Authors: A. L. Bird
And yet here I am.
And here I still am.
Cara, Cara, Cara. I’m letting you down. I’m sorry. Forgive me. Pity me. Please send me another letter. Don’t make me just rely on those knocks. Beautiful, sweet and dangerous as they are. I want your words. I want your voice. Write to me, if you can bear to.
I don’t hear the door lock turn. I just see him there. Standing, in the doorway.
He is holding something.
‘Clean pyjamas,’ he says. ‘I forgot to give them to you.’
Forgot? How long did it take him to remember? How long have I been sitting here? Is it seconds or days? My eyes have a sting that says hours at least. But my skin is still wet. Sweat? Or shower water? Hot, or cold?
I don’t know. I stand. I flick my eyes to the grate, just in case. As I always do when he is there. As I always do when I am here. Present.
There should be nothing. Cara should not have wanted to write to her broken mother. Yet there is. There is a letter coming through this very minute! Cara, my joy, she is writing to me. But the letter, waggling away, drawing attention to itself. He will see, he will see, he will see!
I do the only thing I can do that will distract him.
I stand up, walk towards him and press my naked body against him. And I kiss him.
Flabby slippery lips on mine. I instinctively shut my eyes. Then I open them. His eyes are staring wide. Is that a hint of an alien tongue in my mouth? The touch of fingers on my hips?
I draw him into the room, towards the grate.
He pulls back. ‘Are you sure?’ he asks me.
I nod. Despite the grossness of being naked against the clothes of the Captor, despite the scratch from his cruel stubble on my cheek, the undesired of fact of his breath on my face, that I want to tear out his eyes for seeing Cara against her will, I nod. I pull him further towards the grate.
He kisses me this time. And this time, there is no doubt about the tongue, or the fingers. They are there. Does he taste the bile that rises in my throat? Does he detect the stiffness of my limbs? I force my own tongue into action. As it slides over his tongue, my insides crawl. It’s for Cara, I tell myself. It’s for Cara.
Are we at the grate yet? We must be. I break away and make as if I’m staring demurely at the floor. Yes. The grate. And there is Cara’s letter on the floor. I cover it with my foot.
And then I push. I push the Captor away from me. And I spit out the bile that has been gathering within me. I spit it out into his face.
I want to charge at him, to claw and to scratch and to tear. But I mustn’t, because that would reveal the letter to him. So I stay where I am, curling my toes round the edge of Cara’s letter. If he moves back towards me, if he tries to take me forcibly, then I will unleash my anger. It is the anger that makes me shake. The anger that this man, who has separated me from my beloved Cara, would think he has some kind of privileged access to my body. It is this anger, not fear.
But he doesn’t try.
When the bile hits, he just sighs. A big, weighty sigh that forces out his nostrils, raises his chest, closes his eyes. Then he scrunches up his lips in a kind of wry scowl-smile, nods his head, and turns to leave the room. He doesn’t even wipe himself clean.
‘That’s it?’ I shout after him. I want to taunt him, call him a coward. But I’m not that brave. He’s hit me before, after all.
As he gets to the door, he turns. His silhouette fills the doorway. He could obliterate me as easily as he obliterates the light.
‘One day, Susan,’ he says. Then he leaves and locks the door.
So. I am alone again. Except I am not alone. My skin crawls with a thousand little creatures. More than a thousand. Maybe a million. They’ve been waiting there since I began to kiss this man. Now suddenly they are released and, with them, the tears and the sobs that I have been suppressing. But still I must supress them, I must keep them quiet, for Cara. I am not allowed to be audibly unhappy. I must appear calm, composed. I press my hand across my mouth to stop the sobs. But they will not stop. I lean both palms against the wall and place my forehead in between them. Breathe, breathe, breathe. Bastard, bastard, bastard. Can I not push the wall down with my head? Can I not get to my Cara that way?
‘Mummy, Mummy,’ she is calling me, throwing caution to the wind. ‘What’s wrong? Are you crying?’
There, you see, I’ve failed. I’ve failed her. She can hear my anguish. Button it up. Keep cool. Reply. Keep voice level. Whisper.
