The Crime Readers' Association

The Black Out, by A.A. Chaudhuri


‘How could you do it, Mum?’

I stare at my daughter sitting across from me in the visitors’ room. Her trust in me irretrievably shattered. Pain, hurt, confusion etched across her lovely face. Disappointment, also. Disappointment that the one person who’s meant to be a role model for her, an example of good and stability in a world full of pain and chaos, has turned out to be none of these. The reverse in fact. A failure as a mother. A liar and a cheat.

A murderer.

‘I had no choice,’ I say. ‘I did it to protect you.’

She scowls, her beautiful blue eyes full of hate, resentment, revulsion.

‘Protect me?’ She frowns and I fight the urge to tell her to ‘stop that, it’ll only give you wrinkles’. I’m like, or rather I was, like that. Big on looks, appearances. ‘A nice face will take you far,’ I’d tell Olivia when she was old enough to understand such things. ‘Don’t laugh too much, don’t cry, don’t frown.  They all cause premature wrinkles, and no matter what anyone says, when you’re a woman, they don’t add character, they just add years, and you’ll regret it.’

But where has all that got me? I’m only fifty, still slim, attractive, but now I’m facing the rest of my life behind bars. Who’s going to look at me now? Damaged goods. Cut off from the world. Forgotten.

‘Don’t you think it’s a bit late for that?’ Olivia leans in, aware of the guard’s prying ears. ‘After twenty years of not listening? Blind to what was happening right under your nose.’

She’s right, of course. I was blind. Blind and neglectful. Disbelieving, even. I should have listened when she tried to tell me. Really listened. Not just about what dress she should wear, whether she could go to that party, that concert, whether she preferred pepperoni pizza to margarita. I should have been there for the deeper stuff. I shouldn’t have been so caught up in my career, myself, in wanting to avoid being at home as much as possible so that I failed to spot the warning signs. Failed to protect my precious child when she was most vulnerable. When she needed shielding from that bastard. But I can’t turn back time. What’s done is done. He’s dead now. I killed him. Forensics have confirmed that. Even though I don’t remember doing it.

‘You may have been a shit mother, but the one thing you drilled into me was to show restraint. To make my point, but always in a measured way. It’s not ladylike to make a scene.’ She mimics me with exaggerated scorn, contorts her pretty face into an unsightly scowl. I yearn to rebuke her for it, but I bite my tongue. My current predicament dictates that I have forfeited the right to do so.

Olivia pauses, and again all I see on her face is contempt. It makes me feel worthless, and I only wish the death penalty still existed because death would be preferable to the hell I’m in. I’ve lost everything. So what’s the bloody point? But maybe I don’t deserve an easy way out, and that’s the bloody point. I deserve to suffer. Every single day.

Olivia continues. ‘But where was your restraint, Mum, when you suffocated him to death, then stabbed him in the heart and neck twenty frigging times just for good measure?’

‘I know it’s not like me,’ I protest. I sound pathetic. But it’s true. I’ve never been a violent person. He was the violent one. And what really scares me is that I can’t remember doing it. All I remember is coming home trashed, and him being particularly foul to me. Perhaps that gave me the impetus to do what I had been planning for some time. A plan set in motion by a grave mistake on my part. God knows I’ve made so many, but this mistake could cost me my daughter for good.

‘I had my reasons, believe me. I just can’t tell you what they are. I can’t risk it being plastered all over the press. I want to protect you.’

‘Bullshit this is about protecting me,’ she barks. ‘You’re a drunk and a druggie, and you were smashed that night. Same old story. Clearly, he said something to rile you, and you went psycho. And then, realising what you’d done, you took your Valium and blacked out. Simple.’

I recoil with humiliation. But she has a point. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve woken up with no memory of the night before. Waking up next to a stranger, my head raging, wondering where the hell I was, who the hell he was. Even a she on one occasion. The perils of working in the City. Of being a female partner at a top law firm. The need to prove oneself, keep up with the boys. Work hard, play hard. But I can’t blame my job alone. The truth is I wanted to escape my domestic hell.

‘But I’ll admit, you’ve never reacted violently before,’ Olivia says. ‘Which makes me suspect there’s something else. Something you’re keeping from me.’

