Elizabeth took a deep breath and typed, “What happened?…And how?”
At first Claire didn’t type anything.
Elizabeth turned to look at her mother. Maybe she was so exhausted that she fell asleep.
But no, Claire looked in front of her. Deep breaths reflected the heaviness of all what happened. She paused some more before her hands started moving again across the keyboard. “You were five and Patrick was nine when this happened. You were already so good at reading that we were able to communicate on our own. I wrote with a pen on a notebook. You used to rip the note away and sit near me on the bed and read the notes out loud. Then I would write again, and you would read again.”
Elizabeth was mesmerized by a vision. She held a piece of paper in her hands, her mother behind her leaning on what looked like tens of pillows to hold her up in her bed. She wasn’t sure whether this was a memory or a wish to have experienced such tender times.
Her mother continued to type. “On the day you fell both Patrick and you were in my room. Your father had to leave that Sunday because of an incident at work and a baby-sitter he managed to get for the rest of the day did not come yet. You were playing being a doctor and treating me. You prepared healing mixtures of candy and juice. But I couldn’t possibly eat it. Patrick teased you of not being able to understand my condition.”
“He said I was stupid,” said Elizabeth out loud.
“…Do you recall now?”
Elizabeth shook her head and typed, feeling a deepening frown make her eyes hurt. “No. He said it downstairs in the kitchen today. That he pushed me off the roof because I was stupid.”
“Please, please don’t say…or write this anymore. He didn’t push you. He just suffers of all what happened as much as I do and…as much as you father did.”
Elizabeth used some force to push her brows apart and sighed. “OK. I’m sorry. Please continue, if it is OK with you.”
“Yes, yes! I want this out and not stand between us anymore. This is what happened. You asked how you could help and I wrote you a note. It was the last note I have written with a pen. I couldn’t touch a pen after you fell.”
“What was on that note?”
“Please come and turn my keyboard.”
Elizabeth stood, put her keyboard full of smiley-stickers — not able to make her smile anymore — onto the chair she was sitting on. She went to Claire and after glancing shortly into her mother’s eyes, which had an expression so warm but so difficult to describe, she took the keyboard from Claire’s lap and found a note attached to the back with adhesive tape at two of its edges. She took it carefully off and put the keyboard back onto Claire’s lap.
Elizabeth noticed Claire fingers typing again. She turned to the wall to read what that was.
“Alice attached it there for me. I hoped all the time you would come and we would talk about this. My wish is coming true, but I had never imagined it to be so hard…If you like you can take the note with you and read it later.”
Elizabeth shook her head. She was unable to speak. She came back to her chair, lifted the keyboard, set and put the keyboard onto her lap. Then she opened the note and read it. Five words written in big and clumsy letters stared back at her. “Only stars can help me.”
This was the moment when she remembered. She remembered everything what happened that evening until the moment she hit something hard as she flew off the roof.
Elizabeth took this note everywhere with her that day. She put it into one of pockets of her red jeans, which she loved wearing then. When it was time to put her night cloths on, she took the note out and put it under her pillow.
Her father must have not noticed the note because he didn’t ask her about it. He read to her Snow White, one of her favourites, what must have been a hundredth time, and tucked the duvet under her chin as she lay there on her pillow with her mother’s note beneath it.
“Papa, can one get everything he wishes?”
Her father, with dark rings around his eyes, pressed a smile. “If one tries hard enough.”
He looked at his watch and said without looking at her. “I suppose.”
Elizabeth remembered now how she smiled then under her breath and made a decision to get a star for Mama.
She closed her eyes, waited until her father went out of her room and closed the door. She waited some more then tip-toed to the door opening it quietly.
Patrick had another half an hour before he had to go to bed too. And it sounded like he was in his room, which was at the other side of her mother’s.
Little Liza took her woollen jumper and pulled it over her head. There was almost no evening, even in summers that Elizabeth didn’t have a warm jacket or a jumper on. Evenings always had a freezing effect on her. She almost smiled now as this memory appeared. But then more rushed after it.
She went to the small roof window at the end of the hallway, where she loved to sit and gaze and imagine she was Rapunzel. That is why she refused her hair being trimmed or cut in any way.
She opened the window and set on the sill, which reached both sides from the window. She put her feet on the outer half of the sill and pulled herself on her feet.
“Liza, what are you doing?” Patrick’s head appeared at the bottom of the window.
“I am getting a star for Mama. She said they can help her.”
Patrick smirked. “You’re so stupid! You can’t get a star. Nobody can.”
