This story is by Cassandra Ellis and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Solitary confinement had a way of making you forget all of your senses. Fear and unshowered bodies the only smells within the confines of my home for the last two decades. Screams and moans of the other women being driven insane by their thoughts were my only contact with another human being. The cement tomb felt as if it closed in on me daily. My only solace was the tiny window that allowed me to look at the sky, as it was too high to see anything else, the thickness of the glass blocking out every sound from the outside world. At least I knew that there was still a world for me to return to when I was released. It had been too many years since I had felt the grass or heard the birds.
Life had been hell since I was found guilty. Most of my time spent in what I coined, the dungeon. No one liked a child killer. Even though I couldn’t believe I did it, a jury of my peers thought otherwise. My guilt or innocence didn’t matter anymore. Not in reality, but at night it was different. The flashbacks came on a regular basis. My dreams a reminder of my curse. They all started the same.
I wake up late and get dressed and then go to look for the children, who are strangely quiet. I peek into Brian’s room first and that’s when I see him. Laying next to his bed on the floor, blood pooled around his body. I run to his side and fall to my knees. I pick him up, my shirt soaking up his blood like a sponge. His body is already cold. A large gaping hole stares at me from the side of his head, the obvious source of the blood. I begin to cry and scream frantically. No one hears me, not even Becky. Oh, God. My daughter. Where is Becky? Placing my son back on the ground, I get up and search for her. I find her on the bathroom floor, still breathing.
I have always woken up at this point. Sweat and tears soaking my bright orange jumpsuit. My heart pounding in my chest. A deep feeling of remorse washed over me. Not because I believed I did what they said, but because I just didn’t know. They said it was the medicine I took for insomnia. My lawyers argued that it made me sleep so deeply that I couldn’t hear my childrens’ cries for help. The prosecution said that I killed them because I was a struggling single mother and I knew what I was doing. I knew the second part wasn’t true, I loved my children and would do anything I could for them. The hard part for me was that I had heard the horror stories about people massacring their entire families on that stuff. Was I one of them? That question haunted me on a daily basis. It was my own prison sentence, my torment. I was just thankful my scheduled release was three days away. I had to find my daughter. The only thing I had left. I hadn’t had any contact with her since everything happened. Becky was in the hospital in a coma when I was arrested. Every letter written went unanswered. I had no idea if she hated me, but I had to find out. I needed to speak to her.
The days passed and I found myself walking up the path that led to the last place I knew my daughter had lived. With trembling fingers, I pressed a small silver button. I could hear the chimes of the doorbell ring from inside and then footsteps echoing closer to the door. With a creak, the door opened and in front of me stood an older lady with blue freshly permed hair, hunched over with osteoporosis.
“Can I help you dear?” She said, after I failed to introduce myself.
“Uh, Yes ma’am. I’m sorry. I, uh, I’m looking for Rebecca Brown. Does she still live here?”
“Why, Becky’s been gone a few years now. I’m sorry.”
“Well, do you know where I can find her? I’m Kelly Brown, her mother. It’s important that I find her.” I was almost begging the older lady now.
Just then, a bright-eyed little girl came walking up behind the older lady. It was like seeing a memory. The young girl resembling my daughter so much, that I could almost swear it was Becky. I stared in disbelief, unsure of what to say. The older woman watched me, a look of disdain spread across her face. Her hate for me almost palpable.
Finally, she spoke, “Becky thought you were dead. She never regained her memories of that day and I’m glad for it. Ever since her adoption I tried to protect her. It seemed easier to tell her that you were dead than to have her knowing her mother was a cold-blooded murderer.” Her words cut me deep, like knives piercing me to the bone.
“Where is she? I have to talk to her? Please!” My eyes filled with tears and my throat threatened to close with the oncoming flood of emotion.
“You won’t find her here. You won’t find her anywhere. She’s dead.” hissed the old lady.
“But, I really didn’t hurt my babies! I loved them!” I couldn’t handle my emotions anymore and collapsed in a small lump in front of the womans door, sobbing uncontrollably. The woman seemed slightly embarrassed. She tried to urge me to stop, to straighten myself out, but to no avail. She eventually invited me into her home. I was sure she wasn’t interested in what I had to say but wanted to end the entertainment we were providing the nosey neighbors on her front stoop.
Once inside, the woman pointed me towards an empty sofa. I sat on the edge, uncomfortable in being inside the home. The older lady took a seat in an old armchair across from me. For a moment, we both sat in silence. This time, it was me who spoke first, breaking the reticence. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have come. I just had to know if she hated me. I’ll leave now.” I stood up and turned toward the door when the woman stopped me.
“No, please sit down. You’ve come all this way and Becky is gone. What could it hurt for us both to have some answers? First, I want the truth. Did you kill your son?”
I proceeded to tell her everything, recalling every detail of that awful day. I told her about trying to get my lawyers to do something, anything to help me, but none would. I poured my heart out to the older lady and with each word I could see her disposition soften. When I finally finished, the woman stood up and with tears in her eyes, softly spoke.
“I think I was wrong in not telling Becky about you. I read all of the papers, watched the news programs. I believed you did it. I’m not entirely sure I’ve changed my mind on that.” She swallowed hard and then allowed herself to continue, “But, I’m getting older and since her mother died of cancer, I’m all that Christina has. I’d like to give you a chance to prove yourself. Slowly, of course. Not for me, but for her. She needs someone.” The lady watched me intently, looking deep into my eyes, perhaps searching for any sign of evil.
“Yes ma’am. Of course. Thank you so much for giving me this chance. I came here looking to redeem myself with Rebecca. Instead, I have a chance to make it right through her daughter. My granddaughter.”
The grass was soft and the air cool. I closed my eyes and took in my surroundings. Christina ran around, chasing the butterflies and playing with the puppy I had just bought. Life was great. I was learning how to love despite my past and I found myself content with the life I now had. A lot had changed in just a few short months. The grief for my children was still overwhelming at times, but Christina began to heal wounds I thought would forever remain open and festered. I may not have received the redemption I was searching for, but in the end, I realized it wasn’t the one I needed. The redemption I was longing for the entire time, I found within myself.