On Friday we announced that Judith Thomas’ House of Cobwebs is our Thriller of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the thriller, mystery, and suspense categories: over 200 free titles, over 600 quality 99-centers, and thousands more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!
Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Thriller excerpt:
by Judith Thomas
Neema Harris is eleven years old, and gifted with the ability to invade other people’s minds and discover their deepest, darkest secrets. She is the sole survivor when her whole family is butchered in the night.
Child psychologist, Doctor Winter Fremont is beautiful, successful and outwardly confident. She firmly believes she has left the horrors of her childhood far behind, and now has control of the psychic dreams which disturb her sleep.But when the twinkly- eyed and uniquely wicked Neema Harris becomes her patient, Winter’s ugly past comes back to haunt her, big time.
In his attempts to solve the increasingly baffling Harris murders, the cynical Detective Inspector Len Axton will awkwardly fall in love, and have three psychic experiences that will change him forever.The first will reveal to him the killer.
The second will lead him to the killer.
The third may not be enough to save his life.
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
“NEEMA…NEEEEMA…time to come inside…NOW.”
Neema Harris hears her mother’s call, drifting to her on the cooling breeze at the end of a perfect autumn day. Neema has no intention whatsoever of responding.
The days are getting shorter now and whilst she has no idea of the exact time, she knew by the lengthening shadows it must be nearing five o’clock. It will be dark soon and then she’ll have no choice but to go inside. As long as there is even a glimmer of daylight left, Neema intends to stay out of reach of her mother’s cantankerous demands, and her crabby and disagreeable complaints.
Neema has wheeled her new, not new, bike out of the front gate of her yard and taken it to the bus shelter two doors down on the corner of her street. She has the bike upside down on the bus shelter floor, handlebars propped up on the metal bench seat. Her little brown fingers work furiously at the wire holding the rough, wooden chocks to her pedals.
No buses run on Sundays so she won’t be disturbed, which is why she has chosen the location. ‘Well,’ she smiles to herself, ‘that and the opportunity to once again disobey mother and get out of doing my chores.’ She has much more important work to do here than feeding the dog and tidying her room.
Neema had been delighted to come home from school last Friday, the day of her eleventh birthday, to discover the maroon and silver Malvern Starsix-gear roadster, propped up on its stand in her bedroom. Her father had put a big red bow on the seat and attached a shiny new bell to the handlebars.
But Neema’s excitement had dimmed quickly and considerably, when she discovered it was a second-hand bike and not a new one, which is what she’d asked for. She can’t deny it is in very good condition. You have to look hard to discover the scrapes in the paint on the cross bar and down the wheel strut. You don’t have to look as hard though, to see the rust bubbles on the handlebars and the brown staining on the spokes. There is a new plastic cover over the seat to hide the cracks and tears in the leather. But Neema knows they are there.
Her best friend from school, Stozie Martin, had received a brand new bike for her birthday last month. It was only a Dandy Sports starter with four gears, not half as good as the Malvern Star.It wouldn’t get up hills as fast without the extra gears and it was pink…“Yuk.” But Stozie’s bike is brand-spanking new and more importantly, the right size for her.
Another disappointment Neema has in her new, notnew, bike, is the fact it is slightly too large for her, and her daddy has wired stupid, big wooden chocks to the pedals so her feet can reach them.
Mum had told her she was ungrateful and to stop whining about it because ‘she would grow into it.’ Just like the clothes she has to wear now; op-shop clothes that never fit properly, always one or even two sizes too large.
They just don’t have enough money since the twins were born. At eight months old, Michael and Lyris are just two big, loud want,want,wanters.Want more formula, want more nappies and want more medicine, because Mum says Lyris is a sickly baby. Everything seems to be about the twins lately, and when it comes to Neema’s turn it’s ‘getwhatyou’regivenandbegratefulforit.’
The bike is better than her old one at least, but she worries about Stozie’s close inspection of it at school tomorrow. And Neema will absolutely die a thousand deaths before she’ll let Stozie, or any of the other kids, see her ride it into school with four inch wooden chocks on each peddle. She feels her face heat up with embarrassment at the mere thought of them lined up and laughing at her, pointing and calling her names in their sing-song voices, ‘Nerdy needy Neema, needy nerdy Neema.’ She really hates Stozie some times.
