Authors: Tabi Wollstonecraft
Copyright © 2013 Tabi Wollstonecraft
All rights reserved.
Published by Moonlit Window Press
I stand near the edge of the cliff, the lights from Promise House making the long grass around my ankles glow pale yellow. I can hear the sea below as it crashes against the rocks with an angry roar repeated over and over in a hypnotic rhythm. This is how my Aunt Bethany died. She fell from a cliff during her nightly walk. Not here, not this cliff just behind her house her house. But somewhere close by. And now I am alone. All alone.
The people in the house are strangers. They were part of Aunt B’s life here in Cornwall while my mother and I were living in the States. They know me only as “Bethany’s sister’s girl” or “the niece who went to America”. Some of them say they remember me from when I was a child
‘tearing through Promise House like a little whirlwind’ and from the times Mom and I came over to visit Aunt B. But I don’t remember them.
I am among strangers.
Even Frank and his daughter Julie, the people I have lived with for the last six years - five of them with Mom and one on my own - seem distant.
He isn’t really my step-dad because he and Mom didn’t get married but he’s the closest thing I ever had to a father figure. And we both know that this is probably the last time we will see each other. We haven’t said as much but it’s the logical progression of things. He and Julie go back to Boston tomorrow and now that Mom is dead, there’s no reason for us to have any further contact. The past year hasn’t been good. Mom was our only link, the only thing we had in common.
In a way, Aunt Bethany’s passing and leaving Promise House to me, her only relative, was probably the only thing that could have saved me from the downward spiral I had fallen into since Mom’s death. The cutting had gotten out of control and I was sure Frank was going to send me to a psychiatrist, which might have even ended up with me being committed to an institution. It solved a problem for Frank too…the ‘How do I get Amy out of my house now her mom is gone?’ problem.
I look over my shoulder toward the big old house. The faint voices coming from there sound ghostly, drifting to my ears on the cool night breeze. I catch a woman’s voice saying, ‘Lovely funeral’ and a man’s earnest reply, ‘Yes, but it’s always a pity to bury people so young. How old was Beth? Thirty five?’ Someone replies, ‘She was only thirty two.
Much too young.’
I didn’t cry at the funeral. I loved Aunt B and I loved visiting Promise House and exploring her rambling book shop in town but as I stood by her grave today and they lowered her coffin into the neat square hole in the ground, I just felt numb. I swear there’s something wrong with me. Even the fact that I was standing next to Mom’s headstone - she had put in her will that she wanted to be buried in Promise Cove where she grew up so her body had been flown here from Massachusetts - I didn’t cry. I just felt dead inside. Dead and alone. I won’t feel so dead later, after the mourners have gone home and everyone left in the house is asleep. I have a pack of razor blades in the night stand next to my bed and half a bottle of iodine and a roll of bandages.
I need to feel something. I need to know I am still alive and part of this world.
‘What’s up, Amy?
The surprise voice from out of the dark makes me jump and I let out a long exhale when I see Dell walking across the lawn from the house.
She’s my best friend and has been for five years. We lived next door to each other in Boston and became inseparable soon after we met, even though we were both fourteen then and that’s an awkward age for girls to make new friends. Dell is short for Delilah. Delilah June. And despite her airy, spring-sunshine sounding name, Dell is a Goth. She wears only heavy dark makeup and long black clothes, although she sometimes adds an item of red or purple from her wardrobe. Maybe that’s why we became friends even at the late age of fourteen: the outcasts stick together.
The irony is that while Dell looks dark and depressed on the outside, she’s actually optimistic and funny. I may look normal on the outside…
blonde hair, fashionable clothes and an easy smile…but on the inside I’m as dead as the vampires Dell likes to read about.
‘Just thinking,’ I tell her as she reaches my spot on the cliff.
She looks over the edge and takes a couple of steps back. ‘Whoa.
Maybe you should step away from the edge.’
I do. Not for the sake of my own safety but to make Dell feel more comfortable. ‘I just needed some air.’
‘Well, you don’t want to catch two hundred feet of it on your way down to the rocks.’ She cringes and half-closes her eyes. Her black eyeshadow makes it look like her eye sockets are empty. ‘I’m sorry. That was a bad joke in the circumstances.’
‘It’s OK. How’s it going in there?’
‘Half the population of Promise Cove, which consists of maybe thirty people, is getting slowly drunk in your aunt’s house and reminiscing about her. The most popular phrases are, “I don’t know why she went walking on the cliffs at night” and “Thirty two is much too young to die.”
And there are no hot boys in there at all. At. All.’
‘I guess I should get back in there.’ I don’t want to. I’ve had enough of being pointed at while they whisper, ‘That’s her niece who moved to America.’ Or being told how great my aunt was. Or my mom. I know how great they were. I don’t need to be told by strangers about my own family.
‘Maybe it’s time we started to wind down the wake,’ Dell says, reading my mood.
‘We’re all tired,’ I reply. It’s been a long day and I still feel jet-lagged from yesterday’s flight. A morning spent signing papers at Aunt B’s lawyers, followed by the funeral and burial, and now this gathering at the house is overwhelming. Last week, I had no direction in my life. I felt like an unwanted tenant living with Frank and Julie and even though I had a job that got me out of the house every day, returning to a place I didn’t feel welcome every evening was like a heavy rock threatening to pull me under the facade of my life into the depths of depression. The only person who saved me from actually drowning was Dell. She knew when it was getting bad and she would invite me over for a day or two.
