Three years ago
The baby wouldn’t stop crying. It seemed to Bella that this infant was spectacularly unhappy, as if the girl knew how much of a chasm her birth had caused, how difficult her arrival had made things.
Bella had tried hard to bond with her, after all, she reasoned, she may become the child Bella had always hoped Cassandra would be – her own person, not a clone of her father. Not that he would allow it. Bella still shuddered when she recalled how utterly gleeful he was when she told him she thought she was pregnant again. He didn’t understand the cold shock of fear and despair the pregnancy had been to her. To Bella it had signalled the end of something – her youth, perhaps – and the final confirmation that the life she had once dreamed of would never be a life she would attain. The dreams of cockatils by the beach in Cannes, of international acclaim and photo-shoots for Vogue, with her handsome Nobel Prize-winning husband were just that – dreams.
She’d believed it was her destiny to marry Mortimer, she could see their life together mapped out – glamour, success and excitement. But here they were, he nothing but a mid-level academic, she nothing but a mother of two.
The baby was his baby, not hers. She couldn’t bring herself to feel anything but revulsion or resentment towards her, no matter how she tried. Even her choice of name for the girl, Thursday, was borne of an act of malice. The name was meant to be a dig at her husband and his family, at their petty desire to stick to their ‘legacy’, to be Goths, the eccentric family, creepy, kooky, altogether ooky…
She clenched a fist under the baby’s squalling, convulsing body. He hadn’t even flinched at the name. Hadn’t even bitten. He’d just accepted it as if it were natural.
Cassandra couldn’t cope. Her stupid baby sister was always screaming. Stupid baby had made everything horrible lately. She had the big room. Cassandra wanted that room but was told the baby needed it more. Why? She was a baby. She was small. Cassandra didn’t get it. There was nowhere you could go, even in this big house, to get away from the stupid baby crying. Cassandra just wanted some quiet to do her homework and write her stories.
She thought a baby brother or sister might be a friend, someone she could play with, but so far, having a sister was just trouble. Still, her dad had bought her the pet chinchilla she’d always wanted, Thor – and Cassandra loved him to pieces. She always whispered her story ideas to him to see if they sounded good. Not that he ever offered much in the way of critique.
Cassandra had also made a new friend. Rima Kline was new in town, and she’d invited Cassandra over to her house to play.
Rima lived with her parents and their cat in a house by the beach. Cassandra thought it was a beautiful house – so modern, not like their old house, which was an old family mansion. The floorboards creaked at night, and Cassandra was sure they had ghosts. Rima’s family would never have ghosts or creaky floorboards in a house as new as theirs.
Rima had always wanted a baby brother or sister and was jealous of Cassandra, but Cassandra assured her there really was nothing to be jealous of.
As many ten-year old girls do, they decided to form their own secret friendship club – no boys would be allowed, and no little sisters. They invented a secret password and a code. Only they, Rima’s cat Sheba and Thor would be allowed to be members.
Bella hadn’t worked since having Cassandra, and although she and Mortimer had been living in Kingsfield for ten years, she had yet to really make friends. The few people she considered friends were back home in Sunset Valley, and whilst she would call or email them from time to time, she had little desire to go back and visit. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to see her family – it was Mortimer’s family she wanted to avoid. When they were children, Gunther and Cornelia had always seemed so accommodating. She was welcomed into their home – treated as royalty almost. If only she’d realised at the time that it was because they were so grateful for her, grateful their son had a friend – a girlfriend – and even more so that he had an attractive, popular girlfriend.
They were angry when Bella insisted that she and Mortimer did not move into Goth Manor when she fell pregnant. They’d been living in a small apartment in Bridgeport, on the outskirts of the Valley. Bella had hoped to stay there and work on beginning a film career, but pregnancy put the cap on it. No-one would employ her when she was pregnant and both their families insisted the baby be brought up in a ‘proper’ home. Some distant relative of Gunther’s had passed away and left his mansion to the family, and so it was decreed that Bella, Mortimer and their new child would live in the old Goth mansion in Kingsfield. And there they lived, in a musty house where the floorboards creaked and where Bella was convinced there were rats. Kingsfield was a nice town, but there was nothing much for Bella to do, and nowhere she wanted to work. Mortimer told her she didn’t need to work, he earned enough money for them to live on, and with no mortgage to pay and his family’s wealth to fall back on if necessary (ha! As if you could ever persuade a Goth to dust the mothballs off their vaults and spend any of their vast fortune!), they would be fine.
So Bella spent her days doing very little. She would go to the shops, or the spa, or one of the bistros or coffee shops in town. Occasionally she would try and chat to someone, like the new woman she saw in town that day. Justine Keaton and her husband were new in town, and she seemed happy to engage in chit-chat with Bella, although, Bella noted, the young woman had cast what she perceived to be a somewhat scornful eye over Bella’s clothing.
Justine’s phone rang and she told Bella that it was an important phone call – it transpired her husband had some emergency and Justine simply had to go and meet him.
Bella watched the woman walk away, knowing they would never be friends, never have much in common, yet part of her wanted to cry out to her, tell her not to be so in thrall to a man that her life became nothing but a means of servicing his own dreams.
She felt an irrational anger and resentment towards Ms Keaton that she couldn’t quite articulate. Under her breath she muttered ‘this dress is designer, you judgemental bitch’.
Mortimer was working late again that night. He wasn’t there to greet Cassandra from school, to eat with the family, or to read the girl to sleep at night, even though Cassandra always preferred it when her father did it as he ‘did the voices properly’, Bella had to suffice. It took three chapters of The Amber Spyglass before the girl succumbed to sleep.
Bella walked out of the room in search of wine, and not for the first time wondered what it would feel like to walk out of this house and out of her stagnant life for good.