Warning: this short story is a hard-hitting account of child abuse. Please consider this carefully before reading it.
She’d already pulled the door to the ladies’ toilets partly open when she heard it. A voice from her past, travelling through time and spilling into the present through the crack in the door. Not just any old voice but the voice. The voice that turned her spine to ice and caused her stomach to heave. She let the door slide shut and turned back to the wash-basin area where she stood over a basin, her belly churning, her hands gripping the sides of the white porcelain bowl until her knuckles turned white. An elderly lady came out of the only occupied cubicle and walked over to the basins to rinse her hands.
‘Are you okay, hen?’ she asked. ‘You look awfie pale.’
Moira managed a weak grimace and pulled herself upright. ‘I’m fine, thanks. Just a sudden turn. Maybe I stood up too quickly. Thanks for asking.’
‘You’re no pregnant, are you? Cos if you are, you need to be careful.’
Moira shook her head and managed to force out the beginnings of a smile.
‘Well, okay.’ The elderly lady gave her one last look and bustled out of the door, back into the café.
Moira looked in the mirror. This had all gone wrong. She’d kept away for fifteen years and had thought that the poison had been largely purged from her veins. She’d imagined that she could return safely to the country of her youth now that she was a mature, successful and independent woman. She’d imagined that this visit would provide the final, cathartic experience that would prove to her once and for all that her past was exactly that, the past. Long gone. She’d driven up from Bristol at the weekend, staying the night with a friend just outside Manchester. The two of them had gone out for a meal and a few drinks and Fi had asked her the inevitable question.
‘Are you sure this is what you want, Moira? Are you ready for it?’
She’d merely laughed in response. After fifteen years? God, that’s nearly a generation. What was the expression? Nae worries? Yes, that had summed up her level of confidence exactly. Hah! If only. She’d felt the first wisps as she approached the border. A slight brooding heaviness had started to seep into her mind and increased as she drove further north. It only started to improve when she turned towards Edinburgh, as if it was external in its origin and was being emitted from a beacon somewhere to the west. Three days in the capital and she’d begun to feel confident again. Maybe it was good to be back. Maybe it was something that she should have done years before. She shopped, she visited museums and art galleries. She walked up the Royal Mile. She flirted with a couple of other hotel guests in the evenings but kept them very much at arm’s length. It was going so well. Maybe, just maybe, she should take a day and head west. Face it head on. True courage and all that bullshit. This morning had dawned bright and fresh with a sparkling light dancing over the castle. Positively spring like. So she’d taken the bull by the horns and made the snap decision to come across, fighting the increasing sense of panic that started to creep in as she edged closer towards Glasgow, and increased further as she skirted around the southern suburbs and headed towards the Ayrshire coast. She hadn’t been able to disentangle the mix of almost overpowering emotions that swamped her as she drove along the familiar road with the sea sparkling ahead of her. Oh, God. Maybe this had been a terrible idea after all. She parked the car and slowly walked around the corner to the main street, glancing at her watch. Coffee would help. Maybe with some sugar in it to help calm her nerves.
There was the café, the one she remembered from her childhood. Still in the same place, but looking newly refurbished with bright paint, shining windows and pot plants in the entrance lobby. Not quite the grubby atmosphere that she remembered, with its accompanying smell of over-used cooking oil. She’d sat at that window table so often, dipping a spoon delicately into her flavoured ice-cream long after her friends had finished theirs off. She put off entry to the café proper for a few minutes and decided to visit the toilet before finding a seat, and now here she was. Here and now.
His saccharin voice used to fill her with terror and dread. He used phrases like ‘my sweet little Moira’, ‘my petite seductress’, ‘my cunning little vixen’ and ‘my little temptress’. All carefully chosen to imply that she was complicit in ‘our little affair’, as he used to call it. He had a store of similarly honeyed phrases to describe her body. Her ‘little boobies, so soft and rounded’. Her ‘sweet, little cunnie, ever so soft and welcoming.’ Her ‘tight little bottom-hole’. He’d made it all sound as if it was something straight out of the pages of Winnie the Pooh or Rupert the Bear.
