Where foundlings hide, p.2
Where Foundlings Hide, p.2KL Mitchelson
Most of the staff at Malvern have dimly-lit offices filled with old, antique furniture and shelves of dusty, leather bound books, but not Dr Parker. Purple taffeta curtains hang at the small, snow-flecked windows of her office, a matching, woven rug covers much of the floor and colourful Moroccan lamps are placed here and there, bathing the room in a warm glow. Dr Parker’s mahogany desk is set against the wall to make room for two comfy, rounded armchairs, separated by a small, spindly table.
Dr Parker herself looks less like a therapist and more like an Arabian princess I once read about in a fairy tale, tall and slim with thick, dark hair and honeyed skin. She dresses just like the other therapists I was forced to meet with, but her sharp suits seem more like disguises and her thick-rimmed glasses don’t hide the shimmering eye shadow or the flick of her eyeliner.
“Number two is not true.”
“I know, but it’s a good example of number three.”
Dr Parker shakes her head. “Maybe you should’ve added ‘quick witted’ to the list,” her full lips are set in a tight line, but she winks at me over her glasses.
Her sessions are different to the others I was forced to sit through after that night. The other therapists would wait quietly for me to speak, but Dr Parker likes to fill the silence between us, like she can’t bear it, and she will often tell me things that are in no way connected to grief or bereavement.
At our first session, she told me that she was so good at reading people she was almost psychic. I knew she was just saying it to get my attention, but it worked, especially when she guessed correctly that my favourite colour is blue, that I love to run and that my favourite snack is bananas. She said she got all of that from what I was wearing, the way I move and the lingering smell from the banana I had eaten with breakfast.
“Why do you feel you have a tendency to exaggerate?”
“I don’t,” I look at her squarely. “But I know that’s what it says in my records. I know it’s what my last therapist said.” I nod towards the folder in Dr Parker’s lap.
She shifts a little, crossing her feet at the ankles. “Number four is interesting. Is this how you feel, or is this also an example of number three?”
I shrug my shoulders as I pull at a loose thread on the hem of my sweatshirt.
“Maybe you’re ready for your friends to come back from their Easter holidays,” Dr Parker says. “You must be pretty lonely here without them.”
I look past her at the olive-green wall of her office, chewing at the ragged skin on the inside of my mouth. “It hasn’t been that long.”
“Oh? When was the last time you spoke to your friends?”
I cock my head to one side, like I’m trying to remember. “I don’t know, maybe last week sometime.”
Dr Parker doesn’t need to be psychic to know that I am lying, I’m terrible at it, and my cheeks burn as she narrows her dark eyes at me. “I thought we agreed to be truthful.”
When I first met Dr Parker she said that she had one rule. I didn’t have to tell her everything, but anything I did tell her had to be the truth. She promised to do the same. I have a little difficulty sticking to that rule sometimes, usually when I don’t want to admit something about myself, like my struggle to reconnect with my friends, or when I almost say something that would give away my curious little gift.
Keeping something like that from Dr Parker is not lying, not really. Therapy means talking about how I feel, whereas my gift focuses on how others feel, so by not talking about my gift, I am really just refusing to talk about other peoples’ feelings, which aren’t mine to share.
“Fine,” I huff. “It was…about a month ago, on…on the day of the funeral.”
She raises her eyebrows. “A month? Have they tried to contact you since then?”
“I don’t know. I lost my phone.”
My phone is in fact hidden at the bottom of my chest of drawers at home, forgotten, like a childhood toy I had grown tired of. My cheeks warm a little, because I have just told another blatant lie.
Dr Parker sighs. “OK. Tell me about the last time you spoke to your friends.”
I look up sharply. “I told you, it was...at the funeral.”
She nods, gesturing for me to continue. My insides start to writhe with anxiety and it is suddenly difficult to breathe.
At our first session, Dr Parker made me another promise. She said that I wouldn’t have to talk about…that, and I don’t know what to tell her, because there are no words to describe how I felt that day.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Dr Parker always seems to know what I’m thinking. “But it’s time to start exploring some of the things that have happened since they found Lana. Please.”
I take a deep, shaky breath, then I tell her how blue the sky was that day and how bright the sun was, how I’d hidden my eyes behind sunglasses.
It was the first day that promised spring after a long winter of snow and ice, which was ironic, because spring is about new life, not death.
