1 Chapter 1

The sky hung like a curtain lead, threatening an evening shower. Sophie muttered a curse under her breath and glanced in the distance for any visible signs of her father. He usually arrived home very late towards midnight and left in the wee hours of the morning. He had grabbed a modest family fortune and parlayed it into a disgusting amount of money in the gambling dens and casinos. The rippling hills were bathed in a palette of springtime greens- young corn and oats, alfafa and wild grass, all swaying in the early evening breeze. 

Dragonflies skimmed above the surface and weeping willows bowed across it, their slender pendulous branches fluttering like ribbons. Sophie stood up and gamely pressed on as the sun sank into the gleaming yellow hills. "I wonder whether father has visited his usual drinking sprees?" she wondered aloud. The words had no sooner slipped from her lips than the thick stiletto heel of her sandal glanced off an especially large chunk of rock. She stumbled but caught her balance just in time before she could fall on the ground. 

Her thoughts wandered off again. Her mother was a one- of- her- kind introvert who did not take interest in discussing family issues with non- family members. The town square was the center spot for the notorious rumor- mongers and gossipers. The heels of Sophie's sandals sank down into the thick, coarse gravel of the driveway. Soft, green grass had been peeled back to reveal rich, black dirt that was now rutted with the evidence of man's intrusion- discarded food wrappers, crumpled soda cans, trampled yellow invoices, an abandoned plastic glove. All this was evidence of her parents' violent and heated arguments. 

Nature itself seemed to be holding its breath in the face of the modern wound that was being inflicted on it. A large chunk of the perfect meadow had been sliced away, bulldozed to make room for rooms with a view. Her father was a big man with a build that spoke of a sedentary life and a fondness for fat and cholesterol. She reflected, brushing a speck of lint off the lapel of her red silk dress. She could not seem to keep a sheen of tears from glossing over her eyes. Broken dreams that lay scattered in her wake like the wreckage of a plane crash. 

As thunder began to rumble in the distance and the belly of the slate- colored clouds sank a little lower, she turned in at the driveway and walked determinedly down it. Carefully ascending the re- furnished metal steps, she gasped, clutching at her heart as she stumbled back a step, then lurched forward. She grabbed the handle of the door and fumbled with it, adrenaline pumping through her veins, fear and anger making her fingers clumsy. The rest of her tirade was lost, jammed somewhere in her throat with the bitter taste of terror as she swung the revolving door and was injected into the warm mansion. 

Her mother lay comfortably on the cozy purple couch. She snarled into the mouthpiece through gritted teeth, annoyance ringing in her every word. Sophie easily pictured herself, struggling to sit up in her queen size bed, the new springs groaning and complaining, as she heaved herself up against the headboard. Her mother ended the call herself, cradling the receiver with a resounding thump and startling Sophie back to reality. Sophie raced to the doorstep and watched as her father piloted the cruiser down the drive. He chewed on a swear word, clenching his jaw, his hands on the steering wheel. 

The ornate facades of the buildings that had been constructed in the early 2000's stood like silent sentinels on the other side of the street as a police car cruised past. Inside, his car smelt damp and musty, an alien smell over the usual one of leather and cigarettes. He switched off the engine and the heater stopped humming. A leaf was stuck in the blade of the windscreen but was dislodged and torn from the wet glass by the wind. Sophie eyed him with malevolence, screaming defiance as he staggered drunkenly towards the house. 

He deliberately took a deep pull on the cigarette and fired a stream of exhaust into the air, flashing a razor sharp glance askance at her. His clothes were colorful, casual, and faintly Hawaiian; narrow cord trousers, battered chukka boots, a blue denim shirt worn over a purple pullover and a suede jacket to top it all. He gathered himself and his broad shoulders rose and fell as he planted his hands on his waist and heaved a sigh. His long, thin face was chalky white and gleaming with sweat. The brightness of the sea was reflected from the whitewashed walls of houses and assailed the eye like the glare of snow. Her father cast another dubious look at the swelling clouds and tried to limp on faster. 

Rain hammered at his unprotected head as he hunched himself into his raincoat and flung open the door. Sophie's mother whirled towards the sound of that sudden entrance. Her eyes were enormous and blue as violets, her mouth full and sweet tempered and when she frowned, as she did now, hid two perfect rows of even white American teeth. She wore a most becoming suit of rose pink tweed; the collar and cuffs edged with starched white pique. Diamonds sparkled from her ears, her lapel, her lapel, and her neatly manicured hands. There was nothing vulgar about her, nothing brash, even her scent was flower- like. 

Her father's attitude was a characteristic one, his chin supported by his thumb, a cigarette between his fingers; its smoke rising before his eyes. The eyes were dark as black coffee, deeply shadowed. As he fixed them with his dark eyes, they became discomfited, turned away and moved on as though they had been caught doing something shameful. Her mother had been putting up with his camaraderie ever since she returned from Paris. Her father cleared his throat and said portentously, as though he were giving a lecture, "I'm home." 

"Were you out carousing with your friends again?" her mother, Victoria, flung the question at him and pretended to be tidying the cushions and tables. The query hit him like an exaggerated exclamatory emphasis as he felt the tyranny of time clawing ferociously through the air. Sophie did not wait to see what would happen next. Scared stiff, she ran upstairs but this time, not to her room; she crouched nearby watching the events unfolding before her eyes. With a forlorn face, Jackson doused what remained of the cigarette into the floor and grabbed Victoria by the neck. The serene and tranquil air that hung over the room was glaringly deceptive. The fearful action sent the blood rushing in Sophie's heart. 

