In My Mother’s Name – Laura Elliot

Crack! The snap of a branch splitting underfoot draws her to the window. The new moon is visible beyond the trees. Translucent as a clipped fingernail, it cannot break the darkness of this isolated clearing and she is relying on sound to bring him to her. She has spread the rug over the stone floor and lit the lantern. Fifteen minutes late and he will arrive breathless with apologies, excuses. She will silence him with kisses. Their time together is too precious to waste on unnecessary words. Weeds have sprouted between the cracks in the walls. Ivy twines around the eaves and the raddled chimneybreast. This is the shell of what was once a family home but there is enough evidence of that vanished life to allow them to imagine the cottage as their secret haven. The trees and hedgerows are too overgrown for cars or night-time walkers to venture down the lane and see a lantern flickering. Her mother does not know she is missing. She will not check on her until the Thorns have finished their readings and left. Some nights, when they have gathered in the parlour below her bedroom, their voices reach upwards. Unknown prayers and chanting, the off-key singing led by Mrs Thornton.

They call her Mother Gloria but she’s really Liam Thornton’s crazy mother. Tonight, she hopes that the fervour of their singing will allow her time to return home and feign sleep when her mother comes to say goodnight. Footsteps draw nearer. More dead wood breaking, leaves crunching. She tenses, filled with a sudden unease. This is a heavy tread, unfamiliar. She hears another sound. The low growl of shared laughter. Is he not alone? She shakes her head, knowing that cannot be true. Silence falls, a hush that waits to be broken.

A shape emerges from the darkness, blurred and indistinguishable, then breaks apart, like fissures on a cracked rock. They form into silhouettes, three unique shapes that move towards her with one unified step. She moves back from the window but it is too late. The cottage door scrapes against the stone floor. The hinges are loose and the door always needs a hard shove to open. Shadows fill the small room, jig against the walls, loom across the ceiling. Two of the intruders are wearing jeans, the other favours cargo pants. This is just a fleeting impression and is instantly forgotten when she notices the black balaclavas covering their faces. Only their eyes are visible and the tallest of the three has a steady gaze. A butcher sizing up the meat he will chop, the point of penetration.

He is the leader. She knows this by his stance, the confident way he moves forward as the others fall into step behind him. The second one is bug-eyed with panic or is it anticipation that causes his gaze to dart from her towards the rug on the floor and back again? The eyes of the third are closed, as if the light from the lantern is too dazzling to endure. Terrorists. She has seen them on TV, accompanying coffins on their final journey or strutting with guns before the cameras, arrogant with the power that terror and anonymity breeds. Yesterday, there was a roadblock on Main Street. Were the police searching for them? Is this one of their ‘safe’ houses? Has she invaded their territory? She screams, knowing the futility of making herself heard yet hoping he will hear her. He must be on the way. Unless they stopped him, kneecapped him… or worse. She is caught easily when she tries to run.

A hand is clasped across her mouth. Other hands hold her down as a balaclava is pulled over her head. No slit for her eyes on this one but she does not need sight to understand what is about to happen. They are not terrorists staking a claim on the cottage. They know her, these hooded men, who are taking possession of her. She can tell by the way they handle her, passing her from one to the other with the ease of those who are certain they will not be caught. They are free to take their time and their laughter, no longer muffled, echoes in the suffocating folds of the balaclava until her mind closes them out and she is unable to struggle any longer. Dead wood snapping, splitting her apart as the black, fathomless night folds around her. PART 1 1 ADELE TWENTY-FIVE YEARS LATER A swallow fluttered its wings in an attic and everything changed. Adele Foyle had no idea how the bird found its way into the dim, slanted space but there it was, flapping wildly around her.

She bit back a cry and ducked as the swallow skimmed over her head before disappearing between the rafters. She could hear it twittering, a siren of alarm that told her it had not yet found an escape route. When it flew into view again, she decided to direct it towards the open trapdoor and release it through one of the windows. Her efforts to do so only added to the bird’s distress. Its frantic swooping came to an end when it crashed into the rafters and fell to the floor with a soft thud. It must be dead, Adele thought, as she knelt beside it. A quick sudden death. Like the one her grandmother had always wanted. A heart attack, swift as a dagger in the dark, Noreen Foyle used to say. But when it came to the end, Noreen’s worst fears were realised when she found her sanity slipping slowly away from her.

