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Sharon Briggs




‘Beyond the Inheritance’

Beyond The Inheritance



The party was in full swing. Madeline leaned against the door frame and surveyed the crowd through a haze of expensive cigar and cigarette smoke.

Someone smiled at her. She lifted her champagne glass in acknowledgement and smiled back revealing perfect white teeth.

"You are so beautiful and I'll love you forever," a deep voice behind her whispered into her ear, large hands encircled her slim waist.

Her stomach lurched. She turned and looked into blue eyes. "What the hell are you doing?" She hissed, her brown eyes scanning for signs that someone had seen.

"How are the children?"

Her face clouded. "They're fine." The statement was flat. Final.

"Madeline, I....."

"Please don't." She turned her face away from him.

The man grabbed her elbow and put his mouth close to her ear. "I have a right, Madeline...."

She turned to face him once more, her brown eyes filled with anger. "You have no rights. Just you remember that." She stared at him coldly for a moment before shaking herself free from his grip and walking into the crowded room. The man watched her slim figure retreating from him. The black taffeta dress she wore clung to the contours of her body, her long black hair bouncing on creamy white shoulders. She was the most beautiful woman he had ever set eyes on and he wanted her so badly he could taste it. But it was over. Their affair finished. Gone. Discarded like a piece of unwanted rubbish. There would be no more secret phone calls. No more secret meetings. No more lovemaking. She did not want him anymore, she had made that perfectly clear. He had to content himself to watch from afar.....

A fat lady with too much make up and too much perfume descended on him and started talking. He wanted to tell her to go away. Instead, he smiled politely and watched her purple lipsticked mouth moving. He heard no words. Just saw Madeline. Madeline laughing. Madeline talking, gesticulating with her slim hands. Saw her sultry brown eyes, her slim naked body. He wanted to shout then. To tell everyone the party was over. He wanted to be alone. Alone with his memories. Alone with his grief. Yes, that's what it was, grief. Grief that he would never again hold Madeline in his arms. That they would never share precious, stolen moments together ever again. He looked at the fat lady with disgust and cut her off in mid conversation. She stood open mouthed as he turned rudely away from her and began to climb the stairs. He didn't care about anything anymore. Madeline was gone. His life was over. As far as he was concerned the rest of the world could go to hell.

Music. Conversation. Chinking of crystal. Perfume and aftershave mingled with cigarette smoke and alcohol permeated her senses. Madeline knew that she should never have come here. She should never have listened to James. Should never have let him talk her round. She wondered why he had to keep torturing her. If he hated her that much why didn't he just ask for a divorce. Get it over and done with. No, that would be too easy. Too easy for James. She had hurt him. He wanted revenge.....

"Enjoying yourself, Maddie?" It was James. He was standing in front of her. Blonde hair slightly dishevelled. Bloodshot eyes. Voice slurring.

"No, James, I'm not. I want to leave."

"Leave? Why? The night is yet young," his voice was cold, mocking. "Come and get a drink - loosen up, enjoy yourself." He took her arm and guided her towards a long table laden with drink."

"What will it be?"

Madeline rolled her eyes. As if he needed to ask. " Martini and lemonade," she said impatiently. The heady beat of Solomon King singing When a Man Loves a Woman suddenly filled the room.

"Dance with me Maddie?"

"Why James, what's the point?"

"You're my wife."

"Yes, James, wife - not possession."

"Suit yourself," he sniped. His blue eyes held her gaze for a moment before he walked unsteadily away in the direction of a tall blonde who was only too happy to oblige.

Madeline sighed deeply and sipped her drink. How much longer could this go on. It was intolerable. The constant arguing and backbiting that occurred whenever they were together. How many times could she say sorry? How many times could she regret? She had done what she had done. There was no going back. She could not change things. How much longer would she have to be punished? A week. A month. A year. The rest of her life....

The old Grandfather clock in the hall had chimed in a brand new year. Madeline kissed and hugged complete strangers and wished endless greetings of 'Happy New Year' to people she did not really know or care about and now the party was over. The host had disappeared hours before but no one had really missed him. The party guests filed noisily out of the house leaving the remnants of the evening scattered around the house behind them. James and Madeline were the last to leave.

