A sad day had befallen the Cooke family. Well, for most of the family it was sad, but for Joanne, the rivulets of salty tears that ran from her eyes were not those of sadness.
'Ashes to ashes, dust to dust....'
Father Thomas recited the funeral service as one by one the Cooke family took a handful of earth and threw it onto the coffin below. Mary Cooke wept as she threw hers. Joanne’s brother, Adam, dropped his soil into the grave and stepped back as Joanne tossed some and then pulled her mother from the edge of the grave.
'....Amen,' Father Thomas finished.
'Thank you for the service, Father. It was lovely,' Mary told him between sobs.
'You're very welcome Mrs. Cooke, but don't be too sad, Terry will be with you all the time. Not in body, but in soul,' he comforted.
'Yes, we'll get through this together,' Joanne said.
'Yeah, we'll all be here,' Adam added searching his pockets for cigarettes.
'Oh, Adam,' Joanne sighed as he was about to light one up.
'It's only a fag for Chr....'
'You watch your tongue, in the garden of the Lord,' Mary chided, pointing at Adam.
'Forgive your son Mary. It's his own way of dealing with his loss,' Father said.
'Yeah, right. I need a fag, that's all. Oh, maybe a pint and a bite to eat,' he said to himself walking towards the waiting car.
Joanne put her arm around her mother's shoulders again as they walked towards the car. Autumn was setting in; gold and brown leaves lay on the cemetery road. The two women hugged each other as they walked, feeling the warmth of their bodies seeping into one another as they did. Mary looked old as she nestled her head into the welcoming comfort of the cashmere coat that Joanne wore.
'How am I going to cope?' Mary asked, looking down at the road.
'Oh, mother. We'll get through,' Joanne told her and kissed the top of her head.
'I'm going to be on my own. Adam's never at home much these days and you're getting married in a couple of weeks. I'll never see hide nor hair of you when you move in with Simon. I don't want to be on my own.' Mary started crying again.
'Oh, mum. Don't be daft. We'll talk with Adam and see if he can stay home for a while and I'll come to see you, when we're back from our honeymoon. Besides, I'm not married yet, so don't be silly,' Joanne told her mother.
They climbed into the waiting car. Adam was already waiting and as Joanne got in, she nodded to Adam. He put his arm around his mother as she sat next to him. The hearse pulled away and drove out of the cemetery, followed by the other mourners in their own cars. They followed the car to the Cooke's house where they would join together in a drink to the memory of Terry Cooke.
Jooannna, daddy's here to see you. Are you awake my little pumpkin?
Joanne woke with a start, her heart beating like an overworked piston. That voice, she knew she had heard a voice, but how, she had been asleep. Joanne sat up in her bed, the quilt pulled up to her chest, and waited for her heart to slow down. Waiting and waiting. It wasn't really her heart she was waiting for. Joanne was waiting for morning, the safety of daylight. She knew that if she went back to sleep the voice would return, but maybe next time the voice would not return alone. Next time the voice would be accompanied by an image. What was she thinking? What on earth was she talking about? It was a dream, that's all. A dream, wasn't it? Joanne’s' heart returned to its normal pace much sooner than morning arrived.
'So, what's this voice you've been hearing? Oh, come on you can tell me,' Simon asked as he held her hand across the restaurant table.
Joanne picked up her glass of wine and drank from it, relishing its coolness.
'It's my father,' she told him, blindly staring out of the restaurant window.
'Your father, what's so bad about that? I mean, its not as if your own father is going to hurt you is he?'
Joanne gave out a short laugh as she continued to stare out of the window, her eyes roaming from left to right, but not seeing the outside world.
'Well, is he? Joanne, is there something you're not telling me? Did he do something to you; did he beat up on you? Tell me Joanne.' Simon’s voice oozed concern.
Joanne’s' eyes came to rest on her own reflection in the window. Tired eyes stared back at her.
'No. No, Simon. He didn't beat up on me, he left that for Adam.'
'You mean he....'
'Yes. He abused me. Every time he came home from the pub. Mother defended him. She'd come into my room after my father had left, the smell of his breath still hanging in the air. She'd hold me in her arms and tell me how it was his way of showing his love. His love, that's a joke.' Tears ran down her face as she remembered those horrible nights.
'Come on, let's go. I'll take you home,' Simon said, waving for the bill.
They walked back to the car in silence; the only sounds audible were the quiet sobs that escaped from Joanne.
Joanne broke the silence. 'Simon, I don't want to go home tonight. I want to stay with you.'
'Are you sure? You know what your mother thinks about you staying with me before we're married.'
'I think it's time my mother woke up to modern day. Please, I don't want to go back to that house,' Joanne pleaded.
