Friday 16th February
“What will we do now?” thought June, “What on earth will become of us? Phil will never be able to hold his head up after this, even if he doesn’t end up in prison he won’t be a solicitor again. We will lose the house I suppose. Well, I never liked it that much anyway. In a way he took the easy way out, didn’t he? Left me to pick up the pieces, but I am afraid I cannot do that, Phil. I want to run away too, only I have nowhere to run to.”
And where has that lovely little girl Harriet gone, the one she used to cuddle as a baby, where had she gone to? She had grown up and away from her mother and June doesn’t recognize her any more, but then she doesn’t recognize herself anymore either. She looks in the mirror and she appears so old and worn out, and she has nothing left inside her to give Harriet, or Jane of course, and heaven knows she was the real innocent in all of this. “What a bloody mess, and it’s all been my fault.” She kept thinking, “How could I have been so stupid? Why did I have to tell her that; one of my deepest recurring fears. I could have lied, I could have told her what she wanted to hear, that Phil was really her father. It would have been so easy to have lied, I really don’t know why I told her the truth. It must have hurt her, but maybe I just wanted to hurt someone else.” She reasoned with herself, “It seems okay for everyone to hurt me, that’s okay because I am June and June has done the unthinkable, she has slept with her sister’s man, so anything she gets she deserves, but I am some sort of terrible person if I hurt someone else.” As she prepared for bed she told herself “Tomorrow I will make it alright. Tomorrow I will say sorry to them and start to try to mend things, I am just too tired now. Plenty of time tomorrow. For now I just want to drift away. I want sleep to come and take me away.”
* * *
“And suddenly Harriet was gone. Of course I was so stupid, I didn’t think for a moment that she was going out to score, that didn’t cross my mind. And even if I had gone with her, would I have known what she was up to. She would probably have just laughed it off, even while she was getting the stuff, and naïve little idiot me, I would probably have laughed too.
“But I hadn’t realised that was what she would do. I hadn’t realised that now that was the answer to all her problems. Just shows how far we had fallen apart, even now I had no real idea of what was driving my sister. The only way she could function was to get so out of it that she didn’t have to think about her mother or her father or even who her father was, or indeed who I was, or even any more about who Harriet was. So she went out and scored. She didn’t get any heroin, we discovered that later, but she got some amphetamines and took far too many and that only made her worse. Her body was craving heroin and all she could offer it were these mild substitutes. And I hadn’t realised, even when she came in looking all bleary-eyed and exhausted and insisting on going straight up to her bed. I just thought she had been drinking, it was quite late, and I had stayed up waiting for her till well past eleven, so was quite happy to get back to my own bed and the temporary relief of sleep.”
* * *
“Can’t sleep, I feel so tired and I can’t even sleep.” As Harriet tossed and turned. “What’s the use; every time I try to get free I get dragged back down again. I should never have come back here. When I got kicked out of Leeds I should have just stayed in London. I don’t know why I came back, I couldn’t even help my Dad; they wouldn’t even let me see him.” She railed at herself, “My Dad, the man I have always loved and looked up to as my Dad. How could she have said that about him? Why didn’t she just lie? I would have been happy with a lie. A lie would have hurt no-one. And all I want to do is sleep, sleep without ever waking to this nightmare, because that is what it is. My life seems to have drifted into some horrible recurring dream that I can’t shake off. I just want it all to stop, so I can get to sleep.”
* * *
Jane can’t remember drifting off at all, but she remembers waking up. That terrible noise, that awful bang; so loud and quite unlike any noise she had ever heard before. She sat bolt upright and suddenly knew. Oh my God, how she knew. She ran out of her room and along the passage to Harriet’s room but she knew, oh how she knew, she wouldn’t be there. She was tearing downstairs when the smell hit her, that sickening stench of cordite, the oily smoky smell of a gun recently fired. It sticks to the back of your tongue, like iron or blood, and you can’t get the taste out of your mouth. Harriet and she had sometimes gone out shooting with Daddy and his friends, always kept safely away from the guns as they blasted pheasants out of the sky, but she had never forgotten the stench of those guns, that sickening smell of death hanging in the air, as the dogs lolloped off to retrieve their kill.
Her mother was only feet behind Jane and tried to grab her to pull her back, she reached out to claw her daughter back but Jane was faster than her, her long hair slipping through her fingers as she outran her mother. Her father’s study door was wide open and Jane could see the blue smoke drifting lazily out into the hall, she knew what she would find, but couldn’t stop herself.
Harriet had propped herself up in a corner with the butt of the gun wedged between her thighs and the barrel under her chin. The top of her head was missing, but most of her face was still intact. Her beautiful sister Harriet was a bloody mess, but Jane held her in her arms and cradled her poor broken head in her hands as she tried to comfort her, just as she had comforted her younger sister so often in the past.
