Of Sound Mind

By Julie Elizabeth Powell



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8 mins



Once upon a time…well, that’s how I’ve always wanted to begin but with this tale it won’t work because I can’t start when the events of my life were set in motion. And why, you ask? It’s quite simple; I had no inkling of any of it…then or for quite some time after.
So, where can I start? A sort of beginning, I suppose but then it’s really the end. It’s complicated, so I’ll dive right in at the moment I thought I should write it all down. That’s a kind of beginning, isn’t it?
Once upon a time then…

I’d just begun reading the novel when it happened.
I was half way through – you know the stage when it has become almost like an old friend, where the relationship is comfortable and comforting? I always try to read a little slower at that stage, not wanting it to end, savouring every word. But despite this, my brain devours the words in excited anticipation of the plot, while the characters are so familiar that I feel like I’ve known them for years.
Anyway, the book lay nestled on the pillow that sat on my lap and a cold glass of water waited patiently on my bedside table.
So with a final snuggle into the bedclothes, I settled down to enjoy my familiar companion.
However, no sooner had I gorged on the next few paragraphs, when there it was.
I wasn’t too alarmed, as it wasn’t the first time, but I was surprised all the same – it had been so long.
You’ll probably think I really am barmy, and if you continue to read what I know must be written down, your opinion of me might not change – but maybe it will, it’s up to you.
I can almost see the surprised look in your eyes as you read, and shake your head muttering, “Oh Jorja, what is this?” But I’ll take the chance that you’ll finish it and glimmer the truth of it all.
Stories like mine are not easy to tell and please forgive me if I stray a little or jump about a bit.
Oh, by the way, when it’s finished I’ll leave it for you in one of those padded envelopes – yes, this modern age has so many useful things, if tempered by so much more difficulty.
I digress – I only have so much time to tell it, so I’d better get on.


A dirty little secret, such a well worn cliché, but that’s what Aunt Mena always called me. Her dark eyes would look at me with a disapproving stare – this became worse when she suspected that I was different (and not just because I was ‘a dirty little secret’).
Every time I asked my mother what Aunt Mena meant, she would only smile and touch my cheek softly with her long tapered fingers, her blue eyes misty with her love for me.
How could two sisters be so different?
I use to think that’s why I was different.
But that was before the ‘zip’.
Oh, now I’ve started you wondering. I’ll come to the ‘zip’ later, for the moment I suppose I’d better tell you about my mother and the dreadful Aunt Mena.
I’ve never been absolutely sure if Aunt Mena’s problem was plain jealousy, or that her nature was merely downright nasty. Furthermore, I couldn’t work out if she was jealous of my mother or just didn’t want anyone else to have her attention. But whatever it was, her attitude towards me was one of pure hatred.
Mother would make excuses for her, say she’d been unlucky in love, that their own parents had ignored her, cruelly – that was until they died.
Aunt Mena was ten years older than my mother, so it seemed the natural thing that she should care for her from an early age.
Now I think about it, from what my mother told me, the years they had together – before I came along – were the happiest for my aunt, so yes, maybe it was I who changed things. And, my goodness did she make me pay!
And why was I ‘a dirty little secret’?
Now this is the first thing you may find hard to swallow, but swallow you must, if you are to begin to believe the rest of my account.
My mother – by the way her name was Belle. You can already imagine why her parents called her that, oh yes I can tell you she was very beautiful. You could drown in the loveliness of her blue eyes, her blonde hair framing her heart-shaped face like a halo.
But it wasn’t her looks that drew people to her, but her shining goodness, dazzling those who knew her. It was especially bright for me…in ways I’ll tell you about later (I mustn’t get ahead of myself).
You can understand what men thought of her – Aunt Mena would guard her with an iron hand. You may think that was how she became pregnant, that Aunt Mena lost her grip for a moment. But no – my mother swore to me, and I believed her, I had no choice, I knew it was the truth – no man ever touched her!
Take your time, but you must believe me when I tell you it was the truth. Of course I cannot force you to take this news as true, or easily, but you’ve known me for quite some time now – you know I wouldn’t lie. Very well, even if you cannot believe now – maybe later you will.
Imagine how Aunt Mena must have taken the news!
For the first time, my mother was a little afraid of her sister (so she told me), but although she was a gentle soul, there was an inner strength and determination that Aunt Mena knew she’d better not cross.
Of course Aunt Mena did not believe her sister had never been with a man, but Belle remained resolute, so it wasn’t spoken of again – except to me.
As a child I had two schools of thought thrown at me – I certainly knew which one I wanted to believe. Aunt Mena’s phrase began the moment I was born, my mother told me different – her ‘gift of love’ was all she needed.
No matter how I tried, wheedled or begged, my mother never told me anymore than that – now I realise she probably didn’t understand what had happened herself. But I consoled myself with the fact that my mother loved me, wherever I’d come from – despite Aunt Mena’s beliefs.
So I was born to a beautiful, kind, good woman, who loved me, what more could I need? Maybe a big snapping monster to take away the wicked aunt, kicking and screaming as its jaws took a final bite?
I used to wish she’d be blinded, just so those eyes would stop following my every move. But when I told my mother this she’d try to make me see her good points, and not to let my imagination run away from me. But as hard as I tried, I could never find those good points.
I used to wonder if my whole life was pure imagination. And maybe it has been – but I’m sure I’m right.
Very well, it’s possible my mother lied and my appearance wasn’t some miracle – no I’d never compare myself to that! It was just what my mother told me, and I couldn’t help but believe her.
Perhaps now is a good time to explain about my ‘gifts’?


