I can remember that day like it was yesterday. The sharp, salty smell of the air coming up from the sea caressed my face. The wind was blowing about, picking up my shoulder-length, curly, gold-brown hair from my face and tossing it around playfully. The water was a deep, dark blue that day. Its vastness captured the eye, making you want to keep looking. If you looked out straight ahead at the horizon, it seemed like the sea and the sky met. Dark, velvety blue to robin's egg blue joined and became one. Whitecaps were forming here and there, rustled up as the wind whipped about. In the distance, I could hear the sharp cry of seagulls over the crashing of the waves breaking on the gray, pebble beach.
I loved the sea. It was like a second home to me. Having grown up in a little house merely half a block away, I spent most of my childhood roaming on its beach. My mother and I had moved here when I was four. I can't remember living anywhere else. This was the only home I had known. I have gotten to know this little cove so well. It became like a best friend to me. To be honest, I probably spent more time here than at home when I was a kid. I used to whisper my secret thoughts to the wind and let the breeze carry them away. Everyone needs someone to talk to, to tell their thoughts and feelings to. Some people write in diaries; others talk to their friends or parents; I talk to the ocean. Now, as an adult looking back, it seems rather silly admitting to it, but back then it felt right. I never told any of my school friends about my conversations, as I had a feeling that they wouldn't understand. My mother for one, couldn't fathom my fascination with the sea. She would come down here during the summer occasionally when the heat got too much to bear, to take a dip in the cool water. But that was about it. I on the other hand, used to come to the sea year-round almost every day. I loved watching how quickly it could change its tune. One day it could be calm and still as glass with only the smallest, gently rolling waves. The next, a wind could whip in from nowhere and it would have big crashing waves.
I closed my eyes, breathing in the cold, salty air. It felt good to be back. It had been too long since I was here last. I released my breath. My mother had always done as well as she could for me. Being a single mum with a low-income job and virtually no outside support we had lived paycheck to paycheck barely scraping by on her salary. Nonetheless, my childhood was a good one. I never went hungry, I just couldn’t go to university, a fact I just had to make peace with.
Now I was back, having been granted my request for a week off work, to visit my mother. I hadn’t been back here for over five months and did it ever feel good to be back. To see my piece of ocean again so familiar and exactly the same, as if I had never been gone at all. I was on my way to our house, but I just had to stop here first, before I went and surprised my mother. She didn’t know I was coming over. I had thought I would keep it a surprise to see her reaction.
I stood there, my eyes closed, enjoying the sea for about another blissful ten minutes before I felt an unexpected hand on my shoulder. A quiet, deep voice said my name.
"Alice Wright?" Surprised by this unexpected attention I turned around, curious. In all the years I came here no stranger had ever come up to me like this.
“Yes, that's me” I looked up questioningly, still smiling slightly from my reverie. I noticed immediately he was wearing a police uniform, a slight sense of unease stirred in my stomach. Something told me it wasn’t going to be good. I stood there for a split second, the wind blowing back my hair, not knowing that my world was about to be shattered into a million pieces around me.
---- ----- ---- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----- ----
“Mam, I am the chief officer of the local police” his voice was grim. I froze, this wasn't going to be good. The smile that had been on my lips faded away. What could the police want with me? I hadn't done anything wrong. Or had I? My heart started pounding in my chest. Somehow, I could sense the news wasn't good. “I am sorry to have to be the one to bring you this news. Your mother was found dead in her house, and we have reason to believe she was murdered.,...”
My ears started to ring after that, I found it hard to concentrate on what he was saying. From there my memory blurs. I really can't remember anything. It was like a dense fog had blown in from the sea and came to settle over me. I let it envelop me, hold me, protect me, it was my only way of staying on my feet.
Over the next few days, after my mother's death I vaguely remember that I was on the phone a lot. Either with a sad relative offering their condolences, or exchanging heated words with lawyers and the police who all seemed to be circling my mother like ravens that spotted a roadkill. No one offered to help me. I was on my own. I had tried to call my father, who I hadn't seen since I was four when my parents had gotten divorced. I could hardly remember how he looked anymore. But my calls kept going to voicemail. I left him countless messages, but he never replied, so I concluded that he was either dead or just as mean and uncaring as my mother had always portrayed him to be.
I didn't have any siblings, and none of my relatives were close at all, it was just me and mother and now she was gone. I was entirely on my own.
For that first week, I recall feeling numb. I felt like a ghost walking through life day-by-day. It took a while for me to start to accept what had happened. I was on my own and my mother was dead. I was sitting on the couch in our little house staring unseeing at the window. It had been her favorite place to sit. Our neighbors, who lived three houses down the street, had just been over to express their sympathy and to offer their help if there was anything that they could do. I knew they meant well, but honestly I just wanted to yell at them that there was nothing anybody could do, and their coming only made it worse.
I had never felt so incredibly enraged or violent in my life before. Pure rage and hatred at the unfairness of it all had coursed through my veins like hot burning coals. I had spat out at them, saying that if they really wanted to help they should leave immediately. After they had left, I calmed down a bit and realized what I had done. I felt ashamed. My mother would not have liked it. Then I cried, for the first time since her passing I allowed myself to feel the grief that I had kept bottled up inside of me, too afraid of what it would do to me once unleashed. I felt, like the green glass, patterned vase I had once dropped accidentally as a child, shattered into a million pieces.
…………….. ……………….. ……………...