“NEEEEEEMA…NEEMA HARRIS, COME INSIDE THIS INSTANT. I WON’T TELL YOU AGAIN.”
Neema doesn’t even raise her head. She smiles, knowing full well her mother will call again, but also knowing she won’t leave the house with the twins alone inside to come and look for her.
She has managed to unwire both chocks from the right pedal, and now sets about working on loosening the wire on the left.
They’d had to move house when her daddy lost his old job. Neema hates the new house. They used to live in a big house on Lingley Road, with a white picket fence and a big garden for her to play in. Her best friend Stozie had lived right next door, Janey, her second best friend, across the road, and Ben, who was just a friend, had lived two houses down.
She still calls Stozie her best friend, but more and more since the move Stozie is running off with Janey and Ben and leaving her out of things. At play lunch last week Stozie told them she had overheard her mother telling Carmel Pennington, ‘the poor Harris family have moved to the wrong side of the tracks.’
Neema doesn’t understand what she is on about. She hasn’t located any railway tracks near the new house. But she still doesn’t like it, being on the wrong side of them. Neema’s fingers slow, her head tips to one side and her eyelids begin to flutter.
‘You had better start to mind your mouth Miss Stozie Martin…mind your manners and your big fat lying mouth.’
“Well, well, well, Miss Neema, what are you up to young lady?”
The big smile wreathing Ken Harris’s large round face freezes, and slowly morphs into a worried grimace as he gazes down upon his eldest daughter. His eyes take in the upturned bike and the wooden chocks and bits of wire scattered around the bus shelter floor. Neema is sitting in the middle of it all, staring blankly into space. His little girl is undersize for her age, short in stature and fine of bone. Her shiny, black hair, cut in a bob, frames her elfin face. Large, chocolate coloured eyes framed by long lashes dominate her features. Ken can make out a smattering of golden freckles on her small thin nose.
She’s like a little statue, her body so still and tense she may have been carved of stone. Her pupils have dilated and her normally brown eyes are black and glassy. Neema’s mouth is open and her narrow well-defined lips are slack over slightly buck-front teeth. A slender trickle of drool leaks from the corner of her lip, down the right side of her chin.
Ken wants to sweep her up in his arms and hold her tight. Claim her back from wherever it is her mind has taken her to. Instead, he moves towards her quietly, and tenderly wipes the spittle from her chin with a corner of his large white handkerchief.
It’s happening more frequently these days, these little turns Neema is experiencing. The specialist told them not to worry, but he did worry. How could he not?
Since very young, Neema has always been extraordinarily intuitive. She answers questions before the query is even asked and has an uncanny knack of seeming to know what other people are thinking.
Lately though, her strange talent has taken a darker turn. She keeps having these cataleptic seizures, and seems to have developed the distressing ability to predict death or major illness and accidents. She’s been in trouble at her new school more than once, for telling other children they are going to hurt themselves badly…or on some occasions, even die. But in her defence, and Ken can always find one, Neema always gets it right.
Ken has started keeping a journal of Neema’s psychic episodes and had shown it to the new specialist they’d taken her to at The Barker clinic. Even though Lorry is set against it, he felt they’d made the right decision in taking Neema there for treatment. The new psychologist is keeping a very open mind about the possibility Neema’s lapses of consciousness and her psychic talent are connected.
Ken moves the handlebars of the bike along the bench and sits beside Neema. He places a gentle hand on her small brown shoulder. The late afternoon air holds a chill, and the sky is purpling with dark clouds, signalling an early end to the daylight and possibly a storm. His daughter’s skin still retains the warmth of the sun that has shone brightly all afternoon.
‘So small and fragile,my little girl,’ Ken thinks as he gazes into her fixed and vacant eyes. Her tanned grubby hands rest motionless on the pedal. The nails are chewed back almost to the quick and her fingers are full of little scratches from the wire. Thin, brown legs stick out of her shorts, battle scarred and bruised with the skin off both knees. The left knee’s wound looks old and scabby, but the right has freshly dried blood smeared across its surface.
Ken reaches out and gently strokes her silky hair. ‘If only I could fix everything with a band aid and a hug;if only it were that simple,’ he wishes, and immediately feels the tears of helplessness prickling at the corners of his eyes. There is nothing he can say or do, which will bring her back to him when she’s like this. He can only wait and pray that whatever holds her mind captive will release her back to him eventually.