Victoria choked back tears and tried to free herself. All her efforts were like flogging a dead horse. Tightening his grip, he picked up a razor sharp knife that lay idly on the table, and slashed at her arm. Victoria let out a blood-curdling scream and spat at her tormentor painfully as Sophie watched with a faintly distracted expression, clutching her heart in her mouth. Because of his nervousness and inborn timidity, he swiped his arm across his face and wiped the spit from his eyes. 

He gnashed his teeth in murderous temper and muttered a curse under his breath. He was in a complete dwaal and deftly avoided meeting Victoria's eyes as she lay there writhing and groaning in pain and agony. Sophie had always considered her father a harmless eccentric but the inhumane felony he had committed against her mother depicted him as a felon and aired out his true colors. The house looked grim and dreary in the rain. The wind was blowing in gusts as the leaves gyrated slowly to the ground. 

This house, which Sophie had come to know as a haven of peace and tranquility had been turned into a death zone. Dusk had now turned to night. The truth was, perhaps, that her father in the years from when he was promoted, to the present, had changed all that fundamentally. The garden of love in their family had been neglected for a long time; it was now overgrown and full of weeds. Sophie had to decide what to do in order to avoid mistakes of the same kind in future. Ignorance was like a car that came hurtling towards her, threatening to knock her down; she had to be wise, and move out of the way, it was a passing storm. 

What was going on in her father's mind now was a matter for conjecture. A gibbous moon hung triumphantly over the compound and the stillness of the night was restored. There was maximum silence that reflected the peaceful environment of the town. Slowly, a sense of peace returned to the ruffled ocean of Jackson's soul as he awakened to his senses. He let go of the knife and loosened his grip on Victoria instantly; guilt mirrored vividly on his face. Sophie wiped the tears that she had allowed to flow so freely down her face and bolted to her room, pretending to be fast asleep. 

Jackson pondered weak and weary as he climbed up the spiral staircase to the master bedroom, upon realization of what he had done. Victoria was left blood-soaked into the floor growling and groaning piteously as tears of melancholy slowly found their way down her cheeks. Sophie sobbed quietly and cried herself to sleep. She awoke at dawn as the gleaming, yellow sun peeped through her curtain-laced windows in an attempt to awaken the heavy sleeper. She jumped out of bed and sprang into the bathroom, leaving her blankets swirling chaotically behind her; gathering in a sympathetic heap. 

After a heart-warming Jacuzzi shower, she clad in a purple shirt and skater skirt that conformed to the dark red Spanish boots. She drew the curtains, spread her bed neatly and locked her room behind her. Events of the previous day swirled shapelessly in her mind as she descended the spiral staircase. Porcelain utensils and bowels with golden flower motifs went clink softly as Victoria cleaned and set up the table. The heavenly aroma of roast duck wafted into her nostrils, making her salivate instantly. A sly smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. She mumbled greetings to her mother. 

They ate their breakfast in silence in the absence of her father as usual. Sophie held a strong animus against her father who was a total Babbitt and nothing he said or did right now could make her believe that the events of the previous night were very adventitious. She missed her brothers, Dean and Ivan, dearly and wished they were back from Australia. Somehow, Sophie always found room in her heart to forgive her father every morning when she woke up. Jackson was under the aegis of the Carnord Company and therefore exhibited a hauteur attitude towards other people especially his less successful workmates. 

Victoria seemed a trifle uncertain whether he would come back that evening. She enjoyed the nonsensical sensation in the passionate fits of neatness, which overwhelmed her from time to time. Of all the memories of her fabulous and salutary weekend, the most haunting was a recollection of the strange visitations of a former workmate at the Carnord who she recognized as Michael Trenton. He would stand in beautiful serenity, gazing peacefully down upon her. Marveling at the strange succession of events made the room itself sacrosanct. Sophie was the first to finish her breakfast.                                                         

"Mum."                                                                                                                                                                                     

"Yes."                                                                                                                                                                                  

"I'm going to the library."                                                                                                                                            

"Ok. Just make sure you're back before dinner."                                                                                    

Sophie's lips held the faint suggestion of a smile, compounded of scorn and indulgence as she flung open the door to the pleasanter accommodation. The ides in her head had not yet coalesced into a complete thought. Since her brothers were sent away to boarding school in Australia, she was suffering untold agonies in the form of her parents' domestic violence. Dean and Ivan were humane, enlightened boys, lenient in judgment, and patient with savage errors of primitive people. As she trotted the path to the library, she tripped on a loose chipping and caught her balance just in time, again. 

Grenadillas and hibiscus, Poinciana and jacarandas and multi- colored grand coleus fell in a brilliant carnage to appease her anger as she caught sight of a familiar figure in the distance. She dismissed the unorthodox encounter, which had quite flabbergasted her. He came into sight again, exuberantly seedy, lounging along the quay and before she could recollect her thoughts, an unfamiliar liquid substance was sprayed across her face. Consequently, she felt her legs weaken and was swept off her feet into the back of a van, as she drifted out of consciousness.

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