Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Lullaby

She glances at the sleeping child beside her.  The little girl is the image of her father. Her soft cheeks bathed in morning sunlight, and sweet lips that remind her stirring mother of a night to remember. The body of a boy against hers and the sudden rush of emotion that followed the first orgasm they shared together. A moment so precious in her mind, so selfish in his.

Jake had been the envy of her friends at College . The athletic good catch, academically gifted - a genuine all-rounder with a head on his shoulders and already a gift for picking stocks. He was in his final year of economics, she the cute librarian who never quite made it to University. She wasn’t aware of his penchant for the pencil skirt and reading glasses when he first winked at her. Simone was attractive. Her blonde, hair swirled loosely and pinned with a tortoiseshell clasp, neatly dressed with a tantalising glimpse of cleavage as she scanned his reference books; a glimpse Jake Russell wasted no time in savouring. 

“Fancy a coffee?” It was an innocent enough request which morphed into lunch, then movies, dinner and before she knew it, she’s sleeping with him. She knew he didn’t love her. She knew he wouldn’t stay. He liked the fast life, motorbikes, risk-taking and she was dull by comparison. Jake never thought so, but Simone’s insecurities had been born of a life of dependency on her looks and a metaphorical fear of the dark…she’d never learned to fly in the Jungian sense.

Being with Jake allowed her to soar without risk, to live vicariously in his wonderful shadow. She doesn’t remember the exact moment when she decided to trap him into a loveless marriage, but trap him she did.

He stuck with her during the pregnancy, doing the ‘right thing’ and marrying her for the unborn child’s sake, and to keep the peace between their families; neither of which would have tolerated the shame of a termination. Simone and her religious conviction wouldn’t have considered such a path. And frankly, wild as he was, Jake was made of strong moral fibre and a sense of responsibility reaching beyond his 24 years.

As Simone Russell strokes a dark curl from her daughter’s brow, she also remembers the infidelity of a young man locked in a reluctant marriage; the fights, the tears. What was a wonderful beginning, soon soured with post-natal depression and post-coital suspicion. She barely shed a tear when he was killed, taking a corner too fast on a motorcycle too powerful. Besides, she had Jasmine, the product of a once delicious embrace gone sour. But even she, is a handful lately. Being a single parent is not all it’s cracked up to be, and Simone is needier than most.

Still, Jake had been a good father and provider. She would romanticise about her late husband; tell the child that her father was a hero, a good  man. Indeed, he’d loved his daughter more as the affection for his wife waned. Simone had become demanding, jealous, and increasingly suspicious of her husband, literally driving him into the arms of others. Jake, despite his extracurricular activities, adored his daughter. He’d taken on the lion’s share in caring for his child, largely due to Simone’s increasing depressive episodes. It was he who held Jasmine when she cried, mended her grazed knee or countered the odd tantrum. It was he who put the child to bed while Simone passed out on Xanax.

 “My sweet princess,” he’d whisper as he sang his little one to sleep.

Lula Lula Lula Lula bye bye,
you’ve got the moon to play with,
the stars to run away with,
hush now don't you cry,
Lula Lula Lula Lula bye bye,
in your daddy's arms a creeping
mummy watch is keeping
in Lula Lula Lula land
.

A doting father’s sudden absence from the six year old’s life left a deep emotional scar. The child became inconsolable at night. Not just stirring, but screaming, sobbing; making frequent intrusions into her mother’s bed. Simone tolerates the addition of a small child between her sheets at first. The little body is consoling and she feels for the child, once so close to her father. She understands her feelings of separation, she’d felt them herself long before Jake died.

It’s black, save the glow of the gibbous moon. Fingerling fronds from the branches beyond the casement window tap against the glass in Jasmine’s room, reflecting ghastly shadows on the unadorned walls. She whimpers. She mustn’t move. She wants to be brave against the choir of the night. She wants to blow away the singing shadows and rolls sideways to face the photograph of a handsome young man smiling from the frame on her nightstand.

 “Daddy…” she whispers, each soft sob catching and punctuating her words… “Come and sing to me…”

She swears she sees the picture smile, the young man wink as the song filters above the shadows,

Lula Lula Lula Lula bye bye,,
in your daddy's arms a creeping
mummy watch is keeping
in Lula Lula Lula land

As she closes sleepy eyes, she feels his breath upon her cheek, his reassuring hand upon her face. She sleeps.

