Tomorrow Brings Sorrow

ONE

SARAH & BILLY

THE VISIT

 

1939

Loose pebbles crunched under the wheels of Sarah’s car. The sound warned her how close she was to her ordeal. Applying pressure on the brake, she slowed the car, not wanting to come to the end of the long driveway.

Menston Mental Hospital – ‘the madhouse’, as the folk of Leeds called it – loomed ahead. She could see its landmark Gothic clock tower and could almost feel the chill of its endless corridors, peopled by the shuffling insane: a stark contrast to the autumn sun outside.

Guilt had long since left her and resentment had replaced it, as the shackles of fear bound her to promises that she’d made in another lifetime.

Billy’s ways had eroded the forgiveness she’d found, and her love for him had eroded along with it. She’d tried to accept that his mental illness had caused him to commit such vile acts, but over the years of visiting him here she’d seen the truth – Billy nurtured a destructive hate. He didn’t try to control himself, but instead used bullying tactics to get his own way.

Stepping out of her car, Sarah walked towards the building. Once inside, she glanced at the clock: five past twelve – she was already late, and no one was at reception to enable her to sign in. Ringing the bell, she willed the clerk to come quickly, for Billy would be getting agitated and that wouldn’t bode well.

At last she made her way towards the visiting room, and as she did so, a shadow danced across the corridor ahead of her. Billy must have seen her coming. Had he been hiding behind the curtain, watching her? Her gut clenched in the same way it had three days before, on 3rd September at eleven fifteen in the morning, as she’d listened to Neville Chamberlain announcing, ‘Britain is now at war with Germany’ – a sentence that seemed to shroud them all in a fear of their own and their loved ones’ imminent death, although for her it had held added dread. Thinking of this now, Sarah slowed her step as she neared the large doors.

Billy stood in the doorway, with a menacing stance in his strong, but not tall, frame. His dark hair shone with the Brylcreem he’d used to plaster it back. His half-closed, coal-black eyes had an unfathomable, dull depth to them. When he spoke, his voice mocked. ‘So, you came then?’

‘Aye, I came. Not that you deserved me to, after what happened last time.’

‘Eeh, don’t go over that – we’ve not got long. I take it they’ve told you as we could have some time alone?’

‘I’m not in agreement with that, Billy. I should’ve reported you.’

‘Just try, and you know what’ll happen, don’t yer? Now, let’s get inside, eh?’

The room’s dingy appearance did nothing to ease Sarah’s fear. Sage-coloured paint peeled off the walls, dirt from a thousand pairs of hands marked the doors, and the oilcloth on the floor had the appearance of a broken jigsaw puzzle in the way its pattern had peeled off in places. A small, high window, mottled with mildew, refused the sun entry.

The ‘interview rooms’ – as the powers-that-be called this room, and the one like it along the corridor – sometimes accommodated private visits with trusted patients. Trusted! How Billy had convinced them of his worthiness to use the room, she’d never know.

‘Come here, me lass.’

‘No, Billy. Not unless you promise not to—’

‘Sarah, can’t you leave it? I said I were sorry. Anyroad, you’re me fiancée – I’m entitled. And you didn’t help things by wearing that dress as Mam had made for you. It showed most of your tits, so what did yer expect?’

‘Don’t talk like that, Billy. And it didn’t; its square neckline just showed a bit of cleavage. All the girls wear that fashion now.’

‘You’re not wearing it today, I see. You couldn’t get a cardigan to fasten higher than that one does. Undo a few of the buttons, lass. Give me a treat, eh?’

‘Oh, Billy, when did you change so much? You used to love and respect me. Everything was going to be right between us. We discussed that we’d wait until we were wed.’

‘Aye, but when will that be? How can I wed you, when I’m stuck in here?’

Inside, she hoped that would always be so, but she knew it wouldn’t be. ‘Look, let’s change the subject. I’ve brought you some stuff. Your mam sent you a hamper and a letter, and Granna—’

‘I don’t want stuff!’ The chair in front of him clattered to the floor, echoing off the walls and striking a terror through her. Billy stood close, his angry eyes boring into hers. ‘I want you, and I want me freedom. Can’t you understand that, Sarah? I want out of here. I want us to be together, like we were meant to be. I’m not for taking much more of it.’

His anguish didn’t arouse her pity, but added to the dread that had settled in her. The news she had for Billy signified the changes that the future held. ‘Well, there is some hope it could end soon. Your mam has a lawyer working on your case. He sounds promising. He’ll come and see you, when he has things in order. You’re to act right with him, Billy. Keep your temper and be polite.’

