We’re going to get on together’, she said, extending a hand.
I looked into her eyes. They were clouded with rehearsed deceit and I turned my attention to her bags that were strewn in the carbolic hallway.
All morning I’d watched the maids stoop and scrub it in preparation for her arrival.
My new mother wore a red blouse that looked stained with some deep sin.
‘Are you going to say something to me Nat?’
‘Speak up son’, my father barked from the hallway.
‘How can you tell?’, I said.
‘How can I tell what?’, she said, smiling.
The cracks around her mouth were hard and told a different story to the one her demeanour presented to me.
‘That we will get on.’
She leaned towards me.
‘Because if little boys behave then little boys get treats and I have some sweet things for you dear, and needles are sharp and prick the skins of animals, so think what they will do to yours.’
She said this in barely more than a whisper.
It was a needless ruse.
My father was lighting his cigar, oblivious to anyone else.
As she pulled away I caught a whiff of ammonia beneath the heavy perfume that encompassed her like a cloud.
Her hat was in the hallway. I saw the large round heads of heavy pins lodged in it and knew what she had planned for me.
Women like her think boys are animals. She wanted me caged and out of the way so that she could feed on my father.
Upstairs I waited to eat.
I ran my hands along the tepid radiator that struggled to draw heat from the boiler in the massive sprawling house that had been in my father’s family for generations.
It wheezed like an asthmatic and occasionally spurted a fraction more of heat into my darkened room.
From the window I saw her give orders to the servants.
Their hunched shoulders clearly told me she was not welcome as they lugged her innumerable pieces of luggage from the car.
I tried to recall my mother’s face as the bell summoned me to dinner.
My new mother was called Valerie and I thought that the name was so ill fitting she ought to tell us who she really was.
She sat in a neat blouse that showed an ample figure which was the object of lascivious glances from my father.
‘Why Nat?’, she said, prodding the salmon at the edge of her plate.
I looked away from her carmine mouth to the fish. It was too pink and I felt an obscenity fiddle with the starched hem of the conversation.
Valerie sat upright and I sensed how she was using my father. My father who needed protecting from women.
It was for his own good. He was a fool.
A pretty face and a kind word and his innate generosity rose to the surface.
‘I don’t understand your question’, I said.
‘What kind of a name is it?’
‘Something his damned idiot mother came up with’, my father said. ‘Short for Ignatius Loyola.’
‘The Jesuit,’ she said.
I looked at her and her hard mouth and tasted the tawdry flavour of a prostitute. I had read of them in the newspaper left in a downstairs toilet, and understood what they were and now I had one in the house I lived in with my mother.
I wondered what she charged for her services and whether a parade of men would line the verdant lawns that now loomed like a black lake outside the window.
‘He was wounded at the Battle Of Pamplona’, I said, ‘and had a spiritual conversion.’
She looked at me with irritation.
‘Show me the boy and I will show you the man’, she said.
She held her knife and fork with difficulty and I could tell she had only recently learned etiquette and she wore it with unease. She was not used to large households and the servants would hate her.
I watched my enemy chew and swallow and hoped that she would choke on the small fishbone I saw dangling from her fork.
Who was I to warn her? I was still trying to remember my mother’s face.
Her neck began to tense and a small spasm in the muscle of her jaw told me she felt it lodge in her throat.
My father had to rise and tap her back and she swallowed too much water, choking and snorting some of it from her nose.
She stared at me with blame in her eyes as a strand of snot dangled from her nose.
Young as I was I knew this humiliation meant she would have to take revenge. I left the table at the earliest opportunity.
Late that night I wandered the empty hallways.
The house was freezing and I had to rub my arms to stand and listen long enough to what information her nocturnal habits offered.
I hid behind a suit of armour and spied through the crack in the half closed door to my father’s bedroom.
She stood over him and let her hair loose, then laughed and reached beneath the sheets.
He looked up at her with insouciant eyes and I saw her work his tired muscles like a scullery maid kneading dough. When she finished she rose with boredom in her face and put her negligee back on. Her flesh looked used. She walked towards the door and I ran for the stairs, but she had seen me.
She found me in my room.
She stood against the closed door while I shivered against the radiator.
‘You behave or I will see you don’t spend much time here’, she said.
‘I wanted some water.’
