Behind every front door a miniature soap opera is playing out. Faith and Michael Evans’ home was no exception.
For the first 25+ years of their married life, which saw the birth and raising of three children, there had only been one ‘king of the castle’: the fact that I have used the masculine version of the ruler, rightly indicates that that supremo was Michael Evans. A bully, a philanderer, a self-obsessed, feckless and inconsiderate husband, father and human being.
However, though it is said that ‘money is the root of all evil’, and ‘money does not make you happy’, for Faith Evans, both those philosophies proved erroneous. Michael, on the other hand, might agree with the first, and long to put the second to the test. He was not going to be given the chance!
Faith decided that there were one or two other sayings which Michael might muse upon as well, namely ‘you reap what you sow’ and ‘be careful who you annoy on the way up, because you might need them on the way down’!
So when Faith had a mighty windfall, and the Gods above looked down benignly upon her, Michael was not destined to share in her good fortune. After more than a quarter of a century of marriage, Faith finally pulled the plug on their marriage. Almost by default. By indecision really. But that indecision could not have caused a greater deal of turmoil and angst if she had set about demolishing Michael with a carefully formulated and Machiavellian plan born out of malice and revenge.
So, this is not a conventional ‘mystery’. We, the on-lookers so to speak, will already know much of what there is to know, almost from the beginning. Those that are in the dark, unfortunately, are some of the other main characters in the story. Whatever of their current innocence, it seems that their past calumnies are scheduled to catch up with them since they are destined to become ensconced in a web of suspicion, deceit - even possible incarceration - when absolutely nobody had intended that to be the outcome! Not the ‘victim’ - the unwitting cause of their discomfort, not the primary instigator … well scrub that last ‘not the’! Perhaps in truth the original ‘instigator’, Faith’s benefactor, might not have ‘intended’ the outcome, but chances are he might well have enjoyed it as an unexpected bonus, as he watched the unfolding of events hopefully from a lofty perch somewhere in another world. Who knows?
Chapter 1: Faith tested
Faith Evans, nee Tierney, mechanically sorted out the coffee filter, laid the breakfast table and retrieved the daily papers, as always, half in, half out of the letter box.
She had not slept well. Michael had come in during the early hours and after a life time of lying awake pretending to be asleep, waiting for increasing numbers of family members to eventually deign to come home, she now found herself, at 48, unable to break the habit. She always imagined the worst.
Years ago, if the children were late at a disco, or a party, she invariably soon gave up the pretence of being unconcerned and asleep in bed. She would hover over the telephone trying to stop herself from ringing all the hospitals, and the police. She would then stand at the front door, plummeting from agitation, via annoyance, then anger, en route to complete certainty that disaster had undoubtedly struck. With this realisation came the inevitable tears and the wailing. Finally, there would be silence and despair.
Like Grace Darling in the lighthouse in the old story she would keep watch – rain, hail, sleet, snow – most often at the door, but sometimes so as to get a more panoramic and earlier view of the wanderer’s return, from an upstairs window. It will not come as a surprise to any reader that all of this caused mixed reactions in the other parties involved: embarrassment, annoyance, amusement were always well evident, each depending upon circumstances and whether or not there were witnesses to the embarrassing homecoming scene. Given his personality, there is no wonder that all of this ‘concern’ was met with a constant caustic, sometimes even violent, adverse reaction from her husband – their father. His own selfish and inconsiderate lifestyle certainly made him a part of the problem rather than the solution. Faith decidedly overdid the pessimism, but Michael on the other hand gave the impression that he considered it not his business what the children got up to – however young, however alarming the circumstances. His most non-violent reaction was a shrug and a comment that ‘what would be would be’. He had even been known to comment that he would welcome less mouths to feed. If Faith reacted as any mother would to this callous reaction, he would turn this into a major argument, ending with him threatening and often using physical violence. All this gave him an excuse to storm out of the house ‘because of her bloody moaning’ and disappear for a night or two. He had bigger fish to fry!
This pantomime provided amusement – or sometimes sympathy – from the Evans’ neighbours, depending upon their own circumstances: some of them had been there, seen the film, and bought the t-shirt themselves; some perhaps still had it to come…. (though the latter of course would not be so pathetic; their children would not give them that much grief; they would certainly not make exhibitions of themselves!).
As for the Evans’ off-spring, well they quickly learned – and passed on down the line - the heavy price that would inevitably be exacted for a night out. When they were younger, it had been a source of endless amusement watching their mother lambasting their siblings for being ‘late’ and ‘being so inconsiderate’. As they became the recipients of these rebukes, however, it somehow seemed much less funny. So, they all, in turn, developed their own coping strategies.
