This crime story won a London heat of the National Young Crime Writer’s Competition in May. It will go forward to the national competition in June which will be judged by senior CWA members. We LOVED this story. Good luck Claudia - Anne Cassidy
|Winning writer Claudia Hyde and Anne Cassidy|
A Cushion Out of Place by Claudia Hyde
There was only one time in my childhood where I was happy. I mean, where I genuinely felt the phenomenon of happiness.
I can still recall the feeling of the squeaky leather of the psychiatrist’s armchair underneath my pinafore. I remember the noise it made, too; it was a high pitched whining noise, as if it were protesting from my weight. Not that I weighed an awful lot as a child; sometimes I refused to eat my meals even when I was starving hungry, just to upset my mother. That seemed to be my number one priority, to upset my mother. But I knew I could do it eventually.
“So tell me Ilse, what seems to be the problem?” Dr. Holtzmann said tapping his Swiss fountain pen elegantly against a cork clipboard. I knew for a fact that he wasn’t intending on writing anything on that clipboard.
“Well, she’s become very complacent recently,” my mother began. The vigorous ceiling lights of Dr Holtzmann’s office were reflecting off the surface of her pearls.
“I don’t think she’s been handling the…”
“Actually, if it’s alright with you, Frau Tessler,” Dr Holtzmann interrupted, “I would like to speak to Ilse.”
My mother looked dejected; she probably wanted to spend the hour long session complaining about me and have Dr Holtzmann agree that I was an unruly child and it was not her fault. She’d wasted her hour’s worth. It served her right, too. She reclined back onto her squeaky armchair, and rested her head on one well-manicured hand.
“What’s wrong, Ilse?”
I glared back at the doctor. Did he honestly expect me to pour out my heart and soul to a stranger who my sadistic mother was paying to agree with her?
“Perhaps we should have some privacy,” he whispered to my mother in confidential tones.
“So, what’s wrong, Ilse?” he repeated, as if he honestly expected me to reply. “Your parents tell me you’re not getting on with your younger sister.”
I scorned that sentence. My sister was three months old at the time. Of course we couldn’t get on, she was the most boring, useless lump of cashmere and baby spit I had ever met in my life. But Dr Holtzmann and my parents didn’t know the half of it. They were such ignorant fools.
I had snuck out of bed late in the night; I could tell because my parents were both asleep and the neighbour’s cat was yowling like it normally did at midnight. I creaked open the nursery door in my circus animal onesie, being careful not to wake my parents. I switched the light on dimly – I had to be able to see what I was doing – and made my way over to the crib. She looked like one of those strange Bavarian sausages my grandmother used to make for me – short, fat and pink, flecked with whiteness. I stuck my hand into the crib and pulled out a soft white cushion with tiny pink hearts embroidered onto it. The baby was still snoozing, her arms bent either side of her. It was all too easy, like taking candy from a baby.
No, no; it was easy, too easy. I had to challenge myself, otherwise it wouldn’t be any fun at all. I placed the embroidered cushion back in the crib and crawled back to my bedroom.
The next morning my parents had worried why the door was ajar and the light was on; they thought perhaps there had been a burglar break in during the night, but their worries quickly subsided when they realised there wasn’t so much as a cushion out of place.
Eventually, my parents stopped taking me to see Dr Holtzmann. I rarely said anything during the sessions, and when I did, it was only to ask my mother when we could go home. During those sessions, the only thing I could think of was my baby sister lying in the nursery, growing bigger and stronger while I wasted my time sitting on the squeaky leather armchair.
We’d gone home early from the park on one very rainy Sunday afternoon a few weeks later. We came flooding through the front door with our raincoats wet and shiny, and our Wellington boots squelching with mud on the beige jute carpet. The baby had been screaming non-stop ever since the rain had started. I didn’t see what she was complaining about; her pram had a see-through rain cover that kept her snug and dry while the rest of us wallowed in the weather. My mother took her up to the nursery whilst my father cleaned the boots in the kitchen sink.
I sat idly on the stairs waiting for something terrible to happen.
The screaming didn’t stop. It continued and continued; I could hear mother singing lullaby after lullaby, hushing and shushing, comforting and cuddling, but simply nothing worked. After a while mother ventured downstairs to sterilise a bottle, leaving the Bavarian sausage-baby screaming in her crib. I tip-toed upstairs to the nursery, seizing my opportunity. I picked her up; she was heavier than I remembered, but looked a bit more like salami than a Bavarian sausage because she was so red-faced. She was screaming so hard I could actually feel her vibrating in my hands, like a bomb.
“Stop screaming!” I shouted, loud, right in her angry, puffed-up face. “Stop it! Just stop it, stop it, stop it!”
Suddenly, the screaming stopped, and I couldn’t help but wonder why. Without realising it, I had been shaking her up and down like a Magic-8 ball. A smile as wide as the Danube crept onto my face. Everything was calm, everything was peaceful. I finally knew what it meant to be happy.
I placed the silent cadaver back in the crib with the embroidered cushion under her head. She looked well rested. And you know the best part? I knew this, this alone, would upset my mother more than I could’ve dreamed.