Billy sat down, his face hungry for more of the same news. ‘Go on – what’s he said? Has he said owt as can give me hope?’

‘There might be a way. He’s looked at your reports, and there’s nothing there to say you’re not fit. The fact that the psychiatrist no longer works with you, that you’re not on medication and that there haven’t been any outbursts for a few years all look favourable. But you’ll have to play along with the lawyer’s suggestions.’

‘I’ll do owt he says, I promise. What he’s come up with, then?’

‘He reckons that, with us declaring war on Germany, if you apply for the army—’

‘Christ, give up one institution for another!’

‘Well, he thinks it might be the only way. If he could go to a judge with your record, a good reference from here, and wanting to fight for your country, then he’s sure it will be a foregone conclusion that they will let you free.’

The ensuing silence gave her time to think. Billy free! Free to do what? Only she knew that he hadn’t really changed. Only she knew that the years of incarceration – having been sectioned to an institute at the age of eleven – hadn’t made any difference to him. His jealous rage had led to the vile killing of her beautiful Mongol sister Bella, and to the more excusable killing of Billy’s brutal dad. She’d seen the evil core of him, but she also knew he could hide and control the depths of it at will, so long as nothing marred his good record. Despair overcame her. Oh God! The price of that will once more fall on my shoulders, for with Billy’s freedom there will be no avoiding marrying him.

Maybe the war would change things – a terrible thought, but if the war went on long enough, it would keep them apart, maybe even forever . . . No! She’d not think of the possibility of Billy being killed as being a way of freeing herself of him, because that would be the death of her Aunt Megan, Billy’s mam. Her own liberation wasn’t worth the hurt if would cause Aunt Megan.

Sarah sighed; she’d just have to take whatever life with Billy threw at her. Doing anything else would cause so much pain.

Billy’s eager voice cut into her thoughts. ‘I’ll do it, lass. Aye, thinking on it, it’s sommat as would appeal to me, anyroad. I’d enjoy getting stuck into them Germans. Eeh, lass, no more talking now – I’ve got to hold you. I’ve got to feel your body near mine. They’ll be along in a minute to shift us into the communal area.’

Every sinew in her stiffened, as Billy took her into his arms. Memories of fighting off his wandering hands on her last visit sickened her: his brutal handling of her, like an animal playing with its prey; and then, when he didn’t get his way, his flaunting of Dilly, the poor, sick young woman who followed him about like a lapdog. ‘Dilly’ll give me what you won’t, won’t you, Dilly? Come on, Dilly, lass, come with me into the bushes and I’ll show you a good time.’ His laughter had vibrated through Sarah. Dilly’s slack grin and obvious happiness at his suggestion had made her pity the situation the woman found herself in. As Billy had walked away with Dilly, who shuffled behind him as fast as she could, she’d wanted to shout, ‘She’s welcome to you!’, but she’d kept quiet and accepted her humiliation.

The grip of his arms tightened around her now. ‘Oh, Sarah, lass . . . Christ, I’ve got to have you, Sarah – I’ve got to!’ His mouth covered hers. The force of the contact pushed her backwards. The wall stopped her from falling, as his body crushed against hers. ‘Sarah, Sarah.’ The moist feel of his lips on her neck shuddered through her.

‘No, Billy. Not here. Not like this. Soon.’

‘I’m not waiting any longer. I can’t, Sarah. What’s the odds, anyroad, as we’ll be married when I get out?’ His fingers kneaded her breasts, his thumbs rubbed her nipples. She tried to stay his hands, but couldn’t. Pinned by his body against the rough plaster, she could do nothing as he leaned to one side, reaching for the hem of her skirt. Her skin crawled as his fingers traced a path up her thigh.

The leg of her knickers tightened with the intrusion. She could feel him probing her and knew now that it wasn’t just his hand. Panic gripped her. ‘No, Billy.’ But he took no heed, and her resistance proved futile.

 

It hadn’t lasted long. Sweat from Billy’s forehead dripped onto her, as he pulled himself from her. Wiping it from her face and neck with the back of her hand, Sarah remained slumped against the wall, bending her legs a little, to try and ease the soreness and bruising that the stretching sensation had caused her. The bruising extended to her heart, and she felt her pride, her self-worth and all that she had been up to this moment desert her.