She’s right. There is. The email, the video. I don’t regret he’s dead. If anything, killing him assuaged the guilt for failing Olivia that had consumed me. But I still want to remember. Because not remembering is frightening, despite my prints being on the pillow I used to quash the air out of him, as well as the kitchen knife I had sharpened to a deadly point.

Olivia found him. Poor girl. Found me passed out on the floor next to him, while he lay in a pool of blood. I can’t imagine what that must have been like for her. It makes me feel guiltier than ever.

It’s terrifying because it also makes me wonder what other wicked things I might have done. Even though I don’t think I’m capable of them.

‘You have to tell me, Mum. You owe me that much.’ Olivia eyes me pleadingly. A little girl again.  Wanting her mother to be honest with her for once. I can’t blame her. She’s right. I thought I could keep it from her, but I realise now that if I don’t tell her the truth, it’ll drive an even deeper wedge between us. She deserves to know, to have peace, even if I don’t.

‘Ok,’ I say. ‘I’ll tell you. But you must understand it was a moment of weakness. And you must promise never to tell a soul. We can’t risk the press getting wind of it. If they do, you’ll suffer, and I can’t bear that.’

She looks at me quizzically, no doubt wondering what the hell I’m going to say. Also, sceptically. Doubtful that I care two hoots about whether she suffers or not. Even so, she shrugs her shoulders, says, ‘OK’, as if to comply with my charade, just because she wants me to explain, and would agree that black was white in order to facilitate this.

I take a deep breath. Then, ‘A while back I received an email.’

‘An email? From who?’

‘It was anonymous. But they attached a video.’ My heart is hammering. But I keep going, just about managing to look my daughter in the eye. ‘Of me.’

‘You? Doing what?’

I feel sick as I swallow hard, say, ‘Having sex.’

Her eyes widen. ‘With who?’ I know what she’s thinking. Her question tells me as much. That it wasn’t her father.

‘Mike,’ I confess weakly.

Her face falls. She’s in shock, understandably. After all, I’ve just told her I shagged her ex fiancé. Ex, because he broke up with her not long after it happened. Triggered by his guilt, I suspect.

‘Please tell me I heard wrong.’ Her voice is barely audible.

Tears tear down my cheeks. ‘I’m sorry, darling. It was a mistake, a moment of madness. You were away, your father had been particularly cruel that week, and I happened to bump into Mike while I was having a drink after work. He told me you’d argued, we got hammered, and one thing led to another.’

I didn’t think my daughter could despise me anymore than she already does. But I’m wrong. A fierce all-consuming hate I’ve never seen before engulfs her face. A hate that says she wishes I were dead.

But somehow, she keeps her voice steady. ‘So, having chosen to ignore the fact that your paedo husband abused his daughter for years, you choose to punish me further by sleeping with the love of my life.’

She’s entitled to hate me. I am a shit mother. A waste of space. Sick, even. I deserve to be in here. But I was drunk, and it was a moment of weakness. As lame an excuse as that sounds.

‘So, I take it this person, whoever it is, blackmailed you?’

‘Yes. But not in the way you might think.’ I pause. ‘They threatened to release the video if I didn’t kill your father.’

‘So this person has some sort of grudge against Dad?’

I bow my head.

‘What aren’t you telling me?’

‘Whoever sent it knows about the abuse. They know what John did to you, and they know I did nothing about it. They said I needed to make up for my neglect by killing him, and that if I didn’t, they would release the video and this would only prove what a heartless mother I am. That I don’t care about your suffering. Enjoy it, even.’

‘Well, they have a point,’ she grunts.  ‘Where did you two do it?’

She says the word ‘it’ with exaggerated scorn. Almost spits it out as if expunging a bad taste in her mouth.

I cringe. My daughter’s eyes are demonic. ‘Where?’ she demands.

Shame hits me like a sharp slap across the face. ‘A side alley near the bar we got drunk in.’

My daughter throws her head back and cackles like a witch. ‘Classy, Mum, really classy. Although, to be honest, it’s what I’ve come to expect of you.’