But after a month, the constant waking begins to take its toll, and the deprivation of sleep has a tired and cantankerous mother marching the child back nightly, tucking the recalcitrant insomniac tightly into her own bed. The appearance of a new man in Simone’s life increases her need to have the child tamed and in her own bed.

***

Ron Dixon can only be described as a predator. He’s done well over the years, preying on the emotions of others. He sits in the coffee shop licking cappuccino froth from his thin lips and studies the obituary column with the intensity of a professional punter. His preferred prey being young widows. Although the last had been 15 years his senior, she had been useful in funding his extravagant lifestyle. He’d still be with her, had a meddling accountant not alerted her to some spurious transactions in her checking account. Her early demise attributed by the coroner as an ‘accidental death’. Ron was more than pissed that she had not written him into her Will despite promising to do so. Time to move on, devious, murderous yet Teflon coated once again.

He glances at each obituary, stopping momentarily as a recent entry draws a wry smile… “Jacob Russell, father to Jasmine, loving husband of Simone. Loved by all. 1975-2011. No flowers. Memorial to be held Thursday 25th June at St Martins”

A quick search on Google, Linked In, Facebook and Twitter and young Jacob’s life is exposed. A hopeful with a passion for life in the fast lane. A young entrepreneur, married six years, a daughter…lovely house in a desirable suburb…surely insured and with assets worth liquidating, He would have left his attractive widow with a healthy inheritance. Photos of the family on Picasa proved to be encouraging. Simone is a pretty bottle blonde with slightly plastic, cheerleader good looks; slim, feminine, not at all unpleasant on the eye. The child is an unfortunate impediment but young enough to hoodwink if everything goes to plan. The side of his mouth curls as he flips his laptop closed and leaves an optimistic tip for a waitress who frankly, does not deserve it. Yes, Simone is his next target. Sex and money, both irresistible aphrodisiacs.

Since introducing himself as one of Jake’s old school friends at the funeral, Ron has been a regular visitor to the Russell household. Jas thinks he’s creepy but her mother dotes on him. She doesn’t see the threatening scowls or the sly verbal abuse directed at her daughter. She doesn’t seem to mind that the photograph of a handsome young man who died too soon has been turned face down in a nightstand drawer, and replaced by one of the new happy family. Ron, standing proud with a po-faced Jasmine on his shoulders, Simone smiling up at them both in what could be a stock photo of the perfect family. She doesn’t notice the recalcitrance on her daughter’s face. She is blissfully ignorant of the strange shadowy figure in the photograph’s background; the figure of a man beneath a distant tree, hurling something resembling a rope over one of its more sturdy boughs.

She has no idea that the man who shares her bed has no ‘fatherly’ interest in her child. On the contrary, Ron sneers at the kid and instills fear. His shadow often looms threateningly above her. No goodnight lullaby, no consolation for a distressed child.

 “Shut the fuck up you little brat…” he’d whisper out of Simone’s earshot, “I’ll lock your door and the bad shadows will take you away!”

Her mother is also blissfully unaware of the slow embezzlement taking place beneath her nose or the sell-down negotiations for Jake’s assets. It’s been a long time since anyone paid her the attention that Ron does, and she’s rendered blind by misguided trust as the cowl of romance prevents insight. She’s only too happy to finance his ‘business ventures’, share her passwords as well as her bed. Simone has never ‘done’ being alone very well. She’s meek and naive and trusts him implicitly.

***

The weather lately is inclement. Howling winds and driving rain, typical of September in the Antipodes. Jasmine is terrified of such nights but her mother’s scolding at bedtime has her afraid to resist as she’s tucked in so tight and warns,

 “Stay in your own bed tonight baby…Ronnie’s staying for a while so you can’t come into mine.”

As as a nail-polished hand slides from view, beyond a closing door, a tiny bottom lip trembles.

The terrors of the night repeat. The taps on the window pane become louder, the shadows more menacing, the whistle of wind from the casement gaps providing an eerie symphony to the dancing choir upon the wall. Jas wide-eyed as tentacles crawl across the ceiling. She imagines bony phalanges pulling at her hair, grabbing her ankle and is deafened by her own scream.

