Feisty au pair Kitty O’Hara, with a past she is trying to forget, has just survived her first day at Cliff House in Scarborough. The brain-traumatised young woman who lives on the top floor of the villa – survivor of a terrible ‘incident’ that no one talks about – is in fact Kitty’s former friend from university, Dianne Lenore. But no one at Cliff House is aware of this fact, and Kitty would rather keep it that way.
I’m alone at last, curled up on the window seat in my bedroom, gazing out at the dark outline of sea. It’s a view to die for – overlooking the twinkling lights of Scarborough way down at the bottom of the promontory, with the tide churning out its miniature white-crested waves. If they’re anything like at St Andrew’s, they’ll metamorphose into huge monsters during winter storms, with long salivating tongues to lick up unsuspecting victims like idiot dog walkers and beach strollers who think they can defy the elements.
It’s my very first evening at Cliff House and I’m feeling more or less okay. So far so good. Dr Conlon has gone, Mrs Lenore is securely stashed away in her off-bounds lair, Dianne in hers, and the children are at their dad’s for the night. Oh, and Boris is fast asleep downstairs. At least I hope he is. I’m sure I heard a tentative paw scratch at my door a while ago, but I ignored it. I’m no good with dogs. They scare me, to be truthful. Children don’t scare me in the least. Not even the brattish ones.
I feel grateful that Mrs Lenore has given me such a lovely room. It’s painted a dusky pink, with an Art Nouveau design of tulips and curling leaves and other flowery motifs, topped by a gold-leaf border near the ceiling. The long brocade curtains by the casement window reach right down to the floor, providing a cosy feeling to the window seat I’ve already mentioned – one that must have been designed to distract you from all negative thoughts as you snuggle up in its cushioned depths and gape at the hypnotic scene of North Bay, with its walled promenade and crescent beach and miniscule houses that hug the waterfront way down below, and wisps of nomadic clouds hovering above sheer rock faces that plummet straight into the sea. There. That’s my descriptive assignment done for the day (A+). I can see myself spending heaps of time on this window seat in the evenings, after the children are in bed.
Before switching off for the night, my eyes fall on the old-fashioned dressing table tucked into an alcove at the other end of the room. It’s very similar to the one my grandma had, with a three-part bevelled mirror, two deep drawers for clothes, and lots of tiny drawers in the top part for knick-knacks and jewellery. As a child I used to love rooting through all those things in secret, but sadly, it looks like I won’t have much fun here because all the drawers are empty. Every single one of them. (I’ve already checked.) I suppose Mrs Lenore must have removed all personal items from them, making way for the imminent arrival of the au pair. I’m sorry she did that, because I have a strong feeling that this was Dianne’s room.
I’ve been reading up about brain trauma, and apparently twenty percent of all severe closed head injuries can make a good recovery. Twenty percent might not be much, but it’s something worth hoping for. And I want Dianne to know this. I want her to sense it, through my presence. I feel I owe it to her. I just happen to be the lucky one.
Although that point could be debated.
* * *
At some point in the middle of the night I’m woken up by the sounds of footsteps. I sit up in bed with a start. Those footsteps are most definitely not the dog’s.
At first I can’t tell where they’re coming from, but gradually I realise that they’re on the floor above me. The out of bounds part of the house.
The footsteps come to a halt, after which there’s the squeaky sound of a stiff window being opened. Or maybe it’s a balcony door. Yes, I reckon that someone is standing on the balcony that leads off from one of the second-floor bedrooms. I spotted it earlier on, after I’d scoffed down the shepherd’s pie that the housekeeper left for me, and went on a solitary walk round the terraced gardens at the back of the house.
I creep out of bed, not turning on the light in case someone sees it, and feel my way over to the casement window. Hoisting myself up on to the cushioned seat, I carefully open the stiff pane, trying not to make a sound. When it finally gives, I lean out into the starlit night.
I was right. A woman is standing on the balcony one floor above me, slightly to my left. As my eyes accustom to the dark, I realise it must be Mrs Lenore. She’s leaning on the railing, smoking a cigarette, her silhouette accentuated by a full moon. If I were an artist, I’d want to paint the scene. Her fragile form makes a strangely poignant sight and my heart goes out to her. I can almost feel the intensity of her thoughts.
She shifts slightly, and her profile is highlighted by the soft glow of the moon. If my mother were here right now, she’d call it a Vivien Leigh profile. Mum’s always envied the refined features of that stunning 1940s film star.
It occurs to me that if Mrs Lenore turned her face just a fraction to the right, she’d almost certainly see me. The weird thing is, I almost want her to see me. To get it over with. But I can’t. I mustn’t – at least, not yet.
I wonder how she’d react if she knew who the real Kitty O’Hara was.
The above extract is from my psychological drama, HER LAST COHERENT THOUGHT