‘Shh. Don’t worry, I’m fine. I’ve got your letter. I’ll read it now.’
Sing my little baby a lullaby. Rock her into a peaceful sleep.
Because I am. I’m fine. Really. Her voice has calmed me. The deep breaths actually bring oxygen to me now. We will escape, we’ll be back with Paul in no time.
And the other feeling, apart from the bile, apart from the hate and the fear, that came when the Captor kissed me the second time – well, nobody need ever know.
I’m sorry I didn’t write for a little while. I felt so tired, so drained. And I just didn’t want to write again until … until I didn’t feel like it would rip me apart. The acknowledgement of where we are. How we are. It’s really sinking in now. Don’t you find?
But hey, let’s be positive.
The window sounds great. No, I don’t have one, just a skylight I can’t reach, so we’ll have to rely on yours. Has anything happened yet? Has the girl you saw come back? But yes, we can totally use the fact that he goes out. What if we just scream and scream as loud as we can. Or we ram all the furniture as hard as we can at the doors, so he won’t hear the noise? Or could we even somehow put a piece of paper between the lock and our door so that it doesn’t quite shut, then, when he is out, we can just escape? Or – maybe this is best – when you’re having a shower (never have I felt so dirty after getting so clean – I wanted to scrub myself again so I could wash away his eyes from all over me) I can start screaming really loudly and then you can run from the shower out into the open (put some clothes on first) and get the police or Dad and come back for me.
Or we can just stab him with the pencils. If you break one in two. Stick it right in his throat.
I mean don’t get me wrong, Mum – I’m not a sicko or a psycho or anything. But we’d be justified in killing him, right? Whoever the hell he is. Who is he? Why us?
Really. Why us?
Let me know what you think of my ideas. We’ll get out of here by tea and you can make us cupcakes (mine’s a sugar plum fairy one)! Or something.
I think I’ll try to sleep again now. I haven’t quite managed that yet.
I could weep. But I mustn’t. Mustn’t get all misty and mumsy. Must just focus on her ideas. Such as they are. Because the furniture one won’t work, will it? No. And nor will the paper between the lock and the door. Otherwise the whole of the security industry may as well just retire now. The screaming maybe. Heaven knows, I would happily just spend my entire time screaming. But the house is semi-detached at the very least, so the view from my window tells me. If it’s detached, no one will hear us. Or, even if they do, it will take a lot of screams to make them stop ignoring what is going on in their own backyard. Much more likely to ignore the screams with classic British non-interventionism, letting the man do whatever he likes in his own castle. ‘Oh, probably just someone having fun and screaming in jest,’ they’ll decide, too easily.
But maybe there is something in the shower plan. I can’t let her be the one to cause the diversion though, can I? I can’t leave my daughter, my Cara, in the house by herself once I’ve fled, to face the consequences of my actions. No. She must shower and run and I must scream. But what if he gets wise to what she’s doing before she’s out of the house? What if there is a chase along the corridor, her running as fast as she can, him behind her? What if the towel she has hastily clutched round herself falls away and, as she bends to pull it up, he catches her, grabs her and strangles? punches? rapes? Floors her in some way? She would be defenceless against him, she would—
And breathe. Susan. Breathe.
Stop imagining the worst.
It is a viable plan. The bathroom door has no lock. We know this. She could easily make a run for it, if I give her a chance to prove herself, prove her plan. And I must, mustn’t I? Let her prove herself. She’s at that age now where I don’t own her. I can’t just bend her to my will like I used to (or did I – she seemed to know what she wanted when she was even a day old).
Because the other option is the murder option. And there is something horrible about your daughter wanting to kill. Yes, I would gladly kill the Captor. The bile is rising in me even now. But could I love her again if I knew she had pierced someone’s jugular? Been covered in their blood? Perhaps had an animalistic glint in her eye while she did it? I would have to do it, of course. And I will, if I need to. Of course I will. For me, for Cara. But I’d rather not. I’d rather he was locked up, away from everyone, like we are. I’d like him to suffer, in a way he won’t in death. Although he’d have to wait until he bled out from the pencil wound – slower than a knife wound, I guess. So he would suffer. And then he’d go to hell.