First, it was obviously embarrassing to arrive home – especially if one was escorted – to find a parent on sentry duty on the doorstep literally doing her pieces, attacking the poor sod that had done the escorting, for his part in the crime. Second, it was much easier to deal with the ‘relief, tears, hugging’ phase (annoying though it might be) than to experience the anger, abuse, even sometimes physical assault (mild, but in its own way still irksome, especially since it was probably witnessed by neighbours, escorts, brothers, sisters!) that came with the early phase before despair had taken over. So, what would any young person with any modicum of intelligence do? …. They naturally stayed away just that little bit longer in order to judge the right moment to face the welcoming committee! Sometimes this even meant waiting around the corner (compounding even the crime by smoking a last cigarette!) until they felt the time to be right and the ‘relief’ stage had been reached.
But back to today …. Now all the children were gone, grown, off causing other people grief. So at least on a day to day level they were her worry no more. But now her husband had developed – or perhaps to be more honest increased – his wondering tendencies.
Michael Evans was not plagued – nor had he ever been plagued - by any worries or concerns in the morning, nor the afternoon, nor the night for that matter. Never had he ever found it necessary to ‘worry’ over anybody – his children had his ever-diligent wife to worry about them, so he did not need to lose any sleep over anything. He positively gambolled through life. In the morning he was up with the proverbial lark. His singing was not so sweet, but it was invariably cheerful: his taste and repertoire ranging from Buddy Holly, through the Beatles to BoyZone, from Sinatra to Pavarotti. Irritatingly to Faith, he always seemed to be so bloody full of the joys of Spring, while she worried about everything – including him. She knew she should be grateful for this, but it simply made her feel like ‘the ould one with the rod up her arse!’ as her father would have said in his distinctive, if somewhat colourful Irish vernacular. She seemed unable to do anything about it. Faith could not forget the past.
To Faith, these days, Michael seemed to be permanently auditioning for a part in some bloody annoyingly cheerful musical – and certainly not Les Misérables! Surely there was not a person alive less miserable than him! To all her acquaintances, and even less close friends, the contrast was to say the least stark. Over time, she had become so morose that to the world at large, Faith was a miserable old trout who had only herself to blame if her husband ‘strayed’. Michael was the poor sod who, had he not sought some happiness where he could, would have been permanently infected by gloom, permanently saddled with a sour, joyless woman, a woman old before her time.
How had this state of affairs come about?
It was a mystery to her, as it would have been to anybody who had known her in her younger days when she was lively, and good company, caring but fun-loving. Born in County Limerick in Ireland, the fifth girl in a family of seven, her father Kevin Tierney was a farmer. The family worked a parcel of land, passed down through the generations, mainly sheep, because the terrain was hilly, but really anything that would grow, or survive, to provide a living.
It was never possible for all of the children – particularly when there were seven of them – to remain living at home, and the preference was, of course, for Faith’s eldest brother, JonJo as the one most likely to inherit, to stay put. JonJo in all honesty would probably have preferred to hand on this dubious privilege to one of his younger brothers and to take off for some adventures of his own, but tradition over-rode preference in the household. JonJo was too ‘nice’ to state his own wishes, let alone act on them. So he made no real dissent.
Faith’s oldest sister married a local farmer, thus excusing herself from any thought that she would remain at home to run the house, to help her mother, or to take over as and when the need arose. There were two more girls between her and Faith, so much to her delight, she was not only allowed, but positively encouraged to take off for England, to start her studies as a nurse, only slightly past her sixteenth birthday.
Her mother was several years younger than her father, and though her name was Mairead, she was always referred to by locals, and by Kevin, as Toots. Nobody ever explained why – apparently some throw-back to Mairead’s childhood which had stuck and followed her into adulthood, marriage, motherhood and may well appear on her gravestone if it was up to Kevin!
With such a large immediate family – not to mention the myriad aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins and almost-cousins – that always thronged the house, Faith had learned early to be considerate and sharing, amicable and inclusive. She had liked to dance, and even to sing if somebody coaxed her and she had a good voice and an easy way with a song. She was very much missed in the neighbourhood – not least by more than a few young men who had been plucking up the courage to ask her out - when they missed their opportunity and clutching her meagre suitcase, she boarded the train for England.
She had never completed the training. She had met the handsome, glib, charismatic Michael Evans in a pub when she was 17, with a group of friends out to celebrate the end of her first year’s exams. And so began what was to become a nightmare.
