Mother Dearest

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

A kindly neighbour tries to save a child from a dysfunctional home, with tragic consequences and a twist in the tale.

Mother Dearest

I see her peering at me. A small tear-streaked face behind the staircase railing. Anna lives with her family two floors below me. A hard-working father and incompetent mother.

It's easy to read on a child’s face, the stories that take place behind closed doors. Anna’s sad eyes, not yet six, tell of missing maternal love. Of a soured marriage that brings out the worst in her young mother, Penny. Bitter lethargy is all that remains of the grateful and adored bride Harry had brought home six years earlier.

The young bride that wanted much of the world and grew to feel continually shortchanged. Harry, meanwhile, continues to do his husbandly duty. Supporting his family financially and emotionally as much as he can. His one joy in life is cherubic red-cheeked Anna... and the feeling is mutual.

I see that love every evening in Anna’s hopeful expression as she waits for her saviour on the landing outside their apartment. She cries every time he leaves for work. For the first couple of years, she cried loudly. Willing him back with the force of her pleas. But it didn’t bring him back. The wise toddler soon realised the inevitability of his daily absence. Ever since her tears have been silent. I believe I’m the only one who sees them.

Penny is a mess. A young woman that once had a world of opportunity waiting along her path to adulthood. Clever, good looking, and affectedly charming, she could win anyone over. If she wanted to.

Harry had been in love with her since he was a seventh-grader. She was his fair-weathered friend. Enjoying the attention of every other boy in school, she kept Harry hanging around for homework and book-carrying. She got pregnant at sixteen and Harry, poor fool, agreed wholeheartedly to help her carry another load.

She cried to him that she didn’t know who the father was. She was terrified of being the unwed mother cast out by family and society. Harry, much too responsible for a teenage boy, and thoroughly in love with this reckless young girl, asked her to marry him. He promised to love the baby as his own.

At that moment perhaps, his selflessness let a little flutter of something like love touch Penny’s self-centred core. A few such flutters might have sustained the first year’s marital bliss. Moments like when she admired her beautiful bridal reflection on their lavish wedding day. When Harry’s father surprised them with his wedding gift, their very own apartment. She knew quite well that she’d scored well, more than just escaping the shameful repercussions of a very expensive teenage mistake.

The thing is... it wasn’t love. Just a warm and fuzzy feeling whenever Harry did something wonderful for her. She probably didn’t love him. Just the benefits of being with him. The responsible sixteen-year-old grew into a kind loving father and devoted husband. The vain and spoiled young girl remained selfish and cried for more.

She’d always had a taste for bad boys. Harry, honest and open, was never a match for her ego. She liked him enough as her biggest fan and never bothered with returning the favour. Everything was always about what she wanted, while he remained uncomplaining. For the first few months, their unfairly balanced status quo prevailed and to everyone that looked, the young couple seemed happy enough. He wanted to shower her with love and attention. She basked in it.

 

The trouble started with the birth of Anna. When Harry began to realise what real love truly meant. Baby Anna’s unconditional adoration drew attention away from her mother. And hell hath no fury like the emptiness of a narcissist scorned! That lonely truth that they are no longer the centre of any universe.

As lovely little Anna grew, her mother faded. She saw Anna as the cause of her downfall, blaming her for all her real and imagined woes. When Harry wasn’t home, Penny did only what was necessary to keep Anna alive. Nothing more. She didn’t engage with the child, showed her no love and spent hours watching TV crime shows to drown out the hollowness of the lies she told herself. (My guess is that deep down she knew how she was irreparably damaging her child, but chose to do nothing.)

So little Anna waited every evening for daddy to come home. Every day except Sundays. And Harry, still blindly in love, justified Penny’s negligence. He’d convinced himself it was long term postpartum depression or the post-traumatic distress of teenage pregnancy. He enabled Penny’s self- victimisation and became part of the problem.

