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'A stranger lives in my house, sir, and he calls himself my father.'
20th November 1912
The following is a letter found on the body of Eleanor Sterling, aged fifteen, after she was found murdered on her bed. It has now been confirmed that she was killed by repeated blows to the head and continuous sexual abuse. The perpetrator has yet to be found.
A stranger lives in my house, sir, and he calls himself my father. I have no father, for he died two years ago, when a drunken stranger moved in. He has my father's face and my father's body, but the stranger has neither Father's heart nor Father's eyes.
The stranger beats Mother every time he returns home, smelling of beer and vodka and vomit. He wastes Mother's money on alcohol, mostly beer and vodka. My mother and I go hungry. The pastry shop we own is rundown and the sink is half-blocked, but Mother and I can't do anything. We have no knowledge of sinks, sir, and there is no money to call the plumber. We don't have a phone or a phonebook anyway. The stranger has drunk all the money away and leaves us with nothing.
The stranger is not my father, even if he calls himself that. My father was a proud man, an honourable man. He stood up straight, and he had large broad shoulders that I could sit upon whenever I wished to. My father had warm, laughing eyes and calloused, gentle hands. He always had time to help Mother with housework, whether it was to chop the firewood or dust the house. Father had always made Mother and I laugh, and chided me when I was working too hard on my schoolwork.
The stranger has dead eyes and harsh words. He scolds me and slaps me if I do anything that remotely displeases him. I am not allowed to walk in front of him, walk behind him or walk beside him, but I must bring him his beer or he will cane me. The stranger drinks our money away, sir, and he smells of rancid vomit and alcohol. He slouches in a corner and never sits or stands straight. He had never helped Mother, not ever, nor has he ever smiled at me. He is not my father.
Mother doesn't admit that the stranger is the man she had loved for over fifteen years either. Mother cries everyday when she is hit by the stranger who calls himself my father. She cries so much that I can't see the whites of her eyes any more, sir. Her warm brown eyes are only a figment of my memories now. All I can see is bloodshot eyes and a frightened gaze. My mother doesn't smile when the stranger is home, and she cries when the stranger leaves, taking the money away.
I don't know what to do, sir. My parents aren't my parents any more. Father has died two years ago, when he was fired by that unreasonable employer of his, and is replaced by a stranger who beats Mother up and canes me without reason. Father is replaced by a drunkard who takes our money away and sleeps and snores in the corner of the pastry shop and scares away the customers. Mother never talks or laugh any more, but she cries more and more each day, until I don't recognise her without that veil of tears on her face or those red eyes.
I don't know what to do, sir. The police won't help because Mother insists that nothing is wrong. When I try to help in the shop, Mother gives me a broken smile that is completely unlike the smile she once had, two years ago. Mother insists that nothing is wrong, and gives the stranger who calls himself my father money every day. Mother smiles at the customers and use white powder and red rouge to hide the bruises and cuts. We spend most of our money we have on make-up, these days, and handkerchiefs too. We don't have much to spend on food, so we go hungry, but the stranger must always have his beer and vodka, or else he will hit Mother and slap me again.
I don't know what to do, sir. Maybe if I'm brave enough, I'll be able to send this letter to you. But I don't know if I am, for the stranger at home has Father's face and Father's body, so I don't want him to go to jail. I don't want to shame my family, sir, and I don't want to air the dirty laundry because we still have our pride. But the stranger needs to leave, sir. The stranger needs to leave so Father can return.
Sir, can you tell me what to do?