Trish Swain’s Rules for Life
If you get knocked to the ground, come up fighting. But if you’re literally knocked to the ground, stay down, bravery is over rated.
It was just after 8 am when I woke up. My mouth felt furry and it was hard to swallow. My head was pounding. If this is how Dad felt after one of his binges, he could keep his alcohol.
I was sprawled out on one of my armchairs. I hadn’t even made it to bed. I felt around on the floor for my phone. No missed calls. I let my phone slip through my fingers as I eased myself out of the chair, managing to knock over an empty wine bottle as I tried to stand up.
I made my way into the kitchen and found a cup half filled with cold coffee on the counter top. There were some aspirin in my top drawer so I swallowed four of them with the coffee, waited then took two more.
When I was sure last night’s wine wouldn’t make a sudden reappearance, I stripped off and had a long hot shower, leaning against the tiles for support.
The hot spiky needles worked their magic, and I started to think I would live. I took my time dressing and thought about breakfast. I didn’t have any … just thought about it. My head was willing but my stomach wasn’t.
I was late for work but for once I didn’t care. Let Sarah open up. Wouldn’t kill her to take some responsibility for a change.
It was just gone 9 when my phone did ring. It made me jump. I had been expecting Sarah to call, to find out where I was but the caller ID said Sam. I slid my finger across the green button. Something must have happened for my brother-in-law to call me.
I couldn’t make out what he was saying, it sounded like he was crying.
‘Slow down, slow down, take it easy.’
‘It’s Miriam, Trish, she’s … dead.’
Silence, just breathe. In, out.
‘Dead?’ I managed to say. Dead. I had only seen her last night. My hands started to shake and I had to put the phone down. I pressed speaker. Sam was still talking.
‘This morning, the police are here now. She was driving home from day care.’
‘Oh, Sam. Miriam?’
There was a rustling noise and then someone else came on the line.
‘Yes,’ I said.
His voice was as familiar to me as my own so there was no need for any introductions. And his being there meant it was true.
‘I’m sorry to bring more bad news to your family Ms Swain, but there’s been a car accident.’
Detective Jago was blunt. ‘It’s your sister, I’m afraid she’s been killed. I’m here with your brother- in-law now.’
I picked my phone up and pressed speaker again. I held the phone to my ear.
‘You did say accident, Detective, didn’t you?’
‘So why are you there?’
‘Because of what happened before. I’ve been called in.’
But I didn’t, an accident didn’t need a homicide detective to investigate it.
‘Is it possible you could come over? I don’t think Mr DeFreiz should be by himself.’
‘Of course, Detective. I’m on my way. But are you sure it’s ... Miriam.’ My voice faltered. ‘There can’t be any mistake can there?’
For a split second I held my breath, but …
‘No, it was your sister’s car, I’m afraid. There still needs to be a positive ID but I don’t think there’s any doubt.’
‘Has my dad been notified?’
‘Not yet, we’ve sent a police officer round to tell him. We’ve only notified you by phone so you could come and stay with Mr DeFreiz.’
‘Okay, I’m leaving now.’
I hung up and grabbed my bag and car keys.
My mind flashed to Devon. Thank God she was safe at day care.
As I drove to Miriam’s house, I started thinking. Dangerous, I know, I had to stay focused, but memories arrive unbidden. It’s funny how your mind does that, it protects itself from sadness by retreating into the past. I was no different, so when my memories flooded my brain I was at a loss to turn them back. Things that had felt like ancient history took on the feeling of only yesterday.
I thought back to when I was a child, how Miriam had been there for me. She had always been there for me. She was my support, and I was hers. It had been like that since forever.
Our mum had decided early on, that she didn’t like our dad or us very much and had taken off. She obviously wanted her freedom more than she wanted her family. We hadn’t heard from her since.
Dad didn’t seem too upset. As long as he had the necessities of life, beer, smokes and assorted women, he wasn’t much fussed. Having two small daughters to raise was just a minor inconvenience.
So even though Miriam was only two years older than me, she became my protector. She was way more street smart and savvy than me. And single minded. Or maybe obsessed would be a better word.
I remember lying in bed beside her on the nights Dad would go out drinking. We were alone and would huddle together talking about life. I couldn’t see past next Tuesday’s spelling test but Miriam, she saw the bigger picture. She knew what she wanted, an education, marriage, money and freedom. And she spoke with such certainty that you couldn’t help but realise she would succeed.
She promised to take me with her, where ever she went.
‘I’ll never leave you here, Trish,’ she would say. ‘We’re sisters and we stick together.’
I liked that, the sticking together part.
