Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
Moonlight can play odd tricks upon the fancy, and suddenly it seemed to me light came from the old television in the corner. And then a cloud came across the moon and hovered an instant before the sitting room windows like a dark hand before a face. The illusion went with it. I looked upon a desolate shell, with no whisper of the past about its staring screen.
I can never go back to Manderley again, that much is certain. But sometimes, in my dreams, I do go back. To the strange days of my life which began, for me, in a flat in south London…
– No! Stop!
– What the devil are you shouting about?
For god’s sake, Gwennie, turn that off. And go wash up if you want your tea.
– was only walking.
Gwennie, I won’t say it again. Turn that film off. You’ve seen it a hundred times. Wash up for tea.
There’s no heat, Mum. The water is
– Stone cold. Waiter!
Won’t serve you a thing with dirty fingers. I don’t care if it stings a bit. Wash.
– what is known as a paid companion.
– I didn’t know companionship could be bought.
Ah. Hah. Unn.
Gwennie? Are you down here? What’s that noise?
Yes Mum! Couldn’t sleep!
– and he died last summer. And then I took this job.
– How rotten for you.
Why have you got your laptop down here when that tape’s playing again?
Couldn’t sleep, Mum.
– because you see, we got on so well together.
– You and your father?
Is that a webcam? What’s going on?
Please, Mum. Just go back to sleep.
– people didn’t understand him.
– Yes, that’s often the trouble.
Oh Gwennie. Is this where the money comes from?
– You mean he painted the same tree over and over again?
It’s not a big deal, Mum.
– he thought if you find one perfect thing or place or person, you should stick to it.
You’re just so young. If your dad was around.
Please, Mum. We’ll chat in the morning, yeah?
– Oh! I wish I were a woman of thirty-six, dressed in black satin with a string of pearls!
– Hnh ha ha. You wouldn’t be here with me if you were.
Gwen, snapchat me. You didn’t send what I paid for.
– You’ve blotted out the past for me more than all the bright lights of Monte Carlo.
Oh hey baby, there you are. You have that anal video? In your uniform?
– promise me never to wear black satin or pearls. Or to be thirty-six years old.
– Yes, Maxim.
God, Gwen, just forget it, all right. Fuck.
– I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool!
Babe you know I love you but I want to settle down and you’re just, you know,
– not the sort of person men marry.
Oh yeah, no, I saw it coming! Should’ve just stayed an OF subscriber, Robbo, none of this dating shite.
– It’s a pity you have to grow up.
You’ll have to start paying for it.
– Well, now that’s settled, you may pour me out some coffee. Two lumps of sugar and some milk, please. Same with my tea, don’t forget.
I still don’t know what to tell your Gram. About your job. I really don’t.
– Still waters certainly run deep. Tell me, have you been doing anything you shouldn’t?
– I w-I don’t know what you mean!
How many times have you seen it?
-You mean she scares you.
I don’t know how to answer that. I can’t go to sleep without it playing in the background.
So thousands and thousands of times. You probably know it by heart.
– Nothing else to do down here!
Is it playing now?
Er. I guess so. In my head.
Well, it certainly qualifies as an obsession. Let’s see if you can cut down on watching it. Maybe once every two days instead. Try that and we’ll talk about it.
Okay. Thank you.
– One never knows what’s goes on in that quiet mind of his.
The one that came out a few years ago? With the actor who got cancelled, what’s his name? That film?
– Do I have to put it on?
– Yes, certainly, certainly, certainly! Can’t be too careful, with children.
No, fuck no, that’s the remake. No. The original, Hitchcock. Judith Anderson. Joan Fontaine. Olivier.
Who? Oh god, Gwen, you know I don’t watch old films. I need a shot. Let’s do shots. How’s Rob doing?
It’s shit! It’s absolute shit. You can’t even fuck me without thinking about it!
– Maxim! What’s the matter? Maxim! I’m sorry, I
Don’t bother denying that. I know it’s true.
– You know I didn’t want you to go there but you deliberately went.
I’m sorry, Rob. I
Every birthday we have to dress up like we’re in some shit film I hate because that’s all you want. Can’t just buy you a candle or some fucking soap.
– Because I hate the place and if you had my memories you wouldn’t go there or talk about it or even think about it.
Our fucking child says lines from it!
I’ve had enough, Gwennie. I’m taking him. If you want him back you’ll have to get him back in court.
– Ah, I’ve made you cry. Forgive me. I sometimes seem to fly off the handle for no reason at all. Don’t I?
– Were those Rebecca’s things, down there?
Where will you stay while this is going on?
With my mum, I guess. She hates the idea but I don’t have anywhere else.
He won’t let you see Ian? Not even on the weekends?
– Wasn’t she afraid to go out like that, alone?
So, what does that mean? The court determined you shouldn’t be in his life at all?
Not at all. I can’t see my own son.
And his wife, what’s her name?
– I know they’re all thinking the same thing. They’re all comparing me with her. With Rebecca.
She’ll see him every day.
– I dare say I’ve been stupid, but every day I realise the things that she had, that I lack. Beauty and wit and intelligence and oh, all the things that are so important in a woman.
Unless I can prove I can raise him in a psychologically sound environment, the judge said.
– You have qualities that are just as important. More important, if I may say so. Kindliness, and sincerity, and, if you’ll forgive me, modesty, mean more to a husband than all the wit and beauty in the world.
Found a job yet babe?
No. What the fuck would I put on my CV?
– I try my best every day but it’s very difficult with people looking me up and down as if I were a prize cow.
Gwennie, please. Don’t you have a real life?
Not really, Mum.
– Loveliest room you’ve ever seen. Everything has been kept just as Mrs DeWinter left it. Nothing has been altered.
Oh Gwennie, how did it get like this? Did I fail you? I must have done something wrong. There must have been
– She knew everyone that mattered. Everyone loved her.
I should’ve done something
– Sometimes when I walk along the corridor I fancy I hear her just behind me. Like a quick light step. Couldn’t mistake it anywhere. Not only in this room. It’s in all the rooms in the house. I could almost hear it now.
Mum, please! Say something!
– Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?
This fucking thing. This fucking thing!
– That’s not the northern lights.
The fire brigade. An old telly. Just went up by itself. It’s my mum’s flat. She only died last week.
– She said she’d rather destroy Manderley than see us happy here!
A David O. Selznick Production
Alice M: My fiction has appeared in Hobart Pulp and will be reprinted in Salt Publishing’s ‘Best British Short Stories’, in the 2022 volume. I am a graduate of the 2015 Disquiet International workshop taught by Alex Chee, of the 2019 Summer Literary Seminars Tbilisi fiction cohort under Ru Freeman, and both the 2020 and 2021 Textures workshops run by Elle Nash and Witch Craft Magazine.
image: MM Kaufman