Chapter One: An Introduction
When my mother died, she left a lot of things behind. A lot of messes, a lot of junk, with none of the affectionate memories.
These things meant something to her in a way I, as her only daughter, never could. But I couldn’t blame these things for standing between us. Since I was a little girl, I knew things were what she cared for, more than she’d ever had the capacity to care for me. And I didn’t blame her for it. Some people just aren’t bred for love.
My mother didn’t leave heartfelt memories when she died.
She didn’t leave warmth.
But of all the things she left, there was one I treasured—and that was her elephant handbag.
Mother wasn’t especially loving (note how I call her ‘mother’, rather than the endearing ‘mom’ my counterparts tend to invoke with their maternal guardians). And it’s not that she didn’t want to be affectionate. I believe she might’ve been, had she been capable of such an evocation. As I said, her heart held limited real estate, which she filled with all the material possessions she could afford.
They weren’t nice things, mind you. We didn’t have nice things—but we had shit.
We had loads of shit.
But there was one thing, as I mentioned. This elephant handbag. I carried it everywhere after she died. I don’t know why, exactly. It wasn’t stylish—but nor was I, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now. One with a sparkling personality such as mine doesn’t tend to err on the side of sexy.
The handbag was ratty even before I took ownership. But there was something about that bag that held my attention, in the same way it held my mother’s. I can’t say I could place it then, but now when I look at it, I’m reminded of two things: one, of the possibility of something else—something outside my tiny world; Two, of my face pressed against stone as I screamed—begged—for it to stop.
Begged for death.
Begged for my world to end.
Did I say how she died? My mother? I guess it doesn’t matter much to the rest of my story. We all die and her death wasn’t so spectacular: a ruptured artery in the brain. One minute, she was standing at the mirror smearing bubblegum pink lipstick over her artificially-plumped lips. In the next, she was lying on the floor, her glassy eyes staring right into my soul as if blaming me—a ten-year-old—for her untimely misfortune.
An aneurysm, I later learnt it was called.
Something to look out for, the doctors warned ten-year-old me.
At least it was quick, I thought. That’s how I’d like to go. No need to make a whole thing out of it.
Now, I think of that with a spiteful laugh. If only it’d gone that way for me. My end, or rather my near end, was painful, and dehumanising…
… But I’m skipping ahead again.
The elephant handbag. I carried it everywhere. After Mother died, they carted me from Edmonton (one of the coldest cities in Canada—not scientifically, but in my opinion), and sent me to live with my Aunt halfway across the world. Aunt Lacey was a ‘runaway’ according to my mother, having run as far as she could from her sister, who’d been strapped with the bastard kid, AKA me.
Aunt Lacey lived in Cardiff.
For those of you who don’t know (the vast majority living outside Europe), that’s Cardiff, Wales. In the UK. Still don’t know where it is?
Well, neither did I. See, my Aunt and I weren’t close then, and living in proximity hardly brought us closer.
Makes you start to wonder if it’s genetics that leave you heartless…
Did I mention I didn’t have a dad? I mean, I wasn’t immaculately conceived. How wild would that be, to only bring up now? No. As I mentioned, my mother didn’t take to affection like most people, so whoever stuck me in her belly didn’t stick around long after that. I didn’t even get the poor fellow’s name.
Please, don’t feel sorry for me.
Oh, you don’t? Great. There are a lot of tragic stories. Another where some obscure white girl doesn’t get her way is hardly worth anyone’s pity. And that’s not what I’m here to tell you about, anyways. I’m here to tell you about my mother’s handbag.
And how that handbag, with its rough stitching and cultural-appropriating, rainbow-coloured elephant print kept me alive the night I was attacked.
The night that stranger took everything from me: mind, soul, and body.