The room was oppressive, almost silent apart from the steady ticking of a clock. The dishevelled figure on the bed pushed herself upright and took a deep, shuddering breath before looking at the time. She couldn’t believe it, nine o’clock this morning she had been so happy, skipping over from the school at the beginning of the holidays, leaving the most horrible term she’d ever had behind and here she was recovering from a crying fit nearly three hours later. It wasn’t fair.
Actually, now the initial tempest was over Cecil was a little more balanced, it probably was fair... A bit...A little bit...Maybe. She had behaved abominably towards Claire after all. She was a nasty person. Even if what she’d done to Claire was wrong though what about the rest- that definitely wasn’t fair. She clambered off her bed and straightened the covers and listlessly changed out of the hated gentian dress. Very tidy by nature, she made sure the room was pristine before shuffling along to the bathroom to wash then returned to stick out her tongue at her reflection as she brushed her curly, black hair. Feeling physically refreshed, if not mentally, she went back to her exile to wait for whatever happened next.
At this stage she hated herself; from being what her mother called the sunniest of children she had become this horrible creature that snapped from wild excitement and hilarity to a miserable sulky bundle that would fight the mildest of people. Her family seemed to suffer most, as witnessed by this morning’s episode when she had shaken Claire because she had said Cecil was moody. Cecil had to admit to herself that the action was wrong but to sum up her attitude as merely moody missed the point. Cecil curled up on the chair, seemingly looking out over the beautiful vista but her eyes were unfocussed as she tried to untangle her feelings. When had it started to go wrong- she longed to be the sunny child again but every time she made the hard, conscious decision to be cheerful she ended up even more...she groped for the right word...sulkier, more miserable or, as Claire might say, moodier.
The sun sneaked through the clouds and a shaft of light cut into the room and hit the relentlessly ticking clock causing the rhinestones round its face to become miniature copies of itself. Cecil didn’t notice, trapped in the circles spinning through her mind. School. No she refused to think about that. She might start crying again which could lead to awkward questions. She let out another long stuttering breath; tears were still close enough for her not to want to go there. She lifted her head and caught a sparkle from the clock. She had been so proud when Margot had given her the precious clock before she’d left. Christmas was that when she’d started to change? Thinking back it could be where her dissatisfaction with life had begun.
They had been wildly excited about Christmas. Before they’d broken up, Mamma had told them that everyone was coming, apart from the Richardsons who were joining Ruey and her husband at their new home. Even Len and Reg were bringing baby Phoebe. The reasons given were sad though, it was to be Margot’s last holiday with the family before entering her novitiate but that wasn’t worrying the three of them as they dashed across from the school. Cecil had been so eager to see them that she had tripped over the door step and landed heavily on the floor. Len was coming down the stairs and was quick t snap ‘Hush! I’ve just got Phoebe to sleep!’ There was no greeting, no ‘are you alright’ just an order from Mother Superior. Cecil had started thinking of her eldest sister as Mother Superior a few years before when she realised how much Len took it upon herself to keep everyone in order.
They had quietly changed their shoes and then gone into the salon, expecting to see the family but only Mamma was there, Len sitting by her looking languid. ‘Where are they?’ Claire asked.
Joey answered, ‘The boys have gone off to Interlaken, Con is finishing an article in my study, Margot is sorting out her belongings, Felix and Felicity are together somewhere, Geoff is waiting for you and Phil, in the playroom, and Reg is with your Dad in the study.’ Claire and Phil dashed off and Cecil became suddenly more aware that either side of her in this family were not only twins but twins that hung together. She felt like Elsie in What Katy Did, classed as a child by anyone older and as too old to play with the younger ones. As she turned to go upstairs, Len had yawned. Mamma then arranged that Len would rest in her bed whilst Cecil listened out for the baby as her room was opposite and she would be up here unpacking.
Great! Coming back to the present, Cecil thought that it was becoming a habit for her to spend the first day of her holiday stuck in her room. A glance at her clock showed that it was still a while until lunch so she went back to her thoughts.
