Continued from: http://patwoodblogging.wordpress.com/2012/10/14/the-reason/
Dad’s story (continued)
I don’t mind admitting it, I was scared. They were just children, but their conversation had rattled me. It was all I could do not to take Eva on one side and tackle her. Part of me believed it was bravado, that they had no intention of carrying out their threat, but part of me – well, you do hear of such things. In other people’s families, not mine. In other lives.
Later, as we sat at the polished oak dining table, looking out over the magnificent gardens, eating smoked salmon and asparagus, I realised I had walked into another life. I had stepped into an alternate reality, where people ate with the sort of fancy silverware I stole for a living. Where money was no object, where women put children down and picked them up again at will and where those small children dreamed of killing their mother.
I suppose the food was delicious; I couldn’t eat. Eva didn’t eat either.
‘Can’t we have fish fingers?’ She picked at her meal. ‘I don’t really like this pink fish.’
‘She’s not had this before,’ I began to explain.
‘No, I bet she hasn’t,’ Liza said. ‘Living hand to mouth as you do, I’m not surprised. Poor child is probably malnourished. We’ll fatten you up in no time, my darling.’
I had a sudden vision of a witch in a gingerbread cottage with children being fattened ready for the pot. Liza was unlike any witch I had ever seen in a book of fairy tales, yet the image persisted.
‘I don’t like pink fish either,’ Ryan said.
‘Don’t be ridiculous, of course you do. It’s your favourite,’ said the witch.
‘No, it isn’t. I hate it. And I hate you.’ He put down his knife and fork and slid from his chair. Eva followed suit and they stood for a second side by side looking at Liza with such venom, I shivered. It was a Midwich Cuckoo moment, their twin eyes filled with twin hate. And then they were gone, before either of us could speak.
‘It’s going to take a while for them to get used to the new order of things, but they’ll come round.’
‘I think you might be under-estimating their strength of feeling. Let’s take this more slowly. Have a few visits like this and see how things are in, say, six months.’
‘No, we’ll stick with our plans. You always were a quitter.’ She threw her napkin on the table, picked up a bottle of whiskey from the dresser and left me alone.
I couldn’t have slept even if I wanted to: I was alert to every sound and the old house made many, creaking and groaning as it cooled from the heat of the day. Midnight was long gone, the clock crept on past two. I was almost at the point of sighing with relief, when I heard them. I slipped off the bed – I hadn’t even undressed – and followed their whispers down the stairs to the kitchen. Where I caught them, each with a broad bladed cook’s knife raised in an experimental stabbing mode.
Disarming them was easy. They were eight and I am a big man. Eva burst into tears and Ryan turned puce with embarrassment and rage. I caught his raised fists and pulled both of them to me, holding them tightly in one arm, whilst losing the knives into the sink.
‘How did you know?’ Eva sobbed.
‘I heard you plotting.’
‘Will we go to prison?’ Ryan’s voice was just a whisper and I realised he was trembling. ‘How long will we get?’
‘No. You won’t go to prison. We’re not going to tell a soul. And you will not stab your mother, either. I’ll sort it. Don’t worry.’
‘She won’t change her mind,’ he said. ‘No matter what you say, she won’t change her mind.’
‘Would it be so awful, having Eva to live with you?’
He shook his head and gave a rueful smile. ‘I quite like her now. She’s all right. For a girl.’
‘I still don’t want to come. I hate her. And I don’t want to live here without you. England is so far away and you don’t have any money and you won’t be able to afford the fare and you won’t be able to come and see me and then you’ll try and steal some money and be caught and go to prison and then you really won’t be able to come and see me and – I’ll die without you, I know I will.’ There was a fresh burst of tears.
‘Then I’d better stay as well.’
She stared at me in amazement.
‘I could probably conduct my career here in America as well as I can in England. And if all the houses around here are like this one, I should be able to make a pretty good living.’
‘But that would be perfect. Oh, Daddy, I love you.’ She threw her arms around me and hugged me so tightly, I nearly burst into tears as well.
‘It’s all going to work out all right, after all.’
I nodded and smiled at them.
So that was the reason I wanted to stay.
And if it didn’t work out, then I did know how to cut the brake cable on a car.