Vivien Hollis was born and educated in Belfast, left to attend Liverpool University, and worked in the south of England before emigrating to Canada. Life as a university professor did not leave time for fiction but recently she swapped the writing of grants, research papers, and editing student theses for short story writing. As a volunteer advocate with Sherwood Park Victim Services, working in conjunction with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Vivien now comes face to face with many challenges that face women and children. Speak up is a fictional telephone conversation, overheard from a grandmother’s side.
By Vivien Hollis
Yes, I’m at home Lizzie. Why?
Lizzie, if this’s going to be some long rambling story about your marital woes then I don’t want to hear it, so you listen to me.
No, Lizzie, I said listen. I seem to have heard this story before.
Well, you phoned me, so hear what I have to say.
It doesn’t matter what you tell me, I’m not going to just agree with you.
I realize you don’t have all the time in the world. No one with kids has any time to themselves, but sit down and let’s think about this.
So where are you then?
Heavens! A supermarket is no place for a conversation like this. Why are you there anyway?
If everyone’s at home then drive down to me and we can talk face to face. You’ll need somewhere to sleep tonight if you really are leaving this time.
It’s not too far.
I won’t lecture you, I promise. Not after all you say you’ve been through.
I do believe you. If you say it, I believe it.
I’m having trouble with all that background noise, Lizzie. Speak up I can’t hear you. Sounds like a children’s party there.
Hmmm. I think the supermarket fluorescent lights make them hyper.
Well, if you can’t go home and you won’t come here then find somewhere quieter.
Yes, that’s a bit better. Make mine a skinny, double-double. I wish I was close enough to join you.
Am I wittering-on? I’ll stop. You were all in the kitchen. Then what?
You two are always shouting at each other, it’s the kids I pity.
Why don’t I have to pity them any more? Are you taking them with you?
Fine. I’ll let you tell me in your own way. But if you only wanted a one-way conversation you should have emailed or texted me.
So, who pushed who first?
And what were the kids doing?
Lizzie, kids of six and eight are too young to be seeing and hearing all this.
Then let them come to me for a while.
He would. I’m sure he would if you just said it in a calm and reasonable manner.
Yes, normally you are calm and reasonable but not at this minute. You need to take a good deep breath.
Don’t cry. Just tell me.
I won’t hate you. I love you and the kids. I want you to send the kids down to me.
All right. You carry on and we’ll get to why the kids can’t come to me later on, but remember you shouldn’t have to put up with all this just to keep them in the same school.
Yes, you always said about the football, and dance and athletics. But even so. Six months ago you were telling me much the same story and I was giving you much the same advice.
Actually I do understand ….. so you were both shouting and shoving.
Now why on earth did you have to tell him you were leaving? We’ve discussed this before. It just riles him. He either doesn’t believe you and gets angry because you said it, or he believes you and gets in a panic.
Well of course you know him better than me but you’re my granddaughter and I know you.
I’m not saying you pushed his buttons. I’m just saying what I’ve said before. You shouldn’t get into a row. Just wait until he leaves for work, pack some things and come with the kids. You’d be safe here.
Why do you think you’re safe now?
Right. Back to the story, then. Tell it the way you want.
Well, you shouldn’t have called him that.
I don’t always take his side. But you know it was wrong to say that.
It doesn’t matter what he called you. You know he says things like that when he’s been drinking. Don’t let him get under your skin.
Why is it too late?
Hmmm. You’ve said before that he threatened to kill you. The first time he said it you should have left.
He didn’t! I didn’t know he had a gun.
Why didn’t you call the police?
They do. They come out to these situations all the time.
Yes, I can imagine the kids were screaming.
For God’s sake, you should have left then, Lizzie.
Oh no! What were the kids doing?
Dear God! They were pleading for your life, Lizzie. Little kids shouldn’t be shouting, ‘Don’t hurt my mommy. Leave my mommy alone.’ It musta been awful.
Good Grief! A gun at your head would bring you to your senses.
Now this is getting much worse. He has a gun at your head and you have a knife at his stomach. Where did you get the knife for goodness sake?