So they sit, father and daughter, side by side. As he waits for Neema to return, Ken Harris watches the evening sky soak up darkness like a sponge, and the first fat drops of rain clatter like stones over the shelter’s roof.
“Daddy! Daddy! You’re home early,” is piped at high pitch into Ken Harris’s left ear, deafening it. Then he has his oxygen cut off as his daughter flings her wiry arms around his neck and squeezes with all her might.
Ken must have fallen into a trance himself, because he is startled to find Neema’s sparkling, brown eyes, full of mischief, gazing at him, only inches away from his own.
“You will have to let me breathe Neema, you’re choking me.”
“Did you bring fish and chips for tea Daddy?” Neema asks, ignoring him.
Ken loosens his daughter’s grip around his neck and sucks in air. Smiling, he pulls her across his right thigh and hugs her to him, until she starts to squirm.
“In answer to your question, I didn’t bring home fish and chips, but I bet your mum has cooked up something nice…although you may be lucky to get any supper tonight.”
“Why? What do you mean?” Neema’s smile and her beaming face dims a little with the loss of a fish and chip supper.
“Well…I don’t know how long your mother has been calling you but from the sound of her voice I would say it’s been quite a while.” Ken pauses, raising his brows at Neema, which earns him an angry scowl.
“And you know you are not allowed to leave the boundary of the garden on your own,” Ken continues. “So there are two things your mum is going to be cross about Neema.”
Neema scrambles clumsily from her father’s lap and stands glaring at him with dark, angry eyes.
“Then that would be all your fault Daddy,” she spits out crossly.
“It was you that put the stupid chocks on my pedals Daddy,” Neema wags her finger in front of Ken’s face while she scolds him. “I’m not a silly baby anymore. I’m eleven and I don’t need them. I can’t ride my bike to school tomorrow with them on and you..you…” Neema is so angry she can’t think of any words to finish her sentence.
“My darling girl, calm down, calm yourself. How can you ride the bike if you can’t reach the pedals?”
“I can Daddy, I can do it. I’ll show you if you’ll just help me get the other chock off. I promise I can do it,” Neema pleads, gazing earnestly into her father’s eyes.
‘She’s like a summer storm,’ Ken thinks, ‘one minute sunshine, the next thunder clouds are brewing.’
“Pleeese Daddy, pleeease,” Neema begs, tugging at her father’s arm, smiling a little now she can see the resistance slipping from his face.
“Alright, alright…we’ll try it and see how you go.”
“Thank you Daddy,” Neema squeals, launching another attack on her father’s neck by flinging her arms around him and kissing his forehead, his nose and his eyes.
Then she quickly releases him from her embrace.
“Come on Daddy, help me with this one, it won’t be hard and…”
“NEEEEMA,” her mother’s angry voice carries to them and it makes Ken wince.
“That’s it Neema, we must go in. The longer we delay the crosser your mother will be. I’ll fix it after supper.”
“Promise Daddy, you won’t forget. If we do it now we…”
“No, not now, come on.” Ken cuts her off firmly, as he stands and rights the bike. He picks up the wire and wooden blocks and places them in the basket on the handlebars. Then he scoops Neema up in one arm, and steers the bike out of the bus shelter with the other.
The storm hasn’t broken fully yet. Slow, penny sized drops of rain are falling intermittently, as the muffled roar of thunder in the distance warns of worse to come. Ken picks up his pace and trots along the path, jiggling Neema as she chatters away; seemingly oblivious to the trouble she has got herself into.
“So Neema,” Ken finally asks her. “Are you going to tell me where you went…just before?”
“I was off with the fairies,” Neema giggles. It is one of her mother’s favourite descriptions of Neema’s strange little trances.
“No I’m serious Neema, where did you go…what did you see?” Ken peers into his daughter’s brown eyes, with a worried frown creasing his brow.
“I told you, I was with the fairies,” Neema smiles sweetly, then more broadly, as the memory of Stozie Martin’s skin scraping, neck breaking fall from her bike flashes through her mind.
“I wish I could come with you Neema, and keep you safe,” Ken tells her solemnly.
