Seraphine (part 1)
My old school friend Xenia used to be a strong personality. Coming from a dysfunctional family, she nevertheless steadily dug her path towards a medical degree and a good job of a dentist. As it happens too often nowadays, Xenia's marriage failed when her husband realized that she would never be his second mommy nor his tame little bitch. She didn't suffer much from her "loss" until one day she felt the need to have a child. Her divorce was not much of an obstacle: she could easily win the attention of some good-looking guy. Unfortunately, Xenia turned out to be sterile for medical reasons.
My friend, could not, however, accept her fate and started drinking when a new doctor failed to help her. On weekdays she took pains to control herself, as she had to tend to her patients. On weekends, however, she let herself loose, and it was a heart-wrenching sight. Never before had I seen someone who crawled towards a grave so stubbornly. I attempted to distract Xenia and give her the support she needed, more than once I drove her to hospital, but I had two jobs, a sick mother and not so much time to nurse another adult lady.
We lived in quite a small town, and the rumors of Xenia's addiction reached her patients, and they started leaving her for other dentists. Nonetheless, she strongly refused to see a mental health specialist fearing that it could harm her more.
"Listen," I said. "The authorities won't allow you to adopt a child if you continue drinking like this. Do you wanna lose your last chance to be a mother?"
"Hmm..." she said. But this reasoning of mine worked. Now, when Xenia felt cravings, she strode deep into the forest that grew not far from her house. The forest had had a bad reputation as a place where a local gang killed their victims when I and Xenia were at primary school. Across this forest there used to be a madhouse, closed for about five years now, as the building was in a poor state. Though I was worried about my friend's security, these night strolls turned for good: they distracted her attention from wine and brandy, and step by step she regained her sobriety. I was happy about it until Xenia stopped calling and returning the calls of mine. With a sinking heart, I was looking forward to the weekend to call on my friend.
Arriving at Xenia's place I ran into a grumpy old lady from a neighboring house who rushed to inform me that my "alcoholic" friend had adopted a "handicapped child". This was something I could not believe. Legal procedures allowing her to adopt a baby would have taken several months. And Xenia's drunken brawl with her ex had still been talk of the town.
"Are you fucking laughing at me?" the old hag grunted. "She nearly mauled my dog to death, this ugly creep"
It took time for Xenia to open the door as if she were in doubt whether to let me in or not. Nonetheless, she gave me a strong embrace. Her face was radiant. Her eyes were happy and bright. She might have got at least five years younger. And there certainly was someone else in the house, behind the closed bedroom door.
"Lena, you are someone I could confess to..." she whispered excitedly. "I finally became a mother. Please meet my daughter Seraphine," she opened the bedroom door, letting me see a timid girl of about ten, blonde, pale and extremely skinny. Her eyes had a rare yellowish color and tiny black pupils. The kid looked upon me as if I were a huge dog, and she was a kitten.
"Relax, sweetheart," Xenia cooed. "Lena is a friend. She's not here to separate us. No one will".
Seraphine must have thought otherwise. With some inhuman speed and grace, she threw herself towards the wardrobe and hid inside. Her way to move was just... different...
"Does she even speak?" I asked when we left Seraphine alone and moved to the kitchen. No bottles, full or empty, were in sight.
"Of course, she does!" Xenia exclaimed, still excited by her new experience. "This is how I know her name. She's quite smart, but she's been through some big shit. Like many of us."
"To what lengths have you gone to get her?" I asked, full of surprise, while Xenia started making tea.
"I ran into Seraphine in the woods," Xenia's tone changed to a grim one. "She was only wearing a dressing gown, socks, and pajamas. In January... She had bruises on her faces and shoulders."
"What did she say?"
"She told me she had escaped from some bad guys and asked if I wanted to be her mom... She still doesn't want to speak of the jerks who tortured her..."
"Who else knows?"
"And your old neighbor," I sighed. "Is this dog story true?"
"This is a vicious dog, it attacked us... Thank God it didn't tear Seraphine to pieces. Beasts like this should be put down..."
"Certainly. However, you should inform the police about the girl... She might have been kidnapped or on the run."
"No police!" Xenia growled, angry. "They will take her away... Do you believe they will leave a child to a single alcoholic? They will send her back to the orphanage. A prison for the innocents..."
"How do you know she has escaped from an orphanage?"
"Her clothes... They had some abbreviation embroidered on them, I Googled it, but found no matching result".
"May I take a picture? Perhaps I could get some clues this week..." I worked as a prosecutor assistant and had nearly unlimited access to some archives closed to the general public.
"Promise you will tell no one..."
"You'll have to do that yourself," I stressed.
"As soon as I know her background. Seraphine must be having memory issues due to the shock. And I fear to trouble her too much..." Xenia sighed, sipping her tea. "She needs the help of an orthodontist, but of course, no one has ever cared to examine her."
'You don't go to work?"
"I'm on sick leave. Though it's, in fact, maternity leave..."
I was leaving Xenia carrying a whole serpent nest in my belly. It was hardly possible that the authorities would allow her to keep the girl. In our country, they don't give children to singles. Things could get worse if Seraphine had had biological parents. In our society, a child and even a teenager is always a hostage either of their parents or the state. And as a state worker, I had to accept and protect the status quo.
As I was passing by the old woman's house I threw a glance through the fence. A wounded dog was sitting in the yard, showing its teeth to me. Xenia hadn't exaggerated its size, the beast was large - a Caucasian Shepherd with massive jaws, trained to kill wolves, the most dangerous predators of the mountains... I couldn't imagine how a beanpole-thin girl could have harmed such a giant. Still, its neck was covered with a thick white bandage, and I could distinctly see traces of blood upon it.
(to be continued)