Five stories – Five Lives
Have you ever felt confused or at a loss for words in front of a spouse, colleague or parent, to the extent that you have felt inadequate or, worse, a failure? Do you ever wonder why someone close to you seems to endure humiliation without resistance?
Manipulators are everywhere. At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way. They are often masters of disguise: witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim.
In this collection of short novellas you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual. First you meet a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Next, there is Tess, whose past is haunted by a wrong decision, then young, successful and well balanced Sophie, who is drawn into the life of a little boy and his troubled father. Next, there is teenage Holly, who is intent on making a better life for herself and finally Lisa, who has to face a parent’s biggest regret. All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth.
Genre: Novellas, Psychology, Literary
Date of Release: 8 June 2016
Word Count: 85,445
About the Author
Helene Andrea Leuschel was born and raised in Belgium to German parents. She gained a Licentiate in Journalism, which led to a career in radio and television in Brussels, London and Edinburgh. Helene moved to the Algarve in 2009 with her husband and two children, working as a freelance TV producer and teaching yoga. She recently acquired a Master of Philosophy with the OU, deepening her passion for the study of the mind. Manipulated Lives is Helene’s first work of fiction.
He had a small, delicate body, thin legs and arms, and a torso that was short and fragile. He almost looked supernatural, like a beautiful version of an elf, with his startling light blue eyes and hair as dark as charcoal. Later on, when we were as familiar with each other as a mother and son would be, he wrapped himself warmly around me like a shawl or a small monkey anchored to his mother’s body for the day. His lightness added to my initial impression that he looked like a beautiful, fantastical character who’d walked straight out of a children’s picture book, yet I quickly found out that my female instincts to protect him were undeniably linked to a human child whose cheeks reddened with exertion and whose occasional stroppiness could only be found in the very young. And I need to tell you right from the start that he is not my son, because I am not his biological mother. Yet, we would have both liked to have been each other’s family and, for a short while, we actually were. I know that because of the way he looked at me, the way he snuggled up whenever he saw me, and the way he always saw goodness in me. He had the capacity to make me melt there and then and I would forgive him instantly for small tantrums or cheeky retorts. He seemed to endear himself to my laughs and smiles and I loved his thin, fine fingers reaching out to claim a hug, one of so many he desperately needed.
You will wonder whose son he was and why he is no longer with me; and I will tell you why, so that I don’t go crazy with grief and so that our story, and the stories of those who were involved in it, may come to convey how life can deal you a difficult card.
I met Leo’s father shortly after meeting my little guy. That was a nickname I’d frequently use for my new and very special friend. Leo was a grand name for a small person with fluffy, wispy dark hair and a voice that never carried far, yet if you took the time to lower your ear towards his words, you would be enthralled by their wisdom. This child was unusual in so many ways. Leo loved to sing and that was exactly how I noticed him, sitting by himself in the kids’ play area which was part of the private sports club I frequented. He was singing a little song to himself and seemed very happy with his own company. I had just turned thirty and was already well acquainted with young children, thanks to my sister’s and my brother’s growing families. I just loved being their hands-on, and fun-loving auntie, and therefore making eye contact with strangers’ children came naturally to me.
However, when I turned my head towards the sound, the owner of the voice was nowhere to be seen. I was relaxing in the club’s café, adjacent to the play area, and had just ordered my usual cup of matcha green tea latte with a slice of fresh cake, well-earned, I thought, after a very demanding and dynamic yoga session. I looked at the green mix of tea and foamed almond milk and took a sip, enjoying the bitter-sweet taste. I was half-way through the thick raspberry-filled cheesecake when I heard the singing again. My fork stopped in mid-air as I listened more carefully. It was the funniest melody I had ever heard. He was copying the lyrics of a popular song, frequently aired on the radio at the time, so I caught on to it very quickly. However, it was unusually out of tune. Not only was the voice squeaky and mouse-like but the intonations were all wrong. I stifled a laugh, telling myself that this was incredibly cute, and I looked up once more to try and find the unusual singer. I couldn’t see him fully at first, but a few of his black wisps of hair were sticking out above a large, soft cushion which gave him away to my probing eyes. Convinced now that he was the singer I was looking for, I lowered my gaze further and widened my eyes with surprise. I had locked onto a big set of blue eyes, peeking round the corner of the cushion, looking straight at me. It was as if he’d deliberately sung again, to see whether I’d notice him. Questions were forming in my mind. Did he notice that I had been listening? Worse, did he know that I had been amused? I was taken aback, to say the least, and made sure he wasn’t actually looking at his own parent, by checking the people sitting beside and behind me. No one seemed to take any interest in the little fellow. So, I just smiled and he smiled back and our first meeting was sealed.