Nobody but the immediate family itself had ever known the true story – the inside story. The abuse, the violence, the humiliation, the bullying did not start immediately, but certainly began with the arrival of the couple’s first child, Miranda, when they had been married for only 13 months. Michael had not reckoned on children. He did not take easily to fatherhood, and he was even less delighted to learn that his first born was female. Not that he proved a much better father when Faith finally - after another intervening girl, Lynette - gave birth to a boy, Joseph, some six years later. He was, though, merely dismissive of them as children – he never struck them – he interacted so little with the girls that it was unnecessary. He rarely even bothered to raise his voice to them. He merely ignored them and as they grew older, this was reciprocated. Joseph, the son his mother thought would tame the savage beast, proved to be the exception, but not in the way that Faith had anticipated or hoped for. Joseph pretended to be completely unconcerned about his father’s attitude to him, and always explained his own antagonism towards his father more as a reaction to the older man’s behaviour and attitude towards everybody else. But as he grew, the boy found it impossible to ignore the treatment of his mother, and the lack of interest, let alone affection, that his father showed his sisters and himself, so conflicts became a daily occurrence, with Michael stepping up rather than moderating his behaviour and Joseph becoming ever more angry and intolerant.
So that was the life of Faith. She would put up with a lot to save her children, and though she was by no means unintelligent or without nous, somehow she had never had the insight or perhaps courage, to see that her ‘putting up with a lot’ was causing more friction and unhappiness than had she taken a stand or simply packed all their bags and walked away.
It is true people can put up with almost anything given time and conditioning. After three decades Faith was unlikely to retaliate, let alone strike out on her own. She had thought about it often in years gone by, but now? Why would she go now? The violence had most definitely decreased. In frequency and in severity. Michael was less often at home. So all might have still been well in the world of Michael Iestyn Evans for when Faith’s fairy godfather decided to change her life, if the dice had fallen just that bit more kindly for him, or he had been around to avert disaster. Certainly, she had not meant to break all the eggs and then forget to cook the omelette! But as Michael was to find to his cost, the road to hell is most definitely paved with good intentions.
She had taken time out, and that time out had allowed her to see – as would an outsider – the real picture that had been shown daily – or as the film advertisements might say – sometimes twice nightly and with a matinee – in her household over the years. She realised that sometimes it had been her fault – it had not seemed so at the time because the violence was unfortunately more tolerable than the terror. There had been a time, many years ago now, when she had seemed compelled to push just that little bit, to provoke the inevitable response – whether that be verbal abuse, a thrown object (not infrequently a sharp object), a hefty clout across the face, or even being lifted up bodily by the throat. She had needed to get it over and done with – instead of waiting, as the saying goes, for the other shoe to fall. Some would say she almost courted danger. She was sure that most abusing men, and probably all psychologists (male ones anyway) would reckon that ‘she loved it really’. She ‘got off on it’. She knew better. It was a simple matter. She knew it would come before the day was out, and the suspense was as bad – perhaps worse – than the drama. It had gone in phases. In the early days the good times made up for the bad. When the balance tilted, she found herself financially, emotionally, and psychologically bereft of options with three small children to consider. And then, almost as though, Michael had won his particular war – or at least the immediate battle - things had quietened down a bit. In reality, Michael had merely lost interest – the fun had gone out of the game. He had emotionally moved on.
As Faith had aged, chose her clothes carefully, was watchful who she spoke to, or spoke about, the episodes of violence had dwindled and during the past five years or so, had hardly featured. As a couple – to the outside world, apart from the fact that he was ‘brilliant company – a bit Jack the Lad, but nice with it’ – and she was ‘a miserable, dowdy, appendage’, they were almost ‘normal’ – whatever ‘normal’ entails. There must be many a household that appears ‘normal’, ‘solid’, ‘loving’ which really conceals a very different situation.
Now many years and what seemed like many lifetimes on, Faith was grateful to be able to take Michael’s morning joviality at face value. The relationship was now best described as ‘careful’ – as ships that pass in fog at night, managing to avoid a collision course - most nights. By no means every night – depending upon Michael’s day, or his evening. Mostly now it was verbal abuse – insults, criticism, the odd push or shove. He still threw things, but not so often at her. He threw her things – things he knew she cherished.
Faith seldom now felt herself in actual physical danger. Most days there was not even that sense of pervasive insecurity or underlying threat. That was a feeling which she so vividly remembered. It had taken over from the actual and almost daily violence and had left her even more traumatised. From one day to the next she just did not know whether it was safe to believe – however much she fervently hoped - that the leopard had really changed his spots.
Nowadays there always seemed a kind of ‘gate-fever’ aspect about Michael’s hyper behaviour. There was a time when she suspected drugs – but now she was disinclined to blame anything other than the fact that he had exactly the life he preferred. A housekeeper to see that his every domestic need was catered for. A human robot to chastise if and when the mood took him. And no expectations: as a husband, as a father, as a friend – even as a handyman. Faith had long since learned that if she did not learn to fix, to fetch, to sort, to organise then nothing got done.
