Alice's mum had never been a much of a talker. Thirteen years and Alice had become accustomed to the silence. She had leaned to be a quiet child and throw away the questions. There are no answers so don't bother asking.
It all changed that Saturday. Instead of swimming through the hours of stillness, reading and thinking the weekend away, a tornado of disruption ripped apart the household. Alice was aware her mum had been unwell for a while, a terrible retching sickness in her throat, lungs or perhaps all the way into her soul. They didn't talk about it, until she couldn't breathe and fell on the floor.
The ambulance screamed outside and the two ambulance men removed both of them from the house. Her mum on a stretcher and Alice with kind beckons and too many questions.
"How long has your mum been like this?"
"Where are the keys honey, can you lock up?"
"Is there anyone you want us to call?"
Alice could think of no one. Her mum, unable to talk though the plastic breathing mask watched her urgently wherever she stood, as if to impart answers to her silently. Her eyes wide and afraid.
At the hospital Alice was sent into a faux comfortable room with a stranger called Sophie who wasn't meant to be strange. Sophie was a reminder to Alice that she had no other adult. No other authority on her life.
When Alice was allowed to see her mum the silence she had been expecting was absent. As soon as she was sent into the room and she had clicked the door behind her, her mum pulled the mask from her face, her tears absolutely everywhere, covering her face, wandering onto her neck, filling her mouth. She reached out to pull Alice to her, desperately grabbing handfuls of air. Alice came to sit in the chair facing the bed but her mum still reached her grasping hands towards her until she came close enough to tightly clutch her hands.
"Listen to me, you have to listen, Alice. I'm sorry. You're name isn't Alice, It's Holly. I changed your name when you were two. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry".
Alice now realized why her mum had wanted her hands, it was to stop her getting away. All she wanted to do back away from this information, all the way back, to her room and her thoughts and her silence.She tried to wrench away but, despite being bedridden, with tubes and masks and ailments her mum's desperate grip was unyielding.
"You're dad is out there, up in Scotland. He never stopped looking for you. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry"
Alice had never seen such a frantic person. That frantic person being her usually wordless mother made the least sense. She had no questions, she didn't need to, her mum seemed determined to tell her everything as quickly as possible.
"Our marriage was over but he couldn't take that, I thought it would be best for you... you were so young... you would never have remembered. I didn't want you to feel any of it. I worked in an anti corruption unit, I knew how to disappear, it was too easy for us. I got you to the opposite end of the country. Somewhere they wouldn't look"
Alice was noticing a strong Scottish accent she had never heard before. The little her mum had spoken until this day had been in a gentle west-country inflection, the same as hers, picked up from friends at school.
"I'm sorry my love, I'm sorry, I can't die without you knowing"
This was the moment Alice started screaming, producing a sound she wasn't aware she could make. She needed to get away. Her mum was mad. Or maybe this wasn't her mum, this woman who talked in an accent she didn't know, and gripped her hands so tight that her nails dug into her skin and looked her in the eyes so desperately and talked too fast. Quickly a whole ensemble of people rushed into the room and detached the two of them, whisking Alice from the room. The deadened sounds of screams and hacking coughs rang though the closed door and corridor behind her as she was marched away by someone who was either Sophie or not Sophie.
Alice's mum didn't die, but she was arrested when she was well enough to leave the hospital. TV cameras and microphones hounded her as she was bundled into a police car. Alice caught a glimpse of this on a TV as she quietly hid outside a living room that she might have known in another life- her father's. Their reunion had been emotionally lopsided. Her father was a lanky Scottish man who repeated her name that wasn't her name over and over as he wept and held her. The whole town acted like they owned her and Alice felt it was inappropriate. Everyone was treating her like a dear possession, lost and now found. They acted as if for the time she had been away from them she had been in some kind of limbo and now she was home, apparently. In this flat Scottish town, as far away from her life as she could imagine. What would they say if she told them she wanted to go back, to the place she had grown up? The home she had shared with her mum who was still her mum. What if she told them to stop calling her Holly? Everyone called her Holly here, and she felt like they needed that, but she still felt like Alice. She crept back upstairs, to the room that was gifted to her from a man she didn't know. Curling up in bed she tried to work out if she wanted this new life. If she wanted to be Holly.
She was back on the news again. She didn't need to see a TV to know it. Sixteen days since her mother dug her fingernails into the back of her hands, Eight days since her father had embraced her. Half a day since she had left Irvine on a train back to Bristol. Fourteen hours on a train, it was a hell of a journey. She slipped out of the house after her father thought she had gone to sleep and caught the 10:03 train, paid for with her mum's credit card. She had kept it hidden since that night they had headed to the hospital. She still had the house keys too. Alice hadn't intended to steal these things, she had brought them to the hospital for her mum. She knew someone would track the payment. That wasn't a problem, she wasn't trying to disappear. She was trying to get home.
Disembarking the train in Bristol at midday, Alice immediately knew the alarm had been raised already. TV cameras lent keenly over the barricades and Sophie stood, concernedly searching the faces getting off the train. Police stood along the platform and at the barriers, scanning the crowds with their stern gazes. Alice wasn't worried. She may have used a stolen credit card but she knew her mum wouldn't begrudge her using it to come back to her.
Keen to not be pounced on, she walked calmly up to the nearest policeman whose eye widened in recognition, Alice spoke before he had a chance.
"I'm Alice Dingwall, I'd like to see my mum please"
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Oh I loved the phrase 'emotionally lopsided'!