Entry for Round 3 of Dark Dreamscapes Night and Day Prose Contest, August 2014,
Epiphany Weathers the Storm
A Dark Fable of Family Relationships
Epiphany Wetherby never knew when the lightning would strike. Grey-blue eyes would cloud over with dark malevolence. She would flinch in anticipation of an unholy maelstrom of derision and condemnation. A frenzied waterfall of corrosive bile would spew over her, eating away at her fragile soul and reducing her to impotent rage.
It hadn’t always been like this. The little that Pip could remember of the first five years of her life was fairly sunny. She and her older brother shared the attention of their parents almost equally. Sol had been the blue-eyed boy and she, as the baby, had basked in the adoration of her family. He had nicknamed her Pip because of her chirpy disposition.
Evadne Wetherby, their mother, had been strict, and did not believe in sparing the rod with her children. Their father, Grahame, was a shadowy figure. He worked for an international oil company and spent long periods abroad on business. Pip was quick and eager, and soon learnt to play by her mother’s rules. Mrs Wetherby took a vicarious pride in other people’s admiration of her bright, pretty, little daughter. Then, one day, the rules changed.
It all started when Evadne got ill. Sol had already left for school that morning, leaving Pip alone at home to enjoy their mother’s undivided attention. Pip had been terrified, and not a little revolted, when she saw her mother collapse on the floor, surrounded by blood, and projecting a vile, green, noxious brew across the pale, cream living room carpet.
Distraught, the child raced from the house, and down the driveway, tears streaming down her cheeks, looking for some one to help. Felicity Gale, a friend of Evadne's, was just leaving her home at end of the road when she recognised the distressed Pip and rushed to arrest her headlong flight. She knelt down level with the girl, placing a gentle hand on each arm.
“Heavens above, child! Whatever is the matter?” The torrential downpour of Pip’s tears abated slightly as Felicity got to the bottom of the matter. “Run back home and tell your mum that I’ve gone to fetch the doctor.” Pip dawdled back home, dreading what she would find there.
She arrived back in time to see Doctor Mistral, the family physician, bustling in, with Mrs Gale in tow. The Doctor took one look at his patient then, he and Felicity rushed to help Mrs Wetherby up the stairs to the large front bedroom. Pip followed and stood outside, listening to the concerned voices rumbling, like distant thunder, from behind the door. Ten minutes later, Mrs Gale swept from the room, closely followed by the doctor.
“Mummy is very ill, Epiphany.” Dr Mistral had paused and hunkered down when he found Pip standing on the landing at the top of the stairs. “She needs to stay in bed for a while.” Pip sniffled and wiped her nose on her sleeve. “Mrs Gale is going to look after you for a short while. In the meantime, you will try and be a good girl for her, won’t you?” Pip nodded as one lone tear ran down her nose, like a raindrop down a windowpane then, plopped onto the lino beneath her feet.
“Come along, now, child. Mrs Gale has gone downstairs to make Mummy a cup of tea.” The doctor straightened up, took hold of Pip’s hand, and led her down the narrow stairs. They strode along the wide hall into the kitchen, their footsteps like drumbeats on the wooden floor. Felicity was busying herself in the kitchen. She put a glass of milk beside a plateful of custard creams on the table and lifted the child onto one of the seats.
“There you are, Pip. Eat up, sweetheart.” She pushed the plate towards the child. A small smile twitched the corners of the youngster’s mouth. Custard creams were Pip’s favourites. Mrs Gale smiled back and watched the litttle girl tuck into the biscuits before she walked to the door with the doctor. Returning to the kitchen, she lifted the tray she had prepared and took it upstairs to her friend, Evadne.
Over the many weeks that followed, Pip watched in consternation as her mother appeared to visibly grow in the bed. Evadne’s stomach became so huge that Pip could barely reach round to cuddle her. It almost seemed to her that, if her mother didn’t stop growing soon, she would go off with a Pop! Just like a burst balloon.
