Silent Voices – Patricia Gibney

The boy tried not to cry. He’d thought he knew the way home, but now he wasn’t so sure. It was dark in the fields, far away from the lights of the house he’d just left. He’d been told to go home. They didn’t want him there. Had even laughed at him. Big boys were not supposed to cry, but he was crying now. He hoped his mum and dad would be at home, like he’d just been told, even though they were supposed to be away for the night. He walked across the field, up the lane, and gingerly stepped over the stile. He let his feet sink in the sandy ground. The dew was heavy underfoot and the distance ahead of him appeared shortened by the stubborn fog lying far too low. The trail should be familiar, bred deep in his mind from his treks with his daddy to check on the work at the quarry. Some days he never saw his dad. Long days and never-ending nights, the air punctured by the thud of drills and the hum of machinery. He loved that noise.

His daddy had told him it was only a small operation but that one day the boy might make it great. He didn’t like the way the green of the hedges had become grey with dust and stone after the summer and the nests had begun to empty. But his family didn’t seem to worry about nature. The silence wrapped itself around his shoulders and the fog dampened his hair as he trudged on. He wished he’d worn his wellington boots, because his runners were wet and sluiced up and down as he walked. Maybe he could have a look at the quarry before he crested the hill. There’d be no one there at this time of night, but he knew a way in. Anyway, that was the shortest way home. He eased through the gap in the wire fence and kept going. He only realised he was close to the lip of the quarry when he heard the stones he’d kicked up as he walked hitting the water.

The cavernous space opened up as all around him the fog rose mystically into the sky and the stone and grass split the earth before him. The boy felt he was alone with nature. Just then, he thought he heard a noise behind him. No, only silly people would come up here in the dark. Did that make him silly? There it was again. A rustle. Leaves shifting on the branches. The wind? No, the night was still with the fog hovering around him. Why did it have to be so dark? As he went to move away from the edge, the rustling came closer and stones crunched underfoot. He made to turn around, and felt a hand pressing between his shoulder blades.

‘No!’ He thought he’d said the word out loud, but maybe he hadn’t. Instead the air was filled with a hysterical laugh. Not his laugh. Then a choked scream left his body as the hand on his back pushed, and he was flying through the air. The water was thick and viscous. It rushed into his screaming mouth and travelled into his lungs as quickly as his head dipped below the water. He was strangely calm. PROLOGUE SATURDAY 25 NOVEMBER It might only have been built in the last ten years but the little chapel house looked like it dated back to the time when the monks set up the first Christian churches in Ireland. At a push it held a hundred people, but today it was laid out for less than thirty. Sprays of baby’s breath interspersed with fragrant freesias were tied in little bunches with white satin ribbons on the backs of the chairs that lined the short aisle.

When the first guests began to arrive and the door was opened, a miasma of scent wafted towards them in a wave of freshness. Light filtered through the small arched windows, casting rainbows on the stone walls and bathing the interior in a mystical aura. A coolness permeated the inside of the chapel, even though outdoors the midday air was warm. Three pillar candles stood on the flower-draped altar, one each for the bride and groom, while the third candle had the names of dead family members inscribed in gold filigree. Chatter preceded the guests as they took their seats. Family in the first two rows with friends behind them, followed by colleagues. The friends’ section was mainly colleagues, but that didn’t matter. In the bedroom of the stone cottage adjacent to the chapel, Lottie stared at herself in the long mirror. She had to admit she didn’t recognise the reflected image. Below a tight satin bodice, the chiffon cream dress floated out from her waist, and with the light streaming in through the window, she thought it looked magical.

