Momma Polly. I always called you that. You always called me your sunshine. I know you were a man but to me you were always my mother (you didn’t like that at first, but you soon got used to it, you had to!), you were always so attentive and had that great big smile. That, and a great big voice that could fill an entire auditorium. I was always so quiet though, I wanted to be more like you but I was scared. When we left L.A to live in a little village in France I couldn’t speak the language, neither could you. It was hard to make friends, but we had each other at least, didn’t we?
“Why do we have to move?” I asked, I was just seven, in my childish selfishness I didn’t want to leave my friends. You were so kind and understanding even when I sulked and stomped my feet, you came down to my level, smiled at me and brushed away my bangs.
“Your father is coming home.” You smiled at me on a drizzly Sunday, I could see how happy you were. You had missed Daddy terribly while he’d been away, but now he was going to be back! Sure you’d visited him a few times (and isolated your friends in the process), but it would be nothing like having him back home, plus it meant I could see him too, since you told me prison was no place for a child. You said we had to keep it a secret though, and I nodded along. It was a long time since I’d seen you smile like that and I wanted to see you happy. “But he cannot stay here, there are lots of dark memories here for your father, so we’re going on an adventure to make new memories and step into the sunshine.”
You were a lawyer, always good at making logic out of something painful. I didn’t want to leave but we had to. We left in the dead of night. It was frightened but you simply laughed and said ‘You are the sunshine though, and hopefully I’m yours, it’s never really dark when we’re together.’ I thought nothing of it, nor why it felt we were constantly looking over our shoulders after that. It was only years later I realised why, that we were harbouring a fugitive. I can’t bring myself to be mad at you for lying to me though, because when I saw you hug him tight and the tears of happiness roll down your cheeks I was happy for you too. You’d spent so many years being sad and having to mask it with a brave face (you couldn’t hide every time you cried from me, though boy did you try!)
That man, my father, he first time I saw him again he looked at me with a smile so unlike yours, it didn’t feel as warm but it was aimed at me. I looked around, perhaps I was mistaken. But no, he was looking at me. Smiling.
“My sweet child,” He cooed at me, crouching to pat my head once he’d managed to force his way out of your grip. “You probably don’t remember me, but I remember you dearly.”
Momma Polly, you told me all about him, Kristoph Gavin, my adoptive father. You told me my father was a superbly intellectual man, a fine Lawyer, and caring too. You told me you pined for a child that you couldn’t have, you told me how you begged my father to bless you that gift, a gift someone had given you as an orphan. He accepted and you collected me from the orphanage at the age of 3. I haze a few hazy memories, you were only young yourself but your romance was such a whirlwind, you said. You told me me you were besotted from the moment you laid eyes on my father and only a year in you had been bold enough to ask for a child, for me.
I have memories of you and him from before the incarceration, he was a calm sea blue and you were an erratic red hurricane, you were the one who smiled brightest and laughed loudest, but it was he who told the best bedtime stories and tucked me in tightest.
But he was gone for a long time, and only now that I’m older do I understand why you looked so tired and lost without him. You felt that case was your fault, you fought for the truth and broke your own heart in the process. Still, despite this you smiled through the pain and loneliness for me, and I thank you eternally for that. You gave me a good childhood. We didn’t have the best, but certainly not the worst either. Your life seemed to be chaotic from the get go, you were probably used to dealing with things out of the ordinary at work and at home. You told me all about Mr. Wright too, you were a young single parent now but if Phoenix could do it why couldn’t you? It was only years later everyone who knew you told me what a pessimist you were, but you never showed me that side, you were always strong for me.
So we moved, this man who was my father felt like a stranger, but you held his hand and smiled brighter than the summer sun. France was his idea, I learned quickly he was far more cultured than we. He had been born in Europe, German descent but spoke good French too. You told me while he’d been away he’d read a lot of books and done a lot of travelling. The first half had been true at least.
I know how isolated you felt there in France because I felt the same. By that point the frequenting visits to my father you’d made back home despite the protests of your friends has pushed them away. It was too late for their support so we were on our own. I didn’t understand why they didn’t like father after all the wonderful things you told me about him. Now I see the truth. You were so smart but sometimes you were blinded by your own love that I wanted to scream at you for being so stupid.
You were a fool for him and he knew it. He knew he could take you away from everyone, have the control and freedom he did not deserve, the control and freedom his victims were never indulged in. I didn’t know what he was capable of then, it took something awful for me to figure it out though, and I’m sorry it took me so long to realise. I will never blame you for anything that happened but, sometimes I feel your unwavering loyalty and naivety rubbed off on me. We were probably too close when all we had was each other.
