© Anne Stormont
“Stop it,” begged Evie. “Please – stop.” She wasn’t an assertive person and had surprised herself by saying the words out loud. She looked down at the pile of dirty dishes in front of her on the kitchen worktop – Mother’s best china. Mother had insisted that everyone should come back to the house for tea, insisted on the good cups and saucers.
“Should have done them last night,” her mother repeated. “I said, didn’t I? But, oh no, too lazy for that – or too drunk.”
“Drunk?” said Evie. “You know I don’t drink.”
“Oh, really? I wasn’t cold in my grave yesterday and you were at it.”
“One whisky, Mother, at your wake, I was given it to warm me up. It was bloody freezing at the cemetery.”
“Swearing and drinking. No self-control, no decency, just like your father.”
Here we go, thought Evie. Don’t let her do this, she told herself – but she knew nothing could stop her mother – not even being dead.
Somehow the coffin lid had opened. Somehow her mother’s voice continued to reach her. “No wonder Derek left you. Typical of you messing up a perfectly good marriage to a decent, respectable man.”
“I left him, Mother, as I believe you know, because he hit me – the Reverend Derek hit me.”
“I never saw any marks.”
“I hid them – I hid it from everybody – I was ashamed.”
“You probably drove him to it, with your simpering ways. He was a good, god-fearing man. He wouldn’t have meant to hurt you.”
“He put me in hospital!”
Evie could hear her mother’s click of exasperation, could see her vinegary pout.
“He took you on when no other man would. You with your wanton ways. You always did need a tight rein – and even then you strayed.”
A bleak, black laugh mixed with the bile in Evie’s throat. Wanton? she thought. Wanton? No – no, I won’t be goaded. The old cow can’t hurt me now. It’s just grave rage talking – life envy.
But her mother wouldn’t be ignored. “It was no laughing matter. It was sinful, disgraceful.”
“I was eighteen. I was in love. I-”
“You were eighteen and pregnant. Disgusting little slut.”
Evie felt the brown walls of the kitchen closing in, as if they were about to fall and bury her. She pictured her mother, entombed, saw the waxy flesh, the stiff clawed hands reaching out of the coffin, felt her mother’s grip on her wrist. She recoiled, breathed against the nausea, tried to slam the lid down– but her mother was still too strong for her.
“The shame killed your father. He-”
Oh, no, thought Evie, no, she’s not getting away with that. An image from childhood flashed before her. It was of her beloved father, smiling his lovely smile as he scooped Evie up and sat her on his red motor-cycle. Unaccustomed to adrenaline, she wondered if this was what boldness felt like? She interrupted her mother. “It was you. You killed Daddy. You broke him. Criticised him to death.”
Her mother didn’t answer.
Evie’s boldness became audacity. “And you killed my baby.”
Again the tomb was silent. Evie dared to think she’d done it – laid the ghost.
But then, “It wasn’t a baby. It was a shameful liability. I arranged to have it dealt with quickly and discreetly.
And at last – rage. “Shut up!” Evie slammed her hands down on the worktop. One arm curled around the unwashed crockery and swept the lot onto the stone floor. Only the teapot, milk jug and sugar bowl remained on the worktop. She picked them up one by one and punctuated her next sentence by hurling them down individually – one after each word. “Leave – me – alone!”
Evie hadn’t realised until that moment just how loud her voice could be. She gasped, drenched with the shock of unfamiliar emotions – rage, passion and joy – the sheer unrestrained joy of being alive. The coffin lid had closed.
Evie’s father had ensured that the house would pass to Evie on her mother’s death. Apart from her brief and disastrous marriage, Evie’d lived in it for all of her fifty-one years, but it was never her home. The dark, Victorian villa reeked of her mother and she couldn’t wait to be rid of it. Evie sold the house to a property developer who was eager to rip the place apart and convert it into flats. This pleased Evie, as did the enormous sum of money he paid for it. Getting rid of the house was, for Evie, the first nail in her mother’s coffin.
The proceeds of the sale allowed her to buy a light and airy, ground-floor flat. She put pots and pots of red geraniums on the patio and painted the kitchen primrose yellow. And there was enough money left to ensure Evie would always be financially comfortable.
She inherited nothing directly from her mother – and for that she was grateful. Her mother’s church was the sole beneficiary of the estate. The pastor called round to thank Evie when he received the cheque from the solicitor. He was more than a little alarmed at Evie’s reaction when he told her the money would be split between the local women’s refuge and a church support programme for teenage mothers.
“Well, that’s two more nails in the bitch’s coffin,” said Evie, laughing and slapping the pastor on the back.
He saw himself out.
Not long after she’d moved into her flat, she handed in her notice at work. Or rather, she walked out – in the middle of the day. The office was a large, soulless place of cubicled desks and she‘d never been one of the water-cooler crowd. So on the morning when her boss called her by the wrong name once too often, it hadn’t been difficult to tell him where to stick his job.
Then, without saying goodbye to anyone, she left the building. As it was a lovely day and wasn’t even lunchtime yet, she decided to walk home rather than take the bus.
Rounding a corner, about halfway home, she saw it. It glinted in the sunshine as if it was winking at her. She crossed the forecourt of the motor-cycle dealership to have a closer look. It was sleek and red and its chrome trims shone. She ran her hand along its seat, caught the scent of leather and oil, squeezed the grips on the handlebars.
“Beautiful, isn’t she?”
Evie looked round. A man stood beside her. He looked about Evie’s age and was dressed in overalls.
He extended his hand. “Ted,” he said. “Ted Roberts, owner of this establishment.”
“Evie,” she said, shaking his hand. “Yes she is beautiful and I’d like to buy her.”
Ted smiled and Evie noticed that it was a lovely, warm, open smile. “Right,” he said. “Well, that’s the easiest sale I’ve ever made! Come inside and we’ll talk figures and sort out the paperwork.”
“Do you want it delivered or will you come and collect it?” asked Ted when they’d concluded the deal.
“Ah, I’ll need it delivered. I don’t have a licence, you see.”
“Okay,” said Ted. “No problem.” He smiled at her again.
Evie thought how she liked his smile, liked how Ted appeared neither mocking nor judgemental.
“Do you have a garage you can keep it in until you pass your test?” he asked.
“No, I don’t.”
“I could keep it here – until you’re ready.”
“Oh, no I couldn’t ask you to do that.”
“Please, I want to. You can visit the bike whenever you like. Actually, I hope you will – that way I know I’ll see you again.”
Evie laughed. “Okay, then I’ll leave it here.”
“Happy?” asked Ted, slipping his arm around Evie and smiling his gorgeous smile.
“Oh, yes,” she replied, kissing him on the mouth.
It was a year to the day since they’d met. It was wet and windy and they had the top deck of the cross-channel ferry to themselves. Their motor bikes were stowed below. They planned to spend their honeymoon biking down through France and Spain.
Ted took her in his arms, pushed her windswept hair back from her face, and kissed her long and slow.
“I’m so glad we’ve no fixed return date,” said Evie, a little while later, still standing in her husband’s embrace. “I mean, I know it will be lovely going home and you moving into the flat and everything – but it’ll be so lovely just taking our time – doing whatever we fancy…”
“And what might you fancy?” Ted grinned.
“You, Mr Roberts – you.” said Evie giggling.
Ted laughed. “You’re a wanton hussy – do you know that?”
“Yes I am – I am!” Evie raised her arms in the air. “Wanton and proud of it!” she called to the gulls circling overheard. Ted laughed again. Evie looked at him. She’d never felt so happy.
And that was the final nail in her mother’s coffin.