She hardly ever – never – wore dresses, and she would have got married in her jeans and T-shirt if she’d thought she could get away with it. But her daughters had been adamant, so she’d given in. A small victory for the girls, but she was surprisingly happy with her reflection. Her hair had been coloured a little lighter than normal – a box job last night; Chloe had insisted – though she wasn’t sure if it was strawberry blonde or out-and-out blonde. She never fussed about such things. A few stray flowers placed strategically around her head hid the clips that held her hair in place. Katie had worked her magic with make-up and eyeshadow and a whole load of other shite Lottie had never used before, but she was pleased with the effect. At least it hid the bruises. ‘It’s smashing,’ she said, hugging her elder daughter. ‘You look ten years younger,’ Katie said, a wide smile lighting up her eyes.

‘Go away! I’m only forty-five,’ Lottie said playfully. She’d turned forty-six in June. ‘Is Louis ready?’ Louis was Katie’s two-year-old son, Lottie’s grandson. ‘He’s ready, but I can’t guarantee he’ll do what he’s supposed to do.’ ‘It doesn’t matter. As long as Boyd is there, along with you, Chloe and Sean and little Louis, I’ll be happy.’ ‘I know you haven’t met Chloe’s boyfriend yet, Mam, but he’s not what you’d expect—’ ‘Not today, Katie.’ ‘Just giving you a little warning.’ ‘Thanks,’ Lottie said. ‘And I love your dress.

’ Katie was dressed in a fuchsia-pink floaty number from Macy’s, while Chloe was wearing a similar style in blue (end-of-line sale). Lottie’s own dress was from a charity shop, but they all looked quite expensive. No point in wasting money I don’t have, she thought. ‘Is Sean ready?’ ‘Sean is never ready,’ Katie groaned. ‘I’ll go check on him.’ ‘Thanks. And Katie?’ ‘Yes?’ ‘Please don’t let Granny Rose near me before the ceremony. She’ll say something to upset me, and I can’t be dealing with that today of all days.’ ‘Sure thing.’ Alone, Lottie felt her heart balloon with happiness.

It was a feeling she’d thought she’d never again experience after her husband, Adam, had died five years ago. A period of hell had enveloped her then, and she’d floundered in the depths of addiction and sorrow, but eventually, with the help of her colleague, friend and soon-to-be husband Mark Boyd, she had arrived at this day, after a week of storms and torrential rain, with the sun shining brighter than she ever remembered at the end of November. Sitting at the small dressing table, she stared at the gift her mother had given her. A gold locket. ‘It was my mother’s,’ Rose had told her. ‘It’s an irreplaceable heirloom. Don’t lose it. I put a photo in it, just for you.’ There had been no expression of love or good wishes. Just that statement.

Don’t lose it. Lottie wanted to say, why give it as a gift if you’re attaching orders? But she’d only murmured a thank you and let Rose off. Opening the locket now, she stared at the small, crudely cut-out photograph of Adam’s face. Her heart lurched in her chest before dipping dramatically somewhere into her belly, and her breath caught in the back of her throat. Tears threatened to override her sense of happiness. Was Rose just being her usual tactless self, or did she really think she was doing the right thing? Lottie snapped the locket shut and dropped it into Katie’s make-up bag. Out of sight and all that. Not that she had forgotten Adam. She missed him and loved him still. But she loved Boyd in a different way.

A new way. He was part of her present, not her past. He was here for her. She trusted him. Believed in him. Loved him. Didn’t she? When she wasn’t taking unnecessary risks and almost getting him killed! Wiping away her tears before they ruined her make-up, she opened the lid of the blue velvet box that Boyd had given her. A thin silver chain with two interlinked hearts. Handcrafted. Simple.

Profound. Thoughtful. It was truly beautiful. Clipping it around her neck, she admired it in the mirror. A smile reached her green eyes which glinted like emeralds in sunshine. Enough! she admonished herself. She slipped her feet into the cream silk shoes that Chloe had insisted she buy. Despite the price for something she’d never wear again, she’d given in and purchased them. Anything to keep her girls happy. Ready at last, she opened the door and stepped into the small living room, where her family awaited her.