I slowly picked up bits and pieces of the language. It was a struggle but enough to get by. Father was paranoid though. He said he could be taken away again and that we must be careful, so he didn’t like you going out much at all. It must have been hard for you, before in America you were a socialite and thrived off the company of others. Now that had to change, but you never complained. You said you were happy as long as you had me and Kristoph.
Then it was your hair, it was an odd style I admit but it was a part of you and you loved it too. Father said you had to change it though, it caught the eye of too many people, you stood out too much. You relented, I remember you cried and I asked what was wrong, you told me you didn’t know, that you were just being silly and it was 'just a bit of hair’. I wonder if those were your words or his.
Of course, you weren’t always so submissive. There were times you gave as good as you got, you’d spent years of your life shouting 'objection’ and that couldn’t be eradicated in a moment. But gradually over time I watched it ebb away, I watched the sparkle of your eyes dim and wondered had you really been that sad and lonely whilst father was away? This new side of you seemed far worse.
I heard some of the arguments, I heard you panic and in defeat you’d say 'we need to go back to America’ and 'We can’t run forever’. I was secretly excited at the prospect of returning, but father was furious with you. I’d never seen anything like it, that cold look in his eyes. One that could only be harboured by something truly evil.
That was the first time I saw him strike you. It was so forceful it brought you to your knees. You were no brute but seeing my always strong momma Polly be felled in one sickening blow was awful. The tears quickly sprung to your eyes, I think the emotion hurt you more than the slap did, though that cheek looked like it stung.
His eyes darted to me, stood stock still in the hallway, silent and aghast watching the whole thing unfold. You, my momma Polly, you looked horrified, but he just looked even angrier than before. Angry enough to make me shrivel like a wilted flower and bolt up the stairs. I expected the thunderous stomps up those stairs like a monster to tell me off but they never came. Instead I heard you cry out as he hit you again and again, and I buried my head under a pillow to try and muffle it out.
I’m so so sorry, I was too frightened to help you, I let him hurt you and I have never forgiven myself. I’m sure if you were here now you’d hold me tight the way you always did, stroke my hair, call me sunshine, kiss my temple and tell me to stop being silly. I was just a child, what could I have done against a full grown man?
I tried to drown it out but those awful sounds that you made are imprinted in my memory. I know you never meant for me to hear because every time after that you were quieter when it happened. Of course, you couldn’t stay completely silent when he beat you particularly ruthlessly for some trivial reason or another, you were only human even though you tried to be much stronger.
I remember after that first night, seeing blood stains on the carpet and your face- your once beautiful face smudged in dark swellings around your eyes, it looked so awfully painful that I wanted to cry for you. But the way you looked at me at the breakfast table silently pleaded for me not to say a word. For you I obeyed, but him, I couldn’t bring myself to look up at him. I was scared.
He would be the one to walk me to school, often in silence though sometimes we would converse about subjects. In public he asked that I only speak French to him, he and I were good at keeping up appearances at parents evenings when I just wanted to be home with you, I hated leaving you on your own. I felt more and more like I was finding friends, finding escape slowly whilst you were rotting away.
Sometime he would ask that I only speak French at home too, sometimes. I saw the heartbreak in your eyes because we both knew he was isolating you once again, but I was too afraid to say no. Not once was it me he hit and yet I was the one afraid and you were so strong. I’m so sorry. I just wish you’d been a little bit stronger, maybe you would have had the courage to leave.
But alas, he got you good. You fell in love, you were given me (a bribe? Something to love when he couldn’t show you the affection you needed?), you isolated your friends, were taken away from everything you knew. No, I couldn’t really blame you for not being strong enough. I wasn’t either was I?
I wish I had dragged you away, even if we’d have been penniless it wouldn’t of mattered, we could have found a way back home maybe. I wouldn’t have spent so many sleepless nights hearing your pathetic cries for mercy, the strong thwack of his hand be it splayed out or in a fist. Sometimes it was the crack of his belt, sometimes the noise stopped so suddenly I was afraid you might be dead.
I didn’t know back then how true those nightmares would become.
It was a Tuesday. I remember because the day after was the only day father would ever let me have off school. You had been cooking, your cooking was sensational and father wrapped his arms so lovingly around your waist for those fleeting moments of a smile in your eyes. You’d stopped flinching away after the attacks became more everyday and dare I say it, mundane.
But the brief happiness wasn’t set to last. You’d been keeping a terrible secret, not only from me but from father too.
Secrets from me were one thing, but from him? You were mad. Brave, but utterly mad.