The screams from Jasmine’s room become all too frequent, as does Ron’s presence, forcing the child to deal with the patterns on the wall and the knocking at the casement. Winter’s last attempt to push away the onslaught of Spring brings violent winds. Shutters soon to be dressed in red geraniums rattle against their restraints. Branches dance as if possessed sending flamenco fingers across the ceiling.

“Mummy…..MUMMYYYY” The words are broken by desperate sobs as fright takes hold.

“Jas, you have to stop this,” the firmness of Simone’s voice lost on a sobbing child.

“Sing that song that Daddy knew…” Her daughter’s request denied, although Simone knows the tune, she never bothered to listen to the lyric.

Simone reads books on toddler taming, controlled crying and night terrors. Night after night of reassurances, the introduction of a teddy bear, cajolement and threats. There is no peace for the wicked, a frightened child or a sleep deprived mother.  Little has an effect on the wakeful child. Even as the weather calms and spring breezes ease, the shadows and sobs persist. The tree is trimmed, shades drawn, the casement sealed, the bedroom door locked to prevent interruptions to Simone’s carnal desires.

“You’re a big girl now Jas. It’s just the wind. Just shadows cast by the moon. You look out of the window when you get scared and remember Daddy’s song, OK? And here…”

Simone plugs something into the power socket adjacent to Jasmine’s bed.

“It’s a pretty night light. Look, it turns around and makes moon and star shadows on your wall and plays your favourite song.”

 For a moment, the child is soothed. For a moment she thinks everything will be alright.

Simone lies sleepless gazing at the ceiling having already comforted the child two or three times. “Ride it through,” she thinks. “No child has ever died through crying”….small consolation as she hears tiny fists pummelling a now-locked door accompanying the waning music box strains of a once-loved melody.

Simone calls out in desperation, her ears and heart pained and tired of the racket.

 “Jasmine! Go to sleep. Please, please just be quiet and go to sleep!” 

She turns towards the naked and slumbering body beside her, wondering how he sleeps through such noise, and buries her head beneath a pillow. Ron however is not asleep, just quietly seething.

“Simone, I’ve had enough of this. What’s wrong with that brat?”

He throws back the covers and dons his dressing gown and storms towards the door.

“Ron…leave her she’ll settle.”

“Damn right she will!” he spits before exiting the bedroom. Simone too tired to resist rolls over and closes her eyes as if that one act will render her deaf to the child’s pleas.

A brute of a man rages into Jasmine’s room. The anger in his voiced muffled so as not to be overheard but quite clear. He places a rough hand on the terrified child’s mouth. He picks her up kicking and screaming before he tosses her like so much baggage onto her bed.

“Shut it kid. You aren’t part of my plan. You’re just a nuisance, an irritation.” He pulls the pillow from beneath the child’s head and covers her face, pressing hard on either side and straddling her tiny body to reduce her thrashing.

A universe of stars and moons revolve around the room and the music box chimes begin to distort. Stars morph into angry dancers as a full moon illuminates the furthest corner nearest a locked door. Jasmine is fighting for her tiny life as a furious man tries to extinguish it. He remains focused and is oblivious to the rising of a menacing shadow as it emerges from the corner of the room. First small, then spreading like ink on blotting paper until its shape towers above an oblivious man and a kicking child.

Through the casement window a shadow moves across the moon. Branches recently trimmed form tendrils penetrating the glass as a pane shatters. Ron is momentarily distracted. His head raised he feels the constriction on his throat and releases the pillow.