I won’t mention the name of our town because I don’t want this traced back to me. That could make things rather messy. I just want to get the facts out there. To show it wasn’t all my fault.
Maybe there’s a bit of bragging involved too, I would like someone to read this and think how clever I’ve been. But that sounds conceited and with all my other failings that’s one thing I’ve never been accused of.
I have always been known as the other one, the sister who never really made the grade.
My sister was gorgeous. She was beautiful on the inside as well as beautiful on the outside. A cliché I know but true. I was the hanger on, the one that got her cast off boyfriends, not that I minded really. It was easier just to take the castoffs than look for my own male companionship. Besides, Miriam’s boyfriends were always rich. They had cash to splash.
Did I love my sister … hmm probably … did I like my sister … you bet, she was my best friend. She was the one who should have had the happy ending.
There were three of us in the beginning, a triumvirate, the three musketeers. But we were really nothing like the three musketeers, maybe we were at the beginning, but towards the end we weren’t all for one and one for all, we were all for ourselves.
Alice was the other girl. A tall girl, more striking than beautiful, with a wild tangle of red hair. She had been Miriam’s friend ever since I had dropped out of Uni.
Every Friday we would meet up in the city for a drink. We established the routine early on in our working lives and we rarely missed a week.
I knew Miriam sometimes saw Alice without me, but that was okay, they were friends after all, I was the plus one.
But it also suited me. I had other things to do, or so I told myself. Who at the age of twenty-two is going to admit that they relied solely on their sister for their social life. So I would pretend to be surprised when they would mention a play or a bar they had been to without yours truly. Then I would feign interest as Miriam or Alice would then proceed to tell me all about it.
The story would always end the same way, a detailed account of who had tried to pick Miriam up. Because it always happened, whenever Miriam entered a room, half the people there would fancy her and that included the women. The other half were gay. Men always hit on Miriam. It was a given.
We would meet up at some bar, the one of the moment and buy a drink. We only ever bought one drink, the rest were bought for us. And I usually gave it 15 minutes tops before some guy would try his luck. If Miriam liked him she would flirt back, sussing out the situation. Was he worth the effort? If not he was passed down the line, first Alice then me.
But as I said, I didn’t mind.
I remember one poor guy who wouldn’t take the hint.
It was a Friday, I’d just arrived. Miriam and Alice already had a drink. I fought my way through the crowd of young business types and bought myself a chardonnay.
I lost half of it trying to get back to my sister. I had to circle a wide crowd of men all standing round our table, jostling and pushing. Miriam was holding court as per usual.
This guy had managed to get front and centre. He was really smitten with my sister but straight away I knew he wouldn’t make the cut. He was about the same height as Miriam, and she was sitting down. His suit was a cheap off the rack model and his watch was a knock off Rolex. How could I tell it was a knock off, when you’ve seen the real thing often enough you can always tell the fakes and boy was he one.
Miriam glanced over to Alice, she wanted him gone but Alice gave a slight shake of her head. No way, she was saying, I’m not taking him off your hands. Miriam glanced at me. I shrugged. Why not. The pickings had been slim lately and at least I’d get free drinks. It wasn’t like I was going to take him home.
But he just didn’t get it. He was way out of his league but he wouldn’t give up. Dave was his name, Dumb Dave we ended up calling him. He simply wouldn’t leave Miriam alone, so we ended up leaving him alone instead. We moved to another bar.
As far as I’m aware, he’s still there. Hanging on his every word, thinking how witty and smooth he is.
Dumb Dave became a sort of joke between us, if some other man started to annoy us, we would say something like, ‘sorry not tonight, I’m expecting DD to join me.’ That was our code to tell each other that this guy was a loser and we needed to get rid of him.
How long things would have continued in this way I have no idea but everything changed when Alice got a new job. She became the private secretary to the CEO of a new, alternative publishing house.
For obvious reasons I can’t name it, so let’s just call it, The Book House. Anyway, she was over the moon, not only because it was a fantastic job with a fantastic salary but her boss, Sam, was apparently fantastic too.
Alice showed me a picture of him on her phone. He looked yummy, just the right amount of swarthy mixed in with the right amount of sophistication. A cross between George Clooney and Brad Pitt, only way younger. I would have worked for him for nothing.
Most importantly, he was unattached, not even an ex-wife lurking in the background.
To cut a long story short, the inevitable happened and Alice fell in love with Sam, but Sam also fell in love with Alice, and they became an item.
We didn’t see Alice often after that, except if you count the photos in the newspapers and social media. Alice and Sam always seemed to be out and about, at book launches, museum openings, charity balls, the hip and happening parties, and their picture was everywhere.
