Turning the key slowly, the stranger listened to the sound of the old latch lifting, the noise seemed massive as she crept into the hallway. She focused singularly on Christina, like someone obsessed. As she began to snake her way through the hall, her eyes never flickered from Christina’s face. She could even hear her chatting on the phone when suddenly a hand clamped over her mouth while another pinned both her wrists in the small over her back. Still her eyes did not leave the figure chatting on the phone until the hand had swung her round to face the opposite direction. The two bodies passed back through the front door with hardly a sound and stepped into the night, one struggling against the other.
As the stranger was flung roughly against the stone wall, under the inky canopy of the sky, she cried out in fear and defiance.
‘Take your hands off me you filthy Gypsy’ she growled, gripping the cold stones with desperate fingers, steadying herself. Her face twisted in anger, she span around to spit more angry words when she saw his face and every scrap of resolution fell away. There was a strange breeze washing through the trees as they moved their black bulk from side to side in a strange dance, bending and stretching in time with the wind. Moonlight filtered through the leafless trees, throwing lines of intense blue light over the figures in a haphazard, crisscross manner.
One of the shafts of light shifted as the wind changed direction, so that first the stranger’s eyes were illuminated and then her mouth. Both were wide with shock as she stared at a ghost. It was a figure from her past, one of the reasons she had fled this house, she hadn’t seen him for over twenty five years but he had not aged, one half of her struggled not to fling herself at his feet and weep for the past that was lost, while the other half longed to dig her nails into his eyes and scratch them out for the taint he had left when he had packed up his caravan and left.
‘Septimus?’ She uttered, gingerly. There was enquiry in her voice, as if she didn’t believe her eyes, maybe the slightly different hairline, or the minutely more elongated shape of his eyes made her doubt.
‘You must by Irene’ he smiled a menacing smile and extended his hand in mock politeness while her head reeled. He had professed to being her Septimus, and yet he was introducing himself like a stranger.
Septimus watched, he drank in the pathetic sight greedily. Irene was like a puppet twitching on its strings while the puppet master decided what to do next. He had suspected she might turn up sooner or later, he was almost relieved that she had. Now he could stop making contingency plans for when she did and just dispose of her. She was a fine looking woman, despite her neurotic disposition, she would have been stunning if she could stop her features twisting with the rhythm of her throbbing brain and even in the dappled, blue half light any keen observer would see the lines around her eyes and mouth that were undoubtedly wrought by the sight of spectres and enemies, half imagined, that had pursued her all her life.
Septimus laughed to himself, she really did look a sandwich short of a picnic, he thought. A lovely lunatic. He almost sighed with regret as he prepared himself for what he had to do.
‘I believe you knew my father.’ He said as he stepped forward, grabbing a fistful of hair, twisting the stranger painfully so he was facing the back of her head, he began to march her towards the nearest boundary of the forest. She began to struggle and his large palm silenced her just as she began to screech ‘Wolf!’ She knew that if he got her to the woods, she would surely die and in utter panic she convulsed wildly in his grip.
Christina watched every muscle in Sep’s back and shoulders tense as she spoke from the shadows. ‘What is going on?’ It surprised her how calm she sounded, the pervasive sense that she was mistress of the world around her was growing and filtering to her from all around. The grass tickled her bare feet encouragingly, the trees whispered to her that she was in control her no matter what.
Sep released the stranger. She spun round and with an expression that was crumpled with madness the she gasped ‘Christina!’
The stranger’s sanity was clearly stretched beyond recovery now, she blinked through manic tears as if she no longer believed anything she saw and let her jaw hang loosely open.
Christina empathised, somewhere deep inside she knew this was going to happen. That it was inevitable. She regarded the figure in front of her with curiosity, she had never realised how similar they looked, Irene was a mirror of Christina, except the long, dark tresses were replaced by corn coloured blonde and the older woman seemed far more worn, not just with age, but as if madness and regret had gnawed and chewed at her beauty until it only hinted at what she was before. The two pairs of eyes of the same dark intensity locked and Christina felt a pang of empathy despite herself. She had convinced herself that should she ever see her mother again that they would be no mercy, only cold indifference.
‘What are you doing with this evil gypsy?’ Irene urged, dragging reserves of strength from the pit of her stomach.
‘How do you two know each other?’ Christina’s eyes narrowed as she regarded each one in turn.
‘If not for fate…’ Irene muttered to only herself and the ground. ‘..he would have been your brother.’
‘What… the… hell?’ Christina felt as if she too was loosing her grip on reality, as if she was a player in some surreal dream.
‘She’s a crazy woman’ Sep interjected.
Christina regarded him with renewed suspicion, she quickly realised she wasn’t going to achieve anything here, she took the few strides to her mother and took her by the arm with unsuspected compassion ‘Lets go inside.’ She said soothingly. ‘There are things you need to tell me.’
Without a second glance at Sep she turned and ushered the fragile woman through the front door, though he followed silently. He was losing the upper hand and his mind raced to formulate a plan to regain control.
As the trio walked through the house the warmth of the kitchen sped to greet them. Christina motioned her mother to a chair and then, with staggering speed she returned to the doorway and barred it with her arms at just the second when Sep was about to walk through. Her nose was not an inch from his and she could feel his ragged breath against her lips. ‘You will not enter here’ Her voice was a low growl, and she could feel its vibration in her throat, like a rock tumbling down the walls of a cave. She stared so intently into his eyes that for a moment she doubted this ridiculous magic and almost laughed. Just as the first bead of sweat erupted onto his brow she spun on her heals, swinging the door shut behind her.
She smiled at her mother as she spooned the coffee into the cafetiere. Irene was tracing the grain of the table with her fingers, absently following the tight knots of dark wood. The memorials of branches that had fallen off the tree, and even though the tree heals itself, it always mourns it’s offspring with the hard little hearts all through it’s body.
As the coffee steam rose from the cup and twirled into her nostrils, Irene felt a little fortified. She had never done much for her daughter but now she wanted to give her what she wanted, what she deserved. Pressing her hands a little against the table, she prepared to tell Christina the truth.