Page 14

Notice I called her ill and us different. Maybe later the ill part could have been applied to me, but Régine was in fact a very sick woman. She couldn’t function or she didn’t want to. She spent most of the time sleeping in an alcohol-induced coma. She would then crawl out of her room around noon, wearing the same clothes she’d been for days, smelling like something awful. She’d walk unsteadily over to the kitchen and pour herself a small bowl of cereal and several cups of black coffee. This was the only thing she’d put down, other than booze. She rarely spoke when she was sober or sobering up. She would just mumble and shake.

Occasionally she would look at me and be confused, like she didn’t know who I was. One time she asked me if I was a ghost who kept following her around. I wanted to make something of that remark, but I couldn’t. She was just so lost in that head of hers and I was so desperate to find someone like myself.

She wasn’t mean, however, when she was sober. She was just distant. Michael and Declan both competed for those rare slots of attention, but she never gave it to them. Her eyes would glaze over, her face would go slack, and the boys would have to busy themselves. Luckily, Curtis was adamant they be involved in a lot of activities as possible, so there was sailing, hockey, lacrosse and a whole range of sports to keep the boys busy and distracted.

When Régine was drunk it was a whole other story and unfortunately she was drunk more often than she was sober. As the years went on, her violence and depravity worsened.

I won’t go into many details because I don’t think it would do Declan any good to remember them, but to give you an idea what a night at the O’Shea’s was like, here’s an example:

Declan was eight years old at the time and I was looking after him alone one weekend. Curtis was who knows where and Michael had gone to a science fair that was being held out of state. I normally would have gone with him and taken Declan with me but he was paired up with one of his classmates and his family wanted to look after him. I could see how much Michael wanted a weekend away from Declan and I. He wasn’t overly fond of his little brother and at times I think he might have even resented me. Maybe it’s because Declan had taken a shine to me and naturally I was overprotective of him. For whatever reason, Declan was the one his parent’s rage would always be directed at, a living, loving target.

It was a warm spring and Declan and I were out in their small back yard until the sun went down and the early mosquitoes came out to play. I was enjoying a small cup of espresso and the new lights we had installed over the garden while Declan was reading a book with a flashlight. It was a mystery novel, I remember that well, and I asked him if he’d rather go inside to read as it was getting so dark.

He looked up and shook his head. I recognized the fear in his eyes, exaggerated by the flashlight’s eerie glow.

“What is it?” I whispered.

“She’s in my room again,” he whispered back.

I got off my seat and kneeled on the cool grass beside him. I smoothed the hair off of his forehead, thinking he was due for another haircut.

“Who is in your room?” I asked.

“Mum. She’s tearing it apart.”

I looked over at the house. I couldn’t see his room from the back but all the lights in the house were off.

“How do you know that?”

He shrugged. “I just know. I get a feeling sometimes.”

He resumed looking at his book for a few seconds. Then he put it down and his eyes were watering.

Even in the worst situations, when Curtis would spank him, or yell at him, or Régine would call him names, nasty, terrible names, I never saw Declan cry. To see those brown eyes filling with tears brought my heart to my knees.

“Oh, Declan boy,” I said soothingly. “What’s wrong?”

He tried hard to keep those tears back but his voice wavered. “She’s ruining my stuff, I know it. I don’t want her in my room, Pippa. It’s my room. It’s supposed to be safe from her.”

I was breaking inside for him, filled with sorrow and building anger at having seen up close just what his family was doing to him over the years.

“You know what we’ll do then? You and I will go together and we will make her stop.”

He shook his head adamantly. “No, she’ll hurt you. She’ll hurt me.”

“Your mother seems scary at times, but I’ve been through more than she has and I’m stronger. Mentally and physically. We will put a stop to this. I don’t want you to ever be afraid. And I won’t let her put a finger on you.”

He wiped away at the lone tear that spilled down his cheek, seeming to think things over. There was something so old and mature about that wee little boy. He then said, “OK” with all the determinedness of a soldier going off into battle.

He gripped my hand, his palms already sweaty and we made our way into the house. I flicked on all the lights, steadied my nerves which weren’t as calm as the front I had put up, and we made our way up the stairs. Nearing the top, I could hear growls and little screams coming from Declan’s room.

The door was closed but there was no doubt Régine was in there. I heard her movements, her French mutterings and a strange droning sound. I kept Declan behind me and knocked at the door. I hoped his mother would respond to reason. I was stronger but I was still fifty-five and she was in her early thirties.

A spewing of swears and curse words came out from behind the door. I could only pick out half of them, the rest were buried in slurs.

I gave Declan’s hand a squeeze and whispered, “Stay here” to him and opened the door.