Neema’s peals of laughter ring inside his ears.
“Oh Daddy, you silly old thing. The fairies don’t want big fat giants stomping all around them; you’d scare them all to death.”
They are both laughing when they come through the gate. Lorraine Harris is just taking in air to release another volley of calls in an effort to locate her errant daughter. The sight of her husband home early on a Sunday brings a smile to her face, and makes her look ten years younger.
“Ken…you’re home, how lovely.”
Then almost in the same breath…
“Oh my God, what’s happened…Neema….is she alright…Ken?”
“It’s fine Lorry, it’s fine. I found our little moppet sheltering from the storm under the Jacaranda out the front.” Ken fibs, giving Neema an extra squeeze.
“Well there was no storm half an hour ago when I started calling for her. Why didn’t you answer me Neema? As if I haven’t got enough to do without wasting time looking for you. You must have heard me…”
Ken shoots his wife a look and shakes his head discreetly, cutting short her angry rant.
Lorraine, who is marching towards them with a cross frown on her face, and her hands on her hips, slows her steps.
“Sorry Mum,” Neema mumbles. “I was concentrating on something else and I didn’t hear you.” Neema casts her eyes downwards, and tries her best to look contrite, but her hair hides a small knowing smirk.
“Well, I don’t believe you Neema, I really…”
“Lorry, let it go love,” Ken places Neema gently down on the path, and leans in to kiss his wife. “Just let it go and let’s get in before we all get drenched.”
Lorraine drops her arms and the irritated look from her face. It’s replaced with her usual expression of weariness, which is etched in deep lines around her eyes and mouth.
“Well…go in and wash up for your supper. Not that you deserve any young lady!” Lorraine can’t check that one last barb, and she turns her face away from her husband’s pursed lips.
Oblivious to the dour mood she has created between her parents, Neema hops up the stairs on one foot, opens the door, and clatters down the narrow hallway towards the kitchen.
“Don’t run Neema, how many times?” Lorraine calls after her despairingly.
“Don’t nag at her Lorry. Let’s just try and have a quiet, happy evening together,” Ken pleads as he puts his arm around her shoulders. But Lorraine shrugs him off, not ready yet to be pacified.
“Ken, you aren’t here all week, you have no idea how disobedient she can be. She argues with me about everything and won’t do a thing I tell her to; and I can’t bear it when she lies.”
“She had another episode Lorry, she wouldn’t have heard you calling,” Ken tells her softly.
Lorraine looks stricken. “Good grief, I don’t know what we’re going to do about her.”
“Don’t worry, she’ll be okay. The doc said there’s nothing actually wrong with her, remember? She said she’s special, that’s all.”
Ken slides his arm back across his wife’s shoulders, and this time Lorraine relents.
“The doctor hasn’t said anything of the sort Ken. You say it all the time and that’s half the problem with that girl. She thinks she’s so special she doesn’t have to do a thing I tell her.”
“When’s the next appointment with the specialist…what’s her name?” Ken smiles, ignoring his wife’s new complaint.
“Winter…Winter Fremont. It’s on Tuesday after school. I know it’s only the fourth appointment but she doesn’t seem to be helping much. Neema’s having these episodes more and more, and they seem to be getting worse.”
“Winter! Funny bloody name that, isn’t it?” Ken laughs, trying to steer the conversation in another direction. Lorraine doesn’t laugh. In fact it looks as if she may burst into tears. Ken puts his large hands on her thin, pointy shoulders and turns her to him.
“Love, she said this may happen in the beginning. There might be more frequent episodes as they delve into what’s causing it.”
“Yes, I know but…”
“No buts Lorry. Everything will work out fine. Let’s trust the experts on this one because they know what they’re on about. No use the likes of us trying to fathom it out. We’re lucky Lorry, you know that; there are kids out there with cancer and worse. This is nothing.”
Lorraine sighs and her shoulders slump.
“It’s not nothing Ken, and you know it, no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise. And the cost, these visits to the specialist…we can’t keep that up forever, we just can’t afford it. I worry myself sick about how we’re going to make ends meet from one week to the next.”
“Well stop worrying about that and start worrying about my supper…I’m starved!” Ken slaps his wife playfully on the rump. He isn’t going to be led down this path again. They’ve been down this track too many times lately, and it always ends badly with them arguing and Lorraine in tears.
