Bella Davidson’s body was found on the 21st August. She had hung herself on the school swing. No one was going to miss her; in fact, no one was even remotely surprised that she had finally snapped and killed herself. No one, that is, apart from Headmaster Phelps. He had thought, for a short while, that perhaps Bella was strong enough to carry on. He had really believed that she would. Obviously, he now thinks, I was wrong.
Bella Davidson’s body was found, hanging from the ropes that held the swing that she would always confide in, that she would always confine herself to, that was, in a strange way, hers.
Bella Davidson’s body was found, and no-one had any doubt about why she did it.
Obviously, they were wrong.
“Sit down, Bella.”
She didn’t sit. Instead, she remained standing, one hand resting on the chair. Headmaster Phelps knew better than to continue with the niceties, that the manners and politeness didn’t matter to Bella.
“Bella, you know that we’ve all been concerned about you for a while.” He didn’t need to say who the ‘all’ was. Bella knew well enough; the social workers, welfare workers, the teachers at school, and perhaps even a few kindhearted students.
“Concerned about what?” she responded curtly. She isn’t looking me in the eye, Phelps thought, she knows what we’re talking about. Indeed, Bella’s eyes were not watching the balding man with gentle wrinkles just starting to develop, they were fixated on her fingers, resting on the back of the cushioned chair and – ever so slightly – shaking.
“Well, your home situation. It’s unorthodox, to say the least, and we don’t believe that it’s one that is stable enough to last you through the rest of highschool.” At this, the girl’s head flicked up so quickly, so violently that Phelps swore that her silky blonde hair could have leapt off her scalp and fly across the room like a wig.
“Are you saying that she’s mad?” Bella’s voice had lost the façade of sweetness. This was the first thing that convinced Phelps that she would get through it. It wasn’t the voice of a 16 year old girl grieving the death of her father. It was a stronger, more determined voice; one that could survive a drastic, perhaps even tragic, event in life.
“I’m sorry?” The surprise in his voice was genuine.
“She’s not mad. Not like you all think. She’s getting better now, and I think she’s stable enough, thank you very much.” Phelps blinked. The conversation was heading away from where he wanted it to be, to a place that he wasn’t familiar with, and, quite rightly, didn’t want to get familiar with.
“All I’m saying is, we all think it would be better to get some sort of carer, someone - ”
“You do think she’s mad. I can tell. The way you talk about her like she isn’t capable of human thought.” Phelps was sweating slightly. Bella is a pretty girl, he thinks, strong-minded, achieves surprisingly commendable grades, and, at the moment, is in control of the conversation and driving it off a cliff.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Bella… We just think it would be better for you to have someone to make decisions, to take care of everything - ”
She interrupted again. “Don’t you talk about her like that. Don’t you dare talk about her like that. She’s going through just hard enough a time as I am. Can’t you see that? My mom is not a raving lunatic, she’s a human being and SHE can be my carer and SHE can make decisions and SHE can take care of everything!” A momentary image flutters through her mind of her smacking the idiot across his face, she can see the red mark it leaves, she can see his nose beginning to bleed. But that’s all it is: momentary, and before Phelps can recover from her words she’s turned around, hair whipping like a golden cyclone, and walking through the door.
“Bella!” He shouts. “Bella, come back!” He waits; he sighs. He didn’t expect the conversation to go well, but he certainly didn’t expect it to fail entirely either. If anything, it only aggravated her more. He sighs again. She has potential, he thinks, she gets good grades, she could get a nice job, earn good money, make a name for herself. Most importantly, she’s strong. She’ll get through it, he thinks. He picks up the phone and begins to dial.
Bella had stormed out, through the corridor, past all the teachers’ gaping faces, past the classroom she was meant to return to, past the oval and to the swing in the sandpit. She was angry, she needed to calm down, and that was what the swing did. The gentle rocking motion soothed her, and softly, under her breath, she sang the song that mom would always sing to her in times like this -
“Ear-ly in the moooorning
when the birds were yet to sing,
an angel came from the hills.
and gave me her pair of wings.