She had been an organised woman. Documents and letters had been filed alphabetically, along with a list of relevant names to be contacted when she died. She had even outlined the type of funeral she wanted, down to the last hymn and prayer. All her affairs were in order long before illness deprived her of the ability to make even the simplest decision. Adele’s last responsibility had been to clear out the attic and now, as she prepared to close the trapdoor, all the contents stored there for decades had been removed to charity shops, the recycle centre or binned. The swallow was stunned, not yet dead. Adele, easing her fingers carefully under the soft feathers, brushed against the edge of a strap. Unable to see what was attached to it, she carried the bird downstairs and out into the back garden. She laid it under a bush and, returning to the attic, reached into the recess between the floor and ceiling. She tugged at the strap and pulled out a black backpack.

Camouflaged against the dark rafters, it had been easy to miss during the clear-out. Dust stirred then settled again in an inaudible puff and cobwebs clung to her fingers when she pulled it out. The smell of mould was strong and the backpack was covered with blue speckles. Gaudy stickers stuck to the front flap were still intact: pop stars, hearts, flowers, butterflies, and one defiant two-fingered salute. Adele brought the backpack to the kitchen and removed a make-up bag containing foundation, eyeshadow and mascara. Cheap and girlie items from the Body Shop that her grandmother would never have used. She delved further into the backpack and shook out a creased nightdress and pyjamas, seven pairs of briefs, socks and a pair of bedroom slippers. A plastic bag with a tie string contained toiletries, a facecloth wrapped around a bar of soap, deodorant and talcum powder, toothpaste and a roll of dental floss. But it was the hairbrush with strands of dark brown hair caught in the bristles that caused her to cry out. A low moan of grief and recognition for someone she had mourned but never known.

She delved into a side pocket and found a diary with a painting of a dolphin on the front cover. Tears stung her eyes when she recognised the handwritten name inside the cover, written with a turquoise dayglo pen. Without reading the entries, she turned a page, then another. The pages were filled with a teenage slapdash scrawl, the pages smudged in places, as if water had dripped on the paper and stippled it. Tears, perhaps? A strip of photographs fell out. They must have been taken in a photo booth and had served as a bookmark. Five images of a teenage girl and a youth, cheeks together, arms around each other, pulling faces, pouting, scowling, laughing. On the back of the strip were written the words ‘Marianne and Shane in Bray, August weekend.’ Marianne… Marianne… During her childhood, Adele had used her mother’s name like a mantra at night, allowing the syllables to finally lull her to sleep. In her teens she had listened repeatedly to Leonard Cohen singing ‘So Long Marianne’, the lyrics remaining in her head long after the song ended.

‘Your mother is one of God’s special angels.’ Noreen had created a make-believe paradise and sold it to her young granddaughter. Sometimes, particularly after she had enjoyed a few glasses of Baileys at Christmas or on her birthday, Noreen would relate some innocuous anecdote about Marianne’s childhood. The day she had been lost on a crowded beach. The dog she had loved, the medals she won for long-distance running. How she had danced her way to the finals of a talent contest and won. These anecdotes, though they were pleasant to hear and Adele was always content to listen to them, had never touched her emotionally. They could have been stories about any young girl growing up in a small Irish village; the real story, Adele suspected as she grew older, ran too deep for her grandmother to share. When she began to demand more meaningful information about her young mother’s death, Noreen would snap, ‘No good ever comes from stoking the past. Marianne is in heaven.

