I got nothing. They sold the farmhouse which contained my whole life. They said I was unstable and I wasn’t my father’s daughter, even though no DNA tests were done. I hadn’t wanted to challenge it but then I thought of Ellie, so I found a solicitor. I put on my funeral outfit, the only outfit I had which was anything like formal, and went to the office in the High Street. It was pleasant enough with a sofa but some colour or more interesting paintings could have cheered the place up a bit. Maybe I should offer them one of my artworks. At first, I liked the young woman I spoke to. She seemed sympathetic to my story, especially when I told her how we had looked after my father at the end, but she did not support taking a DNA test. My brothers would not have agreed, she said. Of course, they wouldn’t. Apparently the will was drawn up just after mother left. They hated me because mother left.
Why did Father never mention that he had cut Ellie and I out of the will? Was he afraid that we would walk away? Did he revoke that old will and make a new one? If so, where is it ? I began to wonder whose side the solicitor was on.
Father probably made the will after I left in a hurry to get away from Jeremy. I was so afraid of Jeremy my heart would start racing whenever he came near. I certainly didn’t sleep when he was around and I couldn’t eat and it was all I could do to stop myself shivering. I didn’t want Father to notice. I didn’t want Jeremy to feel his power.
I should never have said what I did though. I didn’t mean to be so disloyal to Mother but the man had been such a beast. It just slipped out.
“Jeremy’s not your son. He doesn’t look like either of us.”
I had to skedaddle after that. As I rushed out of the kitchen I noticed Eric listening behind the door. His hair might have covered his face but I could still see that it was him.
It was four years before I saw my father again. By then I was a different woman, with a job and confidence in the way I wanted to paint. Gary was there to support me although it was clear that Father was prickly around Gary. He kept dropping hints about a wedding, implying that it was my fault somehow that there had not been one. I managed even right up until his death to avoid saying that the example of how he had treated my mother was enough to put any woman off or to quote statistics showing that marriage serves men better than women. Gary left but at least we loved each other for a while and I have Ellie. His leaving had nothing to do with not being married, more about not being able to accept the way I paint, oh and my not wanting another child too. We still see each other and Ellie loves her little half- sisters.
My brothers married without inviting me to their weddings as no-one had made any attempt to patch things up between us. I did hear that they despised Deptford where we lived. There are some people it is better just to stay away from. I didn’t see my brothers until they turned up after Father had died and they came to inspect the property. They both have jobs in the City and are both miserable. Money is the only thing they understand or care about.
Ellie and I walked away across the field after they arrived. “I’ll go back in when those bastards have gone” I said to my daughter. It was a familiar walk but the memories flooded in that night. Past the pond where Eric fell in when we were sledging down the hill. Silly boy he had gone too far and hadn’t been able to stop the sledge. His wellingtons had filled up with brackish water from under the ice. I suppose we were lucky that he didn’t drown that day but I was having too much fun with Jean MacDonald and I wasn’t ready to take him home, so he went howling back alone and I was in trouble for abandoning him. So what he was only seven?
The next year Mother had left and Eric was in boarding school when the snows came. He was learning to be a gentleman and to despise the Jean MacDonalds of this world. It was fortunate that I had passed for the Grammar School or I would have had to go to the local Secondary Modern, Linden Grove. My father would not have spent the money for private education on a girl and besides, he needed someone to do the housework and cooking.
Later when I told my father I wanted to be an artist, he said I might as well have gone to Linden Grove and that was a waste of a Grammar School place. “Thou shalt not make unto thyself any graven image” he said. He always had an excuse not to fund my courses and it taught me to support myself and to be canny with money. Eric never had enough and was always angling for more from Father. This is my ‘treasure from Heaven’ learning how to do without treasure. I still have to pay the rent, though. I’ll never get anywhere as cheap as the flat I am in currently in London if I’m evicted. Gary got this as a ‘hard to let’ property in the eighties and I’m lucky to have been able to stay here for all this time. I don’t fancy having to run the gamut of dodgy landlords leering at Ellie or having to move into Kent. Fat chance of the friends I call the “Motley Crew” visiting me there, it wouldn’t be safe.
That night, after Father died, we walked past the tree where he had strung up a swing. I had placed long balloons on my back and declared I was a fairy. One of Mrs MacDonald’s bees thought otherwise and stung me on the head. The pain was excruciating but Mrs MacDonald got the sting out.
The summer sun was just dipping behind the copse when we walked past the stream. Without fail I fell in the stream every time I tried to cross it, using the steppingstones, even without the time that Jeremy pushed me in. I was always in trouble. “You catch cold through your feet” Father declared as he thrashed me. However hard I bashed the socks against the rocks to dry them, he always seemed to know that they were wet.
It was 2am before they had finished loading up their cars and driven away. We made our way back across the field by the light of the full moon. As we came back in, the ghost of Simon the black cat, who had run up all the trees in the garden in life, greeted us from behind the door. I could not have faced my brothers. I was too angry and I was grieving. They showed no sign of grief.
When I got up next morning, after what would turn out to be the last night in that house, I saw the full extent of what they had taken: pictures, silver, even some of the cushions from the sofa: anything they could sell. Never mind if it had been part of our life, Ellie and me, like the farmhouse where we had both grown up. I don’t mind that they took the whisky because I don’t care for whisky but some of the wine might have been nice to have on my birthday and at Christmas with the “The Motley Crew.” Jeremy’s wife has already had several mysterious falls, I don’t think either Eric or Jeremy will get much joy of the wine or the money.
I love the lane leading to the farmhouse. I used to walk down it every day , marking the seasons from the white blossom of the hawthorn in the spring to the red berries of the holly in the winter.
I deemed it a privilege to look after my father until the end. Would it have made a difference if I had known he had left me nothing? Nah! I’d do it all again. When the pain was not too bad we were even merry. He didn’t want to go into the hospice until the very last week. My memories are so precious. I’ll paint him and I’ll paint the farm, so I haven’t really lost them. My brothers cannot take that away from me and I don’t have the worry of trying to keep the farm and defend my fortune from predators any longer.
I light a candle and gaze at its flickering flame remembering my father and all the days of my childhood in the country. Then I think of all the days to come: of the summer nights in the city, which never seem to end, of how my heart lifts when I catch sight of the glittering Thames again, of surprises to come when I round corners and see another quirky statue, and how rich I feel.
by Margot Wilson
Margot Wilson has lived in London for the past twenty five years, enjoying art galleries, French and English cinema and the theatre. After retiring from her post teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, she has spent eleven years helping to care for her four grandchildren who live close by. As a Liberal Democrat, she has been a candidate for first Enfield, then Lewisham Council and was active in the campaign to remain in the European Union. In 2018 she decided it was time to fulfil a long held ambition to write fiction and began writing short stories Dear Damsels published ‘Shifting Between Two Worlds in the West Bay’ on their website in November 2020. Margot is a member of an online group of writers of fantastic fiction and of Blackheath and Greenwich Writers Group.
photo credit: Pixabay