Friday, February 21, 2014

Flash Fiction Friday: Twisted Love

NOTE: THIS WEEK'S STORY IS NOT FOR CHILDREN

Chuck Wendig gave us a skimpy prompt this week, just the title, or plot (however you chose to look on it), "Twisted Love."  I chose to use it for both and then decided to write this as an homage to L.M. Montgomery.  For any who know Montgomery only as the author of Anne of Green Gables, Montgomery wrote a great many short stories, and many of them were gothic in nature.  A startling number dealt in greater and lesser depth (as did her novels) with the ways in which love can be twisted and poisoned.  So here, in a story I think Montgomery would recognize, is

Twisted Love


When she was very small, Lena had wondered why she alone among the children at the little school in Seaside lived in darkness.  Not just physical darkness, though she envied the other children the candles and lamps that allowed them to read after nightfall.  But Lena felt from an early age that she lived in a sort of spiritual darkness, not as the preacher would see it, but one which left her feeling as though all light had been shut out of her life.

Even as a child, Lena knew no one loved her, knew it in her soul and thought about it in that odd way of children who are much alone.  When she was small, she dreamed of telling her mother that she knew she wasn’t loved, and of running away.  She would go deep into the woods, and find a beautiful little cottage of stone and a mother who did love her, and no stepfather.  For while Lena saw that her mother did not love her, she saw even more clearly that her stepfather hated her.

It was only slowly, as she grew, that Lena learned, piece by piece from things overheard and things said in anger, why she was unloved.

Once, a girl named Hannah Stewart had been the belle of her small town, happy, pretty and young, and given to flirting with all the boys.  She took nothing seriously, and didn’t need to, for her older sister Madeleine, who stood in the place of her own dead mother, did the thinking and worrying for her.  They had no mother, and their father was too caught up in his work to bother about them, so they were everything to each other, and loved one another dearly, despite Hannah’s feeling that Madeleine was too serious, and Madeleine’s sure knowledge that Hannah’s lightness would lead to trouble.

And it did.  Pretty, flighty Hannah found when she was but eighteen that she had gone too far, and when pressed could not even say which of several boys might be the baby’s father.  Madeleine despaired over Hannah’s depravity; Lena, learning of it as she entered her teens, knew in her heart that Hannah had refused confession, rather than been unsure of the father.  She had chosen to protect someone, and Lena hoped that it was she, but greatly feared it was the unknown father of whom her mother had been thinking.

Madeleine took her little sister away so that none should know her disgrace.  She found a remote cottage, and there nursed and scolded and loved the girl, and stayed by her through a pregnancy that took more from her than it should have.  And when the baby was born, Madeleine knew at once who the father must be.

Saying nothing to her sister, she wrote to Justin Carter and told him he was a father, and must come and marry the baby’s mother.  Hannah knew nothing of this.  She named the baby after her sister, held her for a day, and died.

When Justin arrived, eager to marry the girl he loved, Hannah was dead, and Madeleine had a plan.  In his grief at Hannah’s death—for if he had not been her first choice, she had been his—he agreed to everything.  The child would be his, and would have the best of everything.

Justin and Madeleine were married that very week, and moved to the distant town of Seaside, where no one knew them and all assumed the baby was theirs.  Justin had trained as a lawyer, and took up his work there and, as his new wife had expected, made a good living for the family.

Lena never knew them in the year or two when they had been almost happy, in a mild, dispassionate sort of way.  By the time Lena was two, Justin could no longer deny what he had suspected from the first: that he was not the girl’s father, and that, in fact, her father was the one man he hated.  He had hated Albert Hawkins as a ne’er-do-well and a scoundrel, as well as a rival.  Now that he knew what he had done to his beautiful Hannah, Justin hated him with a deeper passion that poisoned his soul. 

And love betrayed became hatred all around.  Justin could no longer abide the sight of the child, and Madeleine, who blamed Lena for her mother’s death, had never liked her.  Now Justin turned his hate as well on the woman who had tricked him into a loveless marriage, and he could no longer bear either.  All the love that he had borne for Hannah turned to hatred of these two creatures who between them had robbed him of her, and trapped him until death.

He ceased to pretend the child was his, though he said he had married Madeleine in pity when her husband was killed while she was with child.  He never said so, but made it clear to all that he neither loved nor respected her.

So Lena had grown up in an atmosphere of hatred and resentment, and her own impulses to love, spurned at every turn, turned inward.  Gradually she, too, learned to love and trust none but herself.

By the time Lena was fourteen she was in possession of most of the facts of her own life, for Justin was wont to fling them at her as weapons when she displeased him.

She returned from school one spring day to find both Madeleine and Justin stuck down with some kind of fierce fever and cough, too weak to rise.  When they called out to her to help them, she stood in the doorway and looked on them with a hard face.

“Why?”

“For the love of God and your parents,” cried Madeleine, forgetting that Lena had never known love.

“What parents?” Lena asked.  She felt strange, and knowledge of what she was about to do washed over her.

“Why, we are your parents, child,” said Justin.  “Under the law.” 

Lena gave a short, harsh laugh, for it was like him to be both honest and brutal.  “Oh, under the law.”  Her face grew still harder.  “I have no parents.”  She looked at Madeleine.  “I tried to love you, and you cast my love back into my face.  You never forgave me for my mother’s death.  Yes,” she said, seeing by Madeleine’s face that she had not known how much Lena knew, “I know who my mother was.  You may have loved her, but you never loved me, even for her sake.  And you,” she turned to Justin, “you were never any kin at all, as you have made clear all these years.  I have neither mother nor father,” for though she had heard the name of Albert Hawkins, she could not feel him to be a parent, though Justin blamed him for her every fault.

Lena looked from one to another of the fever victims.  “I tried to love you, to be what a daughter should, and you flung it back in my face.  I was a little child who only wanted to be loved, and you gave me only your hatred.”

Her face wore a mask now of hatred and fury far beyond her years.  “Now you dare to call on my love to help you?  Well, I know nothing of love, nor family.”  She moved to the bureau and found the stash of money Justin kept there, pocketing it with a final malediction.  “I will take my inheritance and leave you to your bitterness.”

Justin tried to get up, to follow the money as she left the room, but he sank back, unable to rise, overcome by a fit of coughing.

Lena did not weep as she left the house, the only home she had known, and left behind her the two bitter souls to live or die as they would.  She had long since wept out all her tears for the mother-love she had never known.  They had left only a bitter residue, and a pocket full of bank-notes.

 

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©Rebecca M. Douglass 2014

2 comments:

  1. So sad...

    I haven't got the energy to write bitterness and hatred at present, but this was very moving.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. The reason I put the big warning at the top was because writing this had a surprisingly powerful effect on me. I've never written bitterness before.

      Delete

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