He was right. She was tearing apart his room. His mother was on her hands and knees in the middle of the floor, ripping the head off one of the few plush toys that Declan had left. The room smelled like urine and feces and I saw brown stains smeared on the walls and damp spots on the carpet. Régine looked like a wild, rabid animal, wearing a vomit-covered white nightgown that was half torn off. Her fingers were brown and red, her arms were scratched and dripped blood. Everything around her lay in ruins, including his bed which had a slit down the middle and stuffing spilling out of it.

She smiled at me, then quickly chucked the toy at my head. I ducked as it sailed past, even though it wouldn’t have done much damage, but it didn’t help that the headless, bloodied thing came to a stop by poor Declan’s feet.

“Get out!” she roared in her accented voice, staggering to her knees.

I was too stunned to move, I could only say, “I’m calling the police.”

“But I haven’t given my son his present! A wonderful present pour mon beau fils!”

I did not want Declan to receive anything from her so I found my strength and quickly shut the door on her. Then I scooped Declan up in my arms, and as hard as it was on my body, I carried him down the stairs, going as fast as I could. We were almost at the bottom when I heard the door to his room open and Declan gasp.

I turned around just in time to see Régine holding a beehive in her hands. It was a young hive that Curtis had taken down a few days earlier when he found it growing on the side of the house. The droning sound emanated from inside the white, papery exterior and before I could comprehend what was going, why she even had it to begin with, she threw it down the stairs and it bounced after us like heatseeking missile before it hit the back of my legs and then the tiled foyer. It cracked open and thank the Lord there were barely any bees or wasps left in the thing otherwise we might have been in big trouble.

I made it to the front door and out onto the street with only one sting at my ankle. Declan, with his allergy, was traumatized but fortunately unscathed. I headed to a house across the street where I knew the couple and used their phone to call the cops.

This wasn’t the first time I had called the cops on Régine and it wouldn’t be the last. There were many incidents similar to this one and I was powerless to stop it. I had expressed concern for my safety and the children’s many times to Curtis but he didn’t want word to get out that his wife was a drunk. He was against sending her to a treatment center and would get angry when he found out the police had gotten involved.

After that incident, Declan slept in my room. I wanted to sleep on the couch, but he was too afraid to be alone, so I took to sleeping on a cot beside him. He had become more withdrawn and irritable. His grades at school went down, he was disinterested in the activities he once liked, he had a hard time concentrating and the differences between him and his do-good brother became more and more apparent. He was also becoming increasingly agitated by what I could only assume were ghosts. You see, to add to the horrors of his daily life, it turns out my dear boy was just like me.

A year earlier, Declan and I had taken the bus to Central Park as we often did. I invited Michael too, of course, but he said he’d be spending the day at a friend’s. I didn’t blame Michael for spending as much time as possible away from the house, from his family. Unfortunately Declan was still young and at the time, curiously friendless, so I took up most of his attention.

We were strolling along the path, the trees just sprouting new, fresh green leaves and I noticed Declan staring curiously at a woman who was standing out on the Great Lawn. I had seen her many times before. In fact, the woman in her 1920’s attire, was always there, standing in the same spot and staring at the ground, never moving. I knew she was a ghost of course, but this was the first time I could see Declan noticing her.

“Declan,” I said. “Do you know where people go when they die?”

He didn’t seem too concerned over my odd question and ate a piece of caramel corn from the box he was cradling in his arms. “To heaven or hell.”

“That is true, though no one can be sure for certain,” I told him. “But I do.”

“Where do they go?’ he asked, his eyes glistening with new curiosity.

“Some don’t go anywhere,” I said. I kept my eyes on the woman in the field. “Some stay where you and I can see them.”

“They do?”

I stopped walking and pointed his body towards the wide green lawn.

“Yes, Declan. Do you see that woman over there, standing in the middle of the lawn?”

He nodded. A surge of pride ran through my old blood.

“I see her every time I come here,” I continued, so happy to be able to talk about it. “It doesn’t matter what time of day it is, or what season it is, but I see her. And now that I know you see her too, it means we share the same gift.”

“A gift?” His dark brow furrowed in comic confusion.

“Yes.” I pointed over at a nearby bench where an old chap was feeding pigeons. “Go over to that man there, don’t be shy, and ask him if he sees her too.”

Declan looked even more puzzled but there was a side of him that was brazen and bold with strangers. He nodded and walked over to the man who peered away from his cooing birds with annoyance.

“Yes son?” the old man said.

Declan pointed to the woman. “Excuse me sir, I have to ask you a question. Do you see a lady standing right there?”


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