Oh, I cannot fly to my love,
so my love shall fly to me.”
By the time the last lines had left her lips, her raging thoughts had subsided. She decided she would head back home (the teachers had become used to Bella leaving school early every now and then), mom would sing her a song and they would cook brownies. But she stayed on the swing for a little longer, feeling the rhythm of its ups and downs, seeing the sky rush to her face and fall away. The swing had almost become a ritual for Bella; every lunchtime break she would head there. No one else used the swing anymore; they knew she would always be there. And, of course, no one asked her if they could use the swing; it had almost become hers, her own swing. She went there for a reason, to calm any bad thoughts that had sprung into her mind, to convince herself that maybe, people would finally understand and leave her, and her mother, alone. But every passing day, convincing herself became harder and harder, and worked less and less. Some days only leaving all the students that laughed and all the teachers that fussed could help, only going back home so that her mom could sing her a song, only that would help. And so she left the school behind her, she was running but not rushing, she didn’t need to rush, because she knew that her mom would be waiting for her in the apartment, waiting with a song to sing.
Headmaster Phelps paced around his office. He wondered if he had made the right decision, wondered if he should have made the call. But looking back now, he felt that there was no decision at all. It was always going to happen, it was just a matter of when. He stops pacing after realizing that it wasn’t calming him. Instead, he sat down and thought about the death of Michael Davidson. Six months had passed since he died (murdered, Phelps says in his head, but he felt that that word was too strong, too upsetting), and they had been six long months for Bella. She had handled the situation mightily well for her age, but now the cracks were beginning to show. He remembered how she had come to school just the day after her father’s death, visibly upset but still fighting on. On that day Officer Darholdt had come to the school and taken Bella out for a couple of questions. He had stayed with her while she answered; there needed to be an adult guardian there. She had held out, questioning was always brutal, no matter how old you were or whether you were innocent or not. When Darholdt began asking about her mother Bella had started crying. The officer had decided he had enough for the time being and left. He said they already had a pretty clear idea of what happened. Phelps wondered why it had to be Bella that this whole ordeal had happened to; she was a good student, a fine young woman. Why couldn’t it have been that nasty Lily whose father had been murdered. He suddenly realized the brutality, the wrongness of this thought, and quickly diverged away from it. He hoped everything would be alright for Bella. Once again his mind turned to the phone call he had made, and realized that had he not protested against it in the first place, it would have been made a long time ago. After all, Bella wasn’t even of legal age yet; only sixteen, not old enough to make the decisions in her life. And Sophie Davidson, her mother… He didn’t quite know what he thought of her, but he knew that she was definitely out of the picture. Yes, he eventually reasoned, I did the right thing, and it’ll do her good in the long term. But still, something inside his mind was struggling against this voice of reason, some nagging, worrying thought that was telling him that it wouldn’t do her good, that Bella wouldn’t like it, that she wouldn’t like it at all.
Bella returned to the apartment and winced when she caught a faint whiff of a familiar smell. Sure enough, once she had entered she immediately saw three empty bottles of whisky. Where did mom even get them from? Ever since her father died, Bella had done all the shopping. She guessed that her mom had a secret stash of them somewhere. She picked up the bottles and dropped them in the bin. “Mom, you know you should stop drinking. We have little money as it is already.”
“Mommy knows what’s best for her, Bella. Drinking makes me calm.” The voice came from the corner of the lounge room, from a slumped figure on a sofa. Bella loved this person; but also feared her sometimes, because her alcohol addiction, contrary to what she claimed, made her irritable, and, every now and then, violent.
“No more whisky, mom. And that’s final.” She had, of course, had similar conversations to this multiple times, none of which were successful.
