Read The Good Mother Online

Authors: A. L. Bird

The Good Mother (3 page)

BOOK: The Good Mother
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Stinging, on my cheek.

He’s slapped me.

So I scream again. Louder.

He slaps me again, harder.

It brings tears to my eyes.

And there’s a wet glittering in his.

‘I didn’t bring you here for this,’ he says. There’s a crack in his voice.

‘Then why did you bring me here?’ I hear my voice, high, wavering.

He shakes his head and moves back towards the door. I start screaming again.

He turns to me. This time his hand is in a fist. I flinch. He lowers his hand. But the warning is clear. No screaming. I lie down on the bed and face the wall. I can sense him standing there, watching me.

Eventually, I hear the door close. He’s gone.

I fling myself over on the bed so that I’m facing the door that he’s just exited.

Who is this man? I swear I hadn’t seen him before I was abducted. What does he want? Can’t he just tell me everything, like some kind of super villain confessing his evil plans? At least tell me he’s got his cock out every night at the thought of me but he’s just biding his time; tell me we had a chance encounter in a newsagent/ restaurant/ supermarket; tell me he has my daughter strapped inside a wheelie bin somewhere ready to be landfill unless I have sex with him. Just don’t leave me here, not knowing.

I need to know what’s happening. Why is no one telling me what’s happening to my baby?

I need Cara. I need Paul. I need a hug, some tea, some air, some knowledge, some hope. I just need. Give me something. Please.

Chapter 4

The other side of the door

I could just have let her scream. Of course I could. I’m prepared. Tough love, isn’t it called? I’ve experience of that. I’ve hardened myself for more. Had to. Grit your teeth, get on with it, think of the greater purpose. The purpose she’ll realise in due course. Once that natural obsession with her daughter has abated. Of course, she wants to know. And maybe I should tell her. But not now. Not yet. Little by little we’ll get there. Together. That’s the important bit. We’ll always be together. I’ve succeeded in that much. However difficult it might be, treating a woman like that when all you want to do is hug her and kiss her and … all the rest. The groundwork is done. We’re together. Now I just need to carry on. Day in, day out, as long as it takes.

Oh, she’s resisting. Of course she is. Wants to be in and out of that room like a jack-in-the-box. And it bothers me. Of course it bothers me. In an ideal world, she’d take one look at me, one morning, and she’d love me like I know she can. She’d thank me for the delicious fish supper. Thank me for the warm bedding. Thank me for taking care of her. But it’s not an ideal world. Don’t we know it. All of us, under this roof.

So until that happens, she’s got to stay there. Locked in that room. And sometimes I may need to use force. Judge me, you up there, if you want to. But just like you have your plans and work in mysterious ways, so do I. I didn’t like slapping her. Of course I didn’t. Yes, there was an element of me that liked the touch of her skin. So soft. English rose. Just like Cara. You want to caress skin like that, not hurt it. Needs must though. Even if she was more stunned than hurt. She’ll forgive me in the end. She has to.

Slapping her, stopping her screaming, was the right thing to do. Selfish, partly. We need to communicate. We need to have a dialogue, even if for now it’s full of hate from her. And I want to be able to hear her voice. Not just gaze at her from afar. If she’s hoarse, we can’t do that, can we? I’ve thought so much about her speaking to me nicely, silkily, calling me by name, that I don’t want to ruin my chances by making her croak.

And there’s the noise, of course. Screaming. I think we’re safe. But I’m not big on attracting attention. Not now.

Of course, if she won’t communicate as she should, however long she’s in there, I’ll need to come up with another plan. Perhaps I’ll need to force her to understand. Something with more impact. Pierce that little bubble she thinks she can hide in, away from me, for ever. But for now I have to continue with what I’ve started. A new phase of life for us all.

Chapter 5

‘Mum? Mum!’

It’s just a whisper but it stirs me. My brain fumbles out of the half-doze it has been in.


But where?

‘Cara?’ I call.

‘Shh! He’ll hear you,’ comes the whispered response. That’s my daughter: ever practical, ever critical.

That’s my daughter. I was right. She is here. The maternal instinct hasn’t let me down.

I flick on the light switch, hoping that the glow won’t reach the Captor, or if it does that it won’t alarm him.

‘Cara,’ I whisper. ‘Where are you?’

There’s a banging sound from the wall opposite the bed. She must be in the next room. I rush over; caress the plaster.

