“Tabitha darling, we’re leaving now,” called Mrs McKinney to her daughter. “Come and kiss Pa goodnight.”
The ten year old little girl had been sat in front of the television in the lounge. A mindless old show played. The heroine was being pushed towards the cliff edge. In a feat of strength she was pushing back against the hysterical villain but it looked like the heroine’s luck was coming to an end.
Tabitha had no interest in Pa. She barely knew the man. She barely knew Ma either. The days they were at home were spent dressing for parties to which Tabitha was never invited. Nanny Lynn was good enough company but Tabitha learned quickly that neither of her parents were really interested in their daughter. She was dressed in pretty dresses and told to sit quietly like she was part of the décor of their mansion home in the privileged town of Filton.
The show ended. The audience were left to ponder over the heroine’s fate until the next episode. The screen replaced the show with an advertisement for Queen Corn cereal. A woman was singing and dancing on a beautifully illuminated stage. Her voice was sultry yet fun. The eye catching leotard she wore underneath the grey gentleman’s blazer sparkled. The way her back up dancers flocked around her she looked as though she could rule the world. Tabitha’s heart began to flutter watching her and enjoying the music. The performer gazed at the camera with her smokey eyes as though addressing the little girl directly.
‘You can have it all,’ her eyes seemed to say.
“Tabby!” Ma screeched this time.
Tabitha sighed. She switched off the television.
Ma and Pa were in the hallway. Nanny Lynn was adjusting Pa’s tie. She stepped beside Tabitha and rested her hands on the little girl’s shoulders with a gentle squeeze.
“Don’t pout girl,” Ma barked when she noticed the thunderous mood forming on her daughter’s face. “We’ll see you in the morning,” Ma started to explain but Pa snatched her arm and pulled her towards the door.
“Stop fussing,” he groaned. “I don’t want to be late.”
There was no kiss for Pa anyway. The little girl couldn’t understand why she had been pulled away from her shows just to watch them walk out the door again.
By the time Tabitha returned to the lounge the dancing woman was gone. It was during those lonely times Tabitha missed her aunt the most. Aunt Tawny was a quirky woman with black hair and a laugh that always erupted from her stomach. She had a musical accent from the islands where she and Pa grew up and she still lived. Pa had lost his striving to fit in amongst Filton society. Tawny wasn’t her aunt’s real name but that didn’t matter. Tabitha saw her aunt more often than her parents until one day Pa got mad at Aunt Tawny. They had a terrible row and Tawny left never to return. Tabitha never found out what caused the fight but she knew it would be through Pa being difficult. He was always stubborn and unreasonable. Tawny was warned never to darken their doorstep again.
A few weeks later, Nanny Lynn brought Tabitha a letter that Ma and Pa weren’t to see. Tabitha recognised Tawny’s hand writing immediately. It was a messy scroll with lots of loops. The letter didn’t explain what the fight with Pa had been about either. Tawny wished to assure her beloved niece that her leaving didn’t mean any affection between them was lost. Tawny also mentioned that she wanted to take Tabitha with her to the islands but Ma and Pa wouldn’t allow it. She was living back on West Cliff in the ancestral home of the McInney family. Her parting words on the letter were: ‘I’ll find you one day.’
Tabitha missed her aunt terribly. She couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t be allowed to go with her when she was such an inconvenience for Ma and Pa to keep. It wasn’t like they would miss her. Would they even notice she was gone?
That evening Tabitha kept singing and dancing like the woman from the cereal advert. As she did a memory of Tawny came to her and the reason why her aunt made her smile so. Tawny always had a song on her lips. She wasn’t a graceful mover but there was a skip in her step that was enchanting.
‘I will find you one day.’
Tabitha couldn’t stand it any longer, she and Nanny Lynn alone in the big house, Ma and Pa never there.
‘They wouldn’t let me take you with me.’
Tabitha would make them.
Going to bed she gave Nanny Lynn just enough fuss so as not to seem suspicious. She heard Nanny Lynn open the door after midnight. Tabitha closed her eyes and pretended to be asleep with some light breathing through her nostrils. The door clicked closed again.