“Bella, I’ve told you before, and I won’t tell you again. Be a good little girl and let mommy do what she needs to do.” Sophie Davidson got up from the sofa and got a glass of water. “If you’re going to be a bad little girl then mommy won’t sing you songs anymore.” And really, that was all she needed to say. Bella needed her, needed her song, and if that meant living with an alcoholic, then so be it.
“Mr. Phelps had a talk with me today.” Bella knew the alcohol discussion was closed, and moved on to other subjects. “He still wants to get a carer. And Lily -”
“I don’t care about what Lily did to you today. What I want to know is why Phelps keeps getting into business which isn’t his.” Sophie downed the glass in one gulp, putting it down with such force that Bella feared (only for a moment) that it might shatter in her hands. Her mother’s appearance was not one to be envious of; her skin was clammy from lack of sunlight, and her golden-brown hair and floral, housewife-y clothes were dirty and unkempt. She had not changed in 6 months, nor bathed, nor left the apartment at all. “I think Phelps is a bad little boy. Don’t you?”
Bella knew it was in her best interests to agree, considering that her mother had consumed an unhealthily large amount of whisky recently, but still – “He’s just trying to help.”
“Help? Why would you need help? Am I not good enough for you, Bella? What, does he think that I can’t care for you? Well, ask him what he thinks of this!” In a single swift motion, she flung the glass towards her daughter, smashing against the wall just centimeters to the left of her head. And, after a moment of strange, almost reflective silence, Bella burst into tears. Her mother’s mood changed instantly, from one of unstoppable anger to cloying comfort.
“There now, Nelly-Belly, mommy didn’t mean it, you know.” She walked forward to embrace her daughter, who then collapsed into her arms. “Let me sing you a song. Your favorite. You’ll feel better then, I’m sure. Okay, darling? Hush now, hush now dear… Ear-ly in the moooorning…” The song went on, verse after verse, and slowly, Bella found herself falling asleep, letting go of the day’s worries, of the whisky bottles, of Heamaster Phelps, of Lily’s fists, of the smashing glass, and she realized that she was, indeed, feeling better.
Bella woke to the sound of a ringing doorbell. Her mother had obviously been awake for a while now, and she was crouching over her, asking frantically, “It’s her, isn’t it? That bad girl who wants to take you away. It is her, it must be. Don’t open the door, Nelly-Belly, don’t you dare.” But Bella pushed her off with barely any effort, and despite her protests, made for the door.
“Coming!” She said. She looked over her shoulder, and was surprised to see that her mother was afraid.
“Please, Bell, don’t open the door.”
“Sit down, mom. I’ll take care of this. I’ll take care of you.” She opened the door, and was greeted with a hearty ‘hello bella how are you doing havent seen you in a while ill take my shoes off no please i dont need tea really i didnt need but after you thanks youre welcome ill sit down’. Alicia Simmons was smiling. So was Bella. Both were faking. Alicia was Bella’s social worker, a jovial yet strictly routine overweight middle aged woman with brown greying hair and shallow, albeit abundant, wrinkles. She sat down gently and leant on the old circular table in the center of the room. She turned to face Bella, on her left, and began speaking in a throaty yet relaxing voice. “Bella, you know that we have been thinking for a while that it would be better if you were placed under someone’s care.”
Bella had had just about enough of this woman. She had come visiting, more and more frequently, to talk about her ‘home situation’, talking insolently about her mother. And every time, she would see a flash of an image; hitting her, pulling her hair out, stopping the rude woman from smiling her stupid little smile.
“And my mother no longer counts as a ‘someone’, does she?” Her voice was sharp and cold, like an icicle slicing through misty air.
“You mean her?” Alicia glances at the woman seated on her right in her fading and stained blue flowery dress, with patchy and blotting skin. “I’m afraid not.”
