For Disclaimer, please see Chapter 1.

Misplaced People by Devize © 2004 (

* * * * *

Chapter 25: Branwen’s starling [i]

She was a shadow covered by the night.

She was the silent corner in a storm of midnight noises.

She was the dead centre of a nightmare vortex.

Gently, Sullivan led his daughter through the front door of the cottage.

At least she had stopped shaking now.

Carefully, he sat her down on the sofa. He kept his voice low and soft. "Can I get you anything, cariad?"

There was an almost imperceptible shake of her head.

"Not even a cup of hot chocolate? Just to warm you up?" He gave her bare arms a rub. She didn’t answer, so he took it as a ‘yes’ and went to put the kettle on. He then took his place again, crouched down in front of his daughter. He placed his hands soothingly on her clasped fists. "I think you ought to have a wash and get into some clean clothes, sweetheart, all right?"

Finally, Morien took in her father’s words, and looked down at herself. Her cotton summer dress, once aquamarine, was now brown and stiff with dried blood. A nurse had bathed her face and hands at the hospital, but her arms and legs were still coated.

"I’ll get a bath running, okay?"

Morien looked up, and Sullivan was swallowed by the loss in her eyes. It was a feeling he recognised; had almost forgotten. And the searing pain that had diminished over the years almost resurfaced. He felt tears block his throat, echoing his daughter’s sorrow and remembering his own grief. But he needed to be strong. He buried himself in the mundane.

It had been terrible when Idomeneo had come to the school to find him. The policeman had arrived just after the last class, with students still a chaos in the hallways. Sullivan had seen him through the throng. He had known the moment he saw the big man that something was terribly wrong. He had been wearing a raincoat… on a fine day… hiding the blood on his shirt. Sullivan had heard the quiet, professional words in his ear, "I’ve come to take you to the hospital. Morien needs you," and the world had contracted around him.

Pale and shaking, he had left with Idomeneo for the hospital, to find his daughter inconsolable.

She had been sitting in a shadowed corner of the waiting room, as if the light would damage her. A policewoman sat nearby, on hand, but not too close, seemingly concerned that the woman’s silent anguish was infectious. Sullivan had lifted her face and in the twilight of dark neon he’d seen the brown blood clinging to her skin, and he had thought it was hers.

She had let words drift over her, of explanation, of condolence, of instruction, yet all she could hear were those three words in the blast of sound: I love you.

She hadn’t seen Striker again. They hadn’t let her. So she was left with the recurring image of gunshots ripping through her lover’s body. Of dusk falling on blue sky eyes. The blood red of their lives. Those words...

I love you.

I love you.

I love you, too...

She clung to the phrase as it bridged life and death.

And slowly, like dripping reality, annoyances started to crack through. They were talking at her... over her.

"There’s nothing you can do here."

"You ought to go home."

"It’s best for her… consider her own health."

"There’s nothing she can do here."

Nothing I can do….

"Daddy, I need to stay with her."

"Morien, love, come on…."


"For your own good."

"I don’t care about my own good."

"Please, cariad…."

"I’M STAYING HERE!" Her own voice unreasonably loud in the hush of the hospital. People she didn’t know or didn’t recognise in the haze of darkness, standing round, telling her what to do.

"You can’t stay here. Please, Mo, there’s nothing you can do now." And she’d watched the tears fall down her father’s cheeks. So, she’d cautiously accepted the drink which had been sickly and made her gag and….

A journey as blurred and incomprehensible as the one in the back of the Post Office van.

Now, Morien sat on the sofa.

It had been something to help her relax. It made her body feel heavy and her mind feel numb. Now, she couldn’t think. She didn’t want to think of what had happened. Her thoughts were a kaleidoscope.

So she sat.

"Come on, sweetheart," she heard her father say. "You’ll feel better after a bath."

It was as if her mind was trying to zoom in on a single thought, but wouldn’t focus. A thought struck her. "I ought to phone…."

Her father interrupted, "It’s too late to phone anyone tonight. We’ll sort things out tomorrow."

"You’ve got work tomorrow."

"No I haven’t. I’m taking some time off. You need me right now. And I’ll phone anyone that needs phoning, you just give me the numbers, all right?"

She nodded, half understanding what Sullivan had said. "Asha," she said, "so she can tell Danny…."

