The Ladies of Horror
Picture-Prompt Writing Challenge!
Father’s Final Roll of Film
by Terrie Leigh Relf
Maeve didn’t like climbing the winding stairs up to her bedroom. Miss O’Malley, their housekeeper, always kept the balustrades polished to a high slippery sheen. Furthermore, the scent of lemon oil always caused her to feel a bit queasy, especially now following supper. As it was Sunday, Cook had made duck à l’Orange, Mother’s favorite. The detestable greasy meal had yet to settle in Maeve’s stomach.
But once Maeve reached the welcome privacy of her bedroom and its adjoining study, the nausea would soon pass. So, too, would her relief at knowing she wouldn’t need to descend the stairs again until breakfast time.
Maeve turned on the bedside lamp, then closed and locked the door, pocketing the key. When she walked across the room to her study, the door was open a crack. Miss O’Malley was under strict orders never to enter her rooms—not even the bathroom, which she also cleaned herself. Perhaps she’d been careless and forgotten to lock the door?
Once inside, she glanced around. Nothing seemed amiss. Father’s old camera was where she usually left it on the desk. It still rested within the usual layer of dust, which seemed undisturbed. Nothing else seemed out-of-order, and the curtains remained open, the windows, too, revealing the gnarled branches of an acacia tree.
Maeve removed a few poetry collections from one of several bookshelves that lined her study. She reached into the cavity and pulled out a bottle of brandy.
The books she set on an occasional table next to her reading chair, which still smelled of Father’s earthy cologne. Along with the camera, she had also inherited her father’s brandy collection, the location shared just before he had met his untimely demise. It had been ruled as an accident, but Maeve continued to have her doubts. Despite Father’s habit of enjoying a brandy following dinner, and another right before bed in this very study, he never appeared intoxicated to her that night or on any other. Flashes of his mangled body at the bottom of the stairs still played over and over throughout the day.
After pouring herself a snifter full of brandy, Maeve reached for the small stack of books, intending to spend the evening with Blake, or perhaps Shelley, before she went to bed. Then again, she was more of a mood to read a few of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
Maeve had barely begun to flip through each book before the words began to blur in-and-out on the pages. Setting Blake’s collection aside, she reached for the brandy snifter, took a sip, savoring its smoky flavor.
She gazed out the open window for the longest time, her thoughts of nothing consequential. There was a chill to the air, so Maeve reached for a woolen afghan draped over the back of the chair. She listened to the night, the cacophony of nocturnal birds cawing.
Glancing around the room, Maeve’s eyes came to rest on the camera once again. There was still film in it, and she was curious what photos her father had taken before he passed. The darkroom was down in the basement, and she had no intention of descending the stairs at this late hour. It would just have to keep until morning. Besides, Miss O’Malley and Cook would stay up until all hours, and Maeve didn’t want to have to deal with their incessant questions as to what could possibly be so urgent that she needed to be in the dark room at this time.
Mother didn’t come down for breakfast, so Maeve didn’t need to contend with the woman’s sour disposition. She had a bit of winter melon along with her tea. Cook scowled at her, gestured to the muffins, and she took one. “I’m not particularly hungry right now, and will have it later. I’m going out into the garden to draw,” she told Cook and Miss O’Malley.
They shrugged in unison as they were wont to do. “Suit yourself, Miss Maeve,” Cook said.
She opened the sunroom doors that lead to the gardens. Just in case she was being watched, she pulled out her portfolio and pencils and began to sketch the acacia tree, while Miss O’Malley and Cook watched from the kitchen for a few moments before returning to their duties. Fortunately, Mother’s bedroom window was on the other side of the house, so Maeve waited a few more minutes before reaching around her neck for the basement’s outdoor key.
Once in the darkroom, she prepared the trays and solutions as Father had diligently taught her, then retrieved the camera’s film and began to process the film. After each bath, Maeve used clothespins to fasten the photos onto strings that wove across the basement’s beams. She had been careful to keep the photos in sequence, and yet, they didn’t appear to be. What story was Father’s last roll of film telling her?
Since she couldn’t rush the drying process, Maeve picked at her muffin. Stale again. Cook had never been a particularly good baker. She tossed the remains into the rubbish bin and leaned against the table, squinting in the wan light as she peered at random photos, attempting to make sense of the black-and-white photos, the patches of negative space.
At last the photos were dry enough to take down and line up on a table. With gloved hands, she arranged the images in the order in which they’d been developed, and then studied each one in detail.
Maeve reached for one of the bottles of brandy tucked away in Father’s cabinet. True, it was only mid-afternoon, and a bit too early, but Maeve hoped it would settle her stomach and nerves so she could focus on what Father’s photos were revealing.
The first series of photos were of letters clearly written in her mother’s hand. The second ones written in a hand she did not recognize. The final photo, however, was clearly a letter composed in her father’s deliberate script:
Maeve, My Dear,
If you have developed this roll of film as I believe you will, you now know it was your stepmother and her lover that caused my untimely demise. Please take this evidence to your Uncle Lawrence. He will make sure it ends up with the proper authorities.
Your Loving Father
With heart racing and hands shaking, Maeve reached for and tipped back the bottle of brandy. “Idiot,” she whispered, wiping a tear from her eye.
It was me.
Fiction © Copyright Terrie Leigh Relf
Image courtesy of Pixabay.com
More from author Terrie Leigh Relf:
For thousands of Earth years, the Transgalactic Consortium has had a quiet interest in this planet and its inhabitants, the Haurans. While the Sisterhood of the Blood Moon works together with the Consortium and Haurans to maintain balance in the universe, the Blood Moon is fast approaching. The power of this moon reveals untold secrets . . . including a sacred covenant with the Mora Spiders. There is an ancient pact that needs to be honored—but at what cost and for whose purpose? The world may come to an end. But will there be a chance for a new beginning?