’s big bro was ever looking for a happy after, but his princess wore slippers of blood…
… killed my Mark with a remote
Huddled behind the door, I strained to listen.
‘I can’t believe our Mark’s getting told off..!’ I hissed with glee to my sister Emma, nine, and brother Barry, 10.
Mark, 13, was the eldest of us four and our mam’s golden boy. He was always spared a slap on the legs, and got the biggest servings at dinner.
But Mark wasn’t in trouble like I thought he was, it was the complete opposite – Mam, Ida, 33, was apologising to him...
Some bloke had come knocking at the door, claiming to be Mark’s grandad, but he wasn’t our dad’s old man.
A big secret had been rumbled – Mark had a different dad to the rest of us, but none of us had ever known.
His real dad had killed himself when Mark was just two months old. And, heartbroken, Mam had tumbled into a new marriage with our dad, Fred, and hidden it from everyone.
She’d never wanted Mark to be affected by the suicide the way it haunted her.
But, suddenly, the truth was out. Still, we weren’t much of a family for deep and meaningfuls, so we never really talked about what’d happened.
Mark changed his name to his real dad’s – Hopes. But nothing else changed.
He was still my annoying, lovable older bro, who’d pretend to be a shark, snapping at our heels as we jumped from one bed to the other.
As he got older, he’d insist
I curl his hair like pop star George Michael, then he’d pull a different girl every night of the week.
No one ever had a bad word to say about him.
The rest of us, including Mam, were fiery. But Mark was soft as butter.
If lads started on him in the pub, he’d make for the door, shouting, ‘My mam will have you!’
So I was surprised when, at 18, he started running up the mountains at the end of our road with weights in his backpack.
A year on, he left home for the Welsh Guards.
I was proud, but confused – Mark was a lover, not a fighter.
He came home two years later, a different man.
One minute he’d be his bright, usual self, popping in for a chat and drinking endless tea, but days later he’d be feeling depressed and downing cider.
The drink got a good grip of him. He drifted in and out of relationships, fathering four children. Katie in 1991, Jamie three years on, and Ffion four years after that. Then another daughter who he didn’t see.
‘I know I need to knock it on the head,’ he’d say about the drink. He’d stop for months, but then I’d see him drunk round Mam’s or swaying in a local pub.
I just tried to be there for him – offering a bed when his relationships inevitably split, or cleaning him up every time he hit rock bottom.
One day in 2011, I was round Mam’s when she said, ‘Mark’s got a new woman.’ Nothing new there.
But the next bit had me choking on my tea.
‘She’s from round your way – Maria...’
‘Not Muh-muh-muh-maria?’ I gasped.
It was cruel, but that’s what she was known as in our street, on account of her stutter.
She lived a few doors down from me.
She’d split up with her husband, and was raising their tearaway teenage sons on her own.
But Mark usually went for skinny, stunning things. Maria certainly wasn’t that! Next minute, in he walked... ‘Go on, then, tell us about Maria,’ I teased.
The blood drained from Mark’s face.
‘We met in the bookie’s,’ he mumbled. ‘It’s nothing serious.’
But, after that, whenever I saw Mark, he had Maria on his arm – they looked genuinely happy.
‘She clearly loves him,’ I smiled to Mam, seeing Maria glued to my brother like a label on a tin.
And when Maria’s kids, Leon and Alex, turned against Mark,
she left them
The blood-stained slippers revealed the truth... (L-R): My siblings and Mark Barry, Emma
Convicted: Leon and his mum, Maria