But perhaps we should try to run first, before we kill. It’s not that I’m reluctant. Although what if we need to convince a court we’d done all we could before we tried to kill him? And if he were the one on trial, we’d understand more about what is going on in his sick mind. And know who he actually is. Because as Cara rightly asks, who is he? Does it matter even? He is the bastard who brought us here, to this situation. Does it matter which bastard he is?
Possibly. But not right now.
Cara would need a weapon if she were to flee. Could she smash the mirror in the bathroom, get a shard of glass to use as a dagger if he catches her up? But what if she cuts that precious skin of hers while she is trying? No. If anyone is to do that it must be me.
Of course, none of this will matter if the window girl has seen the sign.
I go to the window and climb onto the chair. I look through the crack of available window left by my sign.
She is skipping, the girl, outside. Facing away from me. But there nonetheless.
Turn! Come on, girl, turn! She’s doing an ordinary jump skip at the moment. Surely she must soon begin the more complex steps. The whirling, twisting ones she was doing last time that make her face towards me. Surely this is just her warm-up act. I ready myself with the sign.
And yes, here we go. The footwork becomes fancier. She does kind of a mid-air trot then swings the rope to the side. Then, then, here it is, she turns in a circle while holding the rope. And she is facing me. I wriggle the sign as much as I can and bang on the window. Nothing. I wriggle and bang again. Come on, please. For me. For Cara.
Is she looking? Just keep facing this direction, that’s it, that’s it. Now just look up, come on, let your feet do their own work.
And her attention is on her feet again.
Not on me.
The little girl is clearly well brought up; rather than give up the step that caused her to fumble on the rope, she earnestly does it in slow motion again and again. Then she speeds up and finally, finally she is confident enough to lift her head. And she looks straight at me.
Or at least, in my direction. Does she see me? She is too far away for me to read the expression on her face. An even if it is one of wonderment, of the engaged interest and trust with which Cara used to look at me when she was that age, it may not do me any good. She’s probably been told not to wave at strangers. But I waggle the sign as much as I can. Is that a slight inclination of the head? A nod? A shake? Even just an acknowledgement? That would be something.
She turns away from me and continues to skip with her back to me.
I slump against the windowsill. Fine. Be like that. Ignore me. A bit like Cara in her early teenage years, in that borderline between childhood and pretentions to adulthood. When I came into her room to say goodnight when she was little, she would throw her arms round me, kiss me goodnight and beg me not to leave. I often had to sit holding her hand until she drifted off to sleep.
But then, other nights, when she was older, she would remain turned towards the wall in her bed, pretending not to hear me. She knew that I knew she knew I was there. I can see her now. Hair – with purple strands, to match her latest customised outfit – lying over her pillow. The hallway light revealing her eyes wide open. The duvet not disguising the fact that her limbs were stiff, not sleep-filled.
Just lying there. No response. Am I somehow to blame?
I’d say, ‘I know you’re awake really.’ But she didn’t reply. Didn’t utter a sound.
It was the intention to hurt as much as the ignoring me that was as painful. This little girl doesn’t intend to hurt me; there is no spite in her turning her back. She either didn’t see the sign or doesn’t trust me. Maybe I have to win her trust somehow? Like I won Cara back when the ‘parents are gross’ phase passed. Or maybe the hormones won her back for me. But the Cara I know now, the fifteen-year-old version, humours and loves her old mum as much as she did as an eight-year-old. So I didn’t lose her for ever. How did I do that? I made myself available, but didn’t press myself on her. I made myself interesting, cool, a purveyor of all things sweet. I was the witch in the gingerbread house without the witchiness (and, to be fair, without the gingerbread either – I had cupcakes). She tells me everything. That’s the beauty of the mother–daughter relationship we have.
So maybe I need to do the same with this little girl? Maybe I can draw her in through drawings. Little pictures, or little comments, on my piece of paper. Not ‘Help Me’ phrases. As a modern child she is probably used to phishing scams. Probably has her own email account –
. Probably already sees things she shouldn’t when the parental block system breaks down. Anyway, I need to intrigue her, interest her, cajole her into helping me.