“There there, it’s alright Harriet, I am here now my darling, it’s alright, Jane is here now, Jane is here now.” She was cuddling her poor broken sister, as she used to cuddle her when they were little children. They hadn’t cuddled for years and years. But now her sweet Harriet was in her arms, safe in her arms again. All those years ago Harriet had really been her mother, wiping the dirt from her face with a licked hanky (Jane had no hanky now to wipe the blood from Harriet’s shattered face). Harriet helping Jane get dressed in the morning, holding her hand on the way to school, listening to her complaints, kissing her tears away, protecting and holding her. And now their roles were reversed, Jane was the Mummy she had never known, she was there for her this time, she would comfort her, Jane would protect her, she would let no harm come to her, she would kiss away all her fears. They sat huddled together in the dark, the only light coming from the hallway. Harriet was so quiet she could have been asleep, and Jane caressed her as she slept quietly in her arms. ‘Safe from harm now, my baby, safe from harm.’
Their peace was suddenly broken by their mother, who was calling to Jane from the doorway, “Jane, Jane, come away from her now. Come over here, please Jane.” She kept saying, holding her nightdress tight and half bending over, her hair straggling and snaking away from her silhouetted head.
Jane looked up and saw her coming slowly towards them, the light from the passage behind her, with her hands outstretched and her hair all a mess, flying around her head. “Keep away from her.” Jane screamed, “She’s asleep now. Stay away mother.” But she kept coming towards her. “I said, keep away, you bloody witch,” but she kept coming towards her, and all Jane could see was her hair floating all over the place. She doesn’t remember picking up the gun, but she remembers warning her to stay away. Why didn’t she listen? And then Jane heard the bang, and the terrific kick in her shoulder as it knocked her halfway across the carpet. ‘Why didn’t she listen to me? She had never listened to me.’ And she crawled back to Harriet and they sat there – the two of them, Jane cradling her sister in her arms, in the dawning light of her father’s study, watching as the sun came up, and the police arrived and the ambulance people took her wounded mother away, and the policewoman gently peeled Jane’s hands from Harriet’s bloody head and led her away.
* * *
“Thank God I had only wounded my mother, though I would happily have killed her, as I told everyone for years, but I never told them the reasons why. I told everyone I had wanted to kill her and for years I believed it too. She had been the reason for my Harriet dying and I had wanted her to pay. I had wanted to kill her so badly, for the harm she had done to us all; my father – who only wanted to be loved, my Aunt Julie who surely never deserved her own sister to betray her like that, Harriet who despite her words was only looking for love too, and me, for taking my Harriet from me. I didn’t kill her, though I had wanted to, I only wounded her. I had smashed her left hip and she spent months in hospital and walked with a pronounced limp for the rest of her life.”
Jane, fifty years later, explained to the psychologist.
“For years whenever I saw her that limp reminded me that at last she had paid for some of her sins. You see, I always blamed her for Harriet’s death, but I later came to realise it was all of us who killed Harriet. My mother and Uncle Ted with their selfish lust, my cowardly father who couldn’t even see the line between integrity and dishonesty, and even me in my uncritical worship of her. And Harriet too, of course, she was on some sort of trajectory, she could have flown so high and shone so brightly if the spark hadn’t burned itself out so soon. And actually I don’t believe my mother at all now. Harriet and I were true sisters, we had the same father all along. Of that I am certain.”
She paused for breath, as the ghosts of those days swept silently past her.
“You must know all the rest, the psychiatric reports, the attempts to hurt myself, the long periods in care, the depression, the pills, the failed relationships and all. It’s all there in black and white, you must have read the official reports. It’s mostly true, but as you can see, it only tells half the story. But I am empty now, I have told you all I can remember, and possibly more. There really is nothing else I can tell you, I’ve said it all.”
And so how do you feel now Jane? Isn’t it better to have got that off your chest? Of course I knew the bare bones of your story, it is quite well documented but you have always refused to talk in any meaningful way about it before.
“Why? Are you surprised? I shot my own mother. I wanted to kill her because she had killed Harriet. Nobody really cared what I thought anyway? I don’t remember anyone asking me why I shot her, and I didn’t want anyone to know either. In fact I can’t really remember anything so clearly that happened after that day.”
No, I think we have talked enough today, don’t you. But please tell me Jane, do you think that this has helped, to have relived these memories, has it helped you at all?
“Helped me? To be honest I think I am beyond help, don’t you. And now I have even betrayed Harriet, my darling sister, haven’t I?”
No Jane, you have at last reconciled yourself to her death. That’s what we have achieved today.
Funny, it doesn’t seem that way to me.