Read The Good Mother Online

Authors: A. L. Bird

The Good Mother (7 page)

BOOK: The Good Mother
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I wait some more. I can’t hear anything at all from next door. Maybe she really isn’t there? Maybe I need to find out, and do something to save her? Act now, quickly, before it’s too late.

I’ll give it one more minute then I’ll knock. No, maybe that will be too late.

Tap. Tap-tap. Tap-tap, I go.

Nothing. No response.

Where is she? What’s going on? Please, come on, knock back.

Nothing. Nothing nothing nothing.

I need to get out of this room.

I need to see the hallway, her door, see if there’s anything unusual. Just to know. Just to see. Even if I can’t help.

‘Hey!’ I shout out. I pummel the door of my room, louder than the knocks. ‘Hey!’

And there it is. The key in the lock. I’ve done it. He’s coming. I’ll get out of the room somehow. A shower! That’s it. I’ll say I need a shower!

He stands in the doorway. As ever, between me and freedom. Between me and knowledge of Cara.

‘Shower time,’ I say. I try to make it sound natural. Not so urgent that he’ll suspect it’s a ruse.

He looks me up and down.

I shiver. I’d forgotten, in my hurry, what the shower would involve. Him looking at me. Like that. At the very least. And me with my clothes off.

It’s for Cara. It’s for Cara. It’s for Cara.

‘Fine by me,’ he says.

He gestures to the open door. I take a step towards it.

And then comes the tap-tap. On the wall. From Cara.

I freeze mid-footstep. Has he heard it? Has he noticed me hearing it? If I had that moment again, I wouldn’t freeze. Of course I wouldn’t freeze. It highlights the noise, gives it a significance. But it was my daughter, communicating with me – how could I not react. Even though her knock, which I solicited, puts our whole communication in jeopardy. Maybe even herself. Stupid, stupid me, selfishly checking up on her, not being strong enough. Again.

He’s looking at me, the Captor. Questioningly? Or desirously, looking forward to seeing me naked?

I don’t know. I feel sick. At least Cara is safe. At least she is there.

She knocks again.

What? Is she expecting a return knock?

Stop it, I whisper to her in my head. Stop it! Find that earlier caution. It’s lovely, wonderful, glorious to know you’re alive and safe, but keep quiet, just now!

I look at the Captor. What has he noticed? What has he heard? I would smile at him but then he would know something was wrong. Plus I’m not sure I can bring myself to smile at the man who has separated me from my family.

Can I change my mind about the shower? Or will that look suspicious? Yes, probably. It will. I have to go through with it. I have to distract him from the sound of Cara. Of our communication. Our knowledge.

‘Well, let’s go and have this shower then!’ I say. And I try to lead the way out of the room. Suddenly there’s a scent of escape. But no. He’s too sharp for that. He’s in front of me again, clamping my arms by my side. I’m led out of the room. Past Cara’s closed door – behind which, for now, she is safe, thank God – down the meaningless corridor. What if one day her door was open? Would that be a good thing or a bad thing? Right now, she is in there, reading my letter. But maybe one day I will be ushered past and the door will be open. She will be gone. Spirited away somewhere by the Captor. How absurd, how cruel, to keep mother and daughter so close but not let them see each other. Psychological warfare? Or does he want us both? Think we won’t possibly yield with each other in the room? Needs us to feel isolated, alone. Well, we have a hidden strength, a unity, that he doesn’t know about. I hope. Unless he has worked out the knocking.

I try not to think about what will await me in the bathroom. Not a long hot soak in the bath, like I used to enjoy, when I could find a quiet moment. No. The quicker option. But not quick enough. A very public shower. The toilet visits are bad enough. I’ve counted them – I need something to do other than write to Cara and stare out of the window for the little girl – and crosschecked them with the sunsets. Twenty-one toilets. Even given my current levels of dehydration – I can’t drink all the drugged drinks all the time – I must be going three times a day. Six sunsets. But I may have missed some. Sometimes I wake up and have no idea where time has gone, or where I am. I have to remember all over again. That I am not with my Cara, except I am.

But at least the toilet visits must be almost as grim for him as for me; him watching over me while I do my business is a security issue more than anything else. I hope. And at least I am partially clothed. A shower though. That is different. I will be naked. Slippery. Defenceless. I’ll be worried every time I bend over. I will not come out feeling clean.

