Jean knew exactly what time of day
Barbara went shopping.
It was always
nine-thirty on the dot on a Monday. It hardly ever varied but if it did,
Jean was there knocking on her door asking if everything was all right.
You could call her nosey or you could call her
concerned but not a lot went on in her road without Jean knowing about
it. If Barbara had a delivery of a parcel, you could put money on Jean popping
up asking if she needed any help to carry it in. She was in her absolute
element if the delivery van arrived when Barbara was out. She would appear
at the gate saying, ‘She’s out. I can take it in.’ Then she would
manhandle the parcel into her porch circling it every now and again trying to
work out what it could possibly be. There were often clues on the label
as to where it had come from, or sometimes, with larger objects, there would
actually be a picture of what was inside, for example the day Barbara had a new
lawn mower delivered.
‘I’ve got your mower over here,’ she called out the minute she spotted Barbara
Then things changed.
Jean couldn’t get to sleep because
the dog had been constantly scratching at the bedroom door.
‘We are not letting him in,’ her husband had said firmly, and when he spoke in
that tone of voice, Jean knew he meant it. But it seemed the dog just wouldn’t
give up. Finally, Jean crept out of bed and down the stairs followed by
the dog sniffing round her ankles and wagging her tail. Jean smiled; at
least someone was pleased to see her.
They were dog and house
sitting. It was to be a new start, their new venture to get some money
together so that they could go on holiday, though why he wanted to spend a
fortnight with her, Jean wasn’t quite sure, as lately they hadn’t been getting
on too well. Mrs Percival, the house owner, had left a note.
Just leave all the doors open and Fluffy
will go where she wants to go.
But Roger had said,
‘I’m not having that mongrel on the bed. She sleeps downstairs.’ So, all
right Jean felt sorry for the poor mutt, after all she was used to curling up
on the bed with her owner. Jean looked at the sofa; it certainly looked
comfortable enough, just for the one night anyway. Till she gets used to
us, Jean told herself. She wondered if it converted into a sofa
bed. It didn’t look like it, anyway she decided it would make a terrific
racket pulling it out, and then Roger would come down and that didn’t bear
thinking about, so she lay down on it and pulled the blanket over her.
Fluffy settled down at her feet and seemed content to just be with
It was odd
living in someone else’s house, surrounded by their belongings and personal
items. The strange smells in the bathroom and kitchen, someone else’s
scents and aromas; though Jean wasn’t entirely sure that she would like someone
who used the same chopping board for onions and fruit. She’d thought
she would find it exciting, but longed momentarily for her own comfortable
bed. Her eyes ran along the line of book titles on the shelf. They looked
pretty boring, no romances or thrillers. All the spines stared back at
her, all greys and blacks and she really couldn’t make out any of the titles
from where she lay. She sat up and stared harder, she noticed there was
one pink spine which stood out from the rest. She reached for her
glasses, perhaps that was a romance, but then Fluffy roused, her ears pricked
up. Jean got up and pulled it out ‘Diary’ she read. She felt a
tinge of excitement, this could be good. She liked standing at the bus
stop keeping her ears open for other people’s conversations. Sometimes
they moved away when they saw her staring at them, but sometimes they didn’t
even notice her, and she managed to hear all sorts of gossip that way. She also
liked interrogating the neighbours about where they were going and what they had
bought when they were out. She spent hours at her window watching what
people were doing, what they were having delivered and when she saw them go out,
she would rush out and make conversation to find out where they were headed
to. She even had one of those post boxes on a stand put up in the front
garden, so she could rush out and pretend to be seeing if she had any
post. After all, what was the point of having it delivered through the
letter box if she was missing the chance of a chat with someone?
she heard Roger coming down the stairs and put it back hurriedly and went back
to the sofa, but it was nothing. It was no good, she just couldn’t
sleep. She thought of a hot drink, so went into the kitchen followed by
Fluffy, obviously hoping for an early breakfast. When she went
back, all she could think of was that diary, and knew that she was going to
reach for it. She got up again and pulled out the book, telling herself
that she expected it was only full of everyday appointments, gardening details
and the weather. She didn’t know anything about Mrs Percival or her life,
and Mrs Percival didn’t know anything about them, apart from the impeccable
references they had given. Well, anyone can write a reference.
It was amazing
what you could learn about someone by just looking around their house. It was
almost an open book. She could see Mrs Percival was evidently quite
house-proud, no cobwebs in the bathroom in this house and yet the dog was allowed
anywhere. It didn’t make sense.
She sighed and
knew it would be hard work cleaning up before they left, especially with the
dog. She opened the diary and soon sat up when she started reading.