You’ll maybe think that every child sees their parent – especially a mother – as something special, certainly not as an ordinary human, who makes mistakes. To some extent I would have to agree with you, yes I did see my mother as something perfect – but there was more to it than that. Every time I looked at her she was bathed in a glorious brilliant light. It would follow her every move, like she was a radiant angel. I thought everyone must see it; that was why they were drawn to her. It was only later – when I began to see emanations of other colours around the people I met – that I realised that only I could see it.
I soon began to understand that the various colours told me something of the person they encompassed.
I bet you can guess Aunt Mena’s colour!
When I was older, I tried to find out the meaning of colours and it seemed that each one had positive and negative points.
Knowing Aunt Mena as I did, the blackness could only mean she was difficult, superior and used her strength wrongly. Her colour was also tinged with red – I knew that I was right – her passions did indeed run deep, especially against me and for my mother.
I would never have been able to think of my mother as anything other than that of having a purity of spirit, so even without my ‘gift’, I would have known her goodness.
We never had many visitors, but of those who were allowed, Doctor Jameson’s main colour was green. I’m sure he was a little in love with my mother, but I never minded that because he was kind. He never judged her (being of a scientific mind of course, he would never have believed my true origins), or me, but simply treated her as a delicate soul who was probably taken advantage of by some unscrupulous man when Aunt Mena was called away.
Oh yes, I’ve forgotten to tell you about that.
There were times when Aunt Mena would disappear for a few days, leaving strict instructions with the housekeeper, Mrs Princeton; that no one should be allowed to visit while she was away.
Mrs Princeton, a small, bony woman, but with a twinkle in her merry emerald eyes, would nod seriously at these orders, while winking at me secretly behind her back, her yellow aura almost pulsing with delight.
Those times were so happy!
The whole house would breathe a sigh of relief, as special cakes were made and certain ‘unsuitable’ friends of my mother’s would come to visit.
All evidence was carefully wiped away before Aunt Mena’s return – she was a stickler for routine, so we knew she wouldn’t come back until the exact time she’d told us.
Mother and I would toast crumpets in front of the roaring fire – despite the weather – and lather them with butter and rich, strawberry jam, which would dribble down our chins, escaping through the laughter.
The doctor would always know of these happy times – warned by Aunt Mena no doubt that Belle would be without her care – and join us when he could.
Mother would play her favourite records and we would dance until it all became too much for her and the doctor would order her to bed, where she would read to me or I to her, until we fell asleep together, happy with our own company.
We never did find out where Aunt Mena went.
Never once did she suspect what went on, although she’d wonder why Belle was particularly tired.
If Aunt Mena had had her way no one would have visited, but the Family had certain standing in the community, so it was expected that people came to call. Though for the most part, she kept my mother to herself.
Uncle Arthur was another frequent visitor.
He belonged to my grandfather’s branch – the putrid, twisted one that should have been cut down before it could have sprouted the rotten fruit.
I don’t even think he was an uncle at all, just some distant cousin who stood slyly in the wings waiting for his chance to pounce, but Aunt Mena insisted he be called uncle.
His muddy colour would swirl in disarray around his body as he bent to kiss my mother’s hand or reach out his clammy fingers to rub my shoulder.
I’d try not to make it obvious when I’d shrink from his touch, when Aunt Mena would glare disapprovingly if I wasn’t as gushing as she.
My mother would make excuses for me and sent me on errands.
I was sure she must know his mean spirit, as she would slide gently away from his being, but she never mentioned it.
