Page 14

After a moment she went through to the kitchen, deciding to have a cup of tea before tackling the bags. She filled the kettle and put a tea bag in her favourite white mug, again with a picture of Our Lady. The kitchen hadn’t had much more than a lick of paint and new appliances in the twenty-six years since her daughter Jessica disappeared. This was the fourth fridge, the newest was only a few months old, but the same picture had been re-attached. A simple finger-painting, by Jessica.

As she opened the steel fridge door, she stopped to look at it. Small hand prints in yellow, red, and green. Fine white lines and creases criss-crossed each palm where the paint hadn’t reached. The original, painted sometime in 1989 was tucked away in a drawer, wrapped in tissue paper. After several years on display, and much to her horror and dismay, the paint had started to fade, so she’d had it scanned and this was a print out. Even the original scan had been re-printed several times. Marianne ran a finger over it, noting the edges were starting to curl, and retrieved the milk.

Her grief was ingrained; it was part of her now. The tears still came but she had learned to live with the pain, like a constant companion. Looking at the finger painting, seeing photos of Jessica, walking past her bedroom on her way to the bathroom several times a day were habit.

The kettle clicked off and she filled her mug, dunking the tea bag before fishing it out with a spoon, and moving over to the bin. She was about to pour in the milk when the doorbell chimed. She looked at the clock and saw it was just after four.

The bell chimed again just as she reached the door, and when she opened it, Marianne froze. A familiar face stood amongst a group of men and women. It was Detective Constable Nancy Greene, a woman she hadn’t seen in years.

‘Hello Marianne,’ smiled Nancy weakly. They embraced. They separated, and Marianne searched Nancy's face, noting deep wrinkles, and grey hair. It was only then that she saw, amongst the group, were two police officers in uniform.

‘Nancy? Why are you here?’ started Marianne.

‘Can we come in please?’ said Nancy.

Marianne gulped and a shaking hand went to her throat to feel for a necklace which wasn’t there.

‘Not until you tell me what this is?’

‘These are police officers. Detective Chief Inspector Foster, Detective Constable John McGorry, PC Ward, and PC Stoke. And this is Coleen Scanlan. She’s the MET police media liason,’ said Nancy.

‘Good evening, Mrs Collins,’ said Erika, holding up her ID. The other officers followed suit.

‘Can we come in please?’ asked Nancy.

‘Now is not a good time. I’m expecting, someone,’ said Marianne.

‘Please can we come in. This is important. I’m here because I was your Family Liaison Officer, back when Jessica disappeared…’

‘Mrs Collins, can we please come inside, this is very important,’ said Erika. Marianne nodded, as if realising what was happening. She stood to one side and let them in. They came through to the large living room. It was elegant but cold, with dark wood furniture and dark wine coloured curtains and furniture.

‘Would anyone like tea? I’ve just made a cup,’ asked Marianne, forcing herself to sound bright and happy.

‘No, thank you,’ said Nancy. The officers stood for a moment in a semi circle.

‘Sit down,’ said Marianne. They sat on the large sofa and the two armchairs. Nancy took the chair close to Marianne. When Erika sat she noticed the large painting of the Virgin Mary above the carved fireplace and with a glance around the room counted four crucifixes of varying size on the walls. Marianna pulled out the small foot rest which matched the seat Nancy occupied. She perched on it and started to gabble,

‘How long has it been since I last saw you… Laura is working over in Kew… She’s trying to have another baby, it will be her fourth if she does, but she’s getting old. Although these days but…’

‘Marianne,’ started Nancy.

‘Toby has a new partner, he works in property… They seem happy, they know how I feel about that sort of thing but…’

‘Marianne, please…’

Her bottom lip started to tremble and tears pooled in her eyes, ‘Let me make some tea, would you all like tea’ said Marianne scrabbling in her cardigan sleeve for a tissue, pulling it out and scrubbing at her eyes.

‘Marianne sit down we have something to tell you,’ said Erika.

‘I’ll do what I fucking well like in my fucking house!’ she shouted rising. She paced up and down looking at the police officers, and she started to hyperventilate.

‘Please Marianne, can you calm down,’ said Nancy getting up and taking Marianne by the hands

‘No! No! NO!’ started Marianne.

‘The police called me, because I was here for you when…’

’Please, no!’

‘When Jessica…’

‘Don’t say her name. You don’t have the right!’

Nancy went on, gently, ‘When Jessica disappeared.’

‘No. No…’

‘On Friday night the police were conducting a routine search of a local quarry, and they found some human remains.’

Marianne was now silent. Her eyes wide and glassy. She shook her head and started walking backwards until her back was against the wall. Above her head were three oil paintings, Erika recognised one as Jessica, and she presumed her two siblings. Nancy got up, went to Marianne, and gently took her hands again.

‘I’m so sorry. The police found remains of a skeleton. The remains belong to Jessica,’ she said softly. Marianne shook her head, tears were flowing down her cheeks.

‘No, no, you’ve made a mistake! She’ll come back, someone will find her. She probably can’t remember who her real family is! She’s out there!’

‘It was Jessica,’ said Nancy who had tears in her eyes also. ‘They’ve identified her from dental records.’

Marianne nodded, and kept nodding tears streaming silently down her face.

‘Mrs Collins,’ said Erika softly. ‘We need to speak to your husband, your daughter, Laura, and your son, Toby. They’re all in Spain is that correct? Do you have a number we can call. We’d like the family to be informed before we make a statement to the press…’

‘Of course,’ said Marianne softly. Her eyes were wide in disbelief.