She looked at herself in the mirror above the basin. She was shaking. She could see the rhythmic tremors rippling along her arms and shuddering through her body, just like they had fifteen years earlier, when she’d just lie on the bed shivering in fear. That’s why he’d chosen her. She’d been the only one, he’d said. That much was true. He’d avoided laying a finger on any of the other girls in the home. They’d been much more streetwise and would have shouted about it from the roof tops. But not little Moira Moffat, oh no. She’d always been like a fish out of water in that home. Timid, withdrawn and so anxious to please. As a child she’d never say boo to a goose. So she just lay there quivering and whimpering, and feeling the touch of his cold, clammy fingers and his cold and even clammier penis and the mucky stuff that came out of it.
She looked again at her reflection. An attractive, well-dressed and healthy stranger with carefully highlighted, blonde hair looked back at her. What was life all about? It was as if those two years between the ages of thirteen and fifteen would define her forever, as if she would always be that little girl no matter what her exterior appearance demanded. She might fool other people, but herself? No. Impossible. She knew that she would always be that quivering, sobbing, skinny lassie, feeling him pawing her pale-hued body and dribbling stuff from his ‘cockly-wockly’, as he termed it. All over and inside her body. Time and again. For almost two years.
Nearly as bad had been the humiliation she’d felt when she’d finally found the courage to report it all. Things would be different nowadays, of course, but then? She’d been called an ‘evil, duplicitous girl’ by Mrs McCluskey, the manageress of the children’s home after an investigation had shown up no other complaints about the volunteer from the local kirk who’d visit each week to give bible classes. None of the other girls had known what had been going on, and none had seen any signs of the abuse that she’d now reported. She hadn’t confided in any of her friends, so there was not the smallest hint of any corroborating evidence. Apparently, it was all down to her over-active imagination. A quick examination by the home’s laughably-titled ‘nurse’ had confirmed little Moira’s ruptured hymen, but that could put down to over-excessive exercises in the small gym, and anyway, as she stated in her prim voice, ‘who knows what these girls get up to together once the lights are turned off at night?’ The woman had refused to examine her anus. Moira was intelligent and perceptive enough to guess what had happened. He was high-status in the local community. She was nothing. There was little obvious evidence, so they’d decided to rally round and support him in the best of traditions.
Moira had changed from that moment on. At least her complaint had generated one positive outcome. He’d left her alone. So she’d started to concentrate on her studies again, and did what she’d always promised herself. At the age of sixteen she’d upped and left. She’d wanted to get as far away as possible and it just so happened that her money got her a one-way ticket to Bristol. Why there? Because a pamphlet lying on a shelf beside the ticket office at Glasgow Central Station had a picture of Brunel’s famous suspension bridge on the cover. The sun was shining down on it from a clear blue sky. And Moira ached to get away. She arrived in the city late in the afternoon, got a room in a hostel, a job in a local supermarket and used some of the money to go to night school and finish her education. She made friends. Passed her exams with credit and started a degree course in French and Business at the local university. She made more friends. She shared a flat. She had boyfriends. She got a job with a local company that had a sub-division in France. And so began a process of normalisation. A process of gradual but steady maturation into adulthood. But she was always silent about the one sequence of events that had, above all others, shaped and dominated her life.
She’d stopped shaking. She splashed some cold water over her face and patted her skin dry with a tissue from her bag because the paper-towel dispenser was empty. She brushed her hair, squirted a little perfume on her wrists, checked her lipstick, straightened her shoulders and walked out into the corridor. Cool air was blowing in from the fire exit, wedged partly open so that staff could pop out for a quick, illicit fag. She could see her car parked outside in the side street. As she entered the main room of the café, a young man in a chef’s outfit came out through the swing doors from the kitchen and nearly collided with her. He apologised and turned into the toilets. Moira glanced around, but no-one was watching. She slipped into the small kitchen and looked around at the stacked shelves of cooking utensils and crockery. A wooden block of cooking knives lay on one of the worktops. She slid a long-bladed knife from its mount and slipped it into her shoulder-bag. She was back out and into the café proper before the chef returned. She stood for a minute leaning against the wall, taking in her surroundings, breathing deeply. Then she started walking, but slowly. She was circling her prey, checking out the lie of the land, inspecting the other customers. Most were sipping a late-morning cup of tea or coffee, but several were tucking into an early lunch. All the time the voice was talking. Talking and laughing, holding sway over a table of eight people. The voice carried across the café, its whiny, slightly nasal tones flowing deep into her brain. That mocking, slightly contemptuous sound that had always grated on her ear. She recognised two of his fellow diners. Donald McCluskey, an ex-provost of the town who’d been the husband of the children’s home manager, and another man whose name escaped her but who had been the assistant minister at the local church. Maybe he’d been promoted to the full job now. The other five people at the table were all middle-aged or elderly women. One was the lady who’d enquired after her in the toilets. That was a shame, maybe. The group was chatting in a light-hearted manner, but it was that voice that dominated with its carefully chosen words of oral poison, aimed at some other poor innocent. Moira circled around some more. Had he put on weight? His face was fleshier and more lined. Moira could see a slight tremor in his hand as he raised his cup to his lips. She was surprised at how physically slight he looked. He appeared to be shorter than most of the women and was certainly shorter than the two other men. He’d always seemed to possess such a physically domineering presence over her for the two years during which the assaults were carried out. She looked closer. His facial skin was pale, lacking in any colouring. Yet he was making up in conversation what he couldn’t do physically; dominate the group. His voice still held the slightly high-pitched tone that she remembered. She listened in as she approached, and sensed the evil underlying his words. They were spiteful, clearly about some person the group all knew. His fellow diners sniggered in an uneasy way to his barbed comments. He hadn’t changed. He was still poison.