But I knew she didn’t like him, as her blue eyes took on a hunted look and her bright light would dim to some extent.
What did she see in him? I could never understand why Aunt Mena couldn’t see beyond his slimy good looks - he was deemed handsome, despite his age.
I remember how his thick, white hair would fall over his piercing, cold, blue eyes, and how he’d slowly pull it back in a knowing fashion.
Later I understood that this move was thought of as endearing to women.
I used to shudder at the thought of anyone being entangled within those large, grasping hands.
I understood from the very first that he was a wastrel, who used his deadly charm and tall good looks to take what he wanted – and I knew he wanted my mother.
One thing I will say in Aunt Mena’s favour is that she must have seen the desire in his eyes when he looked at Belle and steered him clear of her, though it would make me feel sick to witness how she would bask in his insincere compliments.
At the end of every visit he would follow Aunt Mena into the study where she would write him a cheque and delight in the peck on the cheek as her reward. I could never resist peering through the crack between the double doors to watch this event.
Maybe things would have been different for Aunt Mena, and for me, if she hadn’t been ‘unlucky’, as my mother called it.
I know how terrible I would have felt if I had no one to love me.
My curiosity would take me on searches through the house – it was the attic that gave me the most clues as to what had happened.
Being careful not to get too dirty – not only so I wouldn’t give myself away, but also that Aunt Mena was a stickler for cleanliness – I removed a whole host of ‘maybe useful one day’ items from the top of a massive trunk that lay hidden beneath.
I’d spied it on a previous haunt and promised myself that I’d root it out at the earliest opportunity.
So there I was, an unfortunate stain of green spreading like veins of a leaf on my dress, trying to pull out the cobwebs that were tangled in my long, strawberry blonde hair, thinking I’d better hurry, when I stared triumphant at what I’d uncovered.
It was an old-fashioned trunk, expensive too, with delicate patterned carvings set deep within the dusty, but previously polished dark wood. I tugged at the metal fastening and opened the lid to reveal its huge interior – I felt like Aladdin. Though there was no lamp to rub, I was equally excited, for there lay the histories of my family – or so I thought then.
Burrowing deep, I pulled out pictures, mementoes and even diaries. My grandmother’s was the most revealing.
It explained their disappointment with Mena, and their joy of Belle and how Mena’s beau had jilted her at the altar. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for her and angry that she should be treated so badly. I was surprised that she could love my mother so much, after what I’d found out, but she truly did – obsessively so.
After reading that, I really did try to be kinder to her but the wall of hate was too high to climb – she would never like me.
Not only that, there was something else in the diary that worried me, but I tried to put it out of my mind, surely it couldn’t be true?
Not able to keep the nagging thoughts to myself, I began to ask questions – very carefully. All the answers made me arrive at the same conclusion – how could anyone truly believe that a daughter could kill her parents, despite how horrible they had been?
Of course it wasn’t true. I must keep such thoughts under control.
Even my mother, as kind and understanding as she was, explained that although Mena was an unhappy soul, it was wicked to think such things about her.
I reminded her that there were times when she had been afraid of her – but no, she wouldn’t have it, it was ‘just my imagination’.
I don’t know why I never told my mother about the diaries and the thoughts that were expressed.
When I think about it now, I realise it was too dangerous to be thought true, and you couldn’t make people believe things they didn’t want to.
But whatever was the truth of those times, Aunt Mena must have understood something of my mental meandering because I was to be sent away.



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