Anna had a realistic grasp of who her mother truly was. She agreed obediently when daddy told her that mommy loved her. “Mommy’s very ill” he’d say. “We must forgive her and pray that she gets better soon.” “Ok, Daddy. I promise I’ll pray for her,” Anna secretly crossed her fingers as she lied. She saw the truth even if daddy couldn’t. In that innocently intuitive way that children often do, she knew that her mother’s darkness was unforgivable. She’d allowed a nasty selfishness to overpower any goodness she might have once possessed. Anna sadly but firmly accepted that her mommy wasn’t a good person. This is where I come in. I save children like Anna.

My real name’s irrelevant. For the past six months, building residents in my upmarket apartment complex have known me as Ms Hanna. I’ve moved so many times now, I can barely remember the places I’ve lived. All those poor children. Those awful parents. Undeserving of the blessed souls they’ve carelessly brought into the world. I took care of it every time. I don’t regret it. But I always wonder if I’m doing enough? There are just too many incalculable victimised darlings. How do I save them all?

Born to ignorant, callous, cruel, abusive parents. Living with guardians in corrupt care homes. Survivors of wars caused by greedy adults in conflict. So many to protect... am I making a difference? Sometimes I feel like there’s no point to any of it. I think of turning myself in. And then little Anna smiles through her tears, and I know I must go on. Even if I save a handful, it’s still something.

I move forward with the plan.

It is finally time. I’ve waited several months for the right opportunity.

Anna’s settled on the stairs. Her daily wait for Harry. I slip past her unseen and open the unlocked door. I can see the untidy back of Penny’s head over the recliner. She’s watching the latest episode of ‘Forensic Detectives’. I don’t miss the irony and can’t help but smile. In a few hours, the local forensic unit will have a field day here. The blood spatter experts particularly.

I feel terribly clever and enjoy the rush of outwitting the world. For possibly the hundredth time. I can’t remember. Funny how I remember all the children’s names and faces. Their tormentors, however, are barely a series of smudges. Removing them isn’t enough, my brain sees the need to obliterate even their memory.

 

I look around the house and feel disgust. She’s left everything a mess. The remains of some pitiful lunch are on the dining table. I see smears of peanut butter and bread crusts carelessly strewn about. Harry is the one who cleans up. The only hot meal they eat is what Harry cooks for supper.

It breaks my heart to think of little Anna every afternoon out on their balcony, eating her measly sandwich. Sometimes she brings out her toys. Alone for hours with no one to talk to. Did Harry know? I wonder. Shouldn’t he be held responsible? Is it right to let him get away with his naive acceptance of what was happening to his child? I debate, and not for the first time since I resolved to help Anna. I convince myself once again that I can always deal with him later. The plan proceeds.

I walk over to the front of the sofa and stand over her. She jumps out of her stupor with a start and almost screams. Her face breaks into a smile of recognition but stops as she sees what I have in my hand. The terror of realisation catches up as I plunge the cleaver into her chest. She grasps pitifully at my wrists, as her gurgling voice says my name over and over “Anna... Anna...”

Later today, neighbours console a white-haired grieving Harry. Concealed in their hearts is a sense of relief. His suffering is finally over, they think. The wife had always been a mean old hag. No one truly mourns her.

Two floors above, I put my disguise back on. It’s over. Mother is gone. Ms Hanna makes her way downstairs to join the grieving neighbour's well-wishers.


Submitted: April 30, 2021

© Copyright 2021 shawlynstef. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Ezra Enzo

This was an interesting start to a story, and slowly evolved into a really good story that diverted expectations greatly. The fact that the mother knew who Ms. Hanna was already is already a clue that seeing Anna's suffering wasn't new, but the time to avenge was, and I think the way this story already had a start before we could start "reading about it" is submersive and very well done. Great work Shawly. - E.E

Fri, April 30th, 2021 4:58pm

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Reply

What wonderfully encouraging words these are! Thank you so much Ezra for making my first-ever online review experience positively memorable.

Fri, April 30th, 2021 10:36am

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