If Miriam was jealous she didn’t show it but the dynamics of our little group had changed. Miriam was no longer the centre of everything, and when Alice did stop by for a drink, we no longer played our little games. Alice didn’t want to take part and Miriam said it was no fun just playing with me, so we stopped. Besides there was never any time, Alice only stopped by on her way to someplace else. And that someplace else was always where Sam was.
If Miriam was annoyed by Alice’s treatment, again she didn’t show it, she would simply gush and say she was delighted for her.
‘When can we meet him?’ she would ask and put on a little hurt face. ‘It’s been over three months and we still haven’t met him.’
Now here Alice was very cagey and clever. She waited until an engagement ring was firmly on her finger before she let Miriam anywhere near Sam.
Like I said clever girl but not clever enough, she should have waited for the wedding ring.
I still remember the day Alice introduced Miriam to Sam. It’s for sure Alice will never forget.
It was arranged that we would all meet for brunch at a local café. Local to Miriam and Alice that was, it was a bus and a train ride away for me.
Well I figure Alice lost her man in thirty seconds flat. As Alice made the introductions and Sam shook Miriam’s hand, their eyes met and it was all over red rover. He couldn’t take his eyes of Miriam and visa-versa.
Alice should have accepted defeat and handed the engagement ring over there and then, but she put up a fight; flashing her engagement ring in Miriam’s face, lest she forget, hanging on to Sam’s arm and defying Miriam to come between them. Alice even went as far as trying to get Sam to name the date.
But it was a fight Alice was destined to lose. Now, at Sam’s insistence, Miriam was invited along to the gala openings and book launches. It was an entirely different three musketeers. It was Miriam who was now featured in all the photographs for the papers and social media. She was a natural and so photogenic. Sam would be there laughing and smiling at her side and Alice was somewhere in the background.
By then Alice knew it was all over and she waved the white flag and accepted defeat, broke off her engagement and magnanimously accepted the role of chief bridesmaid at the wedding.
I was a bridesmaid too but Alice was the chief bridesmaid.
I must say I was surprised that Miriam married Sam. Back then I thought an affair would have satisfied her. But marry him she did. Maybe it was to spite Alice or maybe she thought it was time to settle down, who knows, and Sam was certainly a catch. When I eventually worked out who his family was I found my reason. He was loaded, it was old money, family money and there was a hell of a lot of it. DeFreiz family money went way back and each generation had added to the pot.
I was impressed. Miriam’s life plan was about to be realised. She had gotten herself an education, now came the marriage and money part, and I suppose the freedom.
What’s not to like.
Now two years and one child later they’re still married.
Alice stayed faithful and loyal both to Miriam and Sam. She still works for Sam as his secretary and she has never shown any ill will towards Miriam. I’d nominate her for sainthood.
All this played out as a major drama in my life. As I said, I was on the outside looking in, a minor player, but I took my part seriously.
I was the one Miriam needed to add balance to her life. The only person who ever really knew her.
After all, wasn’t it Miriam who had said, ‘I’ll never leave you, Trish. We’re sisters and we stick together.’
So, I waited for Miriam not to leave me behind, to take me along with her now that she had a rich husband and social standing, but Miriam had become obsessed with Miriam, and the call never came.
But that didn’t stop me from hoping and waiting.
Don’t walk a mile in anyone else’s shoes because they won’t fit and they’re probably going in the wrong direction
Now don’t get me wrong, I was pleased that Miriam was happy, she was my sister and I was on her side but I was feeling a bit lost and lonely. It wasn’t like Alice and I would hang out together. Miriam had been the glue that had held us together. But as luck would have it, romance found a way into even my drab life. A couple of months before Miriam’s wedding, when everything was Miriamcentric and I was feeling lonelier than ever, I met Jeff.
He had just started working at a café I frequented. I was lost the minute he turned his baby blues on me and I had to curb an urge to run my fingers through his wild curly hair.
I first saw him at a distance at the bar, and thought cute, but when he came over to give me a menu I upgraded that to mega cute.
I stumbled over my order and the words, ‘toast on poached eggs,’ came out. There was a moment’s hesitation and then we both laughed. I took a quick look at his name badge, Jeff. Hmm it suited him.
I tried to act cool. I took out my phone and scrolled through my old messages. I thought it made me look interesting and busy. Technology is brilliant as a companion for those who eat solo, but I couldn’t concentrate, I found myself looking for him. I thought I was being discreet but the café wasn’t busy so he was mostly just standing at the bar talking to the barista. He caught me looking in his direction a couple of times and waved. I think I was in love. When it came time to pay, he slipped me a card with his number on.