How could she say something like that? Bella’s thoughts were dark. She’s a bad girl, she should be taught a lesson – and before she realized it, Bella had thrown the pot of boiling tea into Alicia’s face. The woman did not register pain, at least not straight away, but first and foremost surprise. Not in any of her previous visits did Bella strike her as a violent girl. She stood up and grasped and her now stinging face, stepping backwards away from Bella and that – that woman, that thing, and now overtaking her pain was her fear, she was scared, she turned to run-
And she neatly arced towards the ground after tripping over the back leg of the chair. Except she didn’t hit the ground first. No, first her forehead came into contact with the corner of the coffee table. It split open, and Alicia Simmons was dead almost instantly. Blood squirted out from the gash, dark, staining the walls and floor. Bella gagged at the sight of the woman, whose weight was now slumping her, sliding her off the table onto the carpet on which she landed with a soft thud.
“Oh my god…” She was crying now, this wasn’t what she expected, wasn’t what she wanted, what had she done “Oh my god…” She knew the words were useless, but she repeated them again anyway. “What did I do, mom?” The woman’s body twitched once, twice, then stopped. The blood kept on coming.
“Bella… come here, darling.” Sophie held her arms out. Bella accepted the embrace. “Sometimes bad things happen, Bella. Things we didn’t mean to. I want you to understand that, okay, Bella, and I want you to know that we move on. No, don’t look at her, you’ll feel worse. Let me sing to you.”
She rocked her daughter gently, and the tears subsided as the song went on. The words no longer mattered, nor the tune, just that fact that it was her mother who was comforting her, who was loving her, and more time than either of them realized passed as they stood there.
“Mom… we need to go.” She didn’t know where, just anywhere away from the body on the floor of their apartment. “Clean yourself up. Maybe put some makeup on. I don’t want people to notice you.” She thinks, just for a moment, about packing a bag, but a quick look around the room revealed nothing that she cared for or mattered to her. Only her mother. “Come on, I… I need to get away.”
For the first time in half a year, Sophie went to the closet and took out a dress. It was hardly better than the one she was wearing, dusty and moldy, but she changed anyway.
“Bella, I don’t know what to do.” Shaking, she takes out a powder pad from the drawer, and tentatively begins brushing her face.
“It’s okay, mom. Let’s go.”
They locked the door as they left.
Bella didn’t know where she was going, but she was walking nonetheless. Slow enough so as to not draw any attention to them, but fast enough to get out of anyone’s sight before too long. Indeed, she thought they were doing a fine job of being inconspicuous; just a shabby lady walking her daughter to school, but still, everyone they passed stared at them. Those who were polite enough broke their stares after a moment or two, but still – what were they looking at? Bella checked herself, then her mother quickly. There was no blood on either of them. Their clothes were old, but ordinary. Most importantly, they looked normal.
“Bella, who’s that you’re walkin’ with?” It was Agnes, the old lady who owned the bakery down the road. “Nearly gave me a heart attack, she did!” She laughed to herself happily. Bella didn’t reply. Instead, she walked by faster. A boy, holding hands with his father, ready to cross the road:
“Look, Daddy!” He was pointing at them. “It’s a dolly, Daddy! A big dolly!”
Bella began to run.
She ran, and she didn’t stop running until she reached the school. She didn’t, of course, know she was heading there, but the route was planted somewhere deep in her subconscious, and here she was, at school, the place she least wanted to be. Not counting, of course, in the apartment with Alicia. Morning classes had already started; the school grounds were deserted. Bella went to the only place she would feel comfortable – on the swing. Sophie stood beside, leaning on the side poles. Her daughter was crying again.
“Mommy?” She looked up.
“You killed Daddy, didn’t you?” Bella stopped crying, waiting for the answer.
“Yes, Nelly-Belly, I did. And don’t you forget that.” Sophie pushed the swing gently, and Bella relaxed in the swaying motion. She sung to herself, the same song, and tears came out again.
“We can’t let her keep going on like this.”
“No one knows, Michael. It’ll sort itself out.”
“It won’t, Soph, and you know that. People will find out eventually, and then all three of us will be in a world of trouble.”
