Chapter 2. A Cold Response
Police Constables Richard Stevens and Sally McMahon parked their patrol car in front of the Smiths’ residence and walked to the door. Notifying the next of kin that a family member had committed suicide was one of the most harrowing parts of their job. McMahon in particular always hated being the harbinger of such news. Stevens rang the bell.
“This is the Police, open up, please.” The door opened, and Arianna’s parents met the two officers.
“Is there a problem, officers?” her father asked.
The officers took off their caps and proceeded to inform the parents.
“Do you have a daughter named Arianna Smith, Sir?” Stevens asked.
“Yeah, what about her?” Mr Smith asked, looking rather irritated.
“I’m afraid she’s dead, Sir. Please accept our condolences.” said McMahon, with her hands sweating. She barely resisted wiping them on her skirt.
A few moments of awkward silence followed. Surprised, Mr and Mrs Smith looked at each other, then at the two officers.
“Dead… How?” asked Mrs Smith, while Mr Smith looked on, with his arms crossed.
One would expect a mother to be in a state of complete shock upon receiving such news and burst into tears, but Mrs Smith’s eyes looked puzzled rather than sad. No tear formed in them. McMahon hesitated a bit, cleared her throat and said:
“She jumped off the Ashworth Bridge outside Dagenhull, Ma’am.”
“I’m not surprised,” said Mr Smith. Annoyance and a degree of anger coloured his voice rather than sadness, as his greyish eyebrows became an ominous frown. “She never fit in.”
“Honey, please…” Mrs Smith started to say, placing her hand on his arm.
The two officers were lost for words. Never before had they seen such reactions from the relatives of someone who had committed suicide. They were used to see relatives burst into tears at the shock, even if they knew it was a matter of time – but the Smiths’ reaction seemed so cold.
“She left this note behind, Sir. We should give it to you. Could you please come to the police station with us to collect her personal effects? We can arrange for your transportation to the hospital where she is, for recognition, retrieval and last rites, if you want.”
“No!” grumbled Mr Smith, and closed the door on the officers’ faces, without accepting the suicide note.
Once the Smiths got back inside their house, their son, a thirty-five-year-old man named Kyle, was walking from his room to the kitchen. He had woken up at half-past-noon and was fixing breakfast for himself.
“What’s the matter, mum?” he asked.
“Your sister killed herself.”
“What? No way! How?”
“She jumped off the Ashworth Bridge, outside Dagenhull.” said Mr Smith.
“The coppers wanted to give me her suicide note, but I didn’t take it.”
“Why should I?” he said, and tried to end the conversation.
“Dad, she’s your daughter and my sister. And you may not have liked her, but we should at least know why she got there.”
“I may not have liked her? Ha! I’ve always said we should have aborted her when we had the chance. Who told you I wanted her to be born in the first place?”
Those last words stopped Kyle right in his tracks. He remained silent as Mrs Smith went on to prepare lunch.
To those who knew the Smiths, it was no secret that the entire clan had scant regard for women, so Mr Smith’s words wouldn’t have surprised them. They were a deeply patriarchal, backwards family. To them, daughters were nothing but a burden on their parents’ shoulders. Oddly enough for a family with such a common, mundane name, they valued the continuation of the family name more than anything. Well, almost anything. The other thing they held in the highest regard was the set of virtues they considered to be part and parcel of masculinity: strength, self-reliance, virility and such. The “elders” of the Smiths clan viewed women as weak, nagging, troublesome second-rate beings whose only acceptable roles were the kitchen, the church, and the birth and upbringing of children and, more specifically, boys. Beyond that, they were supposed to just keep their mouths shut and cater to the needs and wishes of the men in the family.
Arianna broke away from the Smiths’ mould at the young age of eighteen. She was known as a columnist for two publications of nationwide circulation and a well-regarded blogger / journalist, but kept her personal life… personal. Where she lived, only a very narrow circle of friends knew anything about her past. She avoided talking about her family or her childhood. She was often described as a highly-intelligent and deeply caring person, and, at the same time, as a shy loner who had trouble getting to know new people. News of her suicide were duly reported on nationwide TV and radio, as well as on news sites over the internet; obituaries for her appeared in the publications she worked for, as well as on her hometown’s local newspapers and news sites. As is the case with such news, the townsfolk quickly started discussing… Or gossiping.
At a local hair salon, the patrons were vigorously discussing the real and unreal, probable and improbable circumstances of her death over perm and manicure: Devoid of any decorum and laced with uncontrollable giggling, stories about her love life, her family life and whatever issues she might have been facing flew in the air between the clients and personnel, under the watchful eye of the sneering manager.
“Shhhhh… Her mother is coming,” said an assistant. She nodded, showing them the door, as Mrs Smith was opening the door to enter the salon. Some of the ladies stood, walked up to her and offered her their condolences and comforting hugs, trying their hardest to look like they were sorry for her loss.
Later in the evening, at the bar where Kyle worked, his friends asked him about his sister’s suicide while unloading new crates of drinks and arranging the chairs and tables. He didn’t know what to tell them, because he didn’t know the reasons that drove her to end her life. After all, he hadn’t seen her in five years, and it had been three years since she last talked to them.
A local TV station tracked down some old classmates of Arianna’s and interviewed them in order to offer some “insight” on the deceased. None of them could explain her suicide, but their recollections had a few things in common. All of them described her as a “loner” who “rarely smiled” and was “rarely happy”, but was always the best in her class and others could always count on her, although she didn’t seem to have any friends at school. No one remembered having her number while she was growing up, and no one remembered spending time with her outside of school. No one remembered seeing her playing with other kids, actually. The recurring image in the description was that of a girl who was always alone in every aspect of her short life, whatever she did. The media also tried to contact her family, but were denied any comment.
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