Oh joy, oh bliss, by now I didn’t think I was in love, I knew it.
I waited until I was well and truly clear of the café, at least out the door, before I called him. He laughed when he heard my voice and as I turned around, he was standing there in front of me.
We became inseparable.
Jeff came to represent a wonderful time in my life. He wasn’t a castoff boyfriend, he was one I had found all on my own. He was strong, determined and knew what he wanted in his life. And he wanted me. Can you believe it?
I kept it on the down low. I didn’t want anyone to know about us. Not yet anyway. I wanted to take him to Miriam’s wedding as a surprise and say, ‘hey look what I’ve got; isn’t he gorgeous?’
During the week, we would meet every day for lunch and on weekends Jeff stayed at my place.
We would take long walks together, hold hands, talk and whisper excitedly like children.
Jeff told me all about his plans to open his own café. An upmarket one that sold local produce and brewed its own coffee. It could have been a sandwich shop selling week old bread and mouldy cheese for all I cared, whatever Jeff wanted I wanted.
Life was good. No better than good, it was bloody fantastic. There was nothing Jeff and I disagreed on and that included sex. Do I need to describe it? Okay, I’ll just say this, Jeff was way more experienced than me but I was an enthusiastic pupil. Under his careful tutelage I had more orgasms in one week than I had had in all my previous relationships. It was a case of the more adventurous the better. As I said before there was nothing we didn’t agree on.
Jeff started leaving more and more of his stuff at my place. A good sign, I thought. Soon he would be all moved soon.
And he was my secret.
Interspersed with all this idyllic bliss were the preparations for Miriam’s wedding. Things were moving up a notch, the day was getting closer.
I felt bad for Alice and tried to ease the pressure on her a bit, I’m not sure Miriam felt anything.
‘No bloody way. Stopping me on the street was bad enough, no way was I introducing him to any of my friends.’
‘Ah, Miriam, I thought he was kinda sweet. The way he kept saying he was changed and that he missed you.’
‘Yeah right that was just before he asked me for some money. Watch out, Trish, you’ll be next.’
‘He doesn’t know where I live, or even my phone number.’
I looked at Miriam’s face.
‘Oh, no you didn’t?’
‘Don’t worry, he’ll never call. I just wanted to get rid of him, sorry.’
But I knew she wasn’t.
‘And Alice even wanted to ask him to have coffee with us.’
Ah, question answered, they had been going to a café together.
Miriam gave Alice a playful shove.
Part of me felt sorry for Dad. I wasn’t really angry that Miriam had given him my number. Sometimes I found myself actually missing him, but I’d never admit, so I acted all irritated and angry on her behalf.
‘How like him. Inconsiderate, coming up to you like that. But sober, and in the afternoon too. Maybe the new girlfriend is having a positive effect on him. Last time I spoke to him a few months back he couldn’t stop talking about her.’
Miriam was nodding.
‘Yeah, he did mention a girlfriend. Has some silly name, what was it?’
A split seconds silence and then we both shouted, ‘PANDA.’
A few people turned their heads and we laughed.
That was the end of that conversation because now the drinks were arriving along with the ensuing men who fancied their luck with Miriam. We were in for a long night.
But even though Alice knew how Miriam felt about Dad, it didn’t stop her from pressing her point about the wedding invitation.
‘It’s only for an afternoon,’ she said, ‘what can possibly go wrong? Your dad will be very upset not to get an invite.’
‘Well, let him.’
‘And he’s bound to find out. It will be all over the internet and maybe on the TV.’
Miriam looked at Alice.
‘You’re serious, aren’t you? I’ve told you all about my family, they’re all walking disasters.’
‘I think it would look bad,’ Sam said. ‘We need to have some of your family there otherwise the Press may start asking awkward questions. Anyone marrying into the DeFreiz family is bound to be scrutinised. Better to have your Dad there, I think.’
We were sitting, have coffee at a local café. We were discussing the only topic of interest – the wedding.
‘And he can’t be all bad. Think of the good times.’
Miriam and I both gave him a sour look.
‘Okay, maybe things were that bad, but look at it this way, at least you’ll get the satisfaction of showing him you’ve made a success of your life. Moved onwards and upward.’
Now that idea appealed to Miriam. You could see her smile growing bigger as the idea took hold, she was never one to hide her light under a bushel.
‘Fine,’ she said, ‘but if anything goes wrong, you’re both to blame.’ (Miriam always liked to have an out and have someone to blame.)