Let her rest in peace.’ The past had remained a locked box, secured with clamped lips, a blank gaze and silence. Unable to find the information that could conjure her mother into a person she could love, Adele eventually stopped trying to coax information from her grandmother. As soon as she finished secondary school, she had enrolled in a media studies course in London and the bonds holding them together loosened even further. Before she left for London, Noreen had handed her a Kodak envelope containing photographs of Marianne. Two of the photographs showed her posing self-consciously before the camera on the day she started school and, eight years later, her entry into second level. Her First Communion, Confirmation and all her birthdays had been charted until she reached her fifteenth. These photographs had sustained Adele throughout those lonely, early months in London as she struggled to adjust to the city. They provided positive proof that her mother had been a vital living force, not a sylph who had touched earth briefly to give birth to her before floating onwards to some distant nirvana. And, now, here she was again, carefree, hair mussed up, lipstick smudged, her face glowing.

Was this gangling teenager called Shane her father? Adele drank in the sight of him, searching for resemblances between them. His spiky hair, black – same colour as hers. Blue eyes – negative. Hers were brown, inherited from her mother. Like Adele, he tanned easily, a golden sheen on his skin. Different-shaped foreheads; his was higher, but she could see a similarity about their lips. Voluptuous, Daniel always said, and thinking about her fiancé, Adele wished he was there with her to share this moment of discovery. Hands shaking and moving faster, she flipped towards the last diary entry. It was undated like the others but it must have been written shortly before her birth. She stared out the window at the unmoving swallow.

Such a tiny bird, defenceless. A cat would come soon and that would be the end of that. The law of the jungle. She rubbed her hand against her jeans but the cobwebs clung like gum to her fingers. Her mother’s death had signalled the beginning of Adele’s life. Her instincts warned her that the information contained between those pages could be haunting and raw to read. No stoking the past. Noreen’s advice echoed in her mind. There must have been a reason why she had never wanted to discuss her daughter’s death. Was the story so laden with sadness that she had believed it was better to maintain a brutal silence rather than satisfy Adele’s curiosity? The information she had sought could be buried in these scribbled entries.

She snapped the diary closed and shoved it into the backpack, along with the other items. She had sold Noreen’s bungalow and all she had to do now was lock the door behind her. Her flight was booked and Daniel was waiting impatiently for her return. She clasped the backpack to her chest and let it rest against the buffeting force of her heart. Outside in the garden the swallow stirred. Adele watched, unable to decide if the breeze had ruffled the feathers or if the bird was still alive. The wings spread outwards and the swallow paused, an instant of indecision before it ascended into the leaves and was lost from sight. Sinking to her knees, Adele removed the diary and began to read. 2 THE MARIANNE DIARY I wish it would rain. Lashing rain like whips! Monsoon rain! Hurricane rain! The kind of rain that’ll reflect how I REALLY feel.

But it’s really sunny and the only smudge in the sky is a jet trail heading off to God knows where. Just like me. I want to know where we’re going. Mum says I’ll find out soon enough that. She’s made sure to keep us apart since IT happened. Three months now. I never thought a day would pass but it did and another followed and now it’s ninety-two days since they came for me! Sergeant Bale said it was important to get to the truth. The nub of the matter, that’s what he called it. How could I be sure it wasn’t Shane? Three, I told him. Over and over again.

They came to the cottage and threw me to the ground and did IT. But all he did was bring his black, hairy eyebrows together, like he didn’t believe me, no matter how many times I told him how it was. Mam’s clattering about downstairs. We haven’t even left and our house sounds echoey already, like our memories are disappearing into the emptiness we’re leaving behind. Everything’s packed, all I’m taking with me, that is. I gave most of my clothes to Castaways. It’s where I bought them in the first place. Vintage. Second-hand. I don’t do brands.

That’s because I wanted to be different. Turns out I was. Well done, Marianne. Go to the top of the class for your slut star! My clothes won’t fit me soon. Vintage or branded, it won’t make any difference. Even when I can wear them again, they’ll remind me of IT… so it was best to get rid of them. Mr Lewis said I have to forget Reedstown. This is my new beginning. He stood in my bedroom, like he already owned our house, and said I’d my whole life in front of me and this bad time would soon be forgotten. Hah? It doesn’t matter how often the Thorns pray over me.