When they were first married, before the caveman reared his very ugly head, he certainly had not been such a ‘morning person’. Then he had to be prized out of bed with threats, coaxings, bribes and finally the removal of the bed covers. Even when ‘macho’ became the order of the day, for a number of years, he had reluctantly tumbled out of bed when provoked by the alarm clock, and, on a good day, had been as monosyllabic as the next normal person with a day’s work ahead of them. On a bad day, he showed his displeasure in more demonstrative ways.
With the departure of the kids – or so it seemed to Faith – he had acquired not so much a new lease of life, as permission to demonstrate it more openly. He had become a completely different person. As had she.
Faith now had nothing to make life worthwhile. Nothing to use as an excuse. No reason to give for tolerating the horror that was her life – and had been her life for more than a quarter of a century. She had never dreamt, through the bad old punch-bag days, that she would find ‘boring’ an unwelcome adjective.
With the loss of her primary role as ‘mother’, Faith’s life had definitely lost something in the translation. Michael, on the other hand, had become decidedly multi-lingual!
Faith accepted quite matter of factly her husband’s obvious glee at rushing out of the house each morning in an apparent bid for freedom. No longer physically afraid now, it was not like years ago when she waited for that moment with breath-held anticipation. She felt nothing now waiting for him to leave. She felt no panic that he would not go. She did not fret that he would light upon some excuse to find fault before he left. She had no sickening knot in her stomach.
There had been a time – very, very early on – a time she could now hardly remember - when she would worry that he was simply anxious to be gone from her. That to go was the incentive. Now she knew better. He was not euphoric at what he was leaving. He was euphoric in anticipation of what he was going towards.
But she cared little nowadays. At least she did not admit any such feelings to herself and certainly not to anyone else – even had there been anybody else to admit them to.
To some extent it was easy to forget – even to forgive – but not so easy to just put the clock back. She felt nothing for him now. Not hatred, not resentment, not disappointment. It was all cried out. Now, if she had to write her feelings down for a psychiatrist explaining how she felt at him going off full of the joys of Spring, obviously so glad to be out of her sight, she would just have said that she was glad he was getting out from under her feet! A very rational – perhaps very normal - sentiment that even an otherwise loving wife might express about her loving husband any day of the week. Probably in any country in the world! When there were chores to do, people to see, places to go, living cheek by jowl with a person 24/7 for 30 years or more was not for the faint-hearted – even for those devoted to each other. And that was certainly not now the case with Faith and Michael Evans!
Faith had long since acknowledged that the prospect of him leaving her for his latest ‘fancy’ (or sometimes ‘fancies’) was remote ... there were times when she would have added ‘unfortunately’ because there were times when she so fervently wished he would. Over time, though, he had learned where he was well off. He was married but not really tied. He did not even try to keep his ‘dalliances’ a secret. There would be no point because not only was he not a born ‘intriguer’ but neither did he care enough about Faith’s feelings to hide anything. Michael was probably born without a subtle bone in his body. Faith on the other hand, if she had inherited nothing else from her antecedents, she was not short of her fair share of Irish second-sight.
It would seem that she had not inherited another trait that some of her kin might have demonstrated – the ability to start a fight in an empty room, and to see off all-comers! It might have gone better for her down the years if she had inherited the second ‘ability’ and forgone the first one! To see Michael’s ‘indiscretions’ was (until she became ‘acclimatised’) emotionally painful, but some ability to demonstrate either ‘fight or flight’ would have saved her from becoming a permanent punch-bag. Her acceptance of her husband’s treatment had made him braver (in his own eyes) and not only made her an easy target but also worthy of minimal respect …. From him, but also possibly from her children, particularly her son.
Michael’s most frequent description of her (mostly it has to be said to his succession of girl-friends) more one-night stands (not Faith’s dismissive description of them, but generally speaking Michael’s own) was ‘placid’ or ‘undemanding’. He apparently thought of this as a ‘compliment’.
Despite their history, Faith could not have told you whether it was apathy or fear of being alone which prevented her now that she was free of family responsibilities – from confronting Michael and/or leaving him. She was no longer physically afraid of him. She just found herself continuing to protect the status quo – whatever quo that status might have with the changing seasons. She had never been alone. Never had only herself to look after. First, she had been one of a family of seven: then she had spent nearly two years in student nurse accommodation: then she had married: then she had three children to consider. It was a long time. One was bound to get institutionalised and afraid to cut loose.