We had somehow found a secret understanding which was the base for a series of encounters that led me to talk to him, ask his name, and find out why he was on his own and query who was looking after him. He told me not to worry because his dad had left him to play while he was doing a ‘round’. That’s how he had put it anyway. I know now what he meant by rounds but, initially, I had been appalled. To leave a small child to his own devices was bad enough, but to do it for a few hours was criminal in my view. Why I had not reported it then, I don’t know. My excuse was that I’d built up a special relationship with a little chap, who became my friend before his dad did. Had he not been there, I don’t think I would ever have spoken to David. I imagined him as a small person himself, maybe even a Woody Allen type of a man, pale and skinny with big glasses, but my imagination was proven wrong when I finally did set eyes on him.
It had been a dark and rainy day when I eventually ran into David. I had decided to not only linger a bit longer at the sports club in the hope that the torrential rain would ease off, but also because I was wondering who the mysterious dad was. When I finally laid eyes on him I was pleasantly surprised. The man was tall and broad, his eyes blue, and his face was surrounded by wavy black hair. I could tell that he’d only just left the shower because his hair smelled clean and moist. His cheeks were still flushed from doing exercise and a big smile revealed a set of straight white teeth. He was a good-looking man, but with a strange insecurity. I would notice later that he did like to keep his T-shirt on to hide his waist, only slightly pudgy, when sitting by a pool or walking down a beach. Despite being ten years my senior, he had kept well-toned arms and legs and his voice carried far. The fact that I had met his son before I’d met him was the reason why we struck up a conversation.
‘Oh, so you’re the amazing Sophie who my son’s in love with!’ Of course, my cheeks burnt upon hearing this, as if I had been found out doing something illegal. He hitched his sports bag over his shoulder and we exchanged a few pleasantries, heading to the warmth of the café with a beaming Leo in tow. After some small talk, we ended up in front of two glasses of wine and an apple juice for Leo, who was chatting happily over a plate of pasta bolognaise. To this day, I cannot tell why being fond of a little boy had meant that I trusted his dad more quickly than any other stranger.
‘I must admit that I wouldn’t have picked you among a group of potential dads,’ I said eventually, with a cheeky grin. Alcohol had that effect on me that even half a glass of wine could easily loosen my tongue.
‘Yes, I know you probably wonder how this little fellow could be my son.’
I reassured him that I had met a family with three children as a child and had seriously wondered for years how they could even be remotely related to their parents. They each looked so different; had features that could not be connected to the others.
‘He must take after his mother,’ I said casually. David instantly seemed to change. My words must have struck like lightning because, as soon as they were out of my mouth, they took a life of their own and caused him to hunch up, lower his eyes, and twist his fingers. I also noticed a nervous tapping of his foot, which added to the overall unease. I had said the wrong thing or, at least, I must have said it in the wrong way, I thought. David’s friendly, jokey mood had changed to a clammed-up posture and the atmosphere turned awkward. What if Leo’s mother had died? Or maybe he was his step-dad? Many scenarios were plausible. How insensitive of me.
‘I’m very sorry for saying that.’ David raised his hand and waved it dismissively, reassuring me that no harm was done. No further word was mentioned about the mother and I decided to leave it at that until he would maybe be ready to explain himself. Looking from David to Leo, I concluded that at least their hair colour and the lightness of their eyes were strikingly similar, two features that could connect them clearly as father and son. But what I was really thinking about at that very moment was, Is there something wrong with the little fellow? He’s so small. I was curious to know why Leo was the way he was. I knew I had spoken too quickly, but sensed that talking about Leo’s mother was completely taboo.