,’ shouted the driver, turning back towards Lucille and dragging her back from her thoughts.

‘Uh, sorry, what was that?’

‘Closing, they’re closing The Plaza in January. Pity it don’t go any longer mind, won’t even see the millennium.’

‘Ah, yes, I see.’ Seeing The Plaza’s pale beige tiles for the first time since she had left reminded her of Dylan, she didn’t want to be talking about it. Was coming back the right thing to do? She let go of the pendant and began picking at the fraying skin around her nails. What am I doing?

 

*

 

‘Here we are love, Caradoc Street,’ the taxi came to a slow stop, the handbrake creaking at holding the taxi on the hill. ‘Uh, that’s uh, five-pound-fifty please love, ah, tell ewe what, we’ll call it five is it?’

‘Oh, thank you, there you go.’

‘Don’t get discount like that in London I bet do ewe love? Ha!’

There it was. Four Caradoc Street. Lucille stood at the front gate, the rain still pelting at the floor; she glanced up at the tree in the front garden, her eyes catching sight of two blackbirds cawing at the top. With the slam of a car door, the birds flew away, Lucille turned her attention towards the front door of the house. The same door, now with its black paint faded and peeling, with small shards of it scattered on the path. The very door she had walked out of to school, where she and Dylan would stand saying their goodbyes. She rolled forward on her feet as if to start towards the door, a haste movement she immediately regretted, holding her palms out in front of her in protest. Stop. She stared at the door, it staring back, the once familiar thing now alien. She stood still, the roar of the M4 motorway drilled through her head, the constant noise she remembered from growing up, memories of sleepless nights in the back bedroom. Once she knocked the door, she would have to face everything she ran from.

 

*

 

‘You missed it.’ Alys stood there, her mouth drooping at the edges into a frown and her messy ash blonde hair tied back in a ponytail.

‘What? Missed what?’ Lucille snapped back at Alys.

‘Mam’s funeral, you missed Mam’s funeral.’

‘Funeral? What? Mam’s gone? What? Why didn’t you–’

‘Yes, she died a fortnight ago, funeral was Monday, typical of you though, absent as always.’

‘No, Alys, no, it was just, I only got your letter yesterday, I got the first train I could, and I didn’t, oh Alys. I can’t believe she’s gone. You should’ve, I could’ve.’

‘Come in look.’ Alys opened the door wide and began walking down the hall. The two sat in the living room, Lucille investigated the room, the same pink floral wallpaper pasted across the walls, and countless photo frames propped up on the bookshelf.

‘Look Alys, I’m sorry, I honestly didn’t know. I would have come back earlier.’

‘Well, it’s a good job Mam was out of it by the end, or she’d had been devastated if she knew you hadn’t turned up to see her.’

‘Alys stop. You know what Mam was like with me, she didn’t even turn up to one of my shows when I was in amateurs.’

‘Well it’s true, she would have been upset.’

‘Okay, then she should’ve seen me when I stepped out in my first big play in London, lead role, opening night, and there were two empty seats in the front row. Where was she then? I sent two invites, one for each of you, but neither of you turned up, that was the end for me.’

‘Oh Luci, that was the first we’d heard of you since you’d left. You’d already been gone three years.’

‘Yes but, I realised and, I was feeling like I could handle it, that’s why I invited you both.’

‘It was me, I sort of misplaced them, and didn’t tell Mam, I didn’t think you deserved it, you left me to deal with Mam on my own.’

‘Alys, what? Why? You– I can’t believe you done that, you absolute bitc–’ Lucille stood up from her chair, ‘You mean you hid them, right?’

‘Luci stop, like I said, you left me here with Mam, she never really recovered from you leaving. It was horrible, and then there you were, sending two invites, “look at me I’m in a play”, so what? I was the one picking up the pieces.’

‘That’s no excuse, Mam would have–’

‘It doesn’t matter what Mam would have, you left!’

‘Can you blame me? Really? Can you? After what had happened with Dylan, and the way I was feeling. And the way Mam was with me. I was always the one pushed out of the way, and then there was you, sweet Alys in the limelight. Mam thought you were the best, little princess who could do no wrong, and there was I, your little sister who would never be as good as you. You were the one who was going to be a solicitor, and I was a daydreamer. I was just like Dad.’

‘Stop. Don’t speak about Mam that way.’

‘Alys, it’s true, Mam hated me for wanting to become an actress, but you with your A-stars and law degree, you were the one “doing well”.’

‘Ha! Lot of good that did me eh?’ Both of them stopped and stared at each other.

‘Sorry.’

‘No, I’m sorry too, we shouldn’t be fighting.’

‘No, not like this. What do you mean about your degree, I thought you were doing well as a marital solicitor?’

‘Well, I couldn’t save my own marriage, let alone someone else’s.’

‘Marriage?’

‘Divorce.’

‘Oh, I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t be, he left because I had to look after Mam, I wasn’t going to put her into a home.’

‘No, of course not.’

‘It’s over with now, Mam’s gone, I still can’t believe you’re back Luci.’

‘I’ve had a bit of a dry spell lately, and when your letter came, I just, I had to come home.’

‘Pity it was too late eh?’

‘Don’t start again Alys, I’m here aren’t I?’ Lucille sighed, her voice growing softer, ‘What happened to Mam then?’

‘Uh, it was, uh, cancer.’

‘Oh.’

‘Yeah, the last couple of months, she didn’t even make it to treatment either, it took hold so quickly.’

‘Bless her, it must have been hard.’

‘Yeah, it was hard towards the end, she was so confused, she would have loved to have seen you Luci, if she knew you were here now she’d be so happy.’

‘Shame you didn’t give her those tickets then.’

‘Aw Luc, I’m sorry. I just couldn’t watch Mam get further disappointed.’