"Okay…," Sullivan said, letting her go on. There was a pause that even Morien noticed. "Cariad," he ventured, "should we be phoning anyone in America? Do you know anything about Striker’s parents?"

Her brow creased. Striker’s parents. In the brown confusion of her thoughts, her mind fixed on a single fact. She looked at her own father, concern shining in his eyes. "He knew her," she said. Her voice was faint and searching.

"Pardon, sweetheart?"

"He knew her… he knew her mother."

Sullivan shook his head slightly, not quite comprehending what his daughter was saying. "I’m sorry, my love, I don’t understand…."

And then the expression on Morien’s face changed. Her gaze grew grass-soft and faraway. "Striker’s name is Rosamund." She half-smiled. "Isn’t that a beautiful name? Rosamund West." Then blind confusion creased her face. "Daddy, I didn’t want to leave her. What am I doing here? I need to get back…"

Sullivan’s voice stayed calm despite the fear that was beginning to invade him. "Mo, my love, there’s nothing we can do there. It’s best we stay here and get some rest."

Morien looked at her father — the familiar hazel eyes, the worried gaze behind the shining glasses. He really did need a haircut. Her voice was barely a whisper. "This is hell, isn’t it, daddy?"

She could see his throat move as he swallowed. "Yes, my love, it is."

Morien’s shoulders slumped and she closed her eyes, then seemed to make a decision and nodded. She stood up slowly, as if every bone was creaking, and moved out of the room. Her father heard each careful step upstairs and then heard the bathroom door close.

* * * * *

Her senses were pervaded with the scent of smoke and roses.

Her body was on fire, hands touching, teasing, almost as if they were under her skin. It was as if she could see fingers moving beneath her stretched flesh.

She reached to meet the fingertips, touching her own skin, brushing her body, feeling the nerves jump. Something warm and wet and liquid electric trickled between her thighs. She could feel strong fingers slide between her folds, teasing at her entrance. She could feel herself rising, her hips instinctively lifting off the sheet to meet and guide the probing digits, her body heat increasing, her arousal reaching fever pitch. She could feel the weight of a body on top of her, craved that feeling, and slipped a finger inside.

And her whole body and soul screamed out. Striker.

Her cheeks were wet. She didn’t think she could cry any more.

Striker, you stopped me from being afraid. Now I can’t feel anything else. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to be without you.

It was 2.30 a.m. Too late to sleep, too early to wake.

The clock ticked, but time had given up passing.

She lay on her side, her face buried in the pillow that still smelt faintly of her lover. She felt stiff material under her fingers. Her father had wanted to take her blood-soaked dress away, but she couldn’t part with it. It was rigid with Striker’s life.

Her mind was an empty ballroom — echoing with dancesteps of thoughts. There had been a Cinderella once. A prince, tall and dark and beautifully female, who had embraced her, swept her away and turned her head-over-heels in love.

But the other slipper had dropped. And peace and her princess still didn’t come.

All she had left was a bloody dress and the faintest scent…

…that brought back the devastation of her desire.

She could still sense Striker in her mouth: the way her release had vibrated against her tongue, the final gush of arousal, tangy, smoky and rich, as it flooded her mouth, the taste of blood….

Her body ached with need, weariness and grief, but it made her unable to rest. She needed to do something, and she thought, briefly, about calling a taxi and going back to the hospital. Taking the Volvo, even….

Torpidly, she played back the events of the afternoon. Her mind’s eye saw Striker lying there, blood pooling on the floor around her. She saw Gilbert Lamprey, led away in handcuffs. She heard the brothers’ voices from somewhere. She heard Gilbert’s velvet tones: You’re the spit of her….

She remembered the woman in the photograph, so like Striker, but so different too. Striker had asked her to paint her mother.

Nothing I can do….

That thought like a lightening bolt.

Striker had asked her to paint her mother.

She lifted herself out of bed and, still with the dress clutched to her, she tip-toed into Striker’s room. It would always be Striker’s room, now.

She closed the door and turned on the bedside light. Nothing had changed. Striker’s clothes were still piled untidily around her spilling suitcase. The bed had been made, but there was an indentation in the duvet where, perhaps, she’d sat. Morien put a hand to it.