I’ll never forget IT, even when I’m old and crazy and pushing a Zimmer!!! Never… never… nor will I be able to forget the things everyone’s been saying about me. Horrible things that aren’t true and the older girls sniggering and calling me a slut every time they see me. I’ve taken down my posters of the Spice Girls. Girl power. Hah. They have it all and they still haven’t a clue what a mess-up life is. I’ve dumped the stars from the ceiling into the rubbish skip. The paint came away and the ceiling looks like it has acne. Dad put the stars up when I was a kid. They’re luminous in the dark.

After he died, I pretended he was the one in the centre. The brightest one shining down on me. He would have moved heaven and earth to find them. He would have pulled off their balaclavas and killed them stone dead for doing that terrible thing to me. But he’s the one who’s dead and I don’t even have his stars left to remember him by. 3 Adele turned each page carefully, stopping when it seemed impossible to continue, yet always returning to those scribbled entries, greedily devouring each word. Her eyes were stinging when she finished. She closed the diary and rubbed her hand over its sleek cover. The floor beneath her seemed unsteady when she stood. Unreliable and capable of pitching her forward if she did not hold onto the wall for support.

She had always imagined her mother as an inexperienced fifteen-year-old, stumbling into pregnancy by way of an innocent, reckless passion. Noreen, too, had nurtured this belief with evasiveness and lies. But within those stark pages the truth had been laid bare. Adele knew her voice sounded disconnected when she spoke to Daniel on the phone, as if it was being channelled by someone else. She told him she had been forced to cancel her flight and would stay overnight in Crannock. Some problem with house deeds. She was surprised at how easily she lied to him, but then again what she had discovered was too raw to share on a phone call. In the immediate aftermath of her grandmother’s death, a burden had lifted from Adele. She had been unaware of its heaviness until her shoulders lightened and she realised she was free to begin a normal life with Daniel. This sense of release had been followed quickly by grief.

She had lost the woman who had reared her, the only family she had ever known; but now, having read the entries in Marianne’s diary, this grief was giving way to anger over Noreen’s secretiveness. Her thoughts were chaotic when she lay down to sleep, her cheek resting against her mother’s nightdress. Shadowy figures roamed through her dreams. She awoke gasping, convinced she was being suffocated by a membrane so heavy she was unable to breathe through it. In the morning, she showered with her mother’s soap, a thin lather on her skin, the faint scent still lingering. She dressed quickly in shorts and a T-shirt. Another hot day; the warm spell had settled into an uncustomary pattern that showed no sign of changing. She took a mug of coffee outside and sat on the window ledge. In the distance, the brown, jagged outlines of the Ox Mountains wavered in the heat haze. Ox, she had always thought, was a strange, clumsy name for those brooding, granite peaks.

Noreen had told her that the name was the result of a mistranslation from the Irish language. If it had been correctly translated into English, the range would be known as the Stormy Mountains. Today, the storm clouds were inside her head and the sun, flitting between bobtail clouds, weaved a filigree of light and shade over the slopes. The bungalow sat alone on a bleak curve of the mountain road. It was her inheritance but Adele had experienced only relief when she sold it. The buyer was an elderly author, intent on writing about the mythological creatures, hags and goddesses associated with the mountains’ glacial lakes. From her vantage point, Adele could see the glisten of one such lake, the icy stillness hiding the turbulence of its folklore. Until she was eight years old, she had believed that Marianne had lived her short life in the shadow of the mountain. This belief was shattered when her friend Rihanna told her that Noreen was a ‘Dublin Jackeen.’ That was what Rihanna’s father called her.

He said she had only moved to Crannock when Adele was a newborn baby. Astonished to discover that her mother had not played in the same fields as she did, attended the same roadside school or sat in the same shiny pew at mass on Sundays, Adele had pestered her grandmother for more information. Finally, reluctantly, Noreen admitted that she had moved to this isolated hinterland from Reedstown, a village on the north side of Dublin. She had pointed it out to Adele on a map, a smudge of land close to a river, and snapped at her for continuing to ask questions. She could feel a migraine coming on, she’d said. Noreen’s migraines were regular occurrences and had the power to stop all awkward questions. Adele had planned to visit Reedstown after she left home but London had swept her into its vortex and the longing had faded to an occasional, whimsical notion that had, until now, always passed.


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