This is the fourth instalment of a story that I started as a 400 word writing exercise for my Creative Writing a month ago. If you’ve not read Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3, please do so before continuing. And thank you for all your encouraging comments on social media. As a result, I’ve decided to continue this story as a longer piece. If you’ve enjoyed this, tweet or comment and I’ll let you know when the next instalment is complete!
Time stood still for a moment, disturbed only by the church clock striking three.
“You must need to be getting back to work, Marcus, no?” Alice ventured.
“Um, no, I took the afternoon off. I wanted to prioritise our meeting,” I explained. “About Laura,” I paused “how often did you meet up with her? You said you got to know her quite well.”
“Yes. We met up fairly regularly, about once a fortnight I guess. She was so keen to talk and I was happy to accommodate. And she was – is – such a lovely girl,” she quickly corrected herself, looking slightly embarrassed at her faux pas.
“Initially we met at the same bench in the church yard. No arrangement, she would just be there. And then I suggested she come into the house for our next meeting but I insisted it be after school, mind you,” she was careful to add. “Over time her visits became more erratic and I saw less and less of her…,” she trailed off.
“Do you know why?”
“I’ve an idea, but can’t of course be sure,” she replied. “Around March her mood changed quite markedly. She became withdrawn again, like she’d been when we first met.”
I stared down at my cords. I swallowed hard. This was unwelcome, yet not unsurprising news.
Clearing my throat I asked tentatively, “I hope you don’t mind, call me a curious father, but would you be feel able share something of what she talked about? I’m sure you’ve already told the police – which I trust wasn’t too taxing?
“Oh no, not at all. It was quite straight forward really. Although they said they may well want to question me again.”
“Ah. I hope that won’t be necessary,” I reassured her. “But It would help me – and I’m know Parminder will feel the same – if we had an idea of what you discussed, what drew her to confide in you?”
She paused for a while as if checking with herself for permission.
“We talked about a lot of things, but there were clearly things that were getting her down: school pressures, friendship troubles, ‘insta-mates’ she called them – something to do with social media, is that what you call it? And there were other things…..but it wasn’t always heavy going,” she reassured. “Sometimes I sensed she just enjoyed my company. Why an old fuddy duddy like me, I’m not sure, but I think she enjoyed being here and being around someone that bit older,” she ventured.
“I’m not surprised she enjoyed hanging out here or with you, Alice,” I chimed in politely but meaning every bit of it. “It’s a very special place you have here. I was quite entranced myself when I arrived.”
“Isn’t it?!” she said with a gleam in her eye. “There’s not a day I don’t feel blessed to live here. Reggie and I bought this place for what would be considered a song now back in the ’60s and we’ve not looked back since. I’ll admit it’s not the same now he’s gone, but I love it all the same.”
“So that was all, just school pressures and usual teen woes?” I said returning to the subject.
“Yes, well mainly, not entirely, but mostly yes,” she said rather cagely. “But I wouldn’t use the word “just” to describe her problems, Mr Roberts,” she looked me straight in the eye with more than a hint of correction. “She was very weighed down by them. She spoke of feeling lost, useless, and generally no good. She even said she couldn’t see the point in life at one point. I know all teenagers go through that at some stage, but this seemed quite serious.”
I looked down at my shoes. My mouth went dry. My already sunken heart notched down a little further.
“Couldn’t see the point in life?” I murmured to myself shaking my head.
“Please don’t be alarmed, Marcus” Alice grabbed a hold of my wrist, and then withdrew, realising her overfamiliarity. “We don’t know for certain if that is of any significance.”
“Did you tell the police that?” I enquired.
“Yes, yes I did,” she nodded with certainty. “It wasn’t easy explaining all this to the police. The perfunctory manner of their enquiry doesn’t lend itself to explaining things easily, shall we say – unlike talking to you, Marcus.”
“I’m glad of that, Alice, that this isn’t difficult for you.”
Resting my elbows on my knees I hung my head between my legs and stared at the small flower growing between the patio slabs. How is it that something so dainty and so unwanted can find a place to thrive when my daughter who has had the love and support of two adults for 16 years can’t find it in her to thrive?
“I had no idea how much pressure is put on young things these days,” she added, furrowing her brow again and reaching for that dove on her chain. “What is it about schools these days? Why won’t they let them be children?” she said with exasperation.
“That’s the question we’ve been asking ourselves for many a year,” I replied, sitting up. “Don’t get my wife started on the subject!” I threatened with a half smile.
“There was something else that she shared with me, Marcus,” Alice spoke softly and with a slight hesitation.
“Yes?” I replied with a similar measure of hesitation.
“I think you know what I’m about to say, am I right?”
I looked up at her. Her eyes told me that she knew.