Her words cut me to the core, but again, I deserve it. I’m disgusting. After it happened, I felt disgusting. Hysterical at the thought of betraying the daughter I had already failed. And so I guess that’s why I agreed to kill John. I’d sunk to a new low, and I needed to make up for it. I tell her this.

‘Don’t pretend this was about your conscience,’ she snarls. ‘It was about protecting your precious reputation.’

‘How can you say that?’ I say, fighting the urge not to scream. ‘I killed your father! What reputation could I expect to protect after that?’

‘Well, if you’d been smarter about it, you might have had a chance at that,’ she scoffs. ‘You could have poisoned him, pushed him off a cliff. Paid someone, even. But instead you murdered him in his own bed, leaving your prints all over the shop. Because you’re a lush and you’re weak, and I’m guessing you needed the booze to steady your shakes and your nerve when you sucked the air out of him.’

She’s right. It was incredibly dumb of me. Makes no sense at all. Almost like I wanted to get caught. Which is weird, because when I first saw the email, all I could think about was how I could murder John and get away with it. Whatever happened that night, I do know that we argued. He called me a whore, in fact. Perhaps this touched a nerve, and I couldn’t bear to wait a second longer, the email in the back of my head incentivising me, as well as the booze.

‘I suppose it could be a colleague, or someone who followed you when you left the bar,’ Olivia muses. ‘But they must know you, know Dad. Else how would they know all that stuff?’

She’s right, it’s the only logical explanation. And since I was arrested, I’ve racked my brain for hours on end, wondering who it could be. But I’m stumped. Because I’ve never told anyone about John’s mistreatment of me or our daughter. I was too ashamed, too cowardly.

‘I agree. But perhaps we’ll never know,’ I say, my voice flat, devoid of hope. I hesitate, then say, ‘Tell me, has Mike been in touch?’

I’m not sure why I ask this. Now she knows what happened, surely she’ll want nothing more to do with him. But to my surprise, she says, ‘Yes. We’re back together.’

I jolt in shock.

‘Jesus, Olivia, I shouldn’t have told you. Are you sure that’s a good idea? He never mentioned what happened?’

How cowardly, how arrogant of him, I think. How the hell can he look my daughter in the eye after screwing her mother?

Just then, the guard approaches. ‘Say your goodbyes, time’s up.’ He moves away.

I search my daughter’s face for answers. But she doesn’t seem fazed by my questions.

‘I should be going,’ she says. ‘But before I do, there’s something you should know.’

‘What’s that?’ I ask, still astounded she’s back with Mike.

She leans forward, and I can feel her breath on my face.

‘We killed him,’ she whispers. ‘Mike and I.’

I freeze.

‘We waited for the perfect moment. When you came home plastered, as we knew you would. You had a blazing row with Dad, then I poured you a glass of water, dissolved one of your pills in it. You went to bed in the spare room, and before long were out for the count. And when Dad was sleeping, Mike smothered his repellent face with a pillow before I took the knife I’d sharpened and plunged it into him. Again, and again. We wore gloves of course. Boy, did it feel good. Payback for the years of abuse. Mike loves me. Would do anything for me. He wanted you both to suffer the way I suffered all those years. We dragged your limp body beside Dad’s bed, made sure your prints were on the knife and the pillow. And then we left you, went to bed, waited for the morning when I would make a hysterical call to the police.’

My child’s vengeful eyes drill through me.

‘You set me up?’ I feel numb. ‘You told Mike to seduce me? What kind of twisted person does that?’

She edges closer. Hisses, ‘I’ll tell you who. The kind of person who gets abused as a child, the kind of child whose mother didn’t give a shit, the kind of person who’s had to fight to survive.’

Guilt chokes me. I created a monster. But I can’t help admiring my daughter’s ingenuity. Only a few days ago, she convinced me to give her power of attorney over my assets and John’s – the house, our savings. She committed the perfect crime, and now she has her revenge. Not to mention control over everything. She is set for life, and free of her toxic parents.

‘Goodbye, Mother, we won’t see each other again.’

Crushed by her cruelty, I watch my daughter leave the room, then let the guard take me back to the dismal cell where I belong.




Find out more about author A A Chaudhuri here.


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