Moira walked up and stood beside him. The conversation stopped and eyes turned towards her, including his. There was, as yet, no hint of recognition. The lady who’d spoken to her in the toilets was about to say something, but Moira hushed her with a finger to her lips.
‘Let me introduce myself,’ she said clearly and loudly. ‘I’m Moira Moffat. This is Duncan MacIntyre.’
He started to stand as she continued to speak but was having trouble pushing his chair clear because she had her foot firmly planted against the rear leg. All conversation in the café stopped, and people turned to look at her.
‘Duncan MacIntyre raped me while I was in the local children’s home here.’
‘This is an outrage,’ he gasped as he finally disentangled himself from the chair and struggled to stand up. Moira pushed him back into his chair.
‘You can imagine how I feel about him. I’ve tried to think of words that express my emotions, but they are all inadequate. So….’
He was upright again but she was taller than him now, and fitter. And more determined. The knife slid out of her bag so easily and felt so perfect in her hand. The balance of it was beautiful. He visibly quailed in shock as he saw what she held. He gasped and his facial features seemed to contract. His gaze locked onto her eyes as she pressed the point on the knife into the side of his throat. She glanced around at the shocked people staring at her. A waitress was watching in horror from the side of the room, frozen to the spot. The café manager, a man in his early thirties, had just appeared from his office, mouth open in shock.
‘Duncan MacIntyre raped me vaginally fifteen times between my thirteenth and fifteenth birthdays. He raped me anally four times. He forced me to have oral sex with him eleven times. He has scarred me forever. I can never forget what he did, never push it out of the recesses of my mind.’
She was sobbing now.
‘It would be so easy, so fitting for me to push this knife into his throat a little harder and sever the artery. I want to do it so much. All those times when he was subjecting me to that vile abuse, I dreamt of a time when I could push a sharp blade into him and watch him die.’ She turned to face him. ‘Tell them. Tell them what you did or I’ll kill you.’
Even now he didn’t have the backbone to deny it. His life was too precious to him. She’d known that would be the case.
‘Yes,’ he croaked. ‘Don’t kill me. Yes, it’s true.’
She pressed harder, causing a trickle of blood to flow down his neck onto his pristine white collar. ‘All of it.’
He gasped. ‘All of it is true.’
She backed away. MacIntyre slumped back onto his seat. She took off her coat, flinging it onto a nearby chair. She rolled her sleeves up and held her arms out, criss-crossed with the marks of cut scars, so many that someone wanting to count them wouldn’t know where to start.
‘That’s what I did. That’s what I still do. That’s the result of the poison he left in me. You can all rot in hell, the whole lot of you. You looked the other way and left me alone with a monster.’
She hugged her arms close to her chest. Her tears dripped onto the scars, causing them to glisten like criss-crossing ski tracks on virgin snow.
A dark-haired woman in her thirties detached herself from the group and came across to Moira. She put her arm around her.
‘I’m a local GP, Fiona MacIntyre. I’m his daughter.’ She paused as if weighing up difficult options. ‘I believe you.’
She rolled up the sleeve of her blouse to show her own scars.