It was bitterly cold. A sharp wind blew in from the North whipping Madeline's black hair about her face as she made her way to the car. The engine sprung to life immediately and the black Bentley purred out of the lane towards home.

A carpet of frost covered the ground and clung to the hedgerows glistening like silver marquisette in the glare of the headlamps as the car snaked it's way down the black, deserted country lanes.

"Slow down James, please..." Madeline begged as the back of the car skidded on a patch of ice. She sat upright in the passenger seat and gripped the edge of the leather seat until her knuckles turned white.

"Shut up Maddie," James slurred. He was enjoying this. Enjoying the look of fear on his wife's face.

"Please, James!"

Her pleas fell on deaf ears. James pressed his foot down harder on the accelerator until the passing scenery was just a blur.

Madeline glanced across at her husband. His large gloved hands gripped the steering wheel. His profile was set in an angry grimace. His eyes were wild, staring straight ahead seemingly at nothing.

Another sharp bend. Madeline lost her balance and screamed out as she tried to correct her posture. They were on the coastal route. The icy ocean was two hundred feet below them, great waves smacking onto the shoreline and cliff face whipped into a frenzy by the now howling wind. Madeline closed her eyes and said a silent prayer. Suddenly the car lurched to the left. She heard James curse. Then they were rolling. Over and over. Down and down. Madeline's head hit the side window, she felt the warmth of the blood as it left the wound and trickled down her face. She was being thrown around like a rag doll. She felt her arm snap. She screamed out in pain. The headlights went out. Blackness. The crashing of metal. Down and down. Then with a deafening crash the car hit the water. Bubbling. Coldness. Madeline struggled to open the door but the pressure of the water was too great. She was screaming now, hysterical screams. James had been thrown across her lap. He was still, his head at a funny angle. She fought with the door catch with all her might, but it was no good. She wound down the window and immediately the car began to fill with salty, icy water. She could no longer feel her limbs. She heaved James out of the way. And tried to crawl out of the window. Her dress was caught, had somehow become entangled around the clutch pedal. With numb fingers she pulled and tugged at the dress. It was so cold. The dress gave a little. Another great wave hit the side of the car and it rolled silently onto its side, black icy water hit her in the face. It took her breath away. Then the car was going down into the blackness. She felt the icy water filled her ears, her nose, her lungs.

It took only seconds for the car to be completely submerged. Only seconds for the icy, black water to drown Madeline. Luckily for James, he was already dead before the car hit the water.

Stepney - 1972

The little girl sat huddled in the corner of the dark, dusty cupboard. Her head was bent forward and her long, brown hair fell down shielding her face. She was sure that she had been there for hours. In fact just a few minutes had passed. She had peed her pants, not through want but through fear. She tried to remember why she was there this time. Was it because she had forgotten to pull the plug out of the bath or because she hadn't washed the dishes properly? She could not remember. She squeezed her eyes tightly together and could see him so clearly. Slouched in the old chair in the smelly living room. Fat, dirty fingers curled around a beer can as he watched the television. His fat gut protruding from a dirty checked shirt, wet lips greedily sucking on a rolled up cigarette. She shuddered as she remembered his large, rough hands fiddling with her, touching her. His smelly breath on her face as he kissed her. She wanted to vomit but knew that would mean further punishment is she made a mess on the floor. She swallowed the bitter bile that had filled her mouth.

Suddenly she heard his footsteps approaching the cupboard. The child's eyes snapped open. She held her breath. Braced herself. But they passed. She breathed a sigh of relief, then pulled herself up onto her haunches and started to rock back and forth as she hummed the nursery rhyme, Jack and Jill.

Highgate - 1972

The child let herself in through the back door as usual. Her mother was washing dishes at the kitchen sink. The woman smiled warmly and came towards her to give her a hug and take her coat and school bag. The smell of freshly baked cakes filled the warm kitchen. The child could not wait to tell her mother what had happened at school that day. She had been picked to star in the school play and had received merit for her painting. The child smiled contentedly, and hummed the nursery rhyme Jack and Jill as she helped herself to some cake and milk.