I don’t tell her that my whole body had trembled like jelly when the funeral cars arrived, or that tears had threatened to pour, stinging the backs of my eyes, because I never let them fall. I don’t tell her that I swallowed the pebble-sized lump rising in my throat, as I slid into the back of a sleek, black car with cold, leather seats.
I didn’t cry that day, not once. I should have forced the tears out, let everyone see the tracks on my cheeks. That’s what is expected when we lose someone, but I was beyond tears.
I tell Dr Parker that the crowd of people at the crematorium were all dressed in black, their heads lowered in respect. I recognised some of our neighbours from the village, my friends and teachers from school and some of Ivy’s work colleagues.
We have no other family; it’s just Ivy and me now, and I had clung to her hand - which was thankfully encased in a black glove - as we made our way into the chapel. I let her do the talking, she spoke to each person in turn and thanked them for coming, for the flowers, for their kind words.
I spotted my best friend, Bria, her curly, copper hair like a beacon in a sea of black. She waved at me, her face puffy and her eyes red from crying. I had smiled tightly at her before moving on to greet the others.
My friends Jas and Orla were there too, standing with a group of other students from Malvern. I had scanned the crowd looking for Molly, Lana’s best friend, and finally found her standing a little apart from the rest of the congregation, her face pale and gaunt. She caught my eye, but looked immediately away.
The chapel was dimly lit and freezing cold. Lana’s coffin was wreathed in flowers, the scent mingling with burning incense, making me feel sick and heady. Someone squeezed my shoulder comfortingly.
I can’t remember what the vicar said, or what hymns we sang. I can’t even remember what personal piece of music was playing as the coffin disappeared behind the curtain, but I can remember how I felt as my sister’s body was taken away. I was filled with regret. I regretted not making the most of the little time we had together, I regretted all of the times we had fought, all of the times that I had borrowed something from her wardrobe without asking, even though I knew she would never deny me anything that was hers. Most of all, I regretted not saying anything, not telling everyone gathered in the chapel how much my sister had meant to me.
After the crematorium, Ivy invited everyone back to our house. Her friends helped her take the plastic wrap off the platters of sandwiches and cakes, then they served tea and coffee in Ivy’s best china. Our living room was crammed with so many people that I stayed by the door, my back pressed against the wall so I wouldn’t accidentally brush against someone and be crippled by their grief.
Orla caught my eye and motioned like she was going to come over, but I wasn’t ready to talk to her, or anyone else, so I ducked out of the living room and raced upstairs to my room. I closed the door behind me and listened to the low hum of voices and the distant tinkle of crocker
A round face suddenly appeared beneath a curtain of copper hair. “Good spot,” Bria said. “I would’ve gone for the airing cupboard.”
Bria crawled under the opposite bed - Lana’s - and laid flat on her front. A silent tear rolled down her cheek as she reached across the gap between the beds, resting her hand in the space between us. “I miss her too.”
I had cautiously rested my hand on hers, bracing myself for the onslaught of emotion. Bria was sad and confused, just like me.
“Do you think I should’ve said something at the funeral?”
Bria sniffed and wiped her eyes. “It wouldn’t bring her back.”
Then she smiled and squeezed my hand reassuringly, the pressure forcing her sorrow through me like a blunt knife.
I heard more footsteps on the stairs and quickly retracted my hand, silently willing Bria not to give away our hiding place. Someone padded lightly into the room, manoeuvring carefully around the bed to the dresser on the far side. I heard them pull out the top drawer and rummage around inside, before leaving hastily.
“Did they take something?” Dr Parker stares at me with intense curiosity, her eyes like huge, dark orbs.
I had left out the part about sensing Bria’s sadness, but I can tell that my story still has her enthralled.
I shake my head. “I don’t know. The dresser was Lana’s, the top drawer was filled with all kinds of stuff - scrapbooks, half bottles of perfume, costume jewellery. I couldn’t tell if anything was missing.”
“How did you leave things with Bria?” She asks.
“We stayed in my room for a while, until most people had left, then she made me promise that I would return to school.”
“She’ll get a nice surprise when she comes back from her holiday.” Dr Parker says with a smile. “You said that you regretted not saying anything at the funeral.”
“Did I?” I was definitely thinking about my regret as I told Dr Parker about that day, but I hadn’t realised I had spoken those words.
“Yes, you did. Tell me, what would you have said?”
My cheeks flush a little. “I don’t know.”
Dr Parker cocks her head to one side. “You must have some thoughts about what you would have said, if you regret not saying anything at all.”
I take a shaky breath, almost choking on the tears gathering in my throat. “Well there is something I might’ve said.”