Then, early one morning, Pip woke to screams from the front bedroom. The house was buzzing like a beehive as the doctor arrived, out of breath, and rushed into the front bedroom. Ten minutes later, after much coming and going, there was a thin, high-pitched wail, like the sound of a steam train rushing through a tunnel. That was when everything had changed.
It was a week before Evadne was up and about properly. Her eyes had sunk into deep caverns. The once lustrous sheen of her auburn hair was gone, leaving it dull and lifeless. She looked pale and drawn. The new baby, Alice, was sickly and took up so much of her time. Pip would have liked to play with her new sister, and longed for her to get better.
"Mummy and the baby mustn't be disturbed." Pip's efforts to enter the bedroom where Alice and her mother stayed cocooned were gently rebuffed and, she felt the sting of tears as she wondered what it would be like to have a real, live doll to play with.
When Alice died at three weeks, everyone rallied round. Evadne brushed off the offers of help and lived her days like an automaton. After a time, things settled into a semblance of normality.
Felicity helped when she could, but she had her own family to take care of. Grahame saw no reason to change his habits. He was a driven man, intent on his career. For the most part, Evadne had to struggled on, alone.
Through endless days, Pip did her best not to upset her mother, to follow the rules that she had learnt so well. The sight of her daughter brought Evadne bitter pain as she tried to deal with the loss of Alice. She often closeted herself in her room to escape the grief, leaving the child to her own devices.
Little changed for Pip. Sol was occupied with school and spent a lot of time with his pals. Pip was no longer the focus of his attention. She and Evadne were often alone in the house. Nothing that she said or did pleased her mother. The child’s natural exuberance grated on Evadne's taut nerves like nails on a blackboard.
The passing months sapped the woman’s meagre energy with grief, until she was wound as tightly as the spring in the grandfather clock in the dining room. Even after Pip started school with Sol, at the end of that summer, Evadne found it difficult to cope with the lively child.
Pip grew quiet and withdrawn. Her once sunny face took on a sad, haunting quality. It was as if her mother was always looking for ways to justify venting her frustrations on her hapless daughter. Things worsened as the years rolled by.
Time wore inexorably on. Outwardly, Evadne seemed to be coping with her grief. In private, things were not as sweet. As her early, teenage years passed by, Pip grew to hate the look that gathered like a storm in her mother’s eyes when the grey mist descended, which was an all too frequent event.
Things grew much worse when Sol left home. The weight of her mother’s approbation and scorn was like a fog around her shoulders, clogging her mind and soul. The slow drip of despair ate at her spirit. Until today.
Epiphany cowered as her mother advanced towards her, screaming and brandishing the yard brush aloft. Pip had no idea what she was supposed to have done wrong this time. Evadne’s mouth was twisted in a rictus grimace; her eyes shining with the manic, steely glint of madness as her daughter backed away, trying to keep out of her reach, until bought up short by the wall behind her.
Pip held her arms over her head and turned towards the wall for protection, as the descending brush crashed across her hunched back. The wooden shaft shattered into two pieces, with a crack like a gunshot, and the girl was knocked sprawling, down to the floor.
Evadne’s breath was punctuated by snorting giggles as she stood in the middle of the room, clutching the brush by its truncated handle. Then, it was as if a dam had burst. A torrent of unleashed fury swept Pip up from the floor, the other part of the broken shaft clutched in her hand, the vicious, jagged end aimed at her mother’s throat. The steely glint in her eyes mirrored that in her mother’s as the pent-up frustration of long years of unprovoked aggression propelled her across the room with mindless determination.
The realisation of impending disaster hit Evadne a split second before her skin was rent by the force of the onslaught. Her agonised scream was cut off, dying in her throat as her eyes bulged with terror and, the red flood of her dying breath gurgled slowly between her lips.
Pip sagged against the wall, her laboured gasps ominous against the gurgle of Evadne’s death rattle, horror twisting her features as she watched, mesmerised. Her mother staggered backwards, like a puppet whose strings had been severed, the lifeblood spouting from her punctured jugular.
Epiphany Wetherby would never suffer the storm of her mother’s demented fury again.