The Silence of the Stones

By Rebecca Bryn

Thriller, New adult fiction, Crime & mystery

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10 mins


The Vigil

I wait
As darkness steals the day
And silence like a blanket falls.
Far points of distant, lonely light
Still glimmer in a moonless void;
Life stops.
I wait
Behind a pane of window glass,
Trapped, separated from my life
But, like a long-dead star
For countless eons shining bright,
Hope burns.
I wait:
Dark, smothering nights stretch endless
To a dawn that will not break.
I hold your image to my heart,
Bright smile and sparkling eyes, lest I
I wait.

For all those who wait.


Katherine pulled the duvet over her head and pressed her hands over her ears. Her parents’ raised voices carried through the floorboards and made her curl into a tight ball. It hadn’t always been like this, though she couldn’t remember when the shouting had begun. She took her hands from her ears.
‘That child…’
She clamped them back again and curled into a smaller ball. What had she done wrong? She wouldn’t do it again, she promised, if only she knew what it was she’d done. Hot tears soaked her hair. The garble of voices fell quiet. Footsteps thudded on the stairs and the door to her bedroom opened. She didn’t want to be Katherine anymore: one day, she promised herself, when she was grown-up, she wouldn’t be. She clutched her need tight inside her, built a little wall around it so it wouldn’t cry out, and pretended to sleep. 