Dr Parker nods encouragingly.
“Once, when we were about five or six, Lana and I were playing hide and seek at home. Lana told me to close my eyes and count to ten, so I sat, cross-legged on my bed with my eyes covered and I started to count. When I reached ten, I opened my eyes and I ran out of the room to look for her,” I swallow down more tears as I force the memory to the forefront of my mind.
I picture the lemon yellow walls of the stairwell in our house, the black, iron-wrought bannister, the sun filtering in through the windows making everything golden, warm, serene. “I searched the whole house from top to bottom,” I continue. “When I couldn’t find her, I got scared and I started to cry. After a while, I went to tell Ivy that Lana was lost and that it was my fault. Ivy called out to Lana and she appeared, less than a minute later, with dust in her hair. She was hiding under the bed the whole time, the bed that I was sitting on as I counted to ten, the only place I hadn’t thought to look. Lana looked like she might laugh, but when she saw how upset I was, she put her arm around me and she promised that she would never hide from me again, she promised that we would always be together and we would always take care of each other.”
Dr Parker smiles sadly.
“That’s it,” I say, clearing my throat. “That’s what I would’ve said at the funeral. I would’ve told that story.”
She considers me for a moment. “Casey, do you believe that Lana’s disappearance was your fault?”
I chew the inside of my lip. I do blame myself, I should have taken better care of her, I should know what happened, but saying this out loud would be too painful.
“It wasn’t your fault, Casey. You had nothing to do with Lana’s death, it was an accident. A tragic accident.”
I lower my head, uncomfortable with the sudden direction the session has taken. As if she senses this, Dr Parker hastily changes the subject.
“What about Ivy, have you heard from her?”
I squirm in my seat. “She’s in Paris, working. I don’t want to bother her.”
Dr Parker frowns. “She hasn’t contacted you?”
“Once or twice, I haven’t had time to call her back yet.” The truth is Ivy has called the main office every day since I returned to school. The secretary threatened to report me to Ms Gould, our Head of Year, if I didn’t call Ivy back.
“Ok, I want you to call her before our next session.”
“Our next session is on Monday.”
“Then you have almost forty-eight hours,” Dr Parker smiles widely showing a line of perfect, white teeth. “Plenty of time.”
I cross my arms sulkily. “She might not want to talk to me.”
Dr Parker rolls her eyes. “Don’t be silly, we both know that’s not true,” she opens the folder on her lap and turns to a page at the back. “You said you didn’t want to keep a diary of the dreams you’ve been having, but you said I could keep a record, so tell me, did you dream again last night?”
“The same dream?”
“It’s not a dream, it’s a nightmare and it’s always the same. Lana falls from the cliff and I can’t save her.”
“You still think that’s what happened?”
“I know that’s what happened, the Police said so.”
“But do you still believe you were there? At the exact moment Lana fell?”
“I don’t know.”
She looks surprised. “I’ve seen you almost every day for the last fortnight and you’ve always insisted that your dream was a memory of Lana’s last moments. What’s changed?”
“I’m not sure; the Police say it’s impossible that I was there, I was found at the bottom of the trail and, I don’t know, something about the way she fell maybe.”
Dr Parker leans forward and clasps her hands together. “What do you mean?”
I hesitate, trying to find the right words. “The way she just lost her balance like that, she was a junior fencing champion, light on her feet, and why was she even standing on the edge? It doesn’t make any sense.”
Dr Parker makes a note in the folder and pushes her glasses further up her nose. “I think this is real progress, Casey. You’re starting to analyse the holes in your own theory.”
I frown at her. “I thought you wanted me to move ahead? To stop dwelling on what happened.”
“No, I wanted you to stop fixating on one point. By considering that your dream may not be a memory after all, you are moving ahead.”
Dr Parker slides her pen into the knot of dark brown hair twisted high on top of her head and clasps her hands together. “Now, how about a little guided meditation?”
I leave her office some time later feeling lightheaded and sleepy, the heavy feeling in the pit of my stomach that little bit smaller. I grab a wrapped sandwich and a carton of apple juice from the dining hall before heading back to my room.
As I reach the empty corridor of the sixth form dormitory, something starts to gnaw at my insides like a feral animal, spoiling all of Dr Parker’s efforts to calm me. Today is Saturday, and tomorrow the rest of the school will return ready for the start of the new term on Monday morning. My breathing is suddenly ragged and my head aches under the harsh, neon strip lights that contrast starkly with the old school.
