Guilt-ridden au pair Kitty O’Hara urgently needs to atone for a wrong done to her best friend Dianne Lenore, who lives in an isolated state at the top of the sea-view Cliff House.
Before turning out my bedside lamp in the small hours, I decide to do something very bold. Even by Kitty O’Hara standards. I decide to venture out of my room, tiptoe down the landing that leads to the second flight of stairs, and silently make my way up to the top floor of the house. As in, the strictly out of bounds arena. If I don’t make a move soon, then I might never find the courage. I might end up just getting on with my au pair duties, keeping myself busy with the boys and the bloody dog, trying not to think about bad things, trying not to remember.
But that isn’t why I’m here.
* * *
The top floor is in the gables of the house, narrower in dimensions than the lower two floors. There seem to be three rooms, as far as I can tell in the midnight dark. My task is to work out which one is Dianne’s.
I stop outside the first door and stand next to it for a few seconds, my ear pressed against the wooden panels to see if I can hear anything that will give me a clue about its inhabitant. After a few seconds my ears tune into the regular breathing rhythm of someone in deep sleep. It sounds like a more mature sleeper, so must be Mrs Lenore.
Moving on, I repeat the exercise. The only clue I can glean from behind the next door is the pit-pat of a light trickle which sounds like a leaking tap or shower head. I venture a step further and slowly, stealthily, turn the handle, glancing back over my shoulder first, as though I were the evil miscreant in a black and white film noir.
The door gives way. I narrow my eyes until they focus in the dark and are able to make out various shapes, the main one being an old-fashioned bathtub standing on antique-looking claws, with an elaborate, dripping tap. I was right.
That leaves only one room.
I creep further down the corridor until reaching the third and final door. Holding my breath, I close my eyes for a few moments. And hesitate.
Am I ready for this?
More to the point, have I thought it through? Would Dianne really want this? Would the sudden sight of an intruder in her room give her a heart attack and finish her off? Would she scream out in terror, waking up the entire house, resulting in my arrest and putting an end to any slim chances I might still have had of finishing my English Literature degree and making a career for myself? Making a proper life for myself?
But it’s downright callous of me to even consider a life deprived of an academic career, when my best friend of all time is now living a life deprived of just about everything. And all because of me.
I can’t bear to think of it.
I allow my hand to drop from the brass handle back to my side. And I just stand there, next to the closed bedroom door of someone who has been through an unimaginable ordeal that led to the state she’s in now. It’s something I long to talk to Mrs Lenore about – the short and long-term effects of brain trauma, which I’ve read loads about – but somehow don’t dare. Not to Dianne’s mum, not to anyone. Only I know the truth.
I feel tears welling up in my eyes that I’d thought myself incapable of shedding any more, after the incident. Good old Mrs Patterson would have squealed in joy if I’d cried during one of our therapy sessions. (Thank God that’s behind me now, together with my old life back in Pickering.) No matter how many times Patterson crooned, It’s all right, Kitty, let yourself go, and pushed the tissue box in my direction, I just pushed it right back across the coffee table and glared at her.
Anyway, I don’t shed any tears. Maybe now isn’t the right moment to go in Dianne’s room. To see if she recognises me – if she can recognise anyone in the state she’s in now. But maybe it’s too soon.
I’m not being a coward. I just need more time.
The above is an extract from my psychological drama, A HIDDEN SILENCE