“What time are we going up to the attic?” I asked over breakfast.
“Huh?” Percival regarded me suspiciously.
“Don’t play stupid. You promised.” I shot my boyfriend the look
“I was drunk. It is unfair to hold a drunk man to a promise.”
“Wasn’t it you who said that a promise is a promise, no matter what?” I smiled.
He lowered his eyes and stared at his fingers for a long time. Finally, he walked to one of the drawers and took out a bunch of keys. He chose the one with a small porcelain rose and walked up to the attic.
He flicked the light switch.
A sepia photo of a lady in a heavily embroidered baju panjang stared at me. Her white hair was gathered in a bun at the top of her head and clasped with hairpins of sparkling gems.
A chill pricked my neck.
I saw the resemblance rightaway…the prominent jaw, the high hairline and the V-shaped dip at the centre of the broad forehead.
Below the photo was a rich brown teak mantelpiece. On it stood an exquisite jade green Straits Chinese jar. It had a phoenix and a pink peony on the front. On its lid was a crouching qilin, the mystical hooved chimera creature regarded as the Chinese unicorn.
I touched the jar. It was cold.
Percival cleared his throat and said, “my mum sleeps in there.”
I pulled my hand back and looked around the room. An antique writing desk stood to my right. It was made of mahogany with designs from the Edwardian era. I gently slid the roll-top. Inside were dried-up watercolour half-pans and sable brushes, sketches of flowers and unfinished artwork. I ran my fingers along the textured grains of cold-pressed paper. An ache tugged my heart. I closed the roll-top and stepped away.
I turned at the smiling photo and ornate jar, clasped my hands and bowed deeply.
Percival stood at the door. He looked sad and distant. I took his hand and led him out, gently closing the door behind us.
“Percival showed me his mum’s resting place.” I squinted for Bibi’s reaction as I squeezed lemons over anchovy fillets.
Instead, the housekeeper continued prodding the pork roast in the oven, pretending not to hear me.
“He looks like her,” I continued, noting her silence.
She closed the oven door and lifted her arms backwards to stretch her back. Then, she opened the cupboards in quick succession.
“What are you looking for?” I asked.
She turned to look at me quizzically. “I forgot.”
“So are you going to tell me something about her?” I stuck my tongue markedly inside my right cheek.
She sighed. “I think it’s better if Sir talks to you about his mother.”
“I thought you were her primary care-giver?”
“Yes. But I still think it’s only proper that you hear it from Sir,” she answered.
I looked at her wistfully. “I have a feeling he doesn’t want to talk about her.”
She knitted her brows in a pained look and walked out of the kitchen.
“Hey, where are you going? You haven’t answered my question!” I shouted.
“Ask him yourself,” she waved the back of her hand at me impatiently, like she was swapping flies.
Then, she stopped, half-turned her head to my direction. “Her name was Rosemary.”
Last night I dreamt of Rosemary Fredericks, again.
Her eyes were bulging in horror. There was blood spouting from all parts of her body. She was screaming and struggling as giant tendrils engulfed her body. Then, she grabbed me and pulled me down with her.
I jolted as my shoulder was shaken violently. Percival was peering anxiously at me. I could not move my arms and legs. My lips were parched. My body bathed in cold sweat. This was freaking me out. Same nightmare in two nights.
Today was Bibi’s day off. I opened the drawer to look for the key with the porcelain rose token. It was not there.
I went into Percival’s study to look for it.
“C’mon Rosemary, you have to help me here. Show me the attic key, please,” I muttered under my breath, as I tried the drawers at Percival’s desk.
Something caught my eye as I was leaving the study.
A piece of paper peeped from behind a photo frame which was face-side down on the side table. I turned it over and peered at the photo. It was an old black and white photo of Rosemary with a toddler on her lap. I tugged at the piece of paper. The cardboard backing gave way, causing the glass front to slip and shatter on the floor.
My phone rang.
Unknown number. Must be some cold caller.
I let it ring.
A text message beeped.
“What are you doing in my study? Get out now!”
Damn! I forgot the CCTV.
I called Percival. “No! I will not leave until you tell me exactly what happened to your mother. Nobody wants to tell me anything.”
“What do you want to know about her?” he replied
“I dreamt of her twice this week. TWICE! I WANT TO KNOW HOW SHE DIED,” I yelled.
After a long silence, he said quietly, “You don’t have to shout at me. You are very rude. I will asked Bibi to tell you everything you want to know about mum.”
The newspaper cutting was dated 20 April 2009. Eight years ago.
Socialite dies in freak accident
BY CATHERINE YEW
20 APRIL 2009
KUALA LUMPUR, April 20: The body of reclusive socialite Rosemary Fredericks, 72, was found yesterday lying in a pool of blood with a broken neck in her rose garden. According to house staff who had requested anonymity, Mrs Fredericks was trimming her prized white roses when her pet dog, a Golden Retriever called Matt, chased a stray cat and crashed into the wooden plant support structure; causing it to topple and collapse onto Mrs Fredericks.
Mrs Fredericks who was believed to be recovering from breast cancer, died on the spot.
I closed my eyes and breathed sharply.
Taken away without a goodbye.
Is that why she looked distressed in my dreams?
Is her soul wandering aimlessly in the garden?
“It was Sir’s idea to have that plant support structure,” Bibi said.
“Who? Percival? Is that why he blames himself?”
I looked out to the front yard. “What happened to the rose garden?”
“Sir took a machete and slashed everything to the ground.”