‘Disappointed? I invited her. I invited you both!’

‘Luci, come on, I’m sorry look–’

‘It must have taken some real grit to do that!’

‘Luci.’

‘Well, I can’t do anything about it now can I? There’s nothing either of us can do now, I just can’t believe she’s gone.’

‘I know.’

Lucille looked around the room, ‘Never redecorated then?’

‘No, I nagged and nagged her but you know what she was like. Actually, go and have a look at your room.’

‘My room?’

‘Yes, it’s still your room Luci.’ Lucille made her way to the bottom of the stairs and began to take her shoes off. ‘Old habits and all that?’

‘Ha, yeah, I suppose so.’ Lucille climbed the stairs, the pastel carpet still as rough as it used to be against her feet. The strong smell of Jovan musk coming from her mother’s room as she walked across the landing, another reminder of what felt like a lifetime ago. Lucille’s bedroom door was shut, but the sign stuck on the door proclaiming it was Lucille’s room was still there. The door opened with a familiar creak, the room almost exactly as it had been left. The record player still in the corner, the desk still scattered with books and jewellery. Faded posters decorated the walls above her bed, the bed still perfectly made and tucked in.

‘You know, up until she got ill she still used to clean your bedding every other week.’

‘Really?’ Lucille sat on the bed, smoothing the quilt with her hand. Alys passed a cardboard box to Lucille. Inside were small newspaper clippings and pages of magazines, cuttings from almost every one of the shows that Lucille had been in for the past ten years.

‘Mam collected all the cuttings, up until your mishap that is.’

‘She knew?’

‘We both knew. Look, I couldn’t get up on stage and do what you do–‘

‘Did.’

‘Well, whatever, we never heard more about it all, did it all get sorted?’

‘Yeah, just about, got dragged through court and everything, said I was purposefully trying to sabotage the show. It wasn’t that, it just all got too much you know, the whole thing just reminded–‘

‘Look, you don’t have to explain to me.’ Lucille continued to sift through the box, her eyes welling-up as she saw all the papers neatly folded and piled in the box. At the bottom, poking out beneath the rest of the papers, Lucille could see the Romeo and Juliet script, taped up where it had been ripped. At the top of the yellowing paper was ‘Sorry’, written in her mother’s handwriting. She held the script up for Alys to see, and mumbled through her tears, ‘She fixed that not long after you left, it was on your desk for a whole year before she put it away, I suppose she thought you might come home.’

‘Oh,’ Lucille’s body felt light, gravity seemed to have loosened its pull on her as she sat there staring at the wall and holding the script in her shaking hands. ‘I, oh, what was I thinking?’ Lucille struggled to hold back her tears.

‘Look, come on now, I’ll take you to see Mam’s grave tomorrow, if you’d like?’ Lucille nodded a yes, still holding the script in her hands. ‘Okay, are you staying anywhere?’

‘Well, I was just going to stay here.’ She replied through her tears.

‘Uh, okay, well, yes, you stay here tonight and then we’ll go in the morning. That okay?’

‘Yes, thanks Alys,’ Lucille stood up from the bed and hugged Alys, both women awkwardly hovering their hands around each other, ‘We never were huggers were we?’ They both laughed awkwardly and broke off from the hug. Lucille spent the night in her childhood bedroom, the familiar face of Judy Garland watching over her from the poster above the bed. Time flies.

 

*

 

The gravestones stretched across the horizon, hundreds of lives settled in their final places. Alys led the way, Lucille following behind clutching a small bunch of white carnations to place at the grave. As they neared Lucille began to slow, suddenly realising where her mother had been laid to rest. ‘Alys, they’re not, are they?’

‘Mam put it in her will, she wanted to be with him.’ Lucille gasped and hurried up the path to the grave.

‘Dad’s? Mam’s buried with?’

‘Yeah, the stone is being engraved with both of their names, should be ready in a few weeks.’

‘Alys, I didn’t– I didn’t know Mam still loved him.’

‘What do you mean? Of course she did.’

‘She always seemed so angry at him.’

‘Her anger was her pain, I think it was the only way she could deal with it.’

‘I never realised.’ Lucille crouched down by the grave and stretched out her arm, flipping over the small bereavement cards and reading them. Alys tended to the wilted flowers scattered around the grave and made a small space for Lucille to place hers down. ‘I’ll leave you um, I’ll be by the car.’

Lucille stayed crouched beside the grave, the ground still earthy from being dug, ‘I’m sorry Mam, I–’ her eyes filled-up, ‘I’m sorry, I hope, if you can hear me, you can forgive me, I misunderstood everything. It’s just–’ Alys looked on from the distance as Lucille continued, crying and laughing as she spoke, ‘You always said I was too much like Dad didn’t you? Ha.’ Lucille placed the flowers on the ground, ‘I did one better than Dad, I made it, for a little while anyway,’ Lucille laughed, ‘But now, knowing how much I hurt you by leaving I’m wondering whether it was all worth it. When I received the letter from Alys, I said to myself you know, I said that I was going to come and fix things. I thought back to when I left and decided to come home, and yes it may have been a little late to try and sort things out but I was going to try and fix it all with you. But, then, when I came home, and found out you’d gone, well, I thought my chances of fixing things were gone.’ Lucille laughed quietly, ‘Little did I know you’d already fixed them, I can’t believe you kept that script. Thank you Mam, and sorry.’ Tears rolled down Lucille’s cheeks, dripping off and soaking into the soil. She reached into her bag and pulled out the taped-up script of Romeo and Juliet, brought it up to her mouth and kissed it softly before placing it down gently by the side of the grave. ‘Goodbye Mam.’

Parting is such sweet sorrow.





 – Daniel Williams