My arms are covered in scratches and old scars. This is something
I can feel. I run my fingers over the marks, and I can feel the
bumps and lumps all over. Afterwards I hid the craft knife at the back of
the kitchen drawer so that he cannot find it, and then changed into a long
sleeved t-shirt to cover up my battle-scarred arms. He never notices anything I wear anyway.
Why can’t I feel anything, any emotion? Other people laugh, cry and feel compassion,
I feel nothing, but when I cut myself I can feel something. It makes me
feel normal, at least it is something I can feel. Today was a bad day and
I am empty. I just want to feel so much. Surely I should feel something
for Peter, and my two girls – but I don’t.
I decided this morning I wasn’t going to do it anymore, but then I took
Kate to school for her first day. All the mothers were sniffing and I
could see by their faces that they were choked up at leaving their kids but I
couldn’t feel anything. I pretended and kicked my toe on the brick wall
which brought tears to my eyes. One of the mothers put her hand on my
shoulder. I couldn’t wait to get home to actually feel something. So I
Today, I actually did something about it. Something really
stupid, I know. I’ve just come back from the police station. I
don’t remember much about it, but they say I did it so I must have done.
I remember going to the library with the youngest one in the pushchair.
She’d fallen asleep on the way and as I pushed her through the double doors, a
man held them open for me and smiled at me. I remember thinking, thank
you, thank you for recognising that I exist. I pushed her into the
children’s book part and the next thing I remember was standing at the bus stop
alone. I’m not a fit mother. I went home and waited for the police to
arrive. They say I left her in the library and will be charged with
neglect. Their faces stared at me not understanding how a mother can
leave her child.
I told the police I don’t care what they do to me. It’s all a big
front really. It’s the only way I can cope with life. I can’t feel
guilt or anger; I can’t be sad or sorry for what I did. I see mums cuddling
their children and kissing them. I wish more than anything to be like
them. They are so lucky …
‘What are you
Jean jumped and
looked up – Roger was standing in the doorway.
‘I couldn’t sleep, thought I’d come down and find a book to look at.’
Roger turned round, shaking his head and walked back up the stairs. Jean
picked up the diary again.
… A cry for help, I think that
is what it was. Why can’t they see that? They say that I can’t see
the children any more until I can get some help. I hope they can give me
some help. Something needs to be done. I think that something has
happened in my childhood which I have blanked out and I am hoping that they will
give me some therapy. I have a probation officer now, she seems nice
enough but had one of those low cut tops on. I once went to the hospital asking
if they would take me in but they turned me away and told me to go and see my
doctor. I have been so many times but they just say I am depressed.
I know it is not that.
I did some painting today, I find it’s the only thing where I can
really lose myself. A letter arrived to say I had an appointment
with a Mrs Medgett, so here’s hoping she can help me.
Jean felt herself nodding off and got up and
put the diary back on the shelf and settled down for a sleep. The next
morning, she was woken by Fluffy and decided to take him for a walk before
breakfast, but she couldn’t get the diary out of her mind and at the first
opportunity, sat herself down to continue reading.
Horror upon horrors, it was in the local paper. Headlines ‘Mother
abandons child in library.’ Oh no, I felt so ashamed. How could I
have done it?
Appointment with Mrs Medgett today, she tells me I can have no access
to the children and have to leave the family home for a while. Do I feel
anything when she tells me this news? I am not sure. I ask her
where I am to go, and she mumbles something is being arranged. I tell her
I am a good mother and try my hardest to copy the other mothers. She
smiles and nods. She says she will try and help me. I hope she is
telling the truth. I go back to the house and pack up a few belongings.
I check the children’s rooms, I know Peter will look after them, he is going to
take them away for a week. The house is strangely quiet.
Jean was so engrossed she didn’t
hear Roger come in until he spoke.
‘Don’t you know
we just can’t snoop about in other people’s houses,’ he shouted. ‘We have
to show an element of trust or we’re not going to succeed in this
business. We don’t look in their cupboards and read their personal
‘No,’ replied Jean, ‘I know it’s wrong, but I couldn’t help myself. You
‘Don’t tell me anything, I don’t want to know. You’ll never give up your
snooping, will you?’
‘Sorry,’ said Jean. ‘I just couldn’t help myself. I thought perhaps
if I knew about Mrs Percival’s problems, maybe I could help her. ‘
‘You can’t help her,’ said Roger. ‘Don’t even think it. How can you
possibly help her?’
‘I don’t know,’ she replied.
‘You’re just being nosey again. I thought by getting you away from our
neighbourhood, you would be better, but you just can’t seem to help yourself, can
‘Come on, Fluffy,’ she said, ‘time for another walk.’