Easey was curled up on the bed. She lifted her head as Morien approached, blinking in the light. Just beyond the little cat was Striker’s leather jacket. Morien felt her throat tighten at the sight of it. She found herself sitting by Easey, running a hand over the leather. It still felt warm, as if Striker had only just tossed it on the bed and left the room… just for a moment. It was almost too much to touch it.

Morien went to the suitcase, running her hands over the clothes, the books peeking out from under the material. The back pocket. That was where the secrets were kept. She dipped her hand against the silky lining, her hand immediately touching paper. A lucky dip of Striker’s life. It was a bundle of letters, cards, postcards, tied together with ribbon. Morien wondered, for just a moment, whether she was intruding. But she needed to do this. She pulled the bow apart and picked out a card. It had two hugging teddy bears on the front.

The handwriting was neat, careful and easy to read, obviously written with a cartridge pen rather than a simple biro. Written by someone who cared about what she was writing — the way it looked, the way it read.

My darling Rosie,

Thank you so much for your letter. It was such a joy to hear from you. I’m so pleased that you’re getting on so well at school. I am so proud of you.

Sentences, paragraphs, mixed up on the sheets of paper:

I have a job. I work as a secretary for a businessman who buys and sells all sorts of things. I put a photo of you on my desk and everybody who passes asks me who you are and says how pretty you are.

And more:

I think you’ll like the apartment. It’s small, but just the right size for two people. I hope you like your room. You can decorate it any way you like, although I was thinking about trying to find something like the dragon freeze you’ve got at home. Would you like that? Or would you like something new?

A postcard — a picture of the Tower of London.

I can’t wait to bring you here! We can see how it compares to all those castles we read about!

A paragraph from a letter jumped out at her:

Please believe that your father loves you very, very much and is every bit as proud of you as I am. He shouldn’t have shouted at you the way he did, that was wrong, but I’m sure that underneath he’s very sorry. He’s very sad right now and he needs your love as much as you need his.

Another letter:

I miss you so much, darling. I carry your picture round with me. I’m working very hard to get to see you.


I know it’s hard, but Dad and I and the lawyers are trying very hard to sort out when you can come and visit, sweetheart. Sometimes these things take time, because we both love you very much and we want the situation to be the best it can for everybody, but especially you.

Another card:

I’ve almost got enough money saved for you to come and stay, my love. And just remember, if your father won’t let you come here, then I’ll come and visit you. Either way I will see you soon, Rosie. I promise.

More and more and more, bundle after bundle of cards and letters, until Morien was surrounded by a sea of paper. And from the patchwork waves, there was always the end:

I love you, my beautiful girl.

All my love, always

Mum xxx

And at last, Morien reached into the suitcase pocket and pulled out the worn copy of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, and the photograph of Judith Bailey West fell into her lap.

She picked it up from where it was resting on the blood-soaked dress and stared at the face. "What happened to you?" she found herself asking out loud. "How does Gilbert Lamprey know you? Did he have something to do with you going missing?" The faded image held its secret. "Your daughter loves you. You would be so proud of her. She’s the most amazing person…."

But, now, she couldn’t finish that thought.

She looked at Judith’s blue eyes, the light in them almost extinguished by time. She wouldn’t let that light go out. "I’ll find you," she whispered. "If... if she can’t, one day I’ll find you... for her."

And she got up, gathering the photo and the dress and leaving Easey curled up in a cradle of letters.

* * * * *

It was 5.15 a.m.

Sullivan blinked in the daylight peering through the gap in the curtains, although it hadn’t been this that had woken him. He had fallen into a deep sleep when he had finally ensured that his daughter was resting, but was now aware of movement in the house that was more than feline.

He heaved himself out of bed, becoming aware of the light in Striker’s room as he opened the door to the landing. But he was drawn downstairs. The sitting room was glowing.

All the lamps were blazing and the morning streamed through the open patio doors. His daughter seemed oblivious of the brightness and his presence. She was standing at her old easel, the frame supporting a canvas. She was sketching: positive, determined strokes from a charcoal pencil decorated the surface. Each time she added another mark, she would caress the line with her thumb, smoothing, changing. It looked like Striker, but….

Her face was so close to the canvas she only needed to purse her lips to kiss the outlined cheeks. However many dark lines she stroked onto the surface, however black the charcoal was, the sketched face seemed to radiate brightness.

On this most despairing of nights, she could only create light.