Yes. Yes. I’d forgotten you were in the kitchen. Tell me quickly what happened.
He didn’t? Please tell me this is some awful macabre joke. Please let me be having a nightmare. It’s horrendous. I really can’t believe he’d do that. Those poor wee things.
Just give me a moment, Lizzie. I feel sick … like something toxic’s been sprayed down the phone. I can’t breathe. I’m dizzy. Now I’m the one having a panic attack. This is awful. Oh God, I’m so sorry. Did you call an ambulance?
Are you sure they’re both dead?
Really sure? Honestly?
With all his faults, I never thought he’d kill his own children. Did you call the police then?
Good Lord! I didn’t think it could get any worse. He’s dead too?
Lizzie. Listen carefully. It’s not all your fault. It isn’t. He shot the kids. You didn’t.
Don’t keep saying it’s your fault. You’re a good mother. What you did was wrong, but it was in self defense. I want you to walk to your car. Keep talking to me while you do that.
I’m sure it is Lizzie. I know it’ll be hard to put one foot in front of the other. But try.
Are you there now?
Okay. Deep breaths again. Connect up your phone so you can drive and still hear me. Done that?
Well then, start the engine and get going. I want you to head down to me. We can call the police when you get here but for now I want you to stay on the phone.
Just do it Lizzie!
Turn on your AC. It’s awful hot out there.
I know you don’t care, but you’ll melt in this heat if you don’t. Now keep driving. Watch out for the traffic. Lizzie don’t cry, love. Please don’t cry.
Lizzie? What’s that noise? Lizzie answer me. Did you have a blow-out? Lizzie what was that bang? Was it your tyre? Lizzie! Lizzie! Please answer me Lizzie. Please answer me. I can hear a whisper. Is that you Lizzie? Please speak up, I can’t hear you. Dear God, let nothing have happened to my granddaughter. I will be a better person from now on if you let her live. Please let nothing have happened to her.
Who’s that? Who am I speaking to?
I’m her grandmother. She’s called Lizzie. Is she hurt?
Have you called an ambulance?
Good. Good. Thank you. Thank your husband for me.
Yes. Please give them this telephone number as her contact.
That’s right. Is my granddaughter conscious?
What did she hit?
Never mind the lamppost or the car. Tell me how Lizzie is.
I can believe she’s crying her eyes out. It’s been a long day already and she’s been through a lot. If you put the phone to her ear I could speak to her.
Lizzie, Lizzie, my love. I’m here. I’ll be with you in an hour or so. Hang on in. That woman’s a nurse and she thinks you’re basically fine, physically, but the ambulance will likely take you to the hospital for a check-up.
I will. I’m finding my car keys as we speak.
I can help with the police when I get there so don’t worry. And I’m going to be with you through whatever happens. We have a long road ahead and it’ll be hard but it will be ‘we’. You’re not on your own. Remember that. And Lizzie, I’m sorry I didn’t listen when you wanted me to. I should have encouraged you to speak up earlier instead of curbing those conversations. I should not have ignored what you were trying to tell me and I should have asked the difficult questions. I’m so sorry I didn’t hear your unspoken words.
You’re sounding faint again and I’m having trouble hearing you.
Yes, my love. But you’re a strong woman.
I’m sure. But I’m a strong woman too. We’ll do it together.
Yes, that’s the first thing: tell the story to the police and anyone who will listen.
I’m not certain but I think the coroner will probably want to see the bodies.
Well, we’ll arrange the funerals when the coroner releases them.
Yes. It’s sad. It is unbearable, I know …. worst thing in the world to lose your children.
You’re right, Lizzie. We will cry and cry and cry for the ones we’ve loved and the ones we’ve lost. But when we’re ready we will speak up …. so the world hears ….
Because everyone needs to know what can happen. It happened to your children. It happened to you. Because everyone needs to know this is not a personal problem but everyone’s problem. And because other women need to know they’re not on their own and they should speak up too. Maybe together we’ll even learn to shout.