Chapter One

The inside of the second-hand shop was as dilapidated as the outside. Alana picked through paperbacks, trying to quell the feeling of impending doom that Dad’s phone call had reawakened. She selected a Sarah Stuart and a John Grisham for fifty pence apiece: she hadn’t come looking for literary inspiration.
A long silk scarf caught her eye. She held it against her neck and bent double to peer into a gilt-framed mirror that had once looked onto more salubrious surroundings. The muted greens and turquoises accentuated her dark eyes and black hair; definitely more Alana than Katherine, and the price suited her purse. She ran her fingers through unruly curls and tucked the scarf under one arm; she hadn’t come looking for accessories, either.
A short, plump man wearing a stained shirt and grubby jeans waved an inch-thick sandwich at the ceiling. ‘There’s more upstairs, love. You after anything particular?’
‘It’s my dad’s birthday tomorrow and I’m about out of cash.’
He looked pointedly at the books and scarf. ‘A nice watch? I got lots of nice watches going cheap.’
‘He’d rather have one that goes tick.’
The man huffed a small laugh. ‘How about a trumpet… or a clarinet?’
She smiled. ‘Do they go cheep, too?’
He ignored her quip. ‘Fifty quid.’
‘Too much.’
‘Gimme a clue, love. I got two balls, and neither of them’s crystal.’
She smiled again, despite the knot in the pit of her stomach. ‘I could a use a crystal ball, right now.’ She’d know soon enough what Dad wanted. ‘He used to play the piano.’
‘I got just the thing.’ He rummaged through a low shelf and put a keyboard on the counter. ‘Electric organ… does all sorts.’ He waggled a green safety-ticket attached to the lead. ‘New plug, instruction book, music… the lot.’
‘How much?’
Shark eyes assessed her worth. ‘Thirty quid to you.’
‘I’ll give you ten if it works.’
He unplugged his kettle and slapped the organ’s lead into the socket. A loud wail deafened her as he hit a key. ‘Yep, that works. Got to be worth twenty.’
‘Twenty? A fiver’s more than enough.’
He unplugged the organ, put both hands on the counter and leaned towards her, breathing pickle into her face. ‘Fifteen, and I’ll throw in the books and that scarf you’ve got tucked under your arm. That’s got a designer label.’
She stood her ground. He thought she’d been trying to steal it? She’d seen a scarf like this earlier in the year and, with a price tag of thirty-five pounds, it had stayed on her wish-list. ‘Ten and we have a deal.’
‘How about twelve?’
‘Done.’ One of them had been and she hoped it wasn’t her. ‘Can you wrap it for me? I’m meeting Dad for coffee in a few minutes.’
‘Who do you think I am, Harrods?’
‘Cardboard box? Bit of bubble-wrap?’
He retreated under the counter, muttering. ‘You girls, want everything just… will this do?’ He held up a roll of corrugated cardboard that had seen better days.
‘Fantastic. You do have sticky tape?’
‘You want bloody jam on it?’ He smiled, showing inventive DIY dental work. ‘Don’t answer that. I got string.’
‘Wonderful. Thank you.’ She paid for her purchases and left the shop with an urgent need for space, fresh air and somewhere to wash her hands. She wound the scarf around her neck and picked her way along the pavement, through slushy snow, heading for the café. She was early, but Dad had sounded anxious on the phone and she didn’t want to keep him waiting.
A familiar tall figure strode towards her. Her heart skipped a beat. She hadn’t seen Tony since she’d walked out of his life, almost two years ago. His mop of blonde hair was unmistakeable, as was the way he walked, the slight tilt of his head. Her feet rooted her to the spot, her heart thumped loudly and her knees went weak. He hadn’t noticed her. She wound her new scarf over her hair and ducked her head.
The laughter lines around his grey eyes crinkled. ‘Alana.’ The smile lingered too briefly. ‘How are you?’
Her throat went dry. ‘Tony…’ He was the first and last person she’d hoped to see. ‘Good, I’m good. You?’
‘Yeah. Where are you living, now?’
‘Trafalgar Street. Number 14. You?’
‘Same place…’
She tried to read his feelings into those two words. Did he miss her? Had he found a new partner? Moved on? ‘How’s you mum?’
‘Not good. The cancer’s spread. The chemo’s playing havoc.’
She leaned towards him instinctively, needing to be home, to comfort him, to feel safe in his arms: loved and wanted… to belong. She could almost touch the smooth cheek, run her fingers through the silky hair on the nape of his neck, breathe in his warmth. ‘I’m sorry. It must be hard.’
‘Mike’s been a brick. I don’t know how we’d cope without him.’
His brother’s name made her cringe. There was so much she wanted to say and couldn’t. ‘Tony…’
He watched a couple walking hand-in-hand along the opposite pavement, laughing. His eyes were bright when he turned back to her. His voice hardened. ‘You made your choice, Alana. I’m sorry I couldn’t give you what you wanted. I hope you’re happy.’
The nightmare from which she could never wake would have no happy ending. ‘It wasn’t your fault. I’m sorry, Tony. I never meant to hurt you. I’m truly sorry.’
He shrugged and walked on. Life ceased, all over again. She brushed away tears with a gloved hand. It was her, alone against the world, as it had been since she’d forced herself to walk away from Tony, and Dad was waiting.
He was already there when she arrived. She put the books on the table and the package on the floor. He looked greyer and thinner than ever, showing every one of his almost sixty-five years, yet it had only been a month since she’d seen him last. He looked ill. ‘Dad?’
‘I ordered two cappuccinos. I hope that’s okay?’
