Alexander and I were uprooted from our only home and planted, forcibly, in a house, (that will never be a home), filled with dull colours and bad imagery. Crucifixes hung in every room and a bible adorned almost every table. It was a truly terrifying sight to behold.
It didn’t bode well for my scientific brain, nor was it a path I wanted Alexander to be forced in to.
I wanted for him what our parents had wanted; a life full of choice and freedom.
Aunt Alice would have him worshipping a possibly non-existent deity and forgoing scientific thought.
Alexander’s room was another testament to how the woman should not have been allowed to rear children. A thick layer of dust coated every available surface. The curtains were flimsy things that could only have been described as rags. The carpets were thread bare and stained. The air was icy and the blankets thin. This was the room in which my aunt had placed my ten year old little brother.
I approached her about the fact that a growing boy should be in a warm environment, with objects to stimulate his growing mind, but she scoffed at me.
“A little dust never hurt anyone. Besides if he doesn’t like the room, he can tell me himself.”
It boggled my mind to think that my mother was cut from the same cloth.
“You’ll be staying in the attic. I didn’t think putting you in the same room with either of my girls would be a good thing for them.”
I had still yet to meet my cousins. But maybe that was a good thing. I didn’t want to meet anyone that could possibly be anything like my aunt.
Alice led me up to the topmost floor. And then gave me a key to a door hidden behind a curtain. Why she placed a curtain over the door is beyond me. The door opened to a set of rickety wooden stairs leading up another flight.
The attic was even dustier than Alexander’s room, but it was a wide open space. Old bookshelves, filled with great classics, lined the walls, and old paintings were stacked together on the floor. An old bed sat under the only window illuminating the area. When I sat down on it, dust plumed upward. Cobwebs filled every corner, including the steeple style roof.
“The books belonged to your mother. And the paintings are hers from her high school art days.” My aunt said from the bottom of the stairs, before turning away and leaving me.
I didn’t know if she was trying to be kind or if she was just saying she wanted to hide me away like she did my mother’s property. It didn’t matter though; I was surrounded by reminders of my mother’s childhood. It took me quite a few hours to clean both the attic and Alexander’s room. By the time I was done it was gone past nine p.m. and neither I nor my brother had eaten. I felt somewhat like Cinderella. It was comical. It felt like a cosmic joke. I had disliked Cinderella for never being able to stand up for herself, and now I was in her shoes. I would have done what I had always wanted Cinderella to do, run away, but I couldn’t leave Alexander in the hands of our aunt.
Our cousins had arrived home a few hours earlier but hadn’t bothered to introduce themselves.
Delilah (the elder) and Ester. Two very good Christian names.
I walked into the kitchen holding Alexander’s hand, and the two were sitting at the table with Alice.
“You missed dinner.” My aunt said.
“I had to clean. I wasn’t going to let my brother sleep in a dirty room.”
She just shrugged as if to say it wasn’t her problem.
“Please may I make some food for myself and Alexander?”
My aunt smiled; a too sweet grin. “If Alex wanted some food, all he had to do was ask and I would have made him something.”
I could tell she was going to use Alexander’s not speaking against him at every turn.
“He prefers to be called Alexander. And don’t say he must tell you himself. It’s what he wishes, please respect it. Or are you going to teach a ten year old that authority figures don’t have to respect anyone?”
Alice stood up in a rage. “This is my house, and if I want the boy to talk to me then he will bloody well talk to me. My roof, my rules.”
I smiled. “Actually this house still technically belongs to your parents, and as they have stated that the house would go to both you and my mother upon their death, the house is technically split. And as Alexander and I inherited everything that belonged to my parents, half of this house is ours.”
My aunt’s face went a bright shade of puce. She couldn’t fault my logic. She stormed out the kitchen.
I walked to the fridge to get the ingredients for omelettes. They were a favourite of Alexander’s and with the smile that plastered his face, I felt like spoiling him.
“Mother is going to make your life a living hell.” Delilah stated before exiting the kitchen after her evil wench of a mother.
Ester just sat at the end of the table and smiled.
“Can I help?” she asked in a timid voice.
Alexander’s smile grew even bigger and he nodded.
“That would be great, thank you Ester.”
School was to begin in a day. Alexander and I were to attend Holy Trinity Prep, a catholic school for both lower and higher grades, with our cousins.
Delilah seemed to be just like her mother. And just as her name meant small in Hebrew, she was tiny in stature. A petite thing, beautiful too, and seventeen like myself.
Ester was more of a mystery, just as her name denoted. She was just as beautiful as her older sister, but she kept to herself. She appeared to be the smarter of the two girls, and I liked her for the fact that she was nothing like her mother or sister. She’d even taken a liking to Alexander, and Alexander to her. Ester was just fifteen but I could tell we would be friends.
Aunt Alice had taken to not feeding us and leaving us to fend for ourselves. I wasn’t complaining. I was quite a good cook, having been taught by my parents from a young age, so I could feed Alexander all the food a deserving boy needed.
So when the morning of our first day of school arrived, I prepared a healthy lunch for him. And a sandwich for myself.
My aunt had allowed me to keep the car my parents had given to me on my eighteenth birthday, a beaten up old beetle, so I drove us to school.
I wasn’t nervous, I knew I would do well academically, but Alexander was unhappy. His teachers at his old school had accepted the fact that he didn’t talk. He was a brilliant child, smart and kind. He was worried his new teachers wouldn’t understand him.
I took him aside before we entered the school. “I cannot promise that all of your teachers will be good to you, but I can promise I will try my hardest to get them to see things our way. Mama and papa wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”
He nodded at me and then uttered words I never thought I’d ever hear him say. “Thank you Beth,” He used the name my mom always called me; “I love you sister.”
I was proud of him. He was such a great child.
I made a special trip to the office of the headmistress, to explain about our circumstances.
She saw me immediately.
“Thank you for allowing this meeting, Mrs Hadley.”
She motioned to the chairs in front of her desk. “Have a seat Miss Beckett. It is actually a great honour for you and your brother to be attending our school. Your records are impeccable, and your parents were great people.”
I smiled. “Yes they were.”
“So what can I do for you today Elizabeth?”
“I’m here to discuss Alexander. He doesn’t talk. And I’m worried that his teachers will not understand why.”
The headmaster chuckled. “Before you finish, let me explain something. Everything about your brother was in his file. I have explained the situation to all of his teachers. And because of whom your parents were, because of whom you are, your brother will have the best people looking over him.”
“What about my aunt’s request? I know she gave you strict instructions to get my brother talking.”
Mrs Hadley sat forward in her chair.
“Your aunt doesn’t pay your school fees. Don’t let her convince you otherwise. Your family lawyer, who has been given strict instructions of his own, is paying the fees out of your parents’ money.”
My lips tilted upwards ever so slightly. I nodded.
“Thank you for your time headmistress. I’ll be getting to class now.”
I stood up but didn’t leave. Mrs Hadley had more to say.
“Elizabeth. Your parents would be proud of the way you’re looking after Alexander. Your mother attended this school with me when we were your age. She was just like you. Very strange, but brilliant. You will do well here.”
“As long as Catholicism isn’t shoved down mine or Alexander’s throats, I think we may enjoy ourselves.”
Mrs Hadley laughed. “You learn to bear with it. The school is prestigious after all.”
I left the office only slightly perplexed. I hadn’t been expecting the headmistress of a catholic school to be quite so relaxed.