‘Are you really through there?’ I ask. ‘But how can I hear you, through a wall?’

‘Lean down,’ she says. ‘There’s a grate.’

I do as she says, and she is, of course, right. My wonderful, wonderful daughter. You’re alive! You’re here! And you have found a vent between our walls! I lie right down on the floor to see if I can see her. Think perhaps we can join little fingers – our ‘mother and daughter for ever’ hook.

Her hand is so fragile, so tender. If I squeeze it, will she squeeze back?

But no. Hearing will have to be enough.

‘How did you know I was here?’ I ask her.

‘You weren’t exactly quiet,’ she says.

No. I wasn’t, was I?

‘You’re all right?’ I ask her. ‘He hasn’t touched you, or hurt you, or … anything, has he?’


‘Cara?’ I start to panic. ‘He hasn’t, he didn’t—’

‘I guess you can’t hear when I shake my head,’ comes her response.

I close my eyes with relief. ‘Thank God,’ I murmur.

There’s a pause. Then we both start talking together.

‘Do you know where we are?’ I ask, as she says ‘Do you think Dad will find us?’

Then, from her, ‘I don’t know,’ as I say, ‘I’m sure he will, sweetheart.’ And at the same time I think, I hope so. Please, let him find us.

‘I’m so glad you’re here, Mum,’ she says. ‘I mean, it’s awful that he got you, when I understood what was happening I …’ She sounds like she’s holding back tears. Or maybe letting them flow. My poor darling Cara. ‘But I’m just glad, glad I’m not alone.’

I nod. ‘I know,’ I say. I hope she can hear that I’m hugging her voice with mine. Because I know what she means. I’m overjoyed she’s here. She’s here and she’s safe and she’s with me. I’d much rather she were at home, safer, with Paul, but at least I have this comfort. She would be my desert island luxury, as I’ve often told her. I’ll never let her go.

Such a beautiful baby. An item to treasure. Can’t I keep her with me?

‘What do you think he wants to do to us?’ she asks. ‘Just, like, keep us here? Or do you think he’s got, you know, plans?’

Can I use the maternal cloak of little white lies to conceal the world from her? In theory, for one more year, until she is sixteen. But she is savvy. That’s what growing up in London does to you. And she watches TV. We both know what she means.

‘Let’s hope he would have done that by now, if he was going to,’ I say.

As if on cue, there is the sound of footsteps, and a door opening along the corridor.

‘He’s heard us!’ I whisper. ‘Quick, back into your bed! Don’t tell him you know I’m here. He’ll move us!’


I hear the pain of separation in her voice. It rips through my heart. Worse, almost, than when they took her way from me, bundled up, in hospital, all that time ago.

‘I’ll think of something. Don’t worry,’ I say. Then I add, ‘There’s a window.’

But I have to scramble back to my bed because there’s a key in the lock.

The Captor’s face appears in the door frame.

‘Did you call me?’ he asks.

I shake my head.

He looks at the floor. ‘Shame,’ he says. Then I see his gaze has shifted to my bed. Where I haven’t quite pulled the cover over my exposed leg. I adjust the duvet quickly.

‘I must have been having a nightmare,’ I say. ‘Thank you for that.’

He just continues to look at me. I feel tremors start in my hands. He must have plans, looking at me like that. Is it how he looks at Cara too? My Cara, just next door. Who I must protect, keep safe, now that she is here. That is my role, my calling, my mothering duty at its starkest. I grasp my hands, holding them both together to stop the shaking. I must not show him I am afraid. That makes me vulnerable.

I raise my chin and meet the Captor’s stare. He looks away.

‘Would you like some hot chocolate?’ he asks.

‘What, so you can drug it?’ I ask.

He blinks at me. I knew it. He didn’t realise he had such a clever captive.

‘I don’t want your drugged hot chocolate,’ I say, more loudly than normal, so Cara can hear. Keep her safe, don’t let her succumb. We don’t want another generation started here in nine months’ time.

‘I’ll go back to bed then,’ he says. ‘Unless …’

He stares again into my bed. I think he is going to ask if he can get into mine.

Instead, he says, ‘Just tell me tomorrow if you want anything.’

‘What do you want?’ I hurl at him as he closes the door.

There’s a pause in the door shutting.

‘You,’ he says.

Then the door shuts. And no one can see the tremors that have restarted. Because I know what that ‘You’ must mean. What it is building up to.

