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Authors: Judith Barrow

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BOOK: Changing Patterns
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There was something else the matter with Ellen. Mary could feel it in her bones. She gave a quivering sigh. ‘What’s wrong?’

Ellen glanced at her, incredulous. ‘Our brother’s just been killed, that’s what’s wrong.’ She looked quickly away.

‘You don’t need to tell me that,’ Mary flared. She’d lived with the images of Tom’s last moments for five days now: cradling his head in her lap in the middle of the road, knowing he was dead; Peter gently holding her back when the ambulance took him away, the screams she couldn’t stop; Tom’s blood saturating her skirt, dripping from the hem onto her legs.

‘You don’t need to tell me that,’ she repeated, more softly this time, seeing Ellen’s stricken face.

Chapter 7

Mary took the last peg from her apron pocket and fastened Linda’s skirt on the washing line.

Glancing up at the back bedroom window she saw the curtains were drawn. It was almost midday and Ellen was still sleeping. Peter had taken the children to the beach and silence hung over the house for the first time in two days; during the last hour she’d fluctuated between silent tears and unexpected anger.

‘Has the policeman gone?’ Gwyneth appeared at her back door. Her voice was husky and, unusually for her, her grey hair was uncombed and she was still in a flowery dressing gown. She looked as though she’d aged years in the last few days, her face pallid, her eyelids red and swollen.

‘About an hour and a half ago,’ Mary said. ‘Are you all right, love?’ She felt the burn of empathetic tears.

‘No.’ It was almost a whisper. Then Gwyneth straightened her shoulders and drew herself up to her full five foot. ‘What did he say …
y plismon
?’

‘He said, with no one else to see it…’ Watching her friend struggle to compose herself, Mary stumbled over the words. ‘As no one else saw what happened, we can’t prove Tom was killed on purpose.’

‘Peter didn’t see?’

Mary shook her head. ‘No, he only heard.’

‘But it was still a hit and run, Mary? They’re going to find who did it?’ Gwyneth’s question ended on a wobbly high note.

‘He said they will try.’ Mary let the angry tears spill out. ‘Oh Gwyneth, what am I going to do without Tom? What am I going to do?’

They stood looking at one another, helpless in their shared grief. Then the older woman made a small decisive nod of her head. ‘Have you time to come round, Mary?’ she said. ‘I’ve something to show you.’

Mary stared at the familiar writing, her lips moving as she read the letter again.

My dear Gwyneth,

I’ve wanted to write this for some weeks but have felt unable to. I want, no I need to tell you how much I loved your son.

‘Oh Tom,’ Mary murmured. She looked up at Gwyneth.

‘I know.’ The old woman put a trembling hand on Mary’s shoulder.

From the moment we met, Iori and I knew we would be friends, knew we would want to share our lives after this awful time was over.

‘It would have been so difficult for them, Gwyneth,’ Mary whispered. ‘They’d have been thrown in prison, hounded.’

A flash of dread shot through her. It would be like that for her and Peter. She was under no illusion about the bitter prejudice of some people. To them he would always be the enemy.

Sometimes we would talk into the early hours in our cell, about what we would do for work, where we would live. Iori wanted to go back to Llamroth. I didn’t mind as long as we were together. We both knew it wouldn’t be easy, that there could be problems but we didn’t care.

‘They would have done it too,’ Gwyneth said, reading the letter over Mary’s shoulder with her. ‘Iori was always determined as a boy.’

‘And Tom.’ Mary’s misery lessened for a moment. She felt the hint of a smile move her lips until she read Tom’s next words.

But I let him down Gwyneth. I didn’t save him. I couldn’t save him and I’m ashamed of that. And I will live with that all my life.

‘He must have written this sometime in March or April of ’45,’ Mary said slowly. ‘Before he was released from prison. He must have had it smuggled out. He took a big chance it wouldn’t be found.’

She reached up and covered Gwyneth’s hand with her own, remembering Tom’s homecoming.