She adopted her brightest voice. ‘My favourite.’
His smile creased the corner of his mouth but his grey eyes didn’t light with their customary twinkle. Two cappuccinos arrived, accompanied by large portions of carrot cake. He pushed one towards her. ‘You’re always hungry.’
‘Yum, I hope this is your treat.’
He laughed and his eyes sparkled briefly. ‘Of course. You’re always broke. Alana, don’t you think it’s time you got a proper job?’
She stirred brown sugar into her coffee. ‘And a husband… You sound like Mum. You’re thirty-three, Alana. Your looks won’t last forever. Who’s she to talk? She was thirty-four when she had me.’ She slurped coffee and wiped froth from her top lip. ‘Anyway, I’ve got a proper job. It just doesn’t pay much.’
‘And one day you’ll be famous… and youth lasts forever. You always were a dreamer.’
‘What’s life without dreams? Damian Hurst made it, and all he did was pickle half a sheep in formaldehyde.’ She waved a dismissive hand. ‘You call that art?’
‘Not personally, no. Alana, I didn’t ask you here to talk about pickled mutton.’
She took a bite of carrot cake and raised an eyebrow questioningly.
‘I’m leaving your mother.’
Cake crumbs sprayed onto the tablecloth. She swallowed hastily, choking. ‘You can’t be serious. Why?’
‘Alana… It’s been a difficult relationship for a long while.’
The knot in her stomach tightened. ‘You think I didn’t know?’ Somehow, she’d never thought the feeling of impending doom would come to this. She unclenched her jaw. ‘You don’t know how lucky you are to have someone who loves you. You’d throw all that away? Why now? What’s changed?’
‘It’s not that I don’t love her. I can’t live with her, anymore. I stayed… I don’t know why I stayed. It went wrong so long ago… I should have left when...’ He opened cupped hands in a gesture of exasperation. ‘I suppose I thought I could fix things but I never did more than put up with them.’
‘What things?’
‘You don’t need to know.’
Childhood guilt followed the doom to the surface. Her anger subsided. ‘This is because of me, isn’t it? I thought you were getting on better since I left home. I wouldn’t have let Mum have Saffy if I’d thought you were still arguing.’ She studied her coffee for a moment and looked up when he didn’t answer. She searched his face for the smile she’d sought as a child: the smile that would say it wasn’t her fault. ‘You two always went quiet when I walked into the room. I could have carved your silences into ice sculptures.’
‘At least ice sculptures have a market, which is more than your stuff seems to have.’
‘I’ve had good comments about my sculpture, and I sold two paintings last week. If I sell another, I can afford a new…’
His eyes hardened. ‘Alana, strange though this must seem, not everything is about you.’
His tone shocked her. ‘So what is it about?’
‘I retire at the end of the month and I suddenly realised this is it. This is all I have to show for my life. I have what… fifteen active years, if my health holds. My brother died at sixty… I want a life… some freedom, while I can still enjoy it.’
‘A life… freedom… You’ve met someone, haven’t you? You’re having an affair.’
‘That isn’t why I’m leaving your mother… I would have left, anyway. But yes, I’ve met a woman who makes me feel like a man, no, like a teenager, not a useless has-been.’
‘And you think feeling like a teenager is okay when Mum’s sitting at home crying?’
‘Don’t judge what you can’t possibly understand.’
‘But what about Mum? You know she’s not well… God… She’ll be distraught. I’d better get over there.’
He put a hand on her arm but she shrugged it away. ‘Alana, listen to me. I love you. You know that. Don’t ever believe otherwise, whatever your mother tells you. She’s always been a… needy person… pretending she’s not well is a ploy to get her own way. She can be very manipulative. Like she was over Saffy…’
‘What has Saffy got to do with anything?’
‘She has everything to do with it. Mum talked you out of a termination, not that I understand why you wanted one.’
‘We’ve had this conversation.’
‘And you’ve never given me a satisfactory answer. I know you wanted children.’ He sighed. ‘Sweetheart, if you let her, Mum will suck you dry. She doesn’t mean to. I don’t think she realises she’s doing it, and you don’t feel it happening, but one day you’ll realise she’s taken your life and rearranged it according to the gospel of Gweneth Harper.’
‘You haven’t told her, yet, have you?’
‘I wanted you to be prepared, first.’
‘Huh.’ She pushed away her plate and mug and got to her feet. ‘You want me to do your dirty work? You’re spineless. What were you planning to do, send her a text and leave me to pick up the pieces?’
‘No, of course not.’
‘She’s cooked and cleaned and slaved for you for nearly forty years, raised your daughter, and waited for you to have time to spend together.’
‘Time together? Saffy takes all her time.’
She slumped back into her chair. ‘I knew this was down to me. This is about her looking after Saffy isn’t it?’
‘She manipulated you into that choice. I love Saffy. She’s not the reason I’m leaving Mum.’
‘Your leaving isn’t going to force me to become Saffy’s mother, if that’s what you think.’
‘Alana, I didn’t understand why you left Tony. He was crazy about you. You got engaged, for God’s sake, then you go off with someone else. Explain that piece of stupidity if you can.’
She wanted to explain: she couldn’t bear Dad thinking badly of her. ‘I can’t.’
‘So don’t judge me if you’re not prepared to be judged. I accepted that you didn’t want Tony to know about Saffy. I trusted you had your reasons… didn’t press you to explain.’
‘So don’t press me now… please.’