And now I had my own house in Promise Cove, as well as a bookshop to run in town. ‘A new start,’ Frank had said when Aunt B’s lawyers contacted me to tell me about the house and shop.
We reach the porch and head for the open back door. The warm light spills from the house, lighting up the grass in a yellow line that leads all the way to the cliff edge.
‘Amy.’ The voice comes from the shadows on the porch and both Dell and I start.
It’s Frank. He’s sitting on the porch bench. Is he in the shadows on purpose? Did he come out here to eavesdrop on me and Dell?
‘I’ll go inside and let you two talk,’ Dell says, making a tactful exit into the house and closing the door behind her. Frank lights a cigarette and the flare of his lighter illuminates his face for a moment. He looks tired. He took Mom’s death badly, especially when he learned that her final wish was to be buried in the Sea Road Cemetery, Promise Cove, Cornwall, England. I think he took that as a slap in the face. She was leaving him in more ways than one. He pulls on the cigarette and the orange glow lights up his eyes as he looks at me.
‘Amy, are you sure you’re going to be alright here? On your own?’
So we’re going to play it this way are we? The loving father figure who is concerned for the not-quite-step-daughter as she leaves home. We both know it’s a lie.
‘I’ll be fine. I’ve got Dell to help me get settled then by the time she leaves, I should be in a routine.’
‘She’s only here for a week. You’re going to get awful lonely out here by yourself. The house isn’t even close to town.’
I look across to Promise Cove and the lights there. It does look a long way but Aunt B showed me some shortcuts across the cliffs and coves. I can walk there in fifteen minutes. If I take Aunt B’s car down the narrow road into town, I can be there in five. I make a mental note to get her car out of the garage next to the house tomorrow. She had a silver Volvo the last time we visited, so I assume that is going to be my wheels from now on.
‘I’ll have the bookshop to keep me busy,’ I assure Frank.
He lets out a little laugh which I’m sure comes out more cruelly than he intended. ‘What do you know about running a bookshop?’
‘I can learn. I’m used to working.’
‘Being a receptionist at a veterinary practice is nothing like running your own business, Amy.’
So, has he come out here to tell me I’m going to fail? Like I need any more discouragement. I feel scared enough about running Promise Books as it is. I owe it to Aunt B to do a good job and if I fail, I won’t only be failing myself, I’ll be failing her and that is the worst feeling in the world.
‘I’m sure I’ll make mistakes in the beginning but everything will be just fine,’ I tell Frank.
‘And what about…’ he leans forward and the cigarette end brightens as he draws on it, casting his face in dark orange, ‘…your arms.’ He nods toward my arms, which have been concealed all day beneath a thin black sweater worn over my funeral dress.
‘They’re fine,’ I say flatly. I don’t want to talk about this.
‘Maybe I should find out your aunt’s doctor’s name. You should make an appointment.’
‘I have the doctor’s number in the house. If I need him, I will make an appointment.’ I can feel my lips tightening as I speak. Stay calm. Don’t betray any emotion.
He goes quiet for a moment as if thinking what to say next then he stands up. ‘OK. I’ve said my piece.’ Ah, so this is a little chat he feels obliged to have with me before he disappears forever with a clear conscience. He’ll probably tell Julie on the plane back to Boston tomorrow that he tried to guide me and give me words of encouragement.
Who will he be fooling? Her or himself?
‘Our taxi comes in a few hours to take us to the airport. There’s no need for you to get up and say goodbye. It’s been a long day and you need your sleep.’
No need to say goodbye. Right. So let’s just forget the past six years and pretend we don’t even know each other.
‘Where’s Julie? I’ll say goodbye to her now.’ I start for the back door.
‘She’s already gone to bed,’ he says, stopping me. ‘As I said, we need to get up early for the taxi. Julie wanted to catch whatever sleep she can get.’
And not say goodbye to me, the girl she has lived with as a sister all this time? OK, maybe I was a pain in her ass the whole time, especially since I was five years younger than her and I demanded attention, but as that a reason to ignore me now? To go to bed and slip away in the early hours of the morning while I’m asleep? Surely I mean more to her than that. I shake my head in disbelief.
‘Right,’ I say tightly, ‘well have a nice flight then.’
The back door bursts open and Dell appears, her green eyes wide, her mouth open. ‘Amy!’ She grabs my shoulders and I wince slightly as the one of the cuts on my right arm stings.
‘What is it?’
‘Remember I said there were no hot boys here?’
‘One just arrived. He’s at the front door and he wants to talk to YOU!’
She shrugs. ‘I don’t know who he is or how he got here but he is waiting in the driveway to speak with you. Now go, girl!’
‘OK, OK, OK,’ I say, catching some of her infectious excitement. I turn to say a final goodbye to Frank but he’s gone and all that’s left to say that he was ever there in the first place is his cigarette burning out in the long grass where he’s tossed it.
I make my way through the throng of black-garbed mourners in the house, noticing that Dell seems to have managed to reduce their numbers.
I’m sure there were more here earlier. I’m tired and not in the mood to receive any more visitors, hot or not. Besides, Dell’s idea of what makes a hot guy isn’t always the same as mine. What could anyone want coming to the house this late?
The front door is open and the porch light is lit, casting a circular glow over the porch area. Beyond that circle of light, I can barely make out the cars parked on the gravelled driveway and the dark silhouette of a figure standing with his hands in his pockets.