Red Ribbon

We had just moved into our new house. Mark and I had recently gone from being a couple to a family of four. I remember telling everyone that we were pregnant. The shock and disbelief, followed by the tears, laughter, and hugs. Everyone was happy for us. Nothing beats the joy of a first grandchild, so when we said it was twins, my parents were ecstatic. The babies were on their way and our job as parents, was to find somewhere to live that we could all fit in.  We found a house and we were in and settled by the time the babies arrived. My two girls, Alice and Rose were here. It all was going so well for us. The twins seemed to be sleeping well, they rarely woke at night. Everything was perfect.

Roll forward a few years to when the twins were five. School was on the cards and like any parent I was dreading that first day. I had dressed the twins and as we had breakfast, I started to chat to them.  We talked about how there would be things to play with and books to read. We talked about teachers and how they’d find friends. That’s when things changed. Rose had looked at me with a deadpan expression and said “We don’t need friends. I have my sister and we have the girl that plays with us each night.” My heart leapt in my chest. I knew children had imaginary friends sometimes, but I never anticipated my own children would. I remember asking “which girl is that?”  Rose and Alice said together “she comes to see us every night. We play games and talk.” Time was against me, and I couldn’t continue the conversation, so I took the children to school. Now let me tell you the rest.

That evening as I cooked dinner, I asked the girls “what time is your friend coming tonight?” I had my back to them while I asked and my manner was nonchalant, I didn’t want to seem overly interested. “She came this afternoon while you were busy,” said Alice. I spun around to face the girls with the intent of asking more. I was intrigued. Who was this girl? Was she an imaginary friend? When I turned, I noticed something different with the girls. Both Alice and Rose were wearing red ribbons in their hair. “Where did you get the ribbons?” I asked. “Our friend gave them to us,” said Rose. “That was a lovely thing to do wasn’t it, let’s have our dinner” I said as I smiled at the girls, not wanting to alarm them but all the time screaming to myself on the inside.

The following morning was my own. There was no work for me, so my plan was simple. Drop off the kids and head to the coffee shop. I had my laptop in my bag, so I planned to catch up in emails over coffee and cake. Simple plan. I found a parking place and headed into “The Frothy Coffee” which was the coffee shop closest to the school. It had a lovely view from the back deck, straight out onto the marina. I ordered my cappuccino and chocolate cake and settled myself in.

Pulling my laptop from my bag, I hit the “on” button. Suddenly, I felt someone standing beside me. “Hi, I`m Tom” said the man who I presumed to be the waiter.  I reached my hand out, stretching toward him.

“Hi, I`m Joanne” I replied with a gracious smile, hoping that he would accept my greeting and go. Usually, you’d expect someone to depart after delivering your coffee and a few words, but he stayed where he was, looking at me with a quizzical look. While part of me did not want to be unsociable, the other part of me wanted him to just clear off. This was my morning. My plan. No kids. No chores. Just me, emails, coffee, and cake. Tom was still standing there. He nodded towards the empty chair.

“Can I sit, can we…. talk?” I felt that I had little choice, I felt cornered but remained polite and gestured for him to join me.

“You’re the new owner of Highfields House, aren’t you?”

“Yes, my husband and I are the new owners. Well, my husband, me and our two daughters. Why do you ask?”

“You don’t know do you?”

Now I was getting frustrated. This guy was here to bring me coffee. Then he invaded my space. Now he’s telling me he knows where I live and dropping cryptic hints about something else. The thoughts “Give me a break” were running rampant through my head but I remained polite. “Don’t know what?” I said, raising my eyebrows to accentuate my lack of understanding. Tom looked at me, he was frowning, and I started to worry. What did he know that I didn’t?

“Ok he said, you obviously weren’t told about the houses history so I feel I should tell you. You’re not the first owner of Highfields House and I highly doubt that you will be the last.  The house is about ninety years old. The previous owners were a couple with one child, a daughter. Back in the late fifties, there was a murder in the house.”

Ok, now he had my attention. There had been a crime committed in the house. It would have been good for the real estate agent to have told us that, but then she knew that she probably would not have got a sale! I took a deep breath in and moved my chair forward. My body language told Tom I was interested in what he was telling me. “Keep going” I said.