‘A man has a right to know he has a child.’ He put down the teaspoon he’d been brandishing. His hand was shaking; his face took on a greyer shade. When he spoke again, his voice was tremulous. ‘He has a right to see her grow up, be part of her life.’
She hated seeing him so upset. She hated lying to him even more. ‘Tony isn’t Saffy’s father.’
The computer in his brain calculated dates. ‘You slept with someone else while you were with Tony? I thought I’d brought you up better than that.’
‘Maybe I take after you? I loved Tony. I’d have stayed with him… I wanted a child so much. He wanted to wait until we could afford them. House first, then kids.’
He sighed. ‘And that was a reason to put yourself about like a whore? A child at any price?’ His voice was a low growl. ‘Tony wanted the best for you, for his family.’
Her fingers dug into her palms. ‘It wasn’t like that. If all I’d wanted was a child, any child… I wanted Tony’s child… Saffy ruined everything.’
He leaned towards her, his face a greyish-red. ‘Don’t you dare blame this on Saffy.’
‘I’m not.’ She covered her face with her hands and rubbed the tightening band across her forehead. Tears ran unchecked down her cheeks. ‘I was raped, Dad. Saffy is a child of rape. That’s why I didn’t want her.’
He leapt to his feet, his chair crashing to the floor, and rested his palms on the table. ‘Who? Tell me the bastard’s name.’
She matched his pose, her face close to his. ‘Why? So you can beat the fuck out of him?’
‘Katherine!’ He looked around. The café was silent, a sea of faces blurred around them. He righted his chair and sat down. ‘Alana, he can’t be allowed to get away with this. It isn’t too late to tell the police.’
‘I can’t.’
‘Why the hell not? Suppose he did this to another girl.’
‘I don’t think he would… not go out and look for someone to rape, that is. Maybe rape’s too strong a word. It was more jealousy than anything. He took advantage, didn’t take no for an answer… It was partly my fault.’
‘No, means no, Alana. Rape isn’t a woman’s fault.’
‘It was at our engagement party. I had too much to drink. I was flirting.’
‘That’s no excuse. It was someone you knew? Someone I know?’
She’d made Mum promise not to tell anyone the name of Saffy’s father, especially not Dad. Could she trust him not to go after the man, now that two years had passed? The need to tell him won out. ‘It was Mike… Tony’s brother, Mike. Dad, you have to promise you won’t say anything. His mum’s been fighting cancer for three years. It would tear them apart.’
‘Mike?’ His fists clenched.
‘Dad, promise me.’
‘And this is why you broke off the engagement?’
She nodded. ‘I spent weeks in denial… refusing to admit it had happened. Then I discovered I was pregnant. Tony would have known it wasn’t his. He knew the pill didn’t suit me, and he was so careful about contraception. It was me who hoped we’d have a burst condom… he even used spermicidal gel.’
Dad’s face reddened, she shouldn’t have gone into her sex life, but his hand reached for hers across the table. ‘I wish you’d told me all this before. I’d have made Mum see you needed that abortion. Tony need never had known.’
‘I would have known. I couldn’t have lived with the lie.’ She removed her hand from beneath his and took a sip of coffee. One day, Saffy would ask why she had a blank space on her birth certificate. When Saffy was born, and she’d held her for the first time… ‘Part of me loves Saffy, but every time I see her it reminds me what happened, and what it did to me and Tony. It was Mum wanted her.’
He shook his head. ‘Just the thought of what Mike did to you. I could have been there for you.’
‘Don’t beat yourself up, Dad. I couldn’t talk about it.’ The hurt in Tony’s eyes still haunted her. Every touch that wasn’t his reminded her of Mike’s touch. She rolled her shoulders to disguise a shudder. ‘Tony thinks I left him for another man.’
‘You’ve seen him?’
A familiar fire burned in the pit of her stomach. ‘Just now. He’s not interested in me. He’s moved on.’
Dad fiddled with his teaspoon. ‘You don’t think he’d have you back if he knew the truth? It’s obviously what you want. You should trust him. You shouldn’t make this decision for him.’
She sighed. ‘And if Saffy got to know? Mike can count dates, too. I wouldn’t trust him not to blab for spite. How could I explain her conception without her hating Mike for forcing himself on me, and me for getting paralytic?’
‘You’ve told me.’ He studied his coffee. ‘Do you want her to live with a lie? The truth may be painful, but living with lies is worse, and they have a way coming back to haunt you.’
‘I trust you and Mum. No, I have to get used to being alone. I’ll never love anyone but Tony.’
‘You will, one day. I didn’t think I’d ever love again, but I have.’ He patted her hand. ‘We both have to look to the future, now. And you’ll grow to love Saffy, too, if you let her into your heart. Spend more time with her, Alana. You’ll regret it if you don’t. And one day you’re going to have to take some responsibility for her whether you like it or not.’ He smiled that smile and her heart lifted. ‘Anyway, I told you, this isn’t about you. It’s about me having a life… not being controlled…’
She’d forgotten about Mum and doom, wrapped in her own troubles, all about her. He was throwing away the marriage she’d give her left arm for. Had he any idea of the black hole he was creating? ‘Is it because Mum’s older than you?’ She waited for him to deny it, to come up with a reason she could understand, but he remained silent. She sighed and placed the package onto the table. ‘I hope you have a happy birthday, Dad. I doubt Mum ever will again.’



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