I try to keep that strength up as he orders me to take off my clothes. When I refuse, he moves towards me and rips them off for me. Or maybe, to be fair, it is more gentle than that. Slides and teases them off me. I think I’d prefer if he ripped. Less like he was trying to seduce me. Less sinister. Now I feel not only naked but coveted. Has my bare flesh always been this bare, this vulnerable? It shames and sickens me, with the knowledge of what he wants. I become a true Eve outside the garden – an ashamed hand over the breasts and one over the genitals. He is not going to get the view he wants out here.

‘Get in,’ he says, nodding his head at the shower cubicle.

‘Aren’t you going to open the door for me?’ I ask, playing the coquette. Anything to put off turning around.

He doesn’t reply. He just gestures again with his head. Of course he isn’t going to move forward to open the cubicle – to do that would leave the exit to the bathroom unguarded. I could try to flit naked from captivity.

So, slowly, with as much posterior dignity as I can muster, I turn. I catch sight of myself in the mirror as I do. I look away again. I’m thinner than ever, but not good thin. Ribcage and thigh-gap thin. If only he wouldn’t drug my food and I could eat it all. Or if I could have one of my own cupcakes. Or Paul’s peppercorn steaks.

I pull open the door of the shower then shut it tight behind me. I turn the temperature up as high as I can to generate steam. I have my back turned to the door but – or maybe so – I know he will be watching me.

‘Go on, love. Have a shower. Wash it all away.’ It? Her. They mean her.

As the heat and steam build, and infuse my skin and my hair, I feel myself start to relax slightly. Does Cara use this shower? I wonder. Am I sharing her space? Is this another link we have forged in captivity? I will ask in my next letter. Eyes closed, I reach my hand out for some soap. Instead, I feel flesh.

I scream and open my eyes. It is the Captor’s hand. Above the noise of the water he opened the shower door without my hearing. What does he want? Is this it? Is this the rape scene? Does he murder me in the shower now, à la ‘Psycho’? I cower into the corner.

‘Shampoo,’ he says, holding out a bottle. ‘Looks like you’re washing your hair.’

I stare at him for a moment, my heart beating fast, in heightened threat mode. I wonder if I can surprise him, push past him, or strangle him with the shower cord. But my hands are frozen across my breasts and genitals in defence, while the water runs on.

He waves the bottle at me again. ‘You can’t use soap. Makes the scalp itchy.’

I reach out a hand and take the bottle. Then he shuts the shower door.

Yet he is obviously watching. Because he knew I was washing my hair. I want to curl up in the corner of the shower enclosure and cry. Become invisible. But he would see my tears. Each one would probably arouse him. Give him a sense of pleasure in defeating me. However vulnerable I feel I cannot let him see me that vulnerable. I must remain calm. The tears must wait until I get back to my room. Just focus on the fact that Cara, too, must have survived this experience. Or is about to have it. Use the shampoo then place it on a ledge, at head height, so Cara will not have the indignity of having the shower door opened on her. Or having to bend over to pick up the bottle, observed by the Captor. I want to scream at him, over the noise of the shower: perv on my daughter in this way and I will kill you. Somehow. But I can’t. Because he cannot know that I know she is here. That I have an ally. We each have an ally.

So, instead, I just perform a perfunctory wash of my hair and my body. I pretend I am one of those women in the bathroom commercials, advertising shower suites or shampoo. Except they always seem to have a towel in the shower with them. When my shower ends, I will have to emerge dripping, cold and naked. I will need to beg the Captor for a towel. While he watches me. I shiver, even though the water is still warm.

The shower door opens again. Not a surprise this time. But not a treat either. He reaches past me, turns off the shower.

‘Don’t want to run out of hot water,’ he says.

Why? Is that an acknowledgement of Cara being here? Or does he want a hot and steamy shower after me? Enjoy himself where I have been?

He moves back from the shower unit again.

Is he going to do this every time? Reach over me like this? Can I bite his arm, really hard? Will that get me past him, out of the unlocked bathroom, to freedom? Shall I practise, later, in my room, how hard I can bite?

I adopt my new customary hand-to-breasts-to-genitals and wait for him to tell me what to do next.

He beckons me out of the shower. ‘We need to get you dry,’ he says.