I honestly don’t know how you did it either but clearly your education had not gone to waste. You were smarter than you let on, despite being in a country where you didn’t speak the language, despite the fact that father was controlling and barely let you out of sight, despite him having all the cards you’d managed to sneak yourself a phone. A link to the outside world.
Of course those friends were mad with you, but they loved you in a way Kristoph ought to have done, they would never shun you completely.
Unfortunately, that fateful day it had rung. You must have forgotten to put it on silent. You were so smart but sometimes so utterly stupid.
I saw your limbs visibly shake when Kristoph’s body stiffened at the sound. It was game over, and the bitter frustration and fear welling in your eyes showed it. I wanted to help you, say it was mine but too late, your body language had given the game away, his angry eyes watched yours before he found the device wedged down the side of the couch. I wanted to scream 'Why!?’ why did you have to go an slip up so sensationally?! But my throat was too dry to speak.
'Leave.’ He told me. I froze, I couldn’t leave you when I had never seen him this angry. ’Leave!’
It was the first time he’d raised his voice. His voice! Normally it was just fists and I buckled, I ran to my room and I’m so so sorry I did that.
I slammed the door shut, pressed my body against the wooden frame and heard the device thrown to the floor, the next morning I saw it smashed through my misty and stinging eyes. I heard the pot of water you were boiling clash to the floor, I heard an inhuman scream that could only be yours. That water must have burnt horribly.
There was no beating as such, not that I heard. But the silence that followed was too eerie to be good and my legs wobbled beneath me. I sagged with relief when I finally heard your voice, but the relief was fleeting at what you said.
'Let me….let me say goodbye. Kristoph…please…’
It was so weak, and strained with enormous pain. Emotional, mostly. I put my hand to my mouth and gagged in horror, I could only imagine what was happening.
You told me prison was no place for a child? No, this, this was no place for a child, momma Polly.
'Kristoph!’ You coughed and spluttered, your voice grew louder and angry. It reminded me of the old Apollo of the courtroom. 'She’s my child!’
I winced. Oh no. I hated how selfish I was but in my terror and bubble of denial I didn’t want to see you just then. But it was possibly the only time all three of us were together where he relented and showed you some semblance of kindness. I finally moved away from the door to open it a fraction and I saw him with his arm around you, helping you to my room. Your eyes looked clouded over as you smiled, and a gasped when I saw the state of the kitchen, the drip, drip, drip of red on the rug. Your hand clutching a bleeding wound.
That was the day the nightmare was finally coming true and you were leaving me! But, not without one finally goodbye.
I only wish he hadn’t been there, this was our final moment, something that should have intimate and saved for just you and I. You collapsed exhausted to the floor, and despite the burnt and blistered skin of your arms you didn’t complain when I dropped to the floor and hugged you tight. I screamed and cried and begged for you to stay with me as your weak arms held me. I was so selfish, you’d fought so hard and had been miserable for so long, you deserved peace in heaven but I didn’t want you to leave me. Don’t leave me! Not with him! For a brief moment I hated you for that, and I’ve hated myself ever since for that thought.
'I love you, my sunshine,” You whispered softly in my ear, as the tears spilled fourth from my eyes and I held you. Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way? A parent holding their child and gently shushing them after a scrape? Of course, this was no mere scrape. The blade Kristoph pierced you with had obviously gone too deep to recuperate from (and of course, no fugitive would take you to hospital). I grit my teeth and focused every fibre of my being on comforting you in your final moments, I would concentrate on hating him later.
I know a parent should die before their child, but not like this, I wasn’t even a teen, you would never see me go to prom, get wed, have children. You would have been an amazing grandfather (though I would have still called you grandmomma Polly, probably). 'No, no, no’ I begged you not to leave but your eyes looked so heavy and were begging for sleep. I saw Kristoph’s hand (I would not call him father anymore) run up and down your back so gently as you sagged against me. I was just a child and you were too heavy though, he had to pull you off me as you drifted away, the hand clutching the wound went limp and the heat left you, I screamed.
And now I write you this as I don’t know where to turn or how to cope. After that we had to clean up the evidence and move away again, you’d almost let him get caught.
Well guess what? Now it is you who are my sunshine, when I look out of the window I feel a heavy grief in my heart, but there is a hope too. We ended up in Germany, I hate him but he taught me how to keep up the pretences. I am an obedient, perfect daughter, and I want to become a lawyer just like him. That is what I say.
I will become a prosecutor. And you know why don’t you? That phone of yours meant something had finally clicked. I’m so sorry it was too late for you, but I will finish what you started. I will return to America with my bounty and I will have the last laugh in this sickening world. I can only go forwards now. Into the sun.