My mum shot my dad, his mistress, and herself when I was nine years old. Two bullets in each of their heads and one in her own. She had found dad and his secretary shagging in a motel at the dodgy end of Edmund Street, just six blocks from our house in Burkshire.
While my mother was committing double homicide and suicide, I was tucked in bed, dreaming of the American actor, Gene Kelly, the man who’d stolen my heart just three years earlier.
After "The Tragedy At Alastair Motel"-- as it was called in the newspapers-- I was sent to live with my Aunt Tumese in Liverpool. She was a corpulent mass of a woman with a belly the size of a watermelon and a goiter protruding from her neck that was no doubt filled with an explosive trough of pus.
I had never met children more boring than those at my new school. They were the type of lot entertained by monkeys on tricycles and the flatulence of their peers. I was made fun of for reading outside of assigned schoolwork and for always wearing black. They used to call me Hazy Hazel, or Witch Hazel. Who could have known they would later be so apt in their name-calling?
On the night of my tenth birthday, Tumese had gone on another one of her all-night manhunts, which were never successful. The overwhelming stink of her perfume along with the stench of her pathetic desperation made any sane man stay clear of her.
I was reading Nabokov in bed. At ten past midnight I shut my book, turned out the light, and lie down. That was just when I felt the tickle at the back of my throat.
A simple cough and out he came with a cloud of brown dust. A tiny squirrel, or what was left of him since he was only bones, a skeleton, yet still as alive as you and I. He jumped to the floor and scurried to the door, scratching underneath like a dog. I stood from my bed and-- oddly, without hesitation-- went to the door and opened it. He ran out quickly, stopping suddenly, motioning with his head for me to follow.
He led me to the hallway of our block of flats, ending at flat D4, then again motioned his head toward the door. I knocked.
The sound of ten tiny feet shuffled to the door, and a series of locks began opening until it slowly creaked open, revealing a emaciated elderly woman with transparent skin. The further the door opened, the more the scent of steamed cabbage snuck into the hallway and offended my nose.
"Come in, darlings. Come in," she said and put her arm around my waist, shuffling me through the door as the squirrel followed behind.
The flat was cluttered with everything and anything you could imagine. Old shoes hung from hooks in the ceiling, and hundreds of picture frames with no pictures in them at all covered the walls. The old woman sat down and patted the seat for me to sit next to her. As I sat, a slimy, wet feeling seeped through my dressing gown. Squirrel jumped on the chair next to us and curled himself into a small pillow that held a green patch with his name, Callum.
"Now then, Hazel," she began.
I didn't question as to how she knew my name. The answer couldn't have been anymore odd or unbelievable than what had already happened, so I didn't care.
"Callum and I have taken notice of you," she continued. "We've been waiting for someone as special as you to come along for a very long time, now. Let me show you."
She held out her hand and uttered three words: "Dirium, Gophler, Villum."
A small wooden box appeared in her hand out of nowhere. She opened it to reveal a photograph of a young girl.
"Who is that?" I asked.
"It was me. A long time ago. Take it," she said, stretching her thin, weak arm over to me.
As my fingers touched the photo, I felt as if my entire body was being drained of all its blood at once and the room began to spin. The old woman and Callum became blurred and then disappeared.
Within seconds, everything had cleared. I opened my eyes to see that Callum was now as furry and lively as any live squirrel, and the old woman was now just as young as I.
"Thank you, dear. We'll be off then," she said. And with one snap of her fingers, she and the squirrel vanished from the room.
I stood, a bit lightheaded, and walked over to the door. As I reached for the knob, I noticed that my hands were now wrinkled and withered. I looked at my reflection in the window next to me. I wasn't myself anymore. I had been drained of my youth. In shock, I looked down at the photo I was still holding of the old lady as a child, only it was no longer her; it was me as the ten-year-old girl who entered the old witch's apartment.
When Tumese returned home the next morning unable to find me she called the police to begin searching for me. But it was an impossible task. The young girl they were seeking was now gone.
And now I sit in this old apartment that is not mine. A bitter old woman, old way before her time, waiting.
Waiting for a young girl to come along so that I may show her my photograph. To let her see how young and pretty I once was.