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Fiction

Our family has always liked to joke – except it’s not really a joke – that we were known as The Firm long years before the Royals took on that nickname. But of course it’s not said disrespectfully. We are all monarchists and heaven help anyone who says otherwise. It’s one of our traditions. One of the few I could talk about.

     And we use words like Prince and Princess about ourselves, too. I was always Dad’s little princess. Nothing was too good for me. He sent me to an expensive private school where they thought he was a businessman, which I suppose is not technically a lie, and signed me on for all the extra classes. I am an excellent horsewoman, and a passable pianist, and can even understand a smattering of Mandarin Chinese. Dad was quite disappointed though, that they didn’t offer flower arranging. He believes in a woman being educated but has his views about what he calls Ladies’ Stuff, too. Mind you, he has always been in awe of his mother, my Nanna Lois. It only occurred to me quite recently that I’m not that sure if they like each other very much. But to say that about our very own “Queen Mother” would lead to you being cast into the outer darkness.

     Except that’s the trouble. You don’t break free from our family. I’ve only ever heard of one person who did, or at least tried and not in my branch of it, but a lesser one. A cousin called Jeremy, and his name is no longer mentioned. That sounds like one of those Victorian novels, but there was no turning his picture to the wall. All pictures of him were just removed. It was as if he never existed. But news does get around, and we heard a couple of years back that he’d been killed in a car crash. So far as I know there’s no reason to suspect it was anything other than an accident, but that’s only so far as I know.

     I do know that his own parents didn’t go to his funeral, and that not one tear was shed. Or if it was, nobody saw it and not another word was spoken about him.

     We are the Matthews family – a nice, ordinary, regular sort of name. Most people meet someone called Matthews in their life, but most people don’t meet us, and they should think themselves lucky for that. All the same, it’s surprising, even to me, just how far our tentacles reach. There were alibis, rock solid ones, for every single member of the family when Police Inspector Rowan was shot. But he had not played the game, and he had been determined to expose us once and for all for what we were, without all the glamour, without all the sheen, without all the toasts to the Queen and expensive schools and generous charity donations. 

     I have been through various stages. When I was a little girl, I knew nothing at all, I was Little Princess Sarah, doted on and living a childhood that many would have envied, and I didn’t even stop to wonder why I didn’t have many friends outside the family. We’re a big extended family. 

     Before I started at the Manor House Academy, Dad told me that it was best not to talk too much about his business, because the other girls might be jealous. It wasn’t even as if I knew that much about it anyway, but of course I nodded vigorously, my curls dancing. I was a complete Daddy’s girl then.

     There was no one moment when it dawned on me that we weren’t like other families and the business wasn’t like other people’s business. More of a gradual process, with a mixture of things I was told and things I guessed, and things that were no longer hidden from me. “But let’s get this straight, sweetheart,” I remember Dad saying once. He always called me Sweetheart when matters were serious. “We never harm anyone who doesn’t harm us, and we look out for our own.” I realised in time that the former most certainly wasn’t true, and the latter was only true as long as there was unthinking and ostentatious loyalty and obedience and absolute water tight secrecy.

     There are certain customs and practices in the Matthews family when it comes to marriage. We don’t have forced marriages or even arranged marriages. Though promiscuity is frowned on (at any rate for the girls) to some extent, it’s accepted that young folk will have their fun, as Nanna Lois says. As long as precautions are taken, and (another Nanna Lois saying) mouths are kept shut apart for kissing, then it’s okay. But when it comes to marriage, then our options are limited. There’s a choice, but not much of one. I’ve known that all along, and know that Dad has his eyes on Allan Chesterton as my future spouse. Although their surname is Chesterton, and they’re not that closely related to us, they’re still part of the Matthews family. That’s just how it is. Dad thinks Allan has possibilities, even though he’s from a fairly minor connection. He has what he calls a head on his shoulders and doesn’t have any silly ideas. “And he’s a looker, Sweetheart. You can’t deny that.” He’s right. But they’re not the kind of looks that appeal to me. There’s a hardness and coldness in that handsome face, and somehow, even though he’s scrupulous about his personal hygiene, there seems to be a miasma around him. If I said that to Dad he would either smile if he were in a good mood, or scowl if he were in a bad one, and say, “None of that nonsense, Sweetheart.”

     Anyway, I am in love, and properly in love, with somebody else. With someone not tainted and tarnished by the generations of violence and fraud and intimidation that run like a venomous vein through our family tree. I met Connor at university. And not that long after we met, it was as if a dam broke, and I had to tell him everything, had to break the rule that you dare not break, had to talk and talk, my voice sometimes hoarse and sometime high, sometimes suffused with rage and sometimes with misery. He let me talk, and held me very, very close, and then he said, “But it’s you I love, Sarah. Not your family. It’s a shame they wouldn’t accept me, but I can happily live with it if you can.” I was about to half-hysterically correct him and say that wouldn’t accept was a dangerous and ludicrous understatement. But then it dawned on me that he knew. 

     I have never spoken his name to the family. Oh, I half thought I was tempted to tell Auntie Marlene, but in the end I didn’t. I think she’s the nearest we come to a decent member of the family, or at least one who is happy to stay in it, but she’s under Uncle Toby’s thumb. Frankly, she’s scared of him. He jokes about her being the one who wears the trousers in a sardonic way that makes it plain she most certainly isn’t. I don’t think he’s ever laid a finger on her, but don’t think he’d have any qualms about it. For her sake, as well as mine, it’s as well she doesn’t know.

     Will I miss Dad? In a way. But now I see him for what he is, and I am not his little Princess any longer. Yes, he gave me a happy childhood, but that is over now, and it was founded on rottenness. As I was pampered, others cowered. 

     And my child, the child I am carrying, the child who will be born of love, will be my own little Princess or Prince, mine and Connor’s, and will never bear the burden I do.

     We are leaving the country. We have no choice. That’s how it is when you leave the Matthews family. It has to be total, and permanent.

     But we will be okay. The three of us.

November 06, 2020 07:14

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4 comments

10:26 Nov 07, 2020

It's amazing, what you've done here. The protag's fears, written delicately between the lines, pulled me in and allowed me a chance to think deeply. The end is marvelous, Deborah.

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Deborah Mercer
07:11 Nov 08, 2020

Thank you all for your kind words. The criticism of the ending is entirely justified, and if I were rewriting it I would make it longer (which is odd for me as normally I tend towards the upper end of the word allowance anyway!).

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Bianka Nova
22:08 Nov 06, 2020

I thought the three of us would refer to the MC's dad and mom (or nan), and I also expected the story to have a funny bone. Boy, was I wrong! That doesn't mean it wasn't good, of course. Maybe the ending came a bit rushed. Could you've done it by throwing in more details? - Yes. But was there anything missing? - No, noting essential, really. So, actually the story works fine as it is and I can't find anything wrong with it. Well done. :)

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B. W.
10:43 Nov 07, 2020

Hey, this was a really great story that ya did and I think such a great job with it as well ^^ ill give this a 10/10 :) maybe ill also try and upvote ya

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