He picks up a towel from the towel rail. It is worn, faded-looking. Years of use on him? Years more to follow?

I put out a hand, expecting him to pass the towel to me.

He doesn’t.

Instead, he envelops me in it.

Then he is rubbing me, all over, through the towel. He pinions my arms to my sides so I cannot resist. If I squirm, he will surely break an arm, a rib. He is close enough for me to headbutt. Could I do it, suddenly? Perhaps I could. Perhaps this is my chance, one I won’t get again. I can headbutt him and then rescue Cara.

I stand on tiptoes and thrust my head forward. I come in contact only with the air next to his skull. Before I can try again, he has grabbed my hair, pulled back my head, and has the other hand round my neck. The towel falls away.

‘None of that,’ he says.

I feel the pressure of his hand on my neck. Any tighter, and I’d say I was being strangled. That I’d die here in this bathroom. That Cara would never know why I was silent. Or that the Captor would come and make her shower in the room with my dead body still in it.

He pins me against the door and leans down to pick up the towel.

I have no choice but to stand there while this man that I hate rubs me down. And he seems to hate me too, because there is no sexuality to this drying. He is drawing the towel over me in a way that one might wipe a cloth over a kitchen cabinet to clean it, when really you are only cleaning it to avoid talking, avoid having an argument that would happen as soon as you unclenched your hand from the cloth and your teeth from your jaw. There’s that restrained anger in every movement. All I can do is stand there silently, hoping his hand will not come back to my neck.

‘Back to your room,’ he says. Like I am some kind of naughty child. Like I can somehow make my own way back. But, of course, that is not allowed. I am led, naked, down the corridor. Past Cara’s room. I pray she is not looking under the door, cannot see my humiliation. We arrive at the threshold of my room. It’s like a strange date, the Captor escorting me home. Except this is not my home. And he is the one with the key.

He opens up the door and pushes me into the room. Then he closes it behind me, separating the two of us. I am left alone. Naked.

Chapter 14

I should knock on the door again, shouldn’t I? Demand some clothing. Say it’s against the Geneva Convention, the Human Rights Act, basic dignity, to keep a captive with no clothes on. But then, I suppose, none of them apply if you’re doing something illegal in the first place. If your prisoner isn’t a prisoner of state, or of law. Just a kidnappee. Alone, isolated, and now clotheless.

Maybe now it’s just a waiting game until he comes and defiles me.

Or maybe it’s another game. Like the bathroom game. To break me down. Maybe I’m meant to have my spirit destroyed. Maybe I’m meant to hammer on the door, demand some clothes from him. Cry, wail, plead, beg. So he can come back and ‘comfort’ me. Or laugh at me.

Well, I won’t. I won’t give him that satisfaction. I’ll just stay here, horribly, horribly alone and naked in a room in a house I know not where with my husband apart from me and my daughter separated from me – but there, thankfully still there – when what I should be doing is deciding whether Cynthia and Harriet and their hen party would prefer a Strawberry Frost or an Oreo Wonder as the centrepiece for their cookery class. I should be buying eggs, cleaning whisks, chiding Cara for stealing spoonfuls of icing sugar. Sitting daydreaming at the counter, wishing I could afford a separate studio rather than pretending that my kitchen is that studio. I should be wondering if I have time to go to the loo before the clients arrive, whether I should cook steak fajitas for Paul and Cara later or whether I should just have a glass of wine after the clients go, and schedule in staring mournfully into the bottom of the glass, wondering how I can appear on the lists of those free magazines, so that everyone in London will read about my business and want to order from me, so that I can start doing corporate events and set up shop in Soho. And then I should look up to see a picture of me, Cara and Paul together and realise that this is all that matters, and then hear the doorbell, heralding the arrival of my hen group clients, and snap out of my reverie and carry on, business as usual, happy happy happy, like we’re all meant to be.

I should be living my normal life.

I should not be standing shivering in the centre of this room. I should grab a sheet and wrap it round myself. I should definitely not be sinking to the ground, crying and crying and crying like that’s what I’ve been designed to do. It won’t help me. It won’t help Cara.

Pull yourself together. Don’t cry. The baby isn’t crying, is she?

I should supress the sobs, in case Cara hears me, and stops writing to me, because who would want to write to a sad old mum who bursts into tears simply because she has nothing to wear?

BOOK: The Good Mother
5.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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