“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 sweetly.
He lowered his eyes and stared at his fingers for a long time. Finally, he walked to one of the drawers, took out a bunch of keys, chose the one with a small porcelain rose and turned the lock of the attic door.
He flicked the light switch.
Under the soft hue, a sepia photo of a smiling lady in an glittering baju panjang stared at me. Her hairbun clasped in bejewelled hairpins. A chill pricked my neck. I saw the resemblance rightaway…the prominent jaw. The high hairline with a V-shaped dip at the centre of the broad forehead.
Below the photo was a dark brown teak mantelpiece. On it stood an exquisite jade green carmine porcelain jar. Straits Chinese. It had a phoenix and a peony painted on a pink background in the front. On the lid was a crouching qilin, a mystical hooved chimera creature; the Chinese unicorn.
The jar was cold. Percival cleared his throat from behind me.
“My mum sleeps in there.”
A writing desk to my right. Antique mahogany. Late Victorian/Edwardian era. I gently slid the roll-top. Dried-up watercolour half-pans and sable brushes. Sketches of flowers and unfinished pieces. I ran my fingers along the textured grains of cold-pressed heavy paper. A tear rolled down my cheek and slipped through my lips. I closed the roll-top and stepped away.
I looked at the smiling photo and ornate jar, clasped my hand and bowed deeply.
Percival stood at the door watching me. That sad lost look on his face. I walked towards him, switched the light off, took his hand and gently closed the door behind me.
“Percival showed me his mum’s resting place the other day,” I squinted for Bibi’s reaction as I squeezed lemons over anchovy fillets and sliced shallots for grilled avocado halves.
Across me, Bibi the housekeeper, checked on the pork roast in the oven. She prodded the roast, 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. She opened the cupboards in quick succession.
“What are you looking for?”
She turned to look at me quizzically, “I forgot.”
“So are you going to tell me something about her or not?” I stuck my tongue markedly inside my right cheek.
She shook her head. “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 insisted.
“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 hollered.
“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.
She was in great pain. She talking but I could not hear a thing. Then, she grabbed me and pulled me down with her.
I opened my eyes and stared at the darkness, unable to move my limbs. My lips parched. My body bathed in cold sweat.
Today is Bibi’s day off. I opened the drawer to look for the key with the porcelain rose token. It was gone.
Perhaps I should look for it in Percival’s study, I thought
“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. Locked.
Something caught my eye as I turned to leave. A piece of paper peeped from behind a photo frame on the side table. Face-side down. 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 picked up the frame, turned it over and saw what looked like the jagged corner of a newspaper.
My phone rang.
I let it ring. Then a text message.
What are you doing in my study? Get out now!
Damn! I forgot. CCTV.
No! I texted back. 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 have dreamt of her twice this week, Percival. TWICE! I WANT TO KNOW HOW SHE DIED.
After a long silence, another beep.
Alright. I have asked Bibi to go over and tell you everything you want to know about mum.
I stared at the newspaper cuttings dated 20 April 2009. This one in particular; because it was the only newspaper that had the most recent photo of Rosemary Fredericks as well as of the accident :
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 pressed my clenched fists hard against my chest. Taken away without a goodbye. Is that why she had that tortured look in my dreams? Is her soul still wandering in the garden?
Friends of Mrs Fredericks described her as a “generous donor and strong supporter to —
I shut the folder.
“It was his idea to have that plant support structure,” Bibi said quietly.
“Who? Percival? Is that why he blames himself?”
“What happened to the rose garden?” I asked.
“Sir took a machete and slashed everything to the ground.”