When one leaves a place, it’s always assumed she can return. That things will be if not at least exactly the same, then likely largely unchanged. Edyth, who loathed the spelling of her name for its distinct “L.A.-ness,” was always of this thinking. Which is why she found it so easy to go back and forth from Peterborough in England to the equally quaint Newport, Rhode Island. Both felt similarly unnecessarily expensive. Peterborough, for its proximity to London (but then, wasn’t everything in close proximity to it once you were in the U.K.?), Newport for its proximity to the East Coast ilk with money for “vacationing.” Further proof that people with money really don’t know how to spend it–for if your fortune is that vast, shouldn’t you be traveling to Pantelleria (if you haven’t heard of it, you’re obviously a plebe)? In any case, Edyth made most of her money during the school year as a bookseller at Salve Regina. She hadn’t intended on staying at the position after herself graduating almost a year ago in Art History–among one of the worst possible majors for its impracticality and one of the reasons she so enjoyed her trips to England, where the art was actually old instead of just faux East Coast old. Her mother, Annabelle Stockton, was the one who had been born there. And, in fact, recently died there. It was a freak accident when she was walking back from the Fens, which, as a geologist, she so often enjoyed visiting for its below sea level anomalousness. On the way back, she was clipped in the head by a fast-moving, low-hanging, multi-bladed windpump. She was found two days later by a passerby.
At the time, Edyth’s father, Everett Waterton (Annabelle never changed her last name to it), was in New York City, where he conducted so much of his nebulous businessman’s business. He was the first to be notified by Annabelle’s mother. After hanging up the phone, he looked out at the vista before him, wall to wall buildings that suddenly felt like they were closing in. He hadn’t been very kind to Annabelle over the past few months, which was, in part, why she had opted to return home for a spell. She was tired of his mood. But he had been under so much stress, and Edyth’s lack of future was also weighing on him. As a parent, he assumed himself naturally responsible for her fledgling path. Annabelle, however, was confident she would find her way down the proverbial yellow brick road eventually. Now that she was gone though, who would be there to root quietly for Edyth’s “awakening” on the sidelines.
That night, Everett was still delaying making the phone call that would forever change Edyth. How are you supposed to tell a daughter her mother is dead? It’s so unnatural. But he finally swallowed enough scotch in his empty, now independently owned Westchester home to be able to carry out his responsibility to tell her.
Edyth barely stayed on the phone after hearing the words, “Your mother had an accident and…” The intuitiveness of the mother-daughter bond made it so that Everett didn’t need to say anything more. Sitting alone cross-legged on the bed of her crack den-looking apartment that was accordingly on the “wrong side of town” for its cheapness, she unwittingly started rocking back and forth, trying to prevent a chasm from opening up inside her. About twenty minutes later, she booked a flight to London so that she could drive to Peterborough. Though Everett wanted the funeral to be in the U.S. for his own convenience, it was only right that Anabelle should be buried in her native soil. Edyth told him as much on her way to the airport just hours later.
Like most English people, Anabelle’s family was repressed, yet bawdy when drunk. Her remaining brood consisted of Alice, her 68-year-old mother, Winston, her 47-year-old brother and Marjorie, her 39-year-old sister. Anabelle had been the middle child at 45 years old, making her rife for being the butt of jokes made by Winston and Marjorie for her strangeness. For being the only “intellectual” among them. They talked about this with Edyth once she had settled into Annabelle’s room and food had been put on the table by a faintly weeping Alice. Marjorie proffered that this was probably where Edyth had inherited her own intelligence, “shrewdness” as she called it–which made it sound more like she was a serial killer than a great mind. Though some would argue you can be both.
The funeral was set for the end of the week, and Edyth was asked to speak on behalf of the Stockton family, for none of them felt eloquent or emotionally prepared enough to give any form of tributary speech. Edyth, of course, agreed, and retreated to her mother’s room to get to work on what she would say. Before settling into bed to do so, she took one of her mother’s nightgowns out of the dresser, sniffed it and then put it on. Atop the dresser she noticed a pocketknife. One her mother used to “extract specimens” of nature when the moment struck her. She caressed it curiously before retreating to bed with a pen and pad in hand.
The next morning, Edyth was invited to accompany Winston to the morgue to officially identify the body and take the personal effects found on her. Marjorie and Alice didn’t have the stomach to go.
Winston, who had always been terrible at making small talk in all the summers that Edyth had come to visit, was even worse at it in a period of tragedy.
“Have you got a bloke then?” he asked in a way that sounded like it was piercing through the previous silence of the car.
“No. No bloke. Don’t know if I want one either.”
“‘Course you do. Every bird wants one.”
“Every ‘bird’ also know they’re all pussies.” She was unable to hide the contempt in her voice, thinking of her own father and his so-called inability to show up here for his wife. The one he had spent most of their marriage neglecting anyway. Sensing her vitriol, Winston quickly dropped the subject and returned to his silence before fiddling with the radio knob to turn Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” on.
The forensic technician awaiting them was a middle-aged man with brown hair, save for a few gray patches here and there. “Mr. Stockton, thank you for coming. She’s right this way.”
The way he phrased it made Edyth bristle. Because she wasn’t right this way. Her spirit–her “self”–was gone. What remained was only a grisly trace of the husk that her humanity once animated. Winston wanted to be quick about it, nodding his ascent at her before accepting a plastic bag filled with her wedding ring, watch and a hair clip. Three pieces that were clues to who this woman might be. Wife, punctuality freak, fashionista. But Edyth wasn’t satisfied, said she wanted a moment alone. So it was given.
She stared at her mother’s decimated, formerly beautiful face. The windpump had really done a number on her. “What the fuck were you doing walking so close to it anyway?” Edyth muttered. She touched her mangled cheek and wondered how the makeup artist at the funeral parlor was ever going to be able to put her together again. The touch was, all at once, turning into a pressing.
She couldn’t explain to anyone now what had come over her. The rage and resentment toward her mother for leaving. At first, she wept. And then, unconsciously, reached into her purse for the pocketknife that she had taken from her mother’s dresser, the one Anabelle would use so frequently for cutting off pieces of plants that interested her during her various constitutionals through Peterborough. In what amounted to a blackout, Edyth proceeded to stab–gouge away–at her mother’s corpse. “You fucking bitch!” the forensic technician would later testify he could overhear her shouting, leading to Edyth’s indeterminate lockup at The Cavell Center, a dreary psychiatric hospital where in between screaming for her mother, Edyth would also find many pauses to cry. And time passed quite quickly that way. She almost began to feel as though England was her true home, that she had been born here like Anabelle.
But then, what is home when you’re a dual citizen and never feel insouciant in one familiar continent over another? Edyth would never fully know, for, once released, she could not return to Peterborough after what she had done, the shame she had caused both to herself and the Stocktons. There was blood on her hands–or, more accordingly, feet. Would that she could click her heels and be taken to a home she could identify with. Alas, there is especially no place like home to be found on Earth for a motherless child. Always this unrestful sentiment eating at her ill at ease mind.