Billy didn’t look at her or speak to her as he concentrated on putting himself away and buckling his belt. When he did look up, his flushed face bore the expression of someone who didn’t care for her feelings. ‘There, lass. You’re mine now, without doubt. And it were good an’ all. Eeh, lass, I’ll not be having that Dilly any more, I promise. Come and give me a cuddle.’

Hating him, but hating herself more and with no fight left in her, Sarah allowed him to hold her. In the warmth and strength of his embrace, she found some recompense for the tears she couldn’t give release to. Ignoring the smell of his unwashed clothes and body, she let her mind wander.

How different things had been when they were children: she and Billy the best of friends, giggling about being boyfriend and girlfriend, playing together in a carefree world. And then the day came when her world had spun – like the spinning top she’d received for the last Christmas she remembered before the nightmare had begun – and everything had changed.

As the recollection gathered pace, it made her want to pummel Billy to death with her fists. But instead she’d take all he put her through, for the sake of so many people, especially her Aunt Megan.

It was funny, but though more of a mam to her than anyone could be, she’d never called Aunt Megan ‘Mam’. She still remembered her own mam. She’d had a lovely name: Cecelia. ‘I gave her a right posh name,’ her Granna Issy had said, and then had made Sarah laugh by adding, ‘Aw, but though it were posh, we always used the short form – Cissy – so no one’d think as she were one of them with their knickers trapped in the crease of their bum.’ She had some sayings, did her granna; but then Aunt Megan had said her mam had been the same and could floor you with the shock of what came out of her mouth at times.

Cissy. Just thinking the name conjured up the sound of tinkling laughter and happiness from a distant time that Sarah couldn’t touch – a time that lived on inside her, where her mam took on the form of an angel, all fluffy and pretty and with mounds of curls, and was safely locked in a corner of her mind where nothing bad lurked.

Listening to Aunt Megan, and sometimes to her dad and granna, telling stories about her mam helped to keep Cissy alive for Sarah. She loved to hear how her mam and Aunt Megan had been close from the age of thirteen, when they’d both become seamstresses, and how they’d looked out for one another. Strange that they should both be in her thoughts at this moment. She supposed it was because right now she most needed a mam by her side, to hold her and soothe away her shame and hurt. Aunt Megan had done that for Sarah all her life, even before her mam had died.

A longing came into her. If only she could share with someone what was happening, and could ask someone to help her. But who? She couldn’t tell Aunt Megan, and telling her granna or her dad would result in Aunt Megan finding out.

Maybe Aunt Hattie? Another of her surrogate aunts, who’d been in her life for as long as she could remember. But then what could Aunt Hattie do? Whatever anyone did would result in Billy’s anger being so great that she couldn’t imagine what the consequences might be.

The situation was hopeless. The more she pondered on it, the more a deep loneliness lay within her – even though she was surrounded by the love of strong women, who’d all been to hell and back and would give their lives for her. Everything in her world hung as if from a fragile spider’s web. Any action she took to break away from Billy would be like taking a broom to her life and sweeping that web away. Billy would see to that. Billy would take his revenge, and he’d take it on everyone she loved – especially Aunt Megan, because he still felt a loathing in him for her: his own mam, the woman who least deserved his hate and who loved him beyond anything. The blame he’d unjustly placed on Aunt Megan’s shoulders, for him killing his dad, hadn’t diminished over the years and would mean that she would suffer the most. No, Sarah couldn’t be responsible for that happening.

This knowledge tightened the chains that bound her to Billy and filled her with a horror of her own future. But although her heart bade her to end this sham, she knew there was no escape.

 

Billy’s smile held satisfaction as he watched his beautiful Sarah cross to her car. He admired her slim body, her rounded little bottom and her fair hair, styled in the latest fashion and swept back into two rolled waves that extended around to the back of her head. And her eyes – her lovely blue eyes. She was his, all his. God, I hope with everything in me that what I just done to her means she’ll have me babby in her – that will seal things good and proper. She’ll have to marry me then.

Seeing her walk like an injured animal cut him to his heart, but she’d brought it all on herself. Sarah hadn’t been the same of late. There wasn’t the love in her – it were all forced. He’d make that right, if only he could get out of here. How could it not come right? He loved her. Always had done. Nothing, and no one, could separate them. At least they’d to think on before they tried, as he’d not stand anyone getting in his way, where Sarah was concerned.

The fury of this possibility trembled through Billy and lit the demon rage that lived within him, burning a painful fire through his veins. Take deep breaths. Control it. The time will come to unleash it, but not now. Now I need to concentrate on pleasing everybody – it’s the only way. If I don’t, I’ll not have a hope of getting out of here.