The family that slays together
The family that slays together stays together. When I look back over the last couple of weeks now, it's clear that that wretched little homily started it all off. And worse than that, I still think that grandmother copied it wrong when she was stitching it on to all the cushions in the living room.
Her living room existed in a perpetual semi-twilight: the curtains were always half-drawn in front of heavy grey pre-war nets that contained the dried carcasses of incautious flies and wasps. The carpet was heavy but hadn't been cleaned in the last fifty years, so instead of the fibers giving way beneath your feet as you walked they resisted and pushed back and it was almost like walking on concrete. There were pictures on the walls that grandmother told us were long-dead relatives, but when I studied art-history at school I recognized most of them. I suppose it's like those people who buy picture frames and leave the default picture of a random stranger in them, only done a hundred years earlier. Either that or I've got relatives who were a lot more distinguished than anyone in the family has become since. The wallpaper was probably flock once, but now I suspected that any fuzziness to the touch was just mould growing quietly in the dark.
On the couch were cushions; far too many for any one couch to hold, and really far too many for any sane person to put in a single room. But grandmother had hand-stuffed and sewn each one, and we'd learned to identify them because they weren't all equal. Sure, they were all embroidered with the same homily: "the family that slays together stays together" that grandmother said she'd taken from the Sunday supplements back when she still got a Sunday newspaper. But some were stuffed with popcorn, some with cotton wool, some with actual cushion stuffing and a couple were stuffed with old newspapers. They ranged from uncomfortable to disturbing (we think there were things living in the cushions eating the popcorn), and they weren't even the worst part about that room.
But I digress. On Tuesday morning mum told dad that she wanted a divorce over breakfast. Dad was eating kedgeree and he just nodded and seemed to take it quite well. I was trying to boil tomatoes and it just wasn't working, and I was more upset than either of them seemed to be.
"Any particular reason?" asked Dad, poking at a slice of hard-boiled egg.
"It's June," said Mum and Dad just harrumphed as though that made sense, and I was left wondering if we were talking about the month or a person.
On Wednesday morning Mum told Dad that she wanted to take the dog and didn't want custody of Harvey, my little brother. That's what started it. As soon as she left (Mum left the house every morning and I only realised that day that I had no idea where she went or what she did or how long she was gone for) Dad muttered that wretched homily and packed us all into the car. Dog included.
You'll have read a lot about what happened after that in the newspapers, the True Crime magazines and the Whiston Evening Post (Special Edition) so I'll summarise a little. We ended up at the Little Dorrit Primary School where parents with enough money to not want to care about their children's social disorders sent their children and Dad took a school of about two hundred children hostage.
"I have demands!" he emailed to the police department, who'd turned up en masse outside the school only when the parents had made their views on the matter clear. I was expecting him to demand custody of the dog, or an explanation of who June was, but no. At the time I was mystified, but now I realise that Dad needed to make impossible demands in order to justify killing people, because... the family that slays together stays together.
"Four hundred bottles of Ukrainian dill-pickled gherkins; the bones of Thomas Bayes, numbered and labelled for articulation and assembly; the legal right to urinate in the lift of every London hotel; a random selection of books from the Bodleian library to be used as toilet paper..." is how his list began, and I was astounded that he could even think of these things, let alone ask for them as though it were the most natural thing in the world. It carried on for another four pages though, with the second-to-last page containing things he felt were blasphemous in one regard or another. I found myself having to google several different gods while I was reading the list to understand how they were blasphemous, and at the end of it I was impressed and educated.
"The gherkins might be a problem," came back the email from the police and Dad grinned.
"I thought so," he said. "The rest of the list was really just insurance."
He found a collection of party bags in a cupboard in a classroom, the kind that they give out to children at the end of parties that typically contain a slice of Victoria Sponge with sickly icing and coconut sprinkles together with some cheap plastic toy, a thank-you note for attending and a handful of boiled sweets.
"Perfect," he said. "Pick a child, and we'll begin."
All I'm willing to say about what happened next is this: people are very hard to cut up, no matter what the films make it look like; dogs do not make good assistants when attempting butchery; I don't believe it was Stockholm Syndrome that had the rest of the children helping us, I think there was something deeply wrong in that school to begin with; and a party bag isn't supposed to contain what we put in it and sent out to the police.
"We're going to burn you and the school to the ground," came back the email from the Police. I didn't blame them.
Dad sent them another party bag, this one containing only teeth and bones.
You're all aware that the escalation continued for twenty-hours I suppose, but you won't know that when it got dark I sneaked away with the dog, crept through the cordon pretending I was a student from the school, and went home. Mum was in having an orgy with a lot of the neighbours, so I went to bed without disturbing her and thanked my lucky stars I wasn't Harvey.
Mum got her divorce and burst into tears when the decree nici arrived. When I asked her why she was crying, she explained that she felt that Dad's insane murder plan had been very romantic.
The dog and I left two days later to make a life of our own.