I walked, I wasn't sure where. I had no idea where I was going or what I was doing. I just walked. It was all I could think of to do, all that my brain could manage. I just needed to get away. I didn't care where I went, as long as it was away. Away from my pain, away from the people with their sad, understanding eyes. They all pretended to know what I was going through, but they really didn't have an idea. I needed to be on my own. This was my way of coping if you could call it that.
My strides were brisk and purposeful. My body seemed to know where it was going, while my brain lagged on behind. I was going to the ocean. It was the place I had always gone to in my time of need as a child. It had always been there for me.
When I reached the cove, half running, I didn’t even bother to go to the stairs. I threw my legs over the concrete wall that had been put in place to keep the hightide from washing over the road. The drop was probably around six feet, but I made it with an ease I didn’t even know I had.
I sought the shelter of a large piece of driftwood log that had been washed up. I stayed there, for I don’t know how long, sobbing, until I could no more. Then I just lay there, half curled up, resting against the hard wood of what had once been a tree rounded down and smoothed through the constant batter of the waves.
It was nearing dark when I stood up from there to return home. I would have stayed if I could, were it not for the rising tide and the chill from the disappearing sun. I was nowhere near healed, but I felt a little more peace than I had in days.
The next day the chief police officer, the same one that had first given me the news, along with two of his co-workers came to my door. I let them in, wary. I didn’t invite them to sit down, instead, I kept them standing right there by the door. I wasn’t in the mood.
They apparently wanted to talk to me about my mother and everything I knew about her, particularly if there was anybody out there that I knew would want to harm her. I told them there was nobody that I could think of, most people loved my mother. She was a friendly and kind person who enjoyed company.
“Ok, thank you very much for your cooperation, it makes our job much easier. Now just one more question. I haven’t seen any sign of your father. Is he out of town?” He seemed to want me to say something.
“Yes.” they waited for more, watching me intently. I was starting to feel slightly uncomfortable. “Well, he and my mother got divorced when I was four, I haven’t seen him since.”
“Did your mother ever mention him to you? Have you any idea how she felt about him?”
“I mean yes, the way she talked about him, I don’t think she had a high opinion of him.” I was slightly confused about their strange interest in him.
“Did he ever try and make any contact with you or your mother that you know of?”
“Do you have any idea where he might be now?”
“What? No. I just told you he left us. I have no idea where he is or if he is even alive. He never made any contact with us, and I have no way of contacting him if that’s what you're going to ask next. I thought I had his number, but he never picked up. I don’t even know his last name. I have my mother's last name and I can’t remember her ever mentioning his.”
“Thank you for talking to us. What you have told us has been very helpful. Now if you will excuse us, I think we have a lot to look into.”
Once I closed the door behind them, I turned and pressed my back against the wood. I slid down slowly till I was sitting on the floor. They suspected my father. Nobody had to tell me that, I could see it in their faces, hear it in their multiple questions. Was it truly him? Some man that I can barely remember who didn’t care enough about his daughter to even try and make contact with her. I desperately wanted it not to be him, not because I didn’t want him to go to jail. I didn’t care about that, but because I didn’t want to be the daughter of a man that would murder his ex-wife. For what?
My mind went back to that day. The police said she had died about an hour before they got there. An hour! What if I had just been a little faster in leaving. What if I hadn’t stopped at the ocean and had gotten there earlier. Would I be dead as well? Or would I have been able to save her somehow by having been there? Could I have prevented her death?
………………. ……………. …………….
Two days later they confirmed to me what I had already suspected. This time they called instead of coming over. The officer that I spoke to was polite enough. Even though I had seen it coming, it still caught me off guard hearing it spoken out loud.
I tried keeping my life as normal as I could during this time, but it was hard. I phoned my manager at work to ask for an extra two weeks off, explaining my situation.
Over the course of that week I was first told that they had found my father’s name, then where he was living. So he was alive, after all. A terrible part of me had almost wished he wasn’t. It would explain why he never made contact with me and he couldn’t have murdered my mother. Then I heard they had brought him here to be questioned.
It all felt surreal. My life had been so normal before this, nothing spectacular. Then all of a sudden it turned into some terrible murder mystery.
“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but we have exhausted all possibilities. There seems to be absolutely no one that we could track down that would have done this. There are just so few clues to go by. Whoever did it was exceedingly good. We cannot find any fingerprints or any other traces left behind. I’m sure you have been informed that we believe it was a poisoning. The only conclusion we can draw is that nobody came into the house in the first place. Either someone somehow managed to put it in her groceries while she wasn’t looking or she bought something that accidentally contained the poison, in which case, there is no other person involved. We will try and look into it a bit more, but I’m afraid you might have to prepare for an inconclusive end.”
This was the call I got late one Friday night, two weeks after the incident. It kept me up for most of the night. The very next morning, I was woken up by the sound of a loud persistent knock on the front door. It was about six in the morning. I had gotten about four hours of sleep the night before, so my brain was slow to wake up. For a few petrifying minutes I thought, what if it was my mother’s assassin coming for me. I pulled my thoughts together and glanced out of the window to see the now-familiar police colors. I rushed over, not taking any time to see if I was presentable.
“Hi, I’m sorry for waking you up this early, but I thought you might want to hear the news as soon as possible. We just found out that your mother wasn’t murdered. She must have mistaken the bottle of window cleaner that we found stored in an orange juice bottle of the real product right next to it in her fridge. Why she had it in her fridge like that, and in that bottle, we might never know.”
“So nobody tried to kill her?”
As soon as he left, I grabbed my mother's shawl that was hanging from a peg near the door. Putting on some shoes, I headed outside into the fresh, slightly chilly early morning air.
I was going to the ocean to watch the sun come up.