He watches his wife hopefully, wanting her to back away from this conversation, so they can enjoy a nice relaxing evening together. ‘She looks tired, poor love,’ Ken thinks as his eyes wander over her face.
She has big black circles under her eyes from lack of sleep. It’s because of the night feeding, and Ken can’t help her out. He can’t be half asleep while driving the truck. He notices she’s starting to get those deep, downward creases either side of her mouth, that make her look harsh and unhappy all the time.
“Come on love, I’ll make you a nice, strong cup of tea. That’ll fix you up. Have a bit of a break before you make the supper.” He gives her an extra squeeze, coaxing her gently out of her sour mood.
“I need more than a cup of tea to fix me up at the moment,” Lorraine quips, as she gives her husband a weak smile. “But that will be nice, I could do with a cuppa.”
Relieved there will be no further arguments tonight on the subject of Neema’s treatment, Ken leads his wife back up the path and opens the front door for her. As they enter the narrow hallway, they step into a wall of noise.
“My goodness, what on earth’s all this ruckuss about? I can’t leave you alone for five minutes. What’s going on here Neema?” Lorraine calls out as she scurries down the corridor to the kitchen, with Ken following more slowly behind.
When they enter the room, they see the twins strapped into their high chairs, and both of them yowling fit to burst. Lyris is crying the loudest and is covered in brown, sloppy custard. She has big gobs of it on her fat little cheeks and neck. It’s even in her eyebrows, and her fine blonde hair is standing up in sticky tufts all over her head.
There is no reason for Michael to be crying as far as Ken can see, but he is wailing just as loud as Lyris. He holds his plastic spoon high in his podgy little fist, ready to unleash the next splatter of chocolate custard on his sister. Pixie, their miniature black poodle, runs around in circles emitting excited high pitched yelps, adding to the din.
Neema comes into the room with a damp cloth.
“Don’t stress Mum, it’s only Michael being extremely naughty to Lyris. He’s got his custard everywhere, the bad, bad boy,” Neema scolds as she wipes the cloth roughly over Lyris’s face. It makes her scream louder than ever, and the more upset Lyris becomes, the harder Michael cries, and the dog is going bananas.
“Shush Lyris, shush! It’s not hurting you at all,” Neema admonishes, rubbing even harder and pressing the cloth over Lyris’s mouth to muffle her shrieks of protest. Lyris’s small, blue eyes bug a little and her face turns slightly blue.
“It’s no good trying to suffocate her Neema.” Lorraine grabs the cloth from Lyris’s face and frees her from the chair, and Neema’s rough administrations. “This wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t wasting my time looking for you half the afternoon. Ken can you see to Michael? I’ve got my hands full here,” she orders as she hastily bustles Lyris away to the bathroom.
Ken moves from the doorway into the kitchen, wincing slightly at the volume of noise.
“Now, now, now, what’s wrong with my little man? Come on, come to Daddy,” he jollies, as he picks Michael up and swoops him high into the air above his head. Michael is so surprised he stops crying immediately, and after several more swings in his father’s big, safe hands, his dry little sobs turn into hiccuppy giggles.
“Be quiet Pixie,” Ken orders, and the small dog immediately ceases her yapping and runs quickly to hide in her basket. Mindful of the rebuke in Ken’s tone, Pixie watches him with nervous, blinking eyes.
“We don’t want nosey parker next door ringing up to complain again,” Ken tells the little dog more gently.
The lease doesn’t allow for a dog, but Ken figures his family had given up enough with the loss of his other job and the move here. So he has allowed Pixie to come with them on the proviso that she’s kept quiet. But the little yapper has caught the attention of the old biddy next door. Doris Pledge seems to have nothing better to do in her day other than ring the council every time Pixie even looks like barking.
Within minutes the war zone has calmed into a scene of domestic bliss. Michael is gurgling happily, bounced on his father’s knee. Lyris sits hiccupping and goo-ing contentedly on Neema’s lap, while she sings nursery rhymes to her. Ken chats to Lorraine about his day as she busies herself with the supper, and Neema adds her snippets of news, in between snatches of song.
Neema slurps away happily at her corn beef hash, mopping her gravy with her third slice of bread and butter. When Lorraine is out of the room, bedding down the twins, Ken slurps his gravy too and laughs and winks at Neema.