The Christmas season had been a big disappointment, she’d never noticed before how boring her family were. Stephen was planning to buy a car when he returned to Britain and the boys spent all their time discussing vehicles and using words that to Cecil were a foreign languge. They’d also been on their best behaviour as Dad had discovered that they had smuggled a load of vodka under Charles bed and were spending each evening in an impromptu party. Felix and Felicity were together, both working hard as they were to take their O’levels in the summer and needed to pass well.
Mother Superior had spent most of her time sleeping while Mamma went completely gaga over 7 month old Phoebe, in a way she never had with any of them. Cecil had started to hate Phoebe and had come to the decision that babies were smelly, inconvenient things only there to disrupt others lives. No-one else had a problem with the baby though, even Claire took delight in playing, holding and talking about Phoebe. THERE IT IS- that’s when I first hated myself, she thought. It had got worse. Len had noticed her solitude and disrupted it; ‘Its time you learnt how to deal with babies as you didn’t have our experience.’ Cecil had had to pretend to love doing various disgusting things with babies as Mamma had offered her services as chief baby sitter. Yuk.
Con hadn’t come to her rescue either. Cecil had a quiet admiration for the triplet that shared her colouring. Con had always been a quiet influence in her life, they had often shared small private jokes but that holiday Con had been deep in the throws of an idea for a novel and therefore was distant. It seemed unfair To Cecil that this happened during the holidays, why couldn’t Con have done it during her work time- surely it didn’t take that much time to review books every week.
The best bit had been Margot. Margot had spent a lot of her time clearing her pretty yellow and white room, packing up old clothes and redistributing her belongings but she had also somehow noticed Cecil’s despondency and on the last evening had come to Cecil’s room. ‘I’m giving you Emmy’s clock. You are a careful person and I can trust you to look after it. It has reminded me of various faults of mine and kept me from doing some wild stuff all I ask is that it reminds you to pray for me little sister, I need loads of prayer.’ Cecil had remembered and each night added ‘Margot’s prayer’ to her others. Cecil’s sigh reverberated around the still room.
Just then she heard footsteps on the stairs and stood up, glancing round to make sure everything was neat, rosy room. Joey came in, ‘Its lunchtime Cecilia. You will eat your meal in the kitchen with Anna. Then, as we don’t want you stuck indoors all day you will go with her to the shops.’ Joey’s voice was steely as she led her daughter down to the ground floor.
‘Mamma,’ Cecil’s voice came out as a breathy squeak so she tried again, ‘Mamma.’
Joey stopped and turned round, Cecil, still with her eyes on the floor went on, ‘Before lunch may I apologise to Claire?’
‘Certainly. Well done. Come on.’ Joey’s voice was a touch less unfriendly.
Cecil was pleased that the whole family weren’t there. She stood in the door way and finally looked up ‘I’m really sorry Claire. It was wrong of me to shake you.’ Tears were wobbling at the edge of her eyes. Claire came over and hugged her, unlike the rest of the family Claire was very demonstrative, ‘I shouldn’t have called you moody.’
‘Thank-you girls. Run along now Cecil, Anna is waiting for you.’
On her way to the kitchen Cecil, almost literally ran into her father. Since giving up the San, Papa was spending much of his time translating. Translating what, Cecil wasn’t entirely sure but it meant copious amounts of mail. A flash of inspiration hit her, ‘Papa, as Anna and I are going to the shop this afternoon is there any post you want taken?’
‘Thanks Cecil, a pile of it as usual. When you’re ready to go come and get it from me.’
Lunch was an unpleasant meal. Anna’s lips were pursed and she spoke only to give instructions. Cecil struggled with her soup while the silence left her space to think. Claire had been so nice so why was she, Cecil, so horrible. Eventually however she managed to choke down her meal and went to get ready. Picked up her father’s mail and went for her walk.
