“I don’t understand,” Joanne Evans says to the woman standing in front of her, “my mother died when she gave birth to me.”
The woman slowly brushes the flowing red hair out of her face and she smiles again at Joanne. She gently touches Joanne’s cheek with the back of her fingertips. “You’re more beautiful in real life.”
Joanne pulls away quickly from the woman’s touch. “I’m sorry, I must get going.” Joanne starts to manoeuvre the wheelchair away from the woman.
Suddenly, Joanne can feel the warm touch of the woman’s hand on her shoulder. “I am your mother, Joanne. Don’t believe anything you have been told about me.”
“My mother is dead.” Joanne is confused. She shakes the woman’s hand from its rest.
“Yet here I am; your mother,” the woman looks down at Joanne. She can see Joanne struggling with the operation of her new wheelchair. “I want to take care of you.”
“I can take care of myself,” Joanne says to the woman as she starts to make her way over the dirt footpath leading away from Benjamin Pickering’s gravesite.
The woman follows Joanne. “I know it must be a shock,” she says. “You haven’t been told the truth about me.”
Joanne stops. “And what would the truth be?”
“I haven’t time to tell you now,” the woman says to Joanne. “But one day you will know the truth.”
“I haven’t time to play these games,” Joanne snaps. She goes to move off again. “Aunty Val!” she calls out to her aunty.
“If you want to know the truth, you must not say anything to anybody about our meeting,” the woman calls out after Joanne. “You will know the truth in time.”
By the time Valerie Pickering arrives at Joanne’s side, the woman in red is gone.
Three Months Later
The stage is set. The rows of white folding chairs sit on the green grass. The large crowd that is gathering in Peppercorn Patch’s garden square is filling them.
Valerie Pickering pushes the wheelchair down the centre aisle closer to the makeshift stage. “I’ll take you down the front,” she says to Joanne.
Around her, Joanne can see the faces of many people she knows. The town of Peppercorn Patch is small and the close-knit community has given her a lot of support over the last couple of months. She is grateful for the assistance provided to her, but she doesn’t like the attention that she seems to have gathered.
“Joanne,” the local park ranger, Kelly Driver, runs over to Joanne’s side. “You’re looking well. I am thinking of you. The whole town is.”
All Joanne manages to do is smile back. She can’t seem to shake the attention just yet. She is reminded of her attack each day. She is reminded of her husband’s death each day. She is haunted by Thomas Helling each and every day.
Constance Helling opens the box again for what seems like the hundredth time. As she has done every other time, she closes the box without touching its contents, still unsure as what to make of it.
“I don’t understand,” she huffs to herself. “Why does this have to be so difficult?”
She places the small wooden box into her handbag and grabs her car keys off the kitchen table. “I need my father’s help,” she says as she closes the front door behind her. “I need to go to the hospital.”
Soon there is only standing room left at the back of the chairs. It seems as if the whole population of Peppercorn Patch is gathered at the town square. Up on stage the mayor of Peppercorn Patch, Councillor Dustin Harris, taps on the microphone. “Is this thing on?” his voice booms over the speakers.
As the large crowd erupts in laughter, Joanne can see Sergeant Michael Anders stand up from his seat on the stage and assist the elderly mayor back to his own. The large crowd falls silent as the local high school’s band starts to play. When the band finishes, Sergeant Michael Anders walks to the microphone.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Michael Anders says into the microphone, “thank you for your large turn out today. I really appreciate all of your support. Let’s begin today’s ceremony.”
The town of Peppercorn Patch looks on as the ceremony to award the brave efforts of Constable Kyle Cook takes place.
“We will be forever in debt of your exceptional bravery during an extremely harrowing time. You have demonstrated your incredible service to this community on countless occasions.” Michael Anders shakes Constable Kyle Cook’s hand and hands him the Police Valour Award for his bravery. “On behalf of the community of Peppercorn Patch, we say thank you.”
Joanne joins in with the applause of the large crowd around her.
The ceremony continues as Sergeant Michael Anders also oversees Kyle Cook’s promotion from Constable to Senior Constable.
Joanne looks on and can’t help but feel proud of her late husband’s best friend. She knows that he had tried his best to help rescue her husband from his attacker.
“I’d just like to say that I am honoured and humbled by this ceremony today,” Kyle Cook says into the microphone. “I live to serve the fine people of this great town. I’d like to dedicate this award to Richard Evans who was not only a great man, but my best friend.”
She is reminded of her husband’s death each day.
“I’d also like to applaud Joanne Evans,” Kyle Cook continues as he looks down at Joanne from the stage. “She must be commended for her strength through adversity and her continual bravery.”
The large crowd erupts again in a loud applause.
She can’t seem to shake the attention just yet.
Constance opens the door to the small hospital room slowly. It is dark apart from a small overhead light. She sits down on the chair next to the bed and pulls out the wooden box from her handbag.
“I managed to open it,” she says, “but now I’m at a loss.”
Constance Helling opens the box and lifts out its contents. She twirls a golden skeleton key in her fingers. “What am I supposed to do with this?”
There is no response from the sleeping patient.
“I’m sure my father would have been able to help me,” Constance continues. “I should have opened the damned box before he died.”
The only response she receives is from the noisy ventilator and heart monitor. Their rhythmic hum is a strange comfort to Constance. She looks down at the bed. “My sweet Thomas,” she says. “Please wake up soon my son.”
Next Episode – Monday May 25
Enjoy the first episode of Season Two? Comment below and tell me what you think.
What does Constance Helling’s skeleton key open?