A few hours later she heard the raised voices of her parents. Their slurred words were heavily laced with gin. Nanny Lynn sounded concerned. Tabitha couldn’t decipher their words but the tones were clear. Pa gave a hearty laugh. It was soon followed by stumbling footsteps up the stairs like a stampeding herd of cows. Ma was giggling.
“You’ll wake the child,” Nanny Lynn warned.
The door along the hall closed. Ma and Pa had gone to bed.
Tabitha climbed onto her feet. She danced across the room like the woman from the advert. From the top drawer of her dressing table she drew a kitchen knife she stored away after dinner.
Quietly she crept along the hall to Ma and Pa’s bedroom. It was the one room in the expansive house that was forbidden to her. That wouldn’t stop her that night.
She opened the door as quietly as she could. There was movement from the bed. A lot of satisfied moaning filled the air. Pa was sat up. His bare back faced his daughter. Clutching in at his side was Ma’s leg. Tabitha recited the tune from the cereal advert in her head. It slowed the charge of her heart. No one was paying attention to her. They hadn’t even noticed her come into the room. Ma had a camera phone and was filming Pa mounted onto Nanny Lynn like a breeding dog. Finally Ma looked over. She shrieked when she saw her daughter. Tabitha ran at them. She embedded the knife into Pa’s back. He didn’t scream. He emitted a gasp of air as though something heavy had fallen on him. Ma screamed again as her husband tumbled back onto the bed. Tabitha wielded the knife and stabbed her in the left breast so deeply it was difficult to pull the blade back out. Nanny Lynn, who’s naked frame had almost been fully concealed in the stained bed sheets, tried to climb out but Tabitha slashed her throat. With one last surge of strength Pa tried to grab at his daughter but Tabitha curbed his enthusiasm by stabbing him ten more times. Ma still gasped. Her lips parted slowly. Her lungs had been punctured so she held on for a few moments like a fish out of water. Her last gaze upon her daughter showed she was smiling.
There was nothing stopping Tabitha. Now she could find her aunt.
She switched on the lights. The blood stained sheets were a tangled mess around the occupants of the bed. Tabitha found it quite comical actually. It looked like a sketch from a comedy show. She stifled her giggles.
A ten year old little girl wouldn’t get very far on her own. She had to make herself seem older. She put on a plain black dress and black heeled shoes she had been given in the event she should ever have had to attend a party of some sort. She took Ma’s favourite fur coat from the closet. Ma had been a petite little thing so it was only a little oversized on the ten year old. She pulled Ma’s make up out of it’s usual hiding place. It spilled onto the floor. She sat at the vanity mirror. The image of her parents and their reluctant lover reflected in the glass. She giggled again. She painted her face with the make up, a little heavy on the rouge and the red lips but it made Tabitha seem older. With Ma’s fur coat she could pass for at least sixteen.
As she made her way to the front door her shoes clicked on the marble floor. This pleased her. She danced along it, singing the cereal song again. With her dress, heels and make up little Tabitha could easily be the woman from the advert.
With only the cash Ma had in her purse the ten year old girl ventured into the night not really sure of where she was going or how to get to West Cliff.
“That’s when I met Dennis,” Tabitha explained to me. After Milo had gone to bed she poured herself a gin and I decided to join her. She hadn’t spared any details on the demise of her parents. She seemed oddly proud.
“Did you ever find your aunt?” I asked. My reporter nose was getting the better of me. You can take the man out of the news office and all that.
I had a special interest in Tawny, given that she was one of the founders of the club along with my grandfather.
“She wrote to me once. She told me to come to here to the city. She dealt with my inheritance and covering my parents’ death. I read in the news that Nanny Lynn’s husband had been arrested. The police assumed him to be jealous. He tried to resist and was shot.” Her grin widened. The girlish gap in her front teeth seeming malevolent. “They’ll never know the truth. Tawny told them they needn’t bother to look for me.” She shrugged off any morbidity that was starting to gather. “I haven’t heard from her for years now. She is most likely dead. So it goes on.”
“How did you get all the way from Filton to Millefort Harbour?” I asked. The harbour was at the coast. It had been where she met Dennis.
Tabitha laughed but this time it seemed a little nervous.
“You’d be surprised how many people are willing to help a little girl dressed like a whore.”
Dennis had been one of them. It certainly sealed his fate.
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Episode 19: Back Stage will be live 26/11/2017
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