The afternoon her imposed solitude was lifted and she spent her time sewing. Unlike the rest of her family she loved sewing, currently smocking a summer dress meant for Phoebe’s first birthday, she found the smooth regular motion of the needle a task that bought some peace to her whirlwind mind. Happy in her task she started humming to herself, leaving the rest to their game, her thoughts regulated themselves to happier thoughts, three weeks before returning to the hell that was school.
After tea was cleared away Joey and Jack retreated into the den whilst the three girls waited nervously. Claire was called first. Left behind Phil and Cecil caught each others eyes and giggled, ‘Let’s play,’ said Phil referring to the game that Felicity had created to ease the tension at this time. It didn’t matter how well you thought you’d done at school, waiting for the report reading was a tense time. ‘I think she’ll be in there twelve minutes.’
Cecil replied, ‘I think it will be longer. She really only bothers with art and I think THEY will have something more to say. I think nearer twenty.’ They discussed it with interest but were both wrong in the end when Claire came back 25 minutes later looking sulky. It was Phil’s turn next and she left grinning. As the door closed behind her she called back, ‘Eight minutes tops.’
Cecil looked at her little sister and noted the pout, ‘C’mon Claire. It can’t have been that bad.’
Claire persisted, ‘What’s the problem?’
‘I’m the best in my class at drawing, why can’t they be happy with that? Felicity dances and I draw.’
‘But you’re at school, love. We need to know lots of things to do what we want. If you want to do art you’re going to have to go to Art College and that means passing exams in lots of subjects other than art. ‘
‘Not you as well! You’re lucky not to have a special thing you do.’
Although she knew Claire hadn’t meant it maliciously Cecil was taken aback at her words and plunged back into the black mood. She’d give anything to have a talent. In a family of very clever and gifted kids, she was the odd one. Suddenly she felt even more worried about her report. She knew that however much they hid it, she was a major disappointment to them all.
Sure enough Phil wasn’t long and it was Cecil’s turn. She shuffled along to the den, took a deep breath and entered feeling apprehensive. Her parents looked up and smiled at her.
‘Don’t look so worried.’
‘Actually we’re very pleased with your report; you’ve risen from tenth place to sixth. We know you must have worked really hard this term.’
Cecil nodded. Once the trouble had begun she had found work was a way to forget what was going on.
‘Don’t forget that your sisters had to work hard too, to retain their form places.’ Internally Cecil thought ‘Yes but they were in classes whose average age was years older than them.’
‘Your general report is good too. Apparently you have been very helpful to the staff.’ Again Cecil’s internal voice broke in ‘Well it helps keep trouble away.’
‘The only problem seems to be that suddenly you’ve become untidy. It seems that almost every week you’ve been called to tidy your drawers, locker or outdoor things. This is very unlike you. You are the only naturally tidy child we have. Is there something you’d like to tell us?’
For a moment, the longing to explain trembled on the edge of Cecil’s lips, just tell she thought and it might all go back to before when she was popular but that would make her a tell tale and everyone would despise her even more. She might be horrible but she wasn’t going to get anyone else into trouble. ‘No,’ she said. She had spent the interview looking at the floor not wanting to see the disappointment in their faces.
‘Ok. Well if there’s nothing you want to tell us we’ll leave it there. But Cecil, please remember we’re always here and willing to listen.’ Cecil jumped to her feet and left as fast as she decently could. She dashed up to her room- that hadn’t been so bad but she must be careful not to give anything away. She was not going to have her classmates calling her a snitch.
The rest of the evening passed relatively quietly. Phil, Claire and Cecil played scrabble. A few years ago they had invented international rules in which they could use words of any language they chose which made the game both easier, as they had more options, and harder as the letter distribution was different. As normal it ended in a mini row as Phil claimed that she had won with the word ‘pwll’ which she claimed was welsh but the others objected as they hadn’t got a dictionary to check and questioned whether she knew any Welsh anyway. Fortunately Anna arrived with cocoa then and the moment was forgotten as Claire’s bedtime approached.