Roger had retired from work but his pension wasn’t enough to live on and so
when Jean had come up with this latest scheme, he had agreed. Jean had
said it would be like going on holiday. Jean couldn’t believe her luck when he
Well I told her, I got pregnant when I was fourteen and was made to
have a termination by my parents. I wanted the baby so badly, afterwards I
think I shut down. People called out things after me in the streets and
the kids at school ignored me or called me names. Mrs Medgett tells me we
have to go back to the past, revisit it and sort it out. It’s the only
way to deal with it. I hope she’s right. It is so painful. I don’t know
that I can do this.
Jean could see Roger walking up
and down in front of the window and the smell of the grass wafted in. She
pulled out the diary again but this time she took out another book and covered
it up with that one. If Roger came in suddenly, it would appear she was
just reading a book, which was all very well until her arm jerked and her tea
went all over the pages. She froze for a while, thinking what to
do. Mrs Percival would surely know now that someone had been reading her
private thoughts. She dabbed the brown stains with a tissue but the page
was all soggy and the print was disappearing
‘Right that is it,’ said Roger, coming in catching her trying to mop up the
brown tea stains. ‘This is just not going to work. After this
weekend, we will have to find some other way to earn some money. I can’t
live with you doing this snooping all the time.’
Jean sighed and lay down the book.
He would just have to accept that they didn’t get on any more. She wasn’t
even sure she wanted to go on holiday with him anyway. The thought of
spending two weeks solely in his company was beginning to suffocate her.
He didn’t like doing any of the things she did. She liked talking to
everyone but he told her – ‘Don’t keep smiling at everyone, why do you have to
keep talking to all and sundry?’
Oh well, she thought, no-one reads their own diary. She should have taken
it with her, or hid it in a better place if she didn’t want people reading it.
‘Sit down here,’ said Roger waving his hand at the settee. ‘Now I want
you to just listen. I thought it would be a good idea to get you away
from our neighbourhood, now I realise it was a great mistake. You’re just
being as snoopy as you always were, and I don’t think I can take any
more. No, let me finish. In fact, it’s worse because you’ve
been entrusted with someone else’s house and you still can’t stop. We
will finish out our time here and then when we go home, we will decide what to
do. Now you will give me that diary and I’ll put it away somewhere before
you violate any more secrets.’
‘I’m only …’ started Jean.
‘No, enough, I mean it this time,’ said Roger holding out his hand. ‘Now
go and walk the dog or
Meekly, she handed over the diary. Now she would never know what happened
to Mrs Percival’s life. Still, there weren’t many places he could hide
it, she smiled to herself. She would look for it when he went
‘Hello,’ said Roger,
answering the phone.
‘Hello, is that Roger? This is Sophie Percival. I just wanted to
warn you that I‘ll be coming back tonight to pick something up. Will that
be all right? I didn’t want to inconvenience you.’
‘Of course not, it’s your house. We will see you tonight then.’
‘Good, is everything okay?’
‘Yes, of course. We will see you later.’
‘Thank you.’ She rang off.
Jean thought it odd when Roger
said he was going for a walk. It was dark after all; he never went
walking especially at night. When the doorbell rang and Mrs Percival, or that’s
who she said she was, stood at the door, Jean was never more surprised.
‘I rang before, spoke to your husband. Said I would be round to pick
something up. Hope that’s all right?’
Jean stared at
her. Who would have thought it? She didn’t look a bit like she’d imagined.
She stood back and Mrs Percival walked in, going straight up to the book
case. She swivelled round and spotted the diary lying on the
settee. She looked at Jean. For once, Jean was lost for words and said
‘Get out now, get out of my house!’ she
shouted. ‘I’ll report you. I’ll ring up the agency tomorrow and
you’ll never work in anyone’s house again. Get out!’ she shrieked.
Jean grabbed her coat
and bag and ran from the house. Roger had known about this and let her in
for it. She known he’d done it on purpose. She would never forgive
him. She caught a bus back home and she was glad she did, for there
sitting in Barbara’s drive was a large cardboard box obviously containing
something exciting but now she would have to wait until the morning to find out
what it was. Then she wished she knew what Roger was doing.
Wickham is now retired and has been writing on and off since her
twenties. She has won a runners-up prize for poetry in Writers Forum, had
several articles published in magazines including Family History and The Lady,
and won a runners-up prize in a short story competition. She is at present
working on a non-fiction book and enjoy entering writing competitions. She
recently obtained an Open University BA (Hons) degree which included Creative
Writing and Literature.