While Lorraine does the dishes, Neema and her father watch TheSimpsonson thetelly.Neema is thrilled when her mother brings her a big, steaming mug of hot chocolate. It is such a nice surprise, it doesn’t even matter there are no marshmallows for the topping. Ken savours his beer and Neema sips her hot, sweet drink, laughing every now and then at Homer or Mr. Smithersand that silly boy Bart.
‘Al lin all,’ Neema thinks when the show is finished, ‘a perfect end to a nearly perfect day.’
“I’ll be in shortly Neema, go and brush your teeth. You can read for half an hour, then it’s lights out…okay?” Lorraine calls from the kitchen.
“Okay Mum,” Neema mumbles back through a jaw cracking yawn.
Neema kisses her father’s cheek goodnight.
“Don’t forget Daddy, you need to get that other chock off my pedal before school tomorrow,” she whispers to him.
“I won’t forget sweet heart, don’t worry, sleep tight,” Ken murmurs drowsily.
Neema looks at her father sceptically, a frown creasing her brow. He’s half asleep, eyes all bleary, lids half-mast. She leans in close and gently stretches his eyes wide open with her little fingers.
“Promise Daddy, promise you won’t forget,” she whispers more urgently, peering at him intently.
“I promise, now off to bed like a good girl. We don’t want your mother upset again tonight.”
“Love you Daddy.”
“Love you too baby. Ni-night.”
With a contented sigh and her belly swishing pleasantly with the hot chocolate, Neema makes her way to bed.
Later that night, Lorraine Harris sits at her dressing table, staring forlornly at her reflection in the mirror.
She’s never been a beauty, not in the classical sense like Elizabeth Tayloror the one that played Scarlet O’Harain Gone with the Wind.It is one of her favourite films and she must have seen it a hundred times, but her tired mind can’t click on the lead actresses’ name.
“Doesn’t matter, I never looked like her anyway,” she whispers, and sighs heavily.
At thirty-nine, Lorraine thinks she looks at lot older than her years. She’s inherited her mother’s pale English skin that never holds a tan and turns a mottled, bluey-purple in the colder months. Her blue eyes are small and too close together. She used to wear a little shadow on the lids and brush her sparse lashes with mascara to correct the defect; but she can’t be bothered these days.
Her nose is long and thin, like her lips. Two pale ribbons, slightly chapped above a round, dimpled chin. She still has a small nub of Revlon Fuchsia Blushlipstick in her purse, but she uses it sparingly, for special occasions. ‘Can’t afford the forty dollar price tag for a new one,’ she muses glumly while fingering the soft pouch of fat under her chin.
The room is small for a main bedroom and the space is further cramped by the oversized furniture. At least the furniture manages to hide the peeling, faded blue wallpaper and the bed conceals most of the threadbare grey carpet. The big patches of worn pile had made it look so mucky; Lorraine had been appalled at the thought of having to sleep in the room when she’d first seen it.
But this room is no worse than the rest of the house. ‘Every room is undersized and dingy and damp,’ Lorraine thinks bitterly. She hasn’t even bothered to make curtains yet. The main bedroom window looks out over the rear yard and is un-screened. Ken said it would be romantic, watching the moonlight stream into the room. “Huh,”Lorraine sniggers softly, without humour, ‘he’ss uch an optimist about everything.’
Lorraine draws her attention back to the mirror and her eyes flick quickly to the bed behind her. Ken is already under the covers, a book held limply in his hand, as he struggles to keep his eyes open. His head lolls forward onto his chest for the umpteenth time, and with a great snorting half snore, he gives up the battle of trying to stay awake.
“Sorry love,” he mumbles, tossing the book onto the floor and letting his head fall back against the pillow. “Better be quick if you want your way with me, I’m absolutely buggered.” His words are distorted through a wide-mouthed yawn.
“Huh…you head off to sleep Romeo, I won’t be long behind you. It’s been a really, long day. Did I tell you…?”
A low, rumbling snore drifts from the pillow.
Lorraine smiles sadly at the reflection of her husband in the glass. He’s working too hard, doing extra shifts whenever they were offered, trying to make more money. But for all his efforts, it still never seems to be enough.