I sit down on one of the narrow window seats tha
Snow drifts lazily past the tall, lancet window and I press my forehead against the cold pane, closing my eyes and savouring the relief. When I feel like I could probably reach my room without fainting, I push myself up from the seat.
The corridor is carpeted in red, I know every floorboard that creaks and I step on each one purposefully, the sound familiar and comforting.
The school is a listed building, it was once the home of a Spanish Count and Countess who had the property gifted to them by the King of England in the eighteenth century. Many of the original features, such as the window seats, the tall, pointed clock tower outside and a huge stone fountain that sits stoically in the middle of the drive, are still here.
The majority of the students are accommodated in newer buildings, or ‘form-houses’, around the grounds, but the first years live on the first floor and the sixth formers are on the third floor. The teachers that board are on the floor in between, their keen ears listening out for footsteps above and voices below.
I let my hand trail along the thick, wooden frame of an old oil painting as I make my way along the corridor, and I am inches away from my door when a flurry of wild, red hair collides with me.
“There you are; I’ve been looking all over for you.”
She is hugging me so tightly that I can barely breathe, her skinny arms digging into my ribs and her cheek cold against mine. The base of my skull tingles, as her delight rushes through me.
“Oh I’m so glad you’re back, school has been rubbish without you,” Bria babbles. “I didn’t know if you were coming back after the holidays, so I rang Ivy, and she said you were already here, so I came back early.”
Bria takes a step back and looks at me with big, emerald eyes that shine with excitement. Her small, upturned-nose and apple cheeks are pink with cold and there are tiny beads of dew in her copper curls, as if she carried in the snowflakes from outside and they melted in the flames of her hair.
“You’re not mad at me?”
Bria shakes her head dramatically, releasing a shower of water, like a dog shaking out its wet fur. “Why would I be mad?”
“Because,” I stare sheepishly at the ground. “I haven’t returned any of your calls.”
Bria shrugs her shoulders. “Dr Parker said you needed time.”
“Dr Parker? You’ve seen her too?”
“Of course, most of our year group have seen her. She’s really helped us to you know, move ahead.” Bria makes quotation marks in the air with her fingers and I smile a little.
“So, what do you feel like doing?” Bria asks.
“I was actually just on my way back to my room to…”
“I don’t think so.” Bria links her arm through mine and proceeds to drag me up the corridor. “My guess is that you’ve spent these last two weeks wallowing in your room,” Bria continues. “I bet you haven’t even seen the new lounge.”
“Excuse me, I do not wallow,” I want to dig my heels into the carpet, drop the anchor so that Bria can’t steer me along the corridor. “We have a new lounge?”
She rolls her eyes and exhales dramatically. “Yes, exclusively for sixth formers. They even installed a coffee machine.”
The thought of coffee makes me quicken my pace. I never used to like it much, but over these last few months I have developed a taste for it. Maybe because it’s the only thing that can wrench me into existence after a bad night’s sleep.
We reach a small staircase, it’s new, I can tell by the fresh shade of the carpet and the sharp edges of the wooden structure underneath. The carpet is red, like the rest of the corridor, but more of a bright scarlet red, not the aged, worn-out red that covers the rest of the floor.
The staircase leads up to the tower of the west wing, the location of our new lounge, and above the door there is a shiny, golden plaque that reads: “In Loving Memory of Lana George”.
Bria climbs the staircase, but I am frozen to spot, my eyes fixed on those words. I remember that there was some mention, after Lana’s body was found, of something being done in her memory. It’s a strange place for a memorial, maybe a garden would have been more appropriate, since Lana loved the outdoors.
Bria follows my gaze. “Oh, I’d forgotten about that. It’s kind of nice though, isn’t it? So everyone remembers her.”
Like anyone could ever forget Lana. She was the most popular girl in school, everyone adored her. She wasn’t just beautiful and clever, she was kind, she was the first to comfort those who were upset and she was good at it, she was like a sun that everyone gravitated towards, because they felt better in her light.
“There’s something else,” Bria says. “Ms Gould started an exhibition in Lana’s memory.” She pushes the door open with a creak and I step over the threshold with a feeling of trepidation.
The lounge is warm, inviting and silent except for the whistle of the wind and the faint whir of the coffee machine in the corner that permeates the air, with a sweet, nutty scent.
My heart sinks into my stomach when I see her. Lana. My dead sister, immortalised in canvas and paint.
Where Foundlings Hide by KL Mitchelson / Fantasy have rating 3.2 out of 5 / Based on19 votes