‘You were watching me, you were doing things small boys should not do.’
‘I didn’t see anything.’
She walked towards me and I saw the needle in her hand.
She pulled my pyjama top up and stabbed me with it.
She watched the bead of blood swell into a bulb that grew heavy and trickled down my skin and I could see the same look of pleasure in her eyes that had crawled across her face as she rose from my father on the bed.
We stood there in the darkness watching each other, listening to one another breathe, and she smoothed the creases on her thighs, rubbing her hands slowly and deeply into the silk.
She left and I got beneath my sheets.
The next morning I heard my father talking to her in the breakfast room.
‘His mother had this religious fixation’, he said.
‘Does he know what happened?’, Valerie said.
‘No. Doctor said it’s best he doesn’t remember.’
‘How did she fall?’
‘Are you sure he has forgotten?’
‘Of course, he’s a lad, terrible thing to lose your mother at that age but still he has to get on with it. He’ll take to you, give him time.’
‘It seems strange that she lost her footing. I’ve seen the balcony.’
‘It’s best not to talk of it.’
So she had toured the house.
She’d gone to the parts I never visited.
I joined them for breakfast and hoped she would choke again, but she did not.
As she rose, she leant and kissed me on the cheek.
She stank of some foul corruption and I stared into her vacant eyes and saw deceit and its deep roots there.
I heard her order the servants about and listened to her talk to my father in the study.
‘I think he should be sent away’, she said.
‘It will build his character and help him forget his mother.’
‘I’ll look into it.’
My father blew blue smoke into the air, impervious to the claim she was making on his territory and I went outside.
The kennels needed cleaning and I let my dogs out.
My father had strictly forbidden pets but allowed hunting and guard dogs. And I had a way with them.
My prized Doberman looked at me and I patted his head. Briefly. Never show them too much affection.
Until Valerie arrived, he had been allowed access to parts of the house. Now he was put out of the way.
His snarl told me of a mounting anger in him.
I was about to feed him when I stopped and returning him to his kennel let him watch the others eat.
Later that day I took Valerie’s hat and let him sniff it.
‘Valerie’, I said.
I placed a bowl of food right next to him and removed it.
I let him starve for two days while they made plans to send me away.
One morning after breakfast I suggested to her that we go for a walk.
‘It’s important we get along’, I said.
She rose and put on her coat.
‘In case it rains, I think you should wear your hat’, I said.
I watched her put it on and check herself in the mirror with a vanity that was so redundant I almost laughed.
I led her through the gardens at the back and she stalled when she heard them barking.
‘They’re safe’, I said.
‘Do you have a pet?’, she said.
‘I feel drops, you were right to suggest I wear my hat.’
She patted it and ambled blindly forward. She looked so much like a cow I wanted to applaud her stupidity.
‘Do you ever let them out?’, she said, peering in at them.
I looked into her eyes and knew she was a poor liar.
‘It seems a shame to keep them locked up.’
‘He likes being stroked’, I said.
I opened his kennel.
He was already snarling as she reached her hand down. He smelt the hat and I said it.
She turned to look at me and I knocked the hat from her head.
She stooped for it and he jumped.
He sank his teeth into her face and opened her up.
I watched him eat her.
As he tore her open I was reminded of the scene in my father’s bedroom.
Her flesh looked ruined even before he punctured it with his teeth and the severing of muscle from tendon seemed a fitting end for her.
She stared up at me with vacant eyes that knew no way to register the appropriate emotion for what was happening. The act existed outside her small badly rehearsed world.
‘You told me I saw too much of you, I never wanted to see you at all’, I said.
She tried talking but the Doberman had got her throat.
Her windpipe jutted out of her neck like a piece of ruined machinery.
My father shot the dog and I cried in his study all day.
The cook had left some onions out.
My father cheered up a few days later.
He went out and got me another dog.
His work has appeared in many publications, places like A Twist Of Noir and Pulp Metal Magazine, as well as in three anthologies. His play ‘The Cure-All’ has been produced on the London stage. His first crime novel ‘Apostle Rising’ is about to be published and will be released for sale onto the market at the beginning of 2011. You can watch a video ad of ‘Apostle Rising’ by using this link http://www.richardgodwin.net/ . All his published works can be found at his site.