She was calm, my mother—always calm, even when lashing out would have be justified. She was calm when she told Dylan he couldn’t leave the house, calm as he sulked for rest of the day. She was also calm when the phone rang that day. We were watching episodes of Criminal Minds after a light dinner of leftover rice. She remained calm as she laid the cell on the table after the call, calm as Dad revved his engine one last time in the garage to announce his return, unmoving as he planted a kiss on her cheek and looked baffled when she wouldn’t even look at him. As we all turned to stare, two streams of tears escaped her glassy eyes, and the tense silence that followed was almost absolute—broken only by the sound coming from the TV.
There are many families out there with cheating fathers and heartbroken mothers. Often, the children pick up on the subtle changes in their parents’ relationship and sometimes, they find out in a big way when their mother files for divorce. Ours wasn’t one of those families.
Father walked into the room he shared with Mother after standing a while in that charged atmosphere; the rest of us were rooted in our seats, looking at moving figures on the TV screen—looking and not seeing. It would be another hour before Mother stood and bid us goodnight in that normal voice that betrayed none of the awkwardness that was the past hour. Dylan and I looked at each other and heaved a sigh. Night soon left and morning came: it had been the eve of our first day in hell.
I got up at 5.18 am and traipsed down the hallway linking all the bedrooms, as I made for the bathroom. I was just going to take a peek into their room, satisfy a weird curiosity to see how they were doing. The door to their room was ajar and opened noiselessly as I pushed it a little. Mother was astride Father and had her back to me. Completely red at having invaded a private moment, I reflexively started shutting the door; but something didn’t seem right so I took a second look. Mother had her head bowed and her body heaved slowly with every breath she took; Father wasn’t moving. I shunned a preposterous thought and called out in a whisper: Mother? Nothing.
I walked around very slowly to get to her side until I saw the hilt of a knife that was buried deep within Father. I stumbled back and fell, landing on my butt and simultaneously covering my mouth with my hands to stifle the scream that already made its way to my lips. Mother’s gaze turned slowly towards me, her face slack and her eyes so dark. We stared at each other, unmoving, for what seemed like forever.
Her hands moved before her eyes did, her fingers closing around the ivory handle of the knife before her eyes returned to it. My limbs took too long to catch up with what my mind already knew. She slid the knife out of Father’s chest, turned the point on herself and drove it home, a fraction of a second before I lunged for her. As my hands caught her falling body, my agony exploded in a scream and everything went dark. I came to in a hospital room; Dylan had his head on my hand and jerked up when I stirred. “Mum? Dad?”. He shook his head and I knew they were really gone.
Mother had the steadiness of a lake, the grace of its waters and, most of all, its essential quiet…until she heated up in a fire of betrayal, boiled over and burned us all. It’s been many days since that first day in hell, and I fear my scalds will never heal enough to become scars.