I’m pleased that Cara and I aren’t face to face. That she can’t see my fear. And I have her face in my mind anyway. Of course I do – any mother does. All her faces. From when she was born, that crinkly tiny tiny face, the shock of dark hair.

She’s so small. So, so small. Could be crushed in just the palm of a hand.

Yes, that face, all her faces, right up to her now-face. That lovely blonde hair, about a thousand different shades, from gold to oaten, shorter now that she’s older. Cool Cara. Beautifully smooth. Not for my Cara the acne and pockmarks of the mid-teens. Flawless.

‘Cara?’ I whisper. That same reverent tone as when I called her by name that first time, in the hospital.

‘Shh, it’s not safe,’ she hisses, quietly. ‘We need to find another way to communicate. And then we need to get out of here.’

She is right, of course. If he hears us talking, he will punish us. Separate us. Bring forward his plans. Whatever they are. But, for now, I need something.

‘Cara,’ I whisper again. She doesn’t reply. Frightened, I suppose, of being overheard. Just this one thing then I’ll heed her. ‘When I tap, like this, on the wall—’ I tap, twice, very lightly ‘—it means I love you, OK? And you tap back to tell me you’re safe. OK?’


I know she’s safe, as safe as anyone can be when they are kidnapped, I’ve just spoken to her. But still my heart pounds at her silence.

Then, there it is. Tap tap.

I feel my soul relax, my shoulders unhunch, at her sound.

But it’s only a temporary release. I must get her out of here. I must get her properly safe.

I look at the window again. If I could just escape, I could come back for Cara. Or maybe, now that we’re both here, there’s double the chance that someone will have seen something, reported something? One of Cara’s school friends maybe? They’re always together and, when they’re not, they’re calling or messaging or Instagramming or whatever it is that they do on those devices of theirs. I don’t know. She just helped me spruce up my website. ‘It needs more jazz, Mum!’ she said. ‘And a picture of you! You’re selling yourself, just as much as you’re selling the cupcakes!’ So perceptive, Cara. Such a good business head. Maybe she won’t go to university. Maybe she can help expand the studio into a cupcake empire. And how lovely to have a daughter who’s so proud of you that she insists on her favourite photo of you on your website. And that the photo is one of the two of you together – both with hair down, heads resting together, eyeliner on, black leggings showing off slim legs, big cheery smiles saying life is great, eat cupcakes.

Should I have been more careful, putting up photos of my daughter? Maybe. Maybe not. But she’s probably all over social media of her own accord. She’s fifteen. It’s what they do.

Oh, to be back in that studio with you now, Cara!

I bend my head against the wall to Cara’s room, as if I’m leaning against her head like on that website photo. Oh my darling. Please let that window help us escape. Please let one of your school friends have seen something. Please.

Chapter 6

She won’t tell. She won’t tell. Alice repeats the mantra of silence. Cara had entrusted her with a secret. What good would it do to tell anyone about it? ‘La, la, la, I’m not listening’, she says to the little voice inside her head that insists telling might do some good. I’m doing my English homework, she tells the voice sternly. And I am not telling that man what I know. That’s a secret.

Alice’s eyes wander to the passport-sized picture of her and Cara on her wall. They’re wearing crazy red wigs, silver star-shaped sunglasses and moustaches. Both of them grinning madly. You can almost see the giggles. It was a party at school, and the teachers had laid on some ‘fun’ dress-up photo booths. And they were fun. What the teachers didn’t know was that Cara had held on to the sunglasses and customised them – just in case they weren’t tacky enough – with some glitter-glue cardboard rainbows. ‘You’re such a rebel!’ Alice had told her. And they’d giggled some more. It seems hard to believe in now, the laughter.

‘Alice! Come down here, please,’ calls a voice. A parental voice.

‘I’m doing my homework,’ she shouts back.

‘Now, please,’ the voice calls.

Fine. Alice closes her exercise book in a huff. On the front is a picture of Mr Wilson that Cara drew for her. It accentuates his big ears and has a funny caption coming out of his mouth. Well, it’s only funny if you know Mr Wilson. He has a silly high-pitched voice like a parrot. So him saying, ‘Good morning, class’, while a parrot flaps round in the background, is a very funny picture indeed. All the funnier for being drawn in class by her best friend. Alice turns the exercise book over. I’m not telling, she says again.

BOOK: The Good Mother
10.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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