Darling Girl by Beverley Byrne

Darling Girl, 

Now police and press interest has finally evaporated, my current counsellor suggested writing you a letter. Sounds daft under the circumstances but here goes. The move went well, mainly because your dear Ma decided to give most of our goods and chattels away before the removal van arrived. I don’t mind admitting, stuffing Mr Webby into the Salvation Army sack nearly did for me. Your sleepy bath time baby scent of talc and soap still clings to that old toy duck. So, I’ve been a rebel and kept him. Despite your mother insisting ‘we must clear the decks.’ 

Come to think of it, your mother’s quite the bossy Admiral these days. Remember how she used to be? Soft as a cream bun and just as delicious. Now she’s more of a snarling Rottweiler than an affectionate Labrador. You should have heard her screaming at those journalists who camped for weeks outside the front garden. Language a sailor might consider ripe. No wonder the removal men jumped to attention every time she appeared. 

So here we are in the new house. What a contrast to our old beamy, cobwebby cottage. The rooms have all the character of an insurance broker’s call centre and, since our old photographs, prints and ornaments have been donated to charity shops, minimalist. Ma’s been busy sourcing what she calls ‘environmentally sensitive’ furniture.’ So far, we’ve got a bamboo table, a sofa made from ‘preloved saris’ (which I’m forbidden to sit on wearing shorts in case the studs rip the material), and a rubber plant because they ‘convert carbon dioxide into oxygen’. All part of our ‘new life strategy’ apparently. 

The fitted kitchen has all the charm of an operating theatre. Your Ma says she won’t miss the old ‘smelly’ Aga, but I do. Remember when you came home with Lazlo. Eyes barely opened and fur matted like a coconut. We fed him with an eye dropper and kept him warm in a box beside the bottom oven. Turned into your shadow and the fattest cat in the village. Like us, he pined away after you…

I’m getting maudlin again darling girl, so I’ll tell you about the new fridge. It has one of those handy ice makers. Brilliant for g & t’s although they’re off the menu since your Ma decided we must stop drinking and never again set foot in a supermarket. Something to do with Das Capital and the Carbon Dioxide produced flying asparagus from Peru. 

Since you’ve been gone, she’s started campaigning for all sorts of causes which is why the fridge is only stocked with ‘local organic produce.’ Costs a fortune but apparently her book, ‘Living Without You’ is selling well so she can afford it. Just as well because there’s no call for an electrician with hands trembling like leaves in a gale. 

The other day, she was out teaching her new Yogalates class, and your old dad felt a bit peckish. Stuck my head in the fridge and there was nothing in it but a jar of something called Kimchi which smelled like rotting badger, a bottle of ‘Mountain Stream’ water and a jar of Vegan Piccalilli. Had to go down Wetherspoons for a fry up. Didn’t tell your Ma, obviously. She wouldn’t approve. 

You’ll be surprised to hear she’s become an ethical vegan. It was one of the reasons we had to move out of the village. Couldn’t bear to see the innocent lambs and calves taken away to be murdered, she said. Strange for a farmer’s daughter who married me because I made the best Sunday roast in the county. When she was pregnant with you, she used to shovel in the liver and bacon. Now, she says, all life is sacred and instead of those romantic stories she used to enjoy, she’s buying books on Buddhism. 

You wouldn’t recognise her these days, darling girl. Her cuddly curves have melted like the polar ice caps she’s always going on about. Using ethically supplied chopsticks, she pecks away at food resembling a bird’s nest. Last week, I thoughtlessly suggested Chinese. Of course, she burst into tears because they reminded her of our Family Friday ‘teas on knees’ nights. So, takeaways have gone the same way as her sun kissed curls you loved twirling around your tiny fingers. Due to animal testing, her gaunt face is bare of makeup and her shorn sheep short hair has turned aluminium grey. When we moved, she suggested separate bedrooms as her insomniac pacing would keep me awake. I didn’t like the idea but went along with it because (and I’m ashamed to admit this) it would be like trying to cuddle a distressed porcupine. 

At least moving here means we’re invisible. As time went on, our old friends didn’t know what to say or do and inevitably faded away. Walking down the high street, heads turned. Fingers pointed. Subtle like. But I knew what they were all thinking. Parents never escape suspicion. No smoke and all that. 

This town has, as she said it would, given your mum a fresh start, an alternative life. What with volunteering for the helpline and all her charity work, she’s not a minute spare. I wish I could fill the days like her. She’s resigned herself to you never coming home but me? I still hope. So, I do nothing but wait and wander from room to room twiddling my vibrating thumbs wondering if I can go on. If I knew you were dead, it would be easier. I’d join you and leave this ‘new life strategy’ behind. Now your disappearance is old news, the police have no fresh leads, and your mother has become someone else, I have no strategy to cope. I am lost without you, darling girl. 

Published in Issue #17

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