“Michael, how can we do this?”
“I don’t know, Soph. I don’t know.”
“She won’t stop. Make her stop, Michael, make it stop, please!”
“I’m so sorry honey. I can’t help you anymore.”
“No, Michael, please…”
“Daddy? What are you doing?”
“I’m just trying to help you, Bella.”
“Bella, leave now please. Daddy and I need to talk.”
“Can I have my dolly? I love my dolly.”
“But my dolly needs me.”
“Leave now, Bella. No more dolly for you. And that’s final.”
“Ear-ly in the moooorning, I took my wings and flew. I can fly to the heavens and touch the stars, but I cannot fly to you. I cannot fly to my love, so my love shall fly to me.”
“Make it stop, Bella. Make it all stop.”
“Ear-ly in the moooorning, I climbed a hill so high. I left my wings behind, and I fell into the sky.”
“Ear-ly in the moooorning, when all was dead and done, I closed my eyes and slept, until both you and I were gone.”
“Nelly-Belly, you know what you need to do. Mommy knows best.”
“Don’t you dare speak to her like that! Don’t you dare!”
“Mommy knows best. Be a good little girl. Not like her. She’s a bad one, and we all know what happens to bad little boys and girls, don’t we Bella?”
“Shut up. Shut up. You can’t do this.”
“I cannot fly to my love…”
“So my love shall fly…”
“Mom, I don’t know what to do.” She could not go back to the apartment. She couldn’t stay here either; in just fifteen minutes morning break would begin and students and teachers would come pouring out into the school grounds.
“Bella, you’ve been a good little girl.” Sophie brushed Bella’s hair back behind her ear. “But I need to go now. I’m sorry, Bella. I can’t help you anymore.” There were tears in her eyes. “I love you Bella. And don’t you forget that.”
“I… I love you too, mom.” Bella embraced her mother one last time. She felt the cold, lifeless skin, her smooth, hard lips as Sophie kissed her on the cheek.
“Nelly-Belly, you know what you need to do.”
“I can’t, mom. Not here.”
“Come on, Bella. Mommy knows best.”
“No, mom. I can’t do this.”
“Don’t make me angry Bella. Be a good little girl.” But she already was angry; Bella could tell. Her cheeks were flushed, and her eyes were narrow.
“I…” Ten minutes until morning break.
“Bella, do it now. Make it all stop.”
Bella was crying.
“Do you remember how the song ends, Bella?”
“So you know what has to happen.”
“Can I have my dolly? I want to be with my dolly.”
“No, Bella, you can’t be with your dolly. Your dolly has to go.”
An image flashes through Bella’s mind.
“I want my dolly, mommy!”
“You can’t have your dolly, Bella.”
“Shut up! Shut up! You can’t do this to me!” Bella struck her mother with the side of her hand. Sophie’s nose caved in.
“Bella! Don’t you dare be a bad girl!”
“I WANT MY DOLLY!” Bella hit her again, harder. She grabbed her and shook her, and the old blue dress ripped. Sophie struggled against her, grabbing aimlessly, screaming as she felt a kick to her stomach.
“BELLA DON’T YOU DARE!” But she did, she was screaming too, clawing and biting, and Sophie was in disbelief, this can’t be happening this was never meant to happen bad things happen darling that we dont mean but we move on darling “I CLOSED MY EYES AND SLEPT!” Bella laughed as she shouted out the words. “UNTIL BOTH YOU AND I WERE GONE!” And Sophie did feel herself going, the world was spinning, fading, shaking, the pain was unbearable, I can’t die, not here, I can’t do this Mommy not without Dolly, and she felt herself being torn apart, going, going, going…
Bella’s body was found on the 21st August, hanging from the school swing.
Underneath her body was a mannequin, violently torn apart.
Stuffed inside, a tape recording, playing over and over again:
“Ear-ly in the moooorning…”