‘It’s okay, my darling, hush now, it’s okay.’
Ellen held her baby daughter tightly, gently bouncing on the balls of her feet in an attempt to settle her down as she walked around the nursery room.
Bethany continued to wail, despite all her mother’s calming methods – techniques that rarely failed. On this night, however, they seemed of little use.
The room was becoming lighter, the sun rising on what promised to be another beautiful spring day. But that was all on the outside and all that Ellen could hope was that she might one day be able to bring sunshine back into her daughter’s life.
She looked from the warm yellow glow of the curtains across to the set of pink painted bookshelves above the cot, a small smile breaking across her face as she looked upon the collection of framed photographs there. Amongst the various shots of Bethany alone in various brightly coloured outfits was a photograph of three people, Bethany sat on the lap of her father with Ellen curled up against them. A proud moment. A treasured moment. A time never to be repeated.
Jason had always looked out for her, steered them away from any troubles when out of their home, always held her hand when crossing the street, opened doors for her wherever they went.
For six months, Ellen had had to get used to opening her own doors, keeping herself safe. A roadside bomb in Afghanistan had robbed her of her husband, her best friend and guardian, and the father of her child.
‘It’s okay, baby.’ Ellen mouthed softly to Bethany, pulling her daughter’s head tight to her cheek, smelling her beautiful hair, her lovely soft skin. ‘Everything’s going to be just fine. Your daddy’s still watching over us. We’ll be fine.’
Ellen felt the salty taste of her own tears as she spoke, tried to ignore them but they, coupled with the sights she saw around her, were much too strong to ignore.
Most of what she saw could be fixed, put right, made new again. Most of it could be forgotten once that had happened. All of it would go away again. All except the memories, the nightmares, and the one thing that, the more she looked at, she doubted could ever be fixed.
‘Hush, darling. It’s going to be okay. I promise you. It’ll all be okay. It’s just…’ Ellen paused, realising the words belonged to her husband, and faltered before continuing, her voice cracking with emotion. ‘It’s just you and me against the world. The whole wide world.’
She came level with the mirror on the opposite side of the breakfast bar and stopped her bouncing for a while to look at herself and her child in its shattered reflection. The crazed mirror sections showed their image in various sizes and fragmented shapes but none of them could distort any further the fact that they reflected the picture of a broken family.
Although the mirror remained intact, the shattered pieces managing to hold each other within its frame, the same could not be said for the glass of the kitchen door. Ellen took care to step past the opening and the area of broken glass which lay before it, making her way carefully around the metal framed bar stool on the ground which, only moments earlier, she had hurled through the door.
‘It’s okay, it’s okay.’
Bethany seemed to be calming, her wailing reducing to a constant whimper accompanied by that gasping for each breath through tears that only small children seem adept at.
‘We’ll be fine, baby. Just you and me, we’ll be just fine.’ Ellen clutched her daughter with just her left arm, allowing the release of her right to reach up and wipe the tears from her eyes. ‘That’s it. See, all calm now. All that noise has stopped. It’s all nice and quiet again.’
Ellen tried to ignore the wooden knife block as she passed by it, but couldn’t resist a quick glance. The vacant slot where the largest of the carving knives usually resided was impossible to ignore. Just the sight of it brought the crushing reality that the calm she was telling her daughter was there was in fact just the one that people speak of before the biggest of storms blows up around them.
Ellen felt her body tremble with what she could only assume was raw and deep-felt fear and she became anxious that, if it happened again, her arms could become so numb that she might not be able to prevent herself from dropping her child to the floor.
‘Let’s get you into your playpen for a while, baby. Okay? Yes, let’s get you in there so you can play with your toys for a while. Give mummy a chance to clear up a bit, okay?’ She carefully eased back the kitchen door, which threatened to fall off of the one hinge that held it fragilely in place, walked into the hallway and into the lounge.
Bethany’s sobbing seemed to ease further as she was gently lowered into the playpen, her eyes wide at the sight of all her colourful soft toys which surrounded her as she met with the soft cushioned mat.
‘There we go, my darling. That’s great isn’t it? Just give mummy a moment and I’ll be back with some juice.’ Ellen stood, half glad that she could finally deal with the other room alone, and half terrified that she now had to.
The smashed kitchen door, the shattered glass across the floor, the broken mirror, the bar stool on its side on the floor along with smashed crockery and the contents of the upended fruit bowl, and the man with the kitchen knife buried deep into his neck.
She stood in the doorway and looked across at him, expecting him to suddenly rise up in the way that villains often do in bad movies, but the knife was buried too deep, there was far too much blood spilled beneath him.
Ellen held onto the door frame as shock rushed through her veins. He should never have been there. An intruder in their home, a burglar, a junkie looking for something he could sell and steal, and all she had wanted to do was to protect her child. That couldn’t be wrong could it? – And yet, day after day, everything she read in the press, heard on the news, seemed to point towards the real victims being the ones that suffered twice. Ellen would do anything to protect her child and to keep her safe and yet all she could think of was that her very actions to do that had every chance of having her daughter taken from her. She’d murdered a man.
On shaking legs, she walked back into the lounge, her knees giving out just before she reached the playpen.
Bethany looked up at her, waved a small toy bear at her mother, started to grizzle once again.
Ellen reached out and held her daughter tight.
‘We’ll be okay, baby, hush now. We’ll be okay.’