‘Oh my God! You look amazing,’ Chloe enthused, grabbing Lottie’s hands and twirling her round the room. A mesh of cream and blue chiffon swished in the air and Louis squealed with delight. ‘What do you think, Sean?’ Lottie said, regaining her balance as Chloe let her go. Her son gripped his bottom lip with his teeth and his eyes glimmered with tears. His fair hair was cut tightly around his head, but his fringe still hung low towards his blue eyes. Adam’s eyes. She felt her hand fly to her chest and gulped. ‘You look stunning, Mam,’ he said eventually. ‘Beautiful.’ ‘Am I not always beautiful?’ she joked, trying to release some of the tension which was in danger of simmering out of control.

Sean hugged her tightly, then stepped back. ‘Are we Parkers ready to get this show on the road?’ An expectant silence descended on them, and Lottie inhaled the floral scent of her daughters’ perfume. ‘Who’s got my bouquet?’ Katie took the bunch of wild flowers from the kitchenette sink and wiped the stems with a tea towel before handing them to her. ‘I’m ready if you are,’ Lottie said, and for the first time in five years, she felt truly happy. ‘Let’s get the next phase of our lives started.’ The nervy butterflies swarmed in the pit of her stomach as she stepped outside the door, walking behind her daughters and grandson. Sean grasped her elbow a little too tightly, then eased his fingers and let them rest softly on her arm. ‘You okay, Mam?’ ‘I’m a little nervous. What if Boyd doesn’t turn up?’ ‘Of course he’ll turn up.’ As they walked across the cobbled stones of the courtyard, she glanced to the cottage where she hoped Boyd had arrived this morning to change into his new suit.

It looked deserted. ‘Stop fretting,’ Sean said. They rounded the corner and approached the chapel, and she felt the first wave of anxiety. Why was there a huddle of people outside? They should be inside. Chloe and Boyd had planned this down to the last detail, the last second. Boyd was like that. OCD. He’d drummed the schedule into her brain. ‘Twelve noon. Not a second later.

’ How many times had he said it? Too many to count. She started to smile, but stopped as her mother approached with Grace, Boyd’s sister. ‘What’s wrong?’ Lottie said. ‘The celebrant not shown up?’ ‘No, she’s here,’ Rose said, disdain greasing her words. She was old-fashioned and wasn’t about to change. Lottie caught Grace’s arm. ‘Where are you going, Grace? Boyd … Mark will be annoyed if we’re a second late.’ ‘He’s the one who’s late,’ Grace said. Turning, Lottie saw Kirby exiting the cottage Boyd had been allocated. ‘What’s up?’ ‘We might need to hold off on the ceremony for a while,’ Kirby said, lighting up a cigar.

He looked unusually neat and tidy, though the buttons on his white shirt strained across his belly, and he’d put gel or something in his hair to calm down his unruly curls. Her chest split in a schism of panic. ‘Where’s Boyd?’ ‘I don’t know.’ ‘Weren’t you with him this morning? To help him pin on his flower or something?’ ‘You know Boyd better than anyone, and you know that only he can do it right.’ Kirby took a long drag on his cigar, topped it and palmed it. ‘We agreed to meet at the chapel door at ten to twelve. It’s now midday, and I just went to see why he was late and—’ ‘Oh for God’s sake, Kirby, stop rambling.’ Lottie shoved her bouquet into his hand and headed for the cottage. It was a studio-type design, neat and tidy. Typical Boyd.

His wedding suit hung on the back of a door, still in its plastic wrapping. Twirling around, she looked for a sign, for anything at all to tell her what was going on. She found it on the small kitchen table. A note. Folded in two. Cream vellum paper. The name Mark Boyd on the outside of the fold. She opened it up, and as she read, she could feel her blood turning to ice and her knees to jelly. Shivers ran up and down her spine. The words blurred as she reread it.

No signature. Hand-written in small, neat letters. Before you make the biggest mistake of your life, meet me. If you don’t, her blood will be on your hands. She is with me. You know where to find us. Lottie sank to the floor in a whoosh of chiffon.

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