Every muscle in her body ached. She had been working through pain and exhaustion for hours, but none of that mattered any more. The only thing that mattered was the mark of charcoal on canvas. Lips on skin.


She jumped and turned. "Dad…."

"How long have you been awake?"

She didn’t answer, simply shrugging, then turned back to the canvas, regarding it through half-closed eyes. She added another line, another touch.

"You should really get some sleep, cariad…."

"I can’t sleep, dad."

"Rest, at least. This is not resting. Think of your…."

"Please, don’t…. I need to do this."

Sullivan watched another line, another caress. He sighed. "It’s amazing, sweetheart. It’s going to be just like her."

Morien half-turned, a tiny steel-glint of amusement in her eye. "It’s not her, it’s her mother." She watched her father’s puzzled face as he gazed at the picture. "I promised her I’d do this. I won’t let her down on this."

"You’ve never let anyone down, Mo."

Morien sighed and stood back a little, staring into the black and white eyes on the canvas. "Yes I have. I’ve let myself down." She looked back at her father. Her own eyes, she knew, were wild, red-rimmed and exhausted. They felt it. "I’ve let you down. I’ve let Striker down…."

Sullivan moved over behind his daughter, putting his hands on her shoulders. "You haven’t let…."

Her voice was thick with sorrow and self-hatred. "Dad, if I hadn’t been so stupid, Striker might be…." Her right hand suddenly jerked, the pencil flying across the room. "Daddy…."

"What’s wrong?" He clutched at her shoulders.

She leant back against her father, grateful for his support. She could feel her knees trembling. Her arm jerked again. "Fucking hell!" The expletive was sobbed. "Seizure."

Sullivan felt a wave of panic go through him. He was aware his hands were digging into his daughter’s shoulders now. "Do you need to sit down? Do you need to lie down?"

"Sit down… sit down." Sullivan backed them both onto the sofa.

"Do you need anything? A glass of water?" He could feel Morien shaking under his fingers. She was breathing heavily.

"No…." She was crying again. Huge gasping sobs, brought on by physical shock as well as mental anguish. She was losing everything: her sanity, her lover, her body…. If she slipped under this time, if this turned into more than a partial, if she lost consciousness… this time she didn’t want to recover.

She could feel the muscles in her neck stiffening, unsure of whether it was tension or the overtones of a tonic seizure, she tried to move her head and managed to look at the canvas.

Striker, my love, help me. I can’t live without you. You make me feel alive. I want to be alive again.

And her entire body went warm.

She was blazing, as she had been in Striker’s arms. She was blazing like a fire on a winter’s day. She could hear her father say from a distance, "God, Mo, you’re burning up…" and everything went black.

An Underground tunnel... pitch black, the breeze strengthening from the oncoming train. But all she could feel was the warmth behind her, and she turned to see a tall woman in t-shirt and jeans — a black leather jacket thrown casually over her shoulder. The woman glanced up and, for eternity, she lost herself in the bluest gaze she’d ever seen.

There was a voice — as she’d always imagined.

Know that you’re not alone.

She wasn’t alone. She never would be.

Her breathing eased.

It felt as if she had been holding her breath for the entire night, her entire life, and now she could breathe again. She inhaled slowly, taking in the blissful fresh air that was flooding from the tunnel, flooding through the windows.

She opened her eyes.

She had dropped onto the floor, her backside and wrists now feeling the impact of the sudden descent; her body throbbed with the neural rush. The rug was rough beneath her fingers. Through the patio doors she could see Snowflower dancing with a butterfly on the lawn. She took another breath of fresh air.

Then exhaled and turned her head to greet her father’s terrified face on the sofa above her. In any other circumstances his expression would have been funny. She reached up a weak hand and rested it on his knee. "It’s okay, dad," she said. "I think it’s over." She breathed again. "It’s over."

She could still feel tears running down her face but they didn’t seem to matter any more. Sullivan reached down and she put her arms round his neck, grateful for his presence. And he drew her up into his lap, and held her like a baby.

"Daddy," he finally heard, whispered against his shoulder. "Please take me back."

And he nodded.

i In The Mabinogion tale "Branwen, Daughter of Llyr", following her disgrace in Ireland, Branwen trains a starling to deliver a message to her brother in Wales

Continued in Chapter 26 (Conclusion)...

Return to the Academy