“The owners had a daughter. Her name was Daisy. She was seven. Everyone knew her in the area as she always wore her red ribbon. If it wasn’t in her hair, it was tied to her dress or her schoolbag. She was known as the girl with the red ribbon.”

I took another deep breath in. “My girls had a red ribbon each the other day. They said that they got it from…”

“Joanne, listen to the rest first before you say anything else”.  Tom continued “Daisy was known by everyone. She was a happy kid. Waved to everyone, always smiling. You know the sort of kid I mean, don’t you?” I nodded and leant forward. This story was scaring me. My kids were happy. My kids were smiling. My kids had a red ribbon that I did not give to them. As if he could sense me starting to freak out a little, Tom reached for my hand and squeezed it tight.

“One day, the people in the town noticed that the curtains up at Highlands House weren’t open. It remained secluded and shut off. That’s when they realised that Daisy hadn’t been at school. She hadn’t been to the grocery store to collect things for her mum. She hadn’t been seen in her red ribbon waving at those who lived here. When the police finally investigated it, they found that…” Ton stopped, and tears sprang to his eyes.

Tom knew that I had seen the tears, and, in that instant, I knew what the crime was. I knew what atrocity had occurred in my house. “Dead wasn’t she” I said, my tone monosyllabic. He nodded and scraped his hand across his face wiping his tears. “How?” I asked. I didn’t need to tell him, but he knew that I needed to know. I had to know. “Daisy was strangled” he said. “She had been hit and strangled by her parents. I covered my mouth with my hand. “How could…? Why would…?” I spluttered and then I knew. “They used the ribbon, didn’t they? The red ribbon”

Tom nodded and stood up. “I’m so sorry Joanne but I felt that you should know. I stood up in front of him and put my hands on his shoulders before hugging him. I pulled out of the hug and looked at him directly. “Thank you for being honest with me. No one else in this town has. Thank you.”

After I had heard this story, I felt sick. The cake was a no go, but I ordered a second cup of coffee. More to steady my nerves I think than anything.  I started googling on the internet as I drank my coffee. Sure enough, the story was true. Parents Eddie and Gwen, daughter Daisy. Living in Highlands House from 1950-1960. Daisy known around town and then, the murder. According to the newsreels I saw online and the articles that had appeared since, no one could quite believe it was the parents. But it was proven. Strangled with her own red ribbon. Eddie had been drinking. Daisy asked him something and he flipped. Gwen held her own daughter down while Eddie strangled her.

I wanted out of that house. I didn’t want to be anywhere that something like that had happened. I felt ill. I was sure if I went home and started packing, I would be packed in a few days and the four of us could relocate. I picked everything up, threw it in my bag and went straight home.

When I got home, Mark was there already. I hadn’t been expecting that as it was his turn to pick up the kids. “Surprise he said. I’m home early. Thought I would whisk you out for dinner tonight. What do you say?” I looked at him incredulously. “Are you kidding? What about the kids?” Mark took my hand and walked me to the kitchen table. “Sit down” he said, in that tone where you know something is not right. I made myself comfortable at the kitchen table and repeated my question. “Dinners perfect but whose taking care of the kids?”

Mark looked at me in the manner of someone who just didn’t know what to do. “Sweetheart, you have forgotten about what happened haven’t you?” Ok, now he was scaring me. He knelt in front of me, his hands on my knees. He was down at my eye level and for the first time I noticed a sadness in his eyes. He looked at me through a mist of tears. “The kids died in the accident, two years ago when they were five, Joanne”

My breathing became erratic and I pushed back in the chair. “No. No. Our girls are at school.”  Mark took hold of me forcefully, the tears stepping aside to reveal agitation and a degree of anger.  He yelled, “Joanne”. I stopped, dead in my tracks. “Joanne,” he said in a softer tone.  My breathing slowed and I walked to the sofa, allowing myself to fall on it.  “The kids died” he said. “It was a freak accident, their hair ribbons got caught when they fell from their bed. Remember how they loved their red ribbons?”