Skip to content

BOILING WATER
Jade Hainsworth-Walsh

My mother often wore a tarnished locket round her neck, with a picture of a dead girl in it. The image was yellowed, rough around the edges, but the black-and-white girl had a piercing gaze that age couldn’t erode. I asked her about the girl once.
        ‘She was your Great Auntie Mary’s daughter. She died when she was only five years old.’
        I asked her how she died. Mother said I was too young to know.
        Several years later, Great Auntie Mary passed away. I offered to help clean the house a few days after the funeral. Amongst the knick-knacks, I found a dusty photo frame in the living room, tucked behind an array of other relatives. It was the same girl, gaze cold behind a layer of dust.
        I asked Mother again about how the little girl died. She held the locket tightly in her hand.
        ‘She fell into a vat of boiling water. Before washing machines were invented, they used to wash their clothes in big tubs of water. She fell in and couldn’t climb back out.’
        That night, when I was making a cup of tea, I couldn’t help but imagine her drowning in the boiling kettle, a tiny girl screaming for help, trying to climb up the spout.