The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated, to misquote Twain. The doctor, drunk as always on cheap whiskey, took one look at my sedated body and pronounced me deceased to the whole castle. Highly irresponsible, that level of misdiagnosis. When my dear Nurse Nell tried to suggest otherwise, he slapped her, told her to mind her place. I dismissed him once I came to. The reports of my husband’s demise, alas, are true. I woke to a castle of bloodshed, far too many spots to clean, and a headless corpse in the garden.
We had to move after that. Draughty old castles aren’t good homes for children at the best of times, and certainly not those haunted by dead stepfathers. We needed a clean break, a do-over, so off we went to a cozy two-bedroom bungalow in the suburbs in an excellent school district. Nell, of course, came too.
Turns out a change of locale does not guarantee a fresh start. Rumours and gossip quickly found us, and the welcome-to-the-neighbourhood baskets of muffins and fruits stopped arriving. Unapologetically ambitious, I heard them whisper in the grocery store. The blame squarely placed on my shoulders, even though it would have balanced better on my husband’s, what with him not having a head anymore. I merely suggested one regicide, to strengthen the nation. I was looking out for my country, my people, my lineage. After that first act my husband started killing with abandon and without, I’ll note, encouragement. The course of male pride never did run smooth.
And so I joined the PTA, hoping to make life easier for wee Hamish, but the frost continued to bloom and spread. When it was my week to provide snacks, Nell and I slaved to prepare scones, shortbread, and haggis, but it all went untouched. The box of crackers that Susan brought (“just in case”) was picked clean.
When I suggested a dodgeball tournament with a rival school, eyes rolled.
“We’re not interested in a bloodbath here,” Gretchen said. “I realize that’s your idea of a good time, but we’re a little more civilized.”
I dug around for some dignity and replied, almost loud enough, “I believe you have confused me for my late husband.”
Eve glanced my way with what looked like a trickle of sympathy in her eyes. She of all people understood what it meant to be blamed for the actions of men. I smiled, and she almost returned the gesture, but a quick glance from sharp-tongued Gretchen and her gaze fell.
During the break, while I alone ate the haggis, I heard Susan (of the crackers) discussing her daughter.
“I told her to throw the test. You know, mix up some letters and numbers, act confused. Whatever it takes to get that IEP. Why should the slow kids get all the extra help? I’ve got to look out for her because her teachers certainly don’t.”
When the meeting reconvened, Gretchen announced the next item on the agenda.
“We need to talk about the board’s allocation of funding,” she said seriously. Heads bobbed in agreement.
“There’s a motion going to the board next week that would restructure how funding is allocated. They’re taking the median incomes from the school neighbourhoods, and those with lower average incomes will receive increased funding for resources.”
I nodded, and looking around, realized that this time mine was the only head bobbing.
“We’ll be opposing this funding change, of course!” Gretchen exclaimed. Several women in the room began to clap. “I mean, I’m sorry if some school in the middle of town has computers that are a little out of date, but that’s no reason why we should have to give up the gym expansion, or the eighth grade class trip, or make do with only seven computer labs.”
The way these women had judged me burned hot in my chest. They would do any self-serving thing to give their darlings the smallest advantage because they want the best. Just as I wanted what was best for my country, even though it turned out to be catastrophic for me personally. But sacrifice is necessary. We are more alike than different, I thought, although their clunky brown shoes say otherwise.
I quit the PTA at the end of that meeting, and took the scones, shortbread, and haggis home to Nell and Hamish. Together we licked the plates clean. Tomorrow we’ll be transferring Hamish to an inner-city school. I hear they have a wicked dodgeball team.
Amy is a playwright and aspiring novelist who also knits cacti. Her favourite animals are sheep and octopuses, and she’s a firm believer in the five-second rule. Follow her on Twitter @AmyRNeufeld.