Her daughters had certainly not been so easily frightened. They had each left home at the earliest opportunity. The younger one, Lynette, at 18, became a ‘dancer’. With a sleek bob of dark auburn hair, which as a young child had been a starling mop of flaming copper curls, she had always been tiny. She bridled at the use of the world ‘petite’ thinking it implied weakness, prissiness. She ate like a horse, but her constant hectic lifestyle and the fact that she seemed to never need sleep, kept her an eternal size 6. Five feet eight and certainly well under nine stone in weight. As light as the lightest feather to look at, but as feisty as they come.
Miranda, her older sister, was even taller. Much more robustly built, but nonetheless trim and attractive. Model potential pre-60’s, but too healthy looking for modern preference. She had a classical face, well-proportioned and handsome, as opposed to pretty. As a child she had been ‘pretty as a picture’, hated getting dirty and cried bitter tears if she got the slightest splash or mark on her clothes. She had been the epitome of a little girl. As an adult, she had needed little make-up, but wore it anyway, since a ‘nice’ face was not what she preferred to portray. Her naturally fair mousy hair had, since her teens, been either blonded or streaked, never worn shorter than shoulder length. Yes, Miranda was definitely female; definitely feminine. At 19 she had set out determinedly to find a ‘man with money’ to keep her in the manner to which she hoped to become accustomed.
Over the next couple of years, she had not really managed that quite as she might have hoped. So, at 22, considering herself in danger of being on the shelf, she decided she had better lower her sights somewhat, and settled for a husband who, in those days, thought she was a princess and worshipped the ground she walked on; certainly did not expect her to work; who earned well, though probably not well enough, but had ‘potential’. In time, she felt he might well reach the required standard! She had made sure of matters – particularly the work part – by jumping the gun in the baby stakes, and walked down the aisle, delighted with herself, with a small possible cause for misalignment of her wedding dress. This she put right be insisting that she needed to have the dress expertly cut and made – and Faith, considered, to give Miranda her due, she had looked the picture of perfection. The cat that got the cream! Not quite the Jersey cream, but maybe Guernsey at least!
No, Faith could certainly not imagine either of her daughters being so accommodating with the men in their lives! Despite all that scheming and planning, Miranda would be gone like a shot on to pastures new with no desire to look behind. No man would matter sufficiently to her that she would allow him any second chance. His first transgression would most definitely be his last. As for Lynette! Well there was no question! If any man ever laid a finger on her in violence, he had better not turn his back, and probably better learn how to survive without sleep!
God knows whether Joseph, her son, had a woman in his life, or even a man for that matter. That had remained a mystery since he left the town, pony-tailed, ears, nose and eyebrow ringed, five years previously, the day after his 16th birthday, backpack bulging, following yet another argument with his father over his lifestyle. She could picture him now, incongruously clutching a skateboard under one arm, a clarinet case nestled in the other. So within four years, Faith had lost them all. They had assumed that Joe would return – when he realised he had no money and that it was a cold and unforgiving world out there. But he did not.
Faith had contacted the Salvation Army, and the other ‘Missing’ charities and eventually got word that he was alive and well but did not wish for his whereabouts to be made known at that time. He wanted her to know that he loved her and missed her. He could not, and would not return, until she showed his father the door. Even then Faith had not seen the light!
She consoled herself. At least he was well. Faith could understand his need to get away. She also knew that once Joe had really become an adult, and he was already much bigger than the rest of the family when he left, one more outburst from his father would certainly have brought disaster. It was a miracle, more to do with Joe’s disdain than his fear or respect, which had prevented him from knocking Michael clean off his feet before then. It struck a chord with her. She knew she should have done it herself long before, so she could not condemn him for it. She would have lied, though, if she had said it did not hurt and that she was not heartbroken. To all outward appearances she could best be described as ‘stoical’, though others described that as ‘miserable’ and ‘snooty’. So years after Joe’s departure, she had still done nothing!
The foregoing was to describe the background to Faith’s rebirth! People can learn – however long it takes them – from their past misfortunes. Faith had learned from a good teacher: she had the right genes, and the right incentive, so all she needed to turn the page was the right motivation, a carrot or a stick, and fate was in line to give her just such a boost.
Nobody should be/can be a footstool for ever and in those immortal words – a worm can turn! So please do not give up on Faith. She will redeem your faith in human nature.
A picture can easily deceive with the clever use of perspective. From here on in, if deceit was being practised, as far as Faith was concerned, she was going to be the one doing the deceiving. She had become well-schooled in it. She had been doing it for a long time – possibly longer than Michael had. Even longer than she herself had known it. It had taken a good actor to play the punch-bag