“Papa said I can, if I try hard enough. And he’s cleverer than you!” She turned and wanted to stomp her right foot to make her point clear. But then she missed the sill and fell.
Before she hit something hard with her head and all went dark, she heard Patrick’s outcry, “Liza, no!”
Now, so many years later, Elizabeth blinked tears away and looked at her mother. She whispered, “It was an accident. Just an accident.” She shook her head. All her life she thought that something big and significant happened before she forgot everything. But nothing really happened. Just a naïve little girl trying to please her mother, normal bickering between a sister and a brother, and parents tired of the circumstances they were in. That was all. Or maybe not? “Did I break anything, or was I paralyzed?” She said this out loud. She could not type anymore.
He mother took a deep breath and typed. Elizabeth turned to the wall to read. “Miraculously nothing happened except a large haematoma on your head from hitting the edge of the roof as you fell down. You must have fallen on the bushes outside and rolled off them onto the ground .”
Elizabeth waited. She didn’t want to turn to look at her mother anymore. She couldn’t shake off the anger of all the weight this story had put on her. Almost as if she was her mother sitting in her wheel-chair now and not her mother’s daughter.
More words appeared on the wall. “You had been brought to the hospital. One evening your father came and said that you had amnesia and couldn’t remember anything. He said that it couldn’t go any further that way. That he was going to put me into a nursery home, take you and Patrick and leave. He didn’t want that you or Patrick be hurt any further.”
Elizabeth sat now straighter on her chair. So her father didn’t say these words in her presence. She frowned. Or maybe he did. At her bed when she was unconscious in the hospital. Elizabeth shook her head. There was not point now in trying to figure it all out. She was only five then. Even without amnesia, there was not big guarantee that she would remember much from then. The only person who could tell her whether this was true or not was her father. And he was gone. So she shook her head again and waited for more.
“Unfortunately Patrick heard this conversation and started shouting at Kirill that he hated him and that it was him who hurt you, because he told you could get stars…Patrick then ran out of the house and to our neighbour’s Christine home. She came short time later, after your father left the room, with trembling Patrick along with her.” Claire paused, then continued typing. “She was the sweetest and the strongest person I knew. Alice reminds me of her. Christine went to your father and said that Patrick was not going anywhere because he didn’t want to and it wouldn’t benefit anyone if courts were involved.”
“So Papa took me and left. Just like that?”
“You were at the hospital when he left. And you never came back home after that. He packed his and your things and left. We never found out where to.”
“Germany,” Elizabeth said and then threw this mental thread away. This was not important now. She needed to know something else. “But…but what about you?”
“Christine and her two sons, both older than Patrick, moved with us and she rented her house to a befriended family. Through the rent from her house and her job and later thanks to her sons earning some additional money at various cafes and restaurants, and them all putting all the money into the family jar as we called our common bank account, we made it through. Until Jack and Tim left for college, and until Christine’s death several years later. She died from cancer here in the house. She refused to stay at the hospital for her final days. This is when she, Patrick and I had the idea to shelter people like her. She talked to her sons and with their agreement she left Patrick and me all she owned, so that we could finance our idea. Jack and Tim became lawyers and started a Christine & Claire fund, where they get — also today — as many means as possible for our idea.” There was a pause. Claire must have waited for Elizabeth to say something.
But she couldn’t. This happy ending for Claire and Patrick and the house was not her story. She was an outsider. And the person who torn her away from her mother and her brother was the person she idolized all her conscious life. Her conscious lie after the fall, as she realized now. Without looking at Claire — she simply couldn’t do it now — Elizabeth typed. “I have to go now. I am sorry.” She stood, put the keyboard back on the chair, then the note on it and left the room.
As she stepped out and closed the door she noticed Patrick sitting on the floor in front of the window, from which she fell off that night. He raised his head from his knees and looked at her with red, tired eyes.
Elizabeth paused. The memory she gained and all she heard today didn’t quite imply their closeness when they were children. And even if it was obvious that he suffered all those years, it was not her job to comfort him now. She needed comfort herself and this house was definitely not the place where she could find it. She looked once again into Patrick’s eyes then turned away and hurried down the stairs and out of this strange house.
Picture: Photographing the frozen and melted parts of the lawn in our garden. It’ amazing to see the touch of the sun so clearly.
P.S. Chapter 14 will be written and posted latest in two weeks time.
P.P.S. You can find the complete story written so far at “Free Online Books”.
P.P.P.S. If you think your friends might enjoy this story, then let them know about it and forward it to them.
Everything except one paragraph (1st paragraph in Chapter 1) of “Nothing is As it Seems” is under copyright © 2016 by Victoria Ichizli-Bartels