Ken’s the same age as her, but looks a lot younger. He has one of those round, perpetually beaming faces, and twinkling blue eyes. He’s always smiling, her Ken, and he has a large mouth, with well-defined lips and big white teeth. At six foot two, his frame can carry a bit of weight, but that belly of his is starting to make him look as if he is carrying twins.
As Ken’s snores grow in volume, Lorraine turns her worries back to the mirror.
She’d been afflicted with terrible post-natal depression after Neema was born, and had to have a spell in a clinic. A psychiatric one.
No-one ever mentioned that part, the psychiatricpart. If it was ever brought up in conversation it was ‘Ohyes,Lorraine had a bit of depression…needed a little rest.
They made it sound like nothing, almost a holiday, her stay in the nut house.Because no matter what spin you put on it, that’s what it is. A loony bin for people like her who’d lost their minds, or temporarily misplaced them.
She hadn’t held her love back from Neema on purpose, during those fourteen months after she was born. The depression took everything from her, consumed all emotions, and she could find no love in her to give her new-born daughter. And after she was released from the clinic, and during all the years since, she has never managed to bridge the gap those lost fourteen months had created between them.
Lorraine drops her face into her hands with the shame of it. She hadn’t meant it to be like that. She wasn’t a neglectful mother really, not like you read about in the papers. She’d never struck her daughter, never laid a hand on her in anger. Although, in the grip of that black cloud of depression, she’d had to fight the most terrible urges to harm Neema.
Lorraine cocks her ear towards the bedroom door. She thought she’d heard a little cry from the twin’s room across the hall. She hears a cough and faint, gurgling goo that sounds to her trained ears like Lyris; but then there’s silence, and Lorraine breathes a relieved sigh.
It had been so different with Michael and Lyris. The minute they were placed in her arms, love for them roared like a lion deep within her being. Lorraine had never felt anything as strong in her life, as that fierce all consuming devotion to her babies.
And all these last eight months she’s been fine. She hasn’t felt the creep of dark fingers in her brain. No stirrings of black thoughts that hinted of depression, that had previously threatened to unhinge her mind. If she ever felt down, she only had to look upon her babies sleeping in their cots. Pick them up and hold them, breathing in that sweet, soft scent of talcum powdered skin, and her spirits soared.
Until recently…up until they had to move here. And now the bad thoughts have started to sneak into her head…really, really bad ones about hurting Michael or Lyris.
“And I wouldn’t, I would never…ever,” Lorraine hisses to her pale frightened reflection in the glass. “It’s the stress,” she whispers feverishly, “Ken losing his job…having to live in this dump…Neema, and the cost of that stupid therapy…it’s just stress.” The anxious face in the mirror nods back at her, unconvincingly.
Ken should have let her handle Neema’s treatment. But no, his precious girl had to be special. There couldn’t possibly be a reasonable explanation for her behaviour. It’s Ken’s idea to take her to this Barker clinic, which deals in all sorts of weird psychic therapy, which Lorraine can’t begin, and doesn’t want, to understand.
They can’t afford these sessions and in Lorraine’s opinion, since Neema has been going there she’s gotten worse, slipping off into lala land every day. It gives Lorraine the creeps.
Maybe she can talk to Doctor Fremont about it on Tuesday. She can’t mention any of her concerns to Ken; he has enough on his plate to worry about without thinking his wife is going loopy again as well.
With a tired sigh, Lorraine makes herself get up and walk over to the bed.
As she turns out the light and crawls in to her small strip of mattress beside Ken, Lorraine thinks she can see a tiny glimmer of light, coming from under the door of Neema’s room. She always keeps their bedroom door ajar, so she can hear the twins if they cry out in the night and Neema’s room is directly opposite theirs.
‘She’ll be reading again , past her curfew with that little torch she hides under her mattress. The one she doesn’t think I know about,’ Lorraine thinks, with a flash of anger. She briefly considers getting up and taking it from her. She’ll have a hell of a job getting Neema up for school tomorrow if she stays up too late.
But in the end, Lorraine is just too tired to bother, and as her heavy lids close over her burning eyes, the last thought she has before sleep claims her is,
‘VivienLeigh…that’s who that actress is,in Gone with the Wind.’
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Judith Thomas’ House of Cobwebs>>>>