“What the?” His sentence stalled by the appearance of a shadowy form, a familiar yet pixelled face. “Jake?” The noose tightens around a murderer’s throat. Sheer terror and disbelief drains colour from his face as he’s dragged from Jasmine’s bed across the floor by a spectral Jacob. Every vein protruding as Ron’s body tries uselessly to resist the surprising power of the supernatural. His face contorting through pain and disbelief as his last breath coincides with a total lunar eclipse

 Jasmine stares once more at the disappearing moon. A circle becomes a crescent as the bedroom fades to black. She feels familiar warmth upon her face, a soothing melody washes over as she feels comforting arms enfold her and he begins to croon.
                                        
Lula Lula Lula Lula bye bye,
in your daddy's arms a creeping
mummy watch is keeping
in Lula Lula Lula land
.
                                                                          
The cries diminish but Simone still hears the muffled sobs through the layer of gyprock dividing mother and child. Finally, silence. Persistence has paid off. Or perhaps Ron has managed to finally master the soothing song and quiet her daughter

Birdsong and shafts of spring light wake Simone. Ron  is nowhere to be seen. She stretches cat like. Shapely legs emerge from beneath the covers as her blind feet feel for slippers. The house is quiet and she relishes the peace as she walks towards the window, opening it wide to allow the sun to kiss her face. “Thank you Jus, for the sleep in…” she whispers to the sun.

She glides a silk robe over tanned shoulders and ties its sash around her waist before moving towards Jasmine’s room.  “Poor mite…” she thinks as a pang of guilt for not tending to the child’s plight during the night crosses her mind. She turns the latch and frowns quizzically. She was sure she’d locked it the night before but doubts her memory. She pushes the bedroom door forward but it’s meeting some resistance.

“Jas? You fall asleep behind the door honey?”

There’s no sound.

“Ron? You there?”

The door refuses to budge as she puts all her weight behind it. Whatever’s blocking its arc is larger than her six year old, and the effort she’s pushing with, would wake the dead.

“Jas! Jasmine!” She’s scared. Something’s wrong and one extreme push opens the door far enough for Simone to squeeze through the gap. Immediately the colour drains from her face. Ron’s body, frozen with ghoulish fear, is blocking the door. She muffles a scream with her own hand and scans the room for her daughter. The terror of the prospect of her daughter suffering a similar fate overrides the horror of her lover’s demise.

“Jasmine?” Her voice a tremulous whisper, “Are you hiding?”

She frenetically tears the duvet from the bed…lifts pillows, crouches beneath it…nothing. She scours the wardrobe, opens the window and inspects the ledge, her desperate voice echoing across the street as she screams, “Jasmine! Where are you!”

She avoids looking at the terrified corpse and takes one more look beneath the bed. There, lying face down, is a photo frame. Within it, an almost stock photo of the perfect family. Her wayward yet long-gone husband, now replacing Ron’s image. Jasmine perched atop his shoulders, happy, gigging and Simone smiling at both. Behind them, the blurred outline of a shadowy figure, hanging from a sturdy oak bough, the grimace of a violent death upon his loping head.

A message is scrawled on the back of the frame, as if rushed but clear, “Mummy. Come play with us…”

 Created for The Tenth Daughter Of Memory "Choirs of Shadow Flying by Violent Eclipse"

7 comments:

  1. Oooooooh melikes. A few typos, but I like.

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  2. Still a bit impatient, but the edit makes all the difference in the world. Some of the dialog is too... not expository... but written in the style of the narration/description, and it doesn't read well.

    But, yeah... much better.

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  3. I was hoping for a different ending. This was predictable. Now if the child had killed him...

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  4. I'm appreciating the detail in this, the use of description. -J

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  5. yeah, i always have enjoyed your particular use of detail and highly descriptive moments...you create perfect snapshots. kodachrome, baby! Horror stories with little kids are always hair raising, and creepy.

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  6. Overall, this is my favorite piece from you in a while, but I agree with Patti. A couple of words didn't fit the style and a couple of misplaced commas mess with the flow. A few more edits and this would be amazing!

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  7. Good atmosphere. I like the decline in Simone - though it's a little too fast perhaps. Good villain. I would have preferred to have him introduced in a more ambivalent way at first - rather than here comes the villain.

    I didn't like this bit - "she’d never learned to fly in the Jungian sense." Too academic.
    This bit - "She doesn’t remember the exact moment when she decided to trap him into a loveless marriage, but trap him she did." You could probably cut the part after the comma.
    Errant comma in this bit - "But even she, is a handful lately."

    re what Pattiken said - I didn't mind the growing supernatural threat from the dead father. Sure you could see it coming. But that was the point. Innexorability.

    Mystery about the fate of the girl - well, ambiguity anyway. Good too.

    Overall a satisfying modern Gothic spooky tale. I like it.

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