‘OK you know how I feel, you could have moved in with me months ago. What's mine is yours remember. And anyway, we'll be married soon and nobody can tell us where we can or can't stay.'
Simon opened the car door for Joanne, kissed her and helped her into the car.
Jooannna, daddy's here. What the hell do you think you are doing? You should be at home with your mother, not here with him!
Joanne’s eyes opened and tears immediately welled in them. She looked at the sleeping body of Simon next to her. He hadn't heard the voice.
'Please, please, leave me alone. You've caused me enough heartache, leave me alone,' she cried as she brought her knees up to her chest.
Simon stirred and opened his eyes. The sight of his wife-to-be crying jolted him upright.
'What's wrong Joanne?'
'Please, leave me alone,' was all she could say.
For the rest of that night Simon sat awake as Joanne fell into a troubled sleep, her head in his lap and her tortured childhood being brought back to life by the voice of her dead father.
The trilling of the phone woke Joanne up with a start. She lay still for a moment, listening. Beyond the ringing of the phone she could hear the shower running, she imagined the naked body of Simon, glistening with warm water. A smile came to her face as she leaned over and picked up the phone.
'Hello,' Joanne answered, the visiting voice from her troubled night momentarily forgotten.
You hussy. What do you think you are doing? Thinking about men in such a way. You should be ashamed of yourself, you jezebel! Your mother is at home, all alone! You should be with her, comforting her, looking after her! NOT HERE!
'What do you want with me? Why don't you leave me alone? You're supposed to be dead. You've had your life now let me have mine.' she screamed down the phone.
Ha, ha, ha. Don't be so stupid. I'll never leave you alone, not as long as you're intending to marry, never. You leave your poor mother heart broken, knowing how much she needs you, just as much as I needed you. And what thanks do you show, you intend on getting married to that man. Well, I'll make sure you never have a happy day in your life, never.
'Nooooo. I'm not listening to you, leave me alone.'
The bedroom door flew open and Simon came running into the room, a towel draped around his waist.
You had better stop those filthy thoughts young madam.
'What's wrong Joanne? Simon asked with a puzzled look on his face.
'Shut up. Shut up.'
Simon snatched the phone out of Joanne’s hand.
'Look, whoever you are, you'd better think twice about ringing here again, if you know what's good for you.'
'Simon, is that you? It's your father here. What's going on there, are you alright?'
The doorbell sounded at the Cooke house. Mary eased her weary frame out of the comfort of the armchair and slowly made her way to the door. The past week and a half had been such a testing time for her. She hastily opened the front door and the body of Simon Keller greeted her.
'I think we need to talk.'
'Joanne has always had a fascination with being abused, since she was a young child. A childhood friend of hers was physically and sexually abused and Joanne, for whatever reasons, thought that she was abnormal. So, she started making up stories about her father. Oh, no. Her father, God rest his soul, no, he was never reported to the authorities. Why? Would you believe a seven-year-old girl, who had the most loving parents, if she told you out of the blue that her father was touching her? I don't think you would. Look, Simon. Joanne has got a problem. She always will have and it's up to you how you deal with it.' Mary’s words hung in the air as Simon stared down at the floor, not knowing what to think.
The sun rose early in the beautiful blue sky, enveloping the streets below with its warmth. It was the perfect day for a wedding.
A beam of light slowly crept across Joanne’s face through the gap in the bedroom curtains. Her face looked pale in the light and her hair shone. Her bedroom door opened, and footsteps padded across the room. The curtains were opened.
'Come on pumpkin, wakey wakey. There's somebody here to see you.'
Joanne opened her eyes and stared up at her mother.
'Here, take your pills and when your visitor has gone I'll bring you some breakfast,' she said, handing Joanne three pills from her apron pocket.
A creaking noise startled Joanne; it had come from behind her mother. There was a rocking chair in the corner of the room and the noise seemed to be coming from that direction. Joanna took her pills and sipped some water from a glass and as her mother moved out of the way she noticed the chair rocking. Joanne, bewildered, squinted her eyes as slowly, through a ghostly mist, a body began to form in the chair. Joanne glanced up at her mother.
'He's come to see you.' Mary said smiling.
Joanne looked back at the chair and to her horror her father sat there smiling at her. She wasn't getting married today, her mother had seen to that, because, today was the return of Terry Cooke.
Hello pumpkin, daddy's here to see you, he said, walking towards the bed.
Manchester born and bred, but now living in Crieff, Scotland with wife, Lisa, and our two daughters, Imogen & Melissa. Wrote some years ago but have recently been inspired to write again by an old and good friend (Col Bury) and the beauty that surrounds me up here. Always reading - when not entertaining my girls and working - crime and horror…and now writing.