My fourth theme, today given to me by my other and last adoptive mother, Libby, is entitled ‘Life going backwards’. When she first told me this was her choice, I have to admit I was a little worried. Such a strange topic! But here we go, and here the plot thickens, as they say!
(If you are joining our tale today, welcome! Feel free to start the journey here.)
Life going backwards. J R Manawa.
Everything came to a grinding halt the moment Thomas and Gulliver let go of Emmeline at the gate in front of her grandfather’s house on the morning of January the first. Thomas reached out to steady her, but the cataclysm which took place within her heart the moment her eyes set on the front door was more than enough to shock the effects of alcohol from her body ten times over.
She stumbled forward in pain, letting out a howl that was cut short by the hand she clamped to her own mouth. A deep sob reverberated in her chest and her intake of air came out, a terrified screech, as she crawled up the path toward the door. Thomas and Gulliver scooped her up, and Gulliver pulled her around, pressing her face into his chest and holding her tight. She allowed the embrace only for a moment in her hysteria before she broke away and went to the door.
The door of her home had been smashed in. The central point of the force was just above the keyhole, and to most this would have looked like a regular forced entry. But to Emmeline, there was a horrible knowledge here, the kind of knowledge that told her she did not need to go inside the house to check if her grandfather was there.
Emmeline’s mind reeled as her life began to go backwards very fast. Suddenly she was ten again, and her nanny was screaming in horror, squeezing her hand so hard that it hurt, while Emmeline stared at a door, the door to a place that she once called home, in a country far from here. The nanny wouldn’t let her go inside, they had stood on the path and waited for the police to arrive, and the whole time Emmeline had stared at the door without a tear, because she was old enough to understand, but too young to really know.
The door of the home where she had lived with her parents in New Zealand still haunted her dreams more nights than not, even after eleven years. She remembered it in complete detail, even the things the police had never noticed, like the scratch marks around the point of impact where the door had burst in.
Inside, her home had been destroyed from top to bottom. Only her bedroom had been left untouched, though Emmeline knew the intruders had been in there too. When her nanny helped her pack up her bedroom, after the police were done and before she was shipped off to her grandfather in London, Emmeline had found the bonnet.
It wasn’t much to look at, just a plain crochet baby’s bonnet in yellow. But it didn’t belong to Emmeline, and it hadn’t been on her bed when she had been taken out to watch the fireworks on the beach that evening. Yet there the little bonnet was, in her room when she came home. The nanny argued that it must have belonged to one of her dolls, and threw it in a suitcase.
Emmeline didn’t see the bonnet again until her grandfather was helping her move into his home in London some weeks later. When it came tumbling out of the overfilled suitcase along with all her toys, he had spotted it immediately.
“Emmeline, what is this?” he’d asked her, holding the bonnet up by the tip of one of its ribbons.
“I don’t know,” Emmeline had replied with a straight and sullen face. Her grandfather was still a stranger to her, and the grave tone in his voice had frightened her.
“Where did you get it?”
She didn’t know how to tell him that the night her parents disappeared the bonnet had arrived, so instead she said, “It’s not mine,” and then burst into tears.
That night her grandfather had taken her downstairs and held her while the bonnet burned in the fireplace. Emmeline had never understood why the bonnet should be burned, but it was the first time after her parents left that she’d felt truly safe.
Now Emmeline pushed aside all the memories, the little things she had forgotten and the terrible things she wished never to remember. Gulliver was still holding her, and Thomas was on the phone dialling the police. He’d looked in and seen the state of the kitchen and living room and had decided not to look further.
“Let me go in!” Emmeline said suddenly, wiping the tears off her face with her hands.
“I don’t know that it’s a good idea–” Thomas began to argue, but Emmeline was already at the door.
The scratches above the handle were plain to her, even around the shattered wood. She shuddered inwardly, and nudged the door open with her foot. The carpet of the hallway was peppered with glass from shattered frames and the pieces of family photos ripped to shreds. The living room and kitchen beyond were in a state far worse than they had appeared from looking in. Thomas dropped the water bottle and put his hand to his mouth in horror, and Gulliver even gasped.
Emmeline became frantic. She searched the kitchen and the cupboard under the stairs before putting her foot on the first stair to go up to the bedrooms.
“Emmy, don’t go up there,” Gulliver begged her, putting a hand over hers, “you might not want to see it.”
Thomas suddenly shook himself to life, “We should check the rooms,” he said suddenly, and ran past Emmeline up the stairs.
“He is not here,” Emmeline said.
Gulliver raced after him, “You can’t know that!”
“But I do,” she replied softly, getting to the landing behind them. They rushed into her grandfather’s room, and observed the state of destruction in there.
Emmeline meanwhile walked toward her open bedroom door in slow motion, and saw everything exactly in its place, just as she had left it the morning before.
“He’s not here!” Gulliver exclaimed, coming up behind her. Outside the sound of police sirens could be heard entering the street.
“Emmeline!” he grabbed her shoulder and shook her gently when she didn’t respond.
But she was lost again in the motion of her life going backwards, staring blankly at the corner of her bed, and at the tall black hat which rested there.