Motherlove. Mrs Parish is universally believed to have murdered her missing baby, 22 years before.
‘Mrs. Parish.’ The tone was hostile, struggling to be polite, as if the speaker would much rather have spat.
She stopped at the foot of the stairs, and turned. Mrs. Bone was peering round her front door, lips pursed. ‘Mrs. Parish. The graffiti. It’s there again.’
‘I didn’t put it there.’
‘No, well, I never said you did, but we all know why it’s there, don’t we? And it’s not nice! None of it’s nice.’
‘It’s not nice for me either.’
‘Whose fault’s that?’ Mrs. Bone slammed her door shut.
Mrs. Parish continued up the stairs. Fifth floor flat. She could have taken the lift, but she’d made that mistake a month ago. She’d found herself trapped with a burly resident who felt obliged to make his feeling clear with his fists. When she escaped, someone called the police. Not an ambulance, just the police.
The latest incident in the park had set off the usual ritual – the tip off to the local papers, the carefully legal tabloid sniping, then the abusive letters, the graffiti, the vigilante rage. Every few years it flared up, usually ending in an assault, a trip to the hospital. She knew by now how to handle it: wait for things to die down, then she’d quietly move on, find a new flat where her neighbours didn’t know her.
The solution was simple. Everyone knew it. She knew it. She should move out of the area. But she wouldn’t. Not till she had her answer.
She was out of breath when she reached her own front door. A red spray can had been used. Lots of it, randomly, like blood splatter. The words ‘Baby Killer’ were scrawled across the door and onto the adjoining wall. Probably a dog turd shoved through the letter box too. There usually was.
Then she noticed the figure.
Hunched, at the end of the corridor, hood up, rising from the ground now like an evil imp.
Her fingers fumbled with her key. She could feel the month-old bruises on her cheek flare up in anticipation, as the figure strode forward.
Then the hood went back. Not a hoodie but a cagoule, not a boy but a girl. A young woman, lank hair, long face white and desperate. No evident hatred, but the girl was strangely rigid.
‘You’re the one, aren’t you?’ the girl demanded. ‘The woman everyone said killed her baby.’
She stood, equally rigid. ‘I did not.’
‘1990. It was you? The papers—’
‘The papers got it wrong.’
It wasn’t what she was expecting. Mostly, when she was recognised, her accosters said ‘Liar! You murdered her. We know the truth.’
She waited, her fingers twisting the key back and forth, something to concentrate on.
The girl lifted her arms, not to strike, but to reach out. ‘I’m her! I’m your daughter. I was the stolen baby.’
Such insane eagerness. Of course, now it made sense. It was another of those deranged fantasists, or the heartless con artists. Every so often they popped up. She had given up trying to fathom why. Mad fixation, or some idea of wringing money out of her, or maybe just a hope of notoriety. Once, years ago, a girl like this would have triggered a wild lurch of hope, a racing pulse and a catch in her throat as she stupidly dared to believe. Now she knew better.
‘No.’ She spoke coldly, tired of the situation already. ‘You are not my daughter.’
‘But I am!’
The girl came forward, crowding in on her, as she fumbled and finally succeeded in opening the door. ‘Get away from me. I know you’re not my daughter, you understand? I know. I don’t know what sort of freak you are and I don’t care. Just go away.’
Mrs. Parish shut the door in the girl’s face. Through the panels, she could hear her, voice raised almost to a scream.
‘Why? How can you know? Because you lied? Was that it? I wasn’t snatched, you really tried to kill me.’ She was thumping on the door. Would the lock hold? ‘It didn’t work! I didn’t die!’
The hammering slowed, like a failing heart-beat. ‘I didn’t die.’
Mrs. Parish waited for the silence to settle. It would pass, this episode of insane misery. She opened the cupboard under the sink, took out cleaner and a scrubbing brush, then put the kettle on. When she was sure the mad girl had gone, she’d deal with the graffiti.
Thorne Moore was born in Luton, near London and the sludge of the Thames estuary, and now lives in Pembrokeshire on the Atlantic coast, with a lot of hills (small, but we call them mountains), woods (we call them forests) and villages (other people would call them road junctions with a house or two). No cities anywhere near.
She was advised to study law, so she studied history instead, in order to avoid a future career as a lawyer, as she was obviously going to be a writer. Since it took her forty years to get published, she filled in the time working in a library, running a restaurant, teaching family history and making miniature furniture (Pear Tree Miniatures). Her first book, A Time For Silence, was published in 2012. Motherlove followed in 2015, and her third, The Unravelling, will be published July 2016. She lives in a Victorian farmhouse, which occupies the site of a Medieval mansion. Several cats share the house and several woodpeckers share the garden.