This is the seventh part of a fiction serial, in 1490 words.
October 1958. Daddy’s little princess.
Helen watched as Keith bounced little Susan on his knee. He was such a great Dad, and adored his daughter. Lifting her up to look into her face, he smiled at her lovingly. “Who’s my little princess then? Who’s Daddy’s little princess? You, that’s who”. He tickled her ribs, and she chuckled happily. Helen picked up her knitting again, smiling contentedly. They were the perfect family. Nothing was too much trouble for Keith. He washed the nappies, fed their little girl, gave her a bath, and tucked her up in her cot too. Even though he was exhausted when he got in from a long day at work, he played with her until her bedtime, never complaining.
As they watched the constantly flickering television later, not really concentrating on the stuffy quiz programme, Keith waited for the right time to tell his wife something. “One of the blokes at work has got his hands on a beautiful doll, just right for our Susan. You know him, Don, the crane operator. You want to see it, love. Blonde hair, big eyes, and lovely clothes. Really classy it is, not like that tat they sell in Woolworth’s”. Helen raised her eyebrows. She had been thinking about buying Susan a monkey from Woolworth’s in the High Street, for her first birthday. It was big, with hands that grabbed and held on, and it was dressed in a striped shirt and blue trousers. “How much does he want for this classy doll then, love?” She had heard talk about Don, but had never met him.
Keith took a deep breath before replying. “Well, it’s an antique, see, so valuable. Perfect condition though. He’s asking for twelve quid, but he will let me pay it at a pound a week, for three months. No interest”. Helen sat up, and put down the knitting. Twelve pounds was what Keith earned on a good week, with extra hours on Saturday, at time and a half. It sounded like a fortune to her, but she knew her husband well enough not to argue. Once he had something in his head, it was all but impossible to talk him out of it. He was a lovely bloke, but a bit of a dreamer. Besides, she didn’t work now. Not until Susan started school, anyway.
“It’s up to you then love, if you’re sure it’s a fair price”.
Keith was happy, and lit a cigarette, as if to celebrate. “Wait until you see it, Hel. It’s just fabulous”.
Two weeks later, they held a little birthday party. Just them and both sets of grandparents, with a one-candle sponge cake made by Helen. Susan received gifts from both grannies. A wooden Xylophone from Helen’s Mum and Dad, and a new set of winter clothes from Keith’s parents. Then he revealed the doll, wrapped in some really expensive gold paper. Everyone gasped at the luxury of it, and little Susan grabbed it, clutching it to her body, and planting kisses on it. Nobody asked how much it had cost. They all knew it was too much. But the child’s face lit up, and was a delight to see. Keith picked up his daughter, and put her on his lap. She was still clutching the doll, not about to part with it. He beamed at Susan, and raised his voice. “A Princess for my own little princess. Perfect!”
The doll was paid off, with never a question about why Don was so keen to sell it. As Susan grew, it remained a firm favourite. When asked to give it a name, Susan replied “Sarah”. They smiled, as they knew that was the name of the class teacher at her new school. But Sarah it was. Keith seemed a little put out that his suggestion of Princess wan’t acceptable, but he soon forgot it. Helen looked around for a job with the appropriate hours, and was very pleased to find one in a nearby factory canteen. She didn’t mind dishing up breakfasts and lunches for the employees. She revelled in the banter, and the outside contact, and she was always finished in time to collect her daughter from school.
With the extra income from that job, Keith bought them their first family car. It was ten years old, but it gave them a freedom they could never have imagined. Days out at the seaside, picnics in the woods, and a one week holiday at the coast, the following summer. Keith even taught her to drive, and she was thrilled at passing her Driving Test first time. Helen had never been happier. But she agreed with Keith to wait until having more children, and he continued to use protection. As Susan got older, her bond with Keith grew more solid. He did as much as he could with her, even taking her out some weekends, to give Helen a break. As her daughter was approaching her tenth birthday, Helen was remarkably content. Perhaps they would have another child, next year.
Then one day, she was dusting in Susan’s bedroom. It was a Saturday afternoon, and Keith had taken Susan to the park.
She heard a voice coming from behind her and turned in panic, thinking someone was in the house. The voice was clear and steady, and sounded a lot like one of the newsreaders on television. Authoritative, and calm.
“Have you ever asked yourself why your husband does so much with your daughter? Do you never wonder why he spends such a long time getting her off to sleep at night? And what about her baths? Why does he always insist on being the one to help her get undressed, and to wash her in the bath? You are not a stupid woman. You know Susan is getting too old for such attention now. Ask him just how much he adores his little princess. Ask him what he has been doing to her ever since she was old enough to walk. Ask him how far that has progressed since her body has started to develop. Go on, ask him”.
Helen walked back, and rested against the wall. She was scared and confused, but the words she had heard made her think of some things that she had asked herself, and then dismissed from her mind. The voice had been loud, and the origin unclear. But the only thing of note in the room was the doll, Sarah, and she couldn’t deny that the sound had seemed to come from that.
Helen walked downstairs, away from the doll. She needed time to think.
When they got back, she told Susan to go upstairs to her room. “Read a book, or play. I need to talk to your Dad”. Keith was smiling, unaware what it was Helen wanted to say. She asked him the questions. Every fibre of her being was hoping that he would laugh. He would wonder what she was going on about. He would tell her she had a screw loose. Susan was his daughter, his little princess. He would never contemplate dong anything like that with his own daughter. But none of that happened. His face flushed, but amazingly, he tried to justify himself.
“It’s her, Helen. She loves me. Too much maybe, but I love her too. She’s always been my princess. It just happened, then it carried on. I have never hurt her. She always wanted it too. If you want, we can stop, but Susan won’t want to, I can tell you that now”.
Helen was very calm. She turned to face the sofa, and slid the knitting needles out of the ball of wall. As she turned back, she let out a cry that sounded like an animal in pain, before plunging both the thick needles into Keith’s neck. he staggered backwards, and fell onto the floor making a gurgling noise. Without waiting to see what she had done, she strode upstairs, and grabbed her daughter. “We are going out, Susan. A nice ride somewhere”. Taking the keys from the hall stand, she went out to the car with her daughter, and started to drive.
The had gone over ninety miles before Helen noticed that Susan was clutching the doll.
As they passed through a village, she saw a junk shop called Aladdin’s Cave. Grabbing the doll from Susan, she walked into the shop, leaving the car engine running. As the man approached her she held out her arm stiffly. “How much for this? But it has to be cash. I just need money for petrol. It’s an antique, so don’t take the piss”. Ted looked at her warily. She looked insane, and he was sure that was blood on her sleeve. He took a five-pound note from his wallet, and passed it over in silence. She grabbed the money and ran back to her waiting car.
Helen just had to keep driving.