As a nurse she’d seen many cases of shock but Tom was the worst she’d encountered. Perfunctorily released from Wormwood Scrubs, he’d arrived dirty, unkempt and withdrawn. For days he’d shambled around the house as though she and Mam weren’t even there. The only emotion he revealed was his loathing for Arthur Brown, the man their widowed mother had decided to marry.

Until the morning Gwyneth’s letter arrived offering them the cottage here to rent. He’d sat in silence after reading it, struggling to retain some control until, with great gasping sobs, his grief poured out. The life in Llamroth that he and Iori had planned would come true. But without Iori. And it was too much for Tom.

He’d clung to Mary, his anguish uncontrollable as he struggled to describe what had happened to Iori; the way seven of the prisoners had beaten his friend to the ground with fists and makeshift clubs, others blocking the doorway so he couldn’t get into the cell where Iori was trapped. Sobbing, he’d told Mary how he fought, punching, kicking and screaming, trying to climb over those who watched, cheering and laughing, urging the attackers to more violence.

Mary shuddered remembering his words.

‘I couldn’t get to him … I tried … I really tried … his face was unrecognisable … all smashed in.’

She’d never told Gwyneth. She never would. Reliving that moment was almost too much for Mary to bear.

But then she read the next few lines and her throat tightened. She swallowed against the loud pounding in her ears, struggling to breathe.

I should have protected him. I have sworn to myself that no one I love will ever, ever be hurt like that again. I will make sure of that.

I hope you can forgive me for not saving your son.

Tom Howarth

A cold sick feeling rippled through her body. There was a line in a letter she and Mam received from Tom at the time of Iori’s murder that had stayed with her over the years.
I wanted to kill them when I saw what they were doing to Iori
, he’d written. It had stuck in her mind because it was completely at odds with all her brother had believed in. A dreadful thought forced itself to the front of her mind. She squeezed her eyes tightly to get rid of it.

Carefully folding the letter again she stood up and enfolded Gwyneth in her arms. They rocked, gently crying. At last Mary kissed the older woman’s forehead. ‘Thank you,’ she whispered, ‘for reminding me of the time Tom was happiest.’

‘Even though he wrote it when he was in such pain?’ Gwyneth looked up at Mary. ‘
Nid oedd unrhyw beth i’w faddau – 
there was nothing to forgive. Tom made my Iori content with himself for the first time ever. I will never forget how glad I was when they met. And when I realised they loved one another.’

‘I know.’

‘I can say it to you, Mary, can’t I?’

‘Yes.’ She patted Gwyneth’s hand. ‘Yes, you can, love.’

‘I do miss Tom. He was like another son to me. I wish him and Iori had had more time.’

‘I know,’ Mary sighed. ‘Thank you.’ They smiled at one another even as the tears still hovered.

There was the bang of a door and lots of chatter from next door.

‘That’ll get their mother up.’ Mary gave a small laugh.

‘Don’t let Ellen take advantage of you,
cariad
, you’re always too soft with her.’ Gwyneth stroked Mary’s cheek. ‘Take care of yourself – especially now.’

‘I’ve got Peter,’ Mary said.

‘Yes, he’s a good man. He’ll look after you. But, remember what I said
, bach,
she’ll let you run round after her, if she can.’

Mary gave Gwyneth another peck on the forehead. ‘I’ll remember.’

But it wasn’t Ellen on her mind when she stood outside the front door of the cottage. It was Tom – and the realisation that he’d been lying to her all these years.

…no one I love will ever, ever be hurt like that again. I will make sure of that.

Chapter 8

The sea was sluggish in the heat; ripples of quicksilver on the slight roll of water reflected the bright light of the sky. Linda, oblivious to the temperature, ran along the foamy edge joining sand and sea, yelping when she stood on one of the many pebbles scattered about and seared by the sun.

The sisters sat on the beach in identical poses, chins resting on knees, skirts and arms wrapped around legs.

Mary sighed. She needed to talk to Peter; to tell him everything. But how? Perhaps it would change his opinion of Tom. And she hated the thought of that.

‘You okay?’ Ellen took her eyes off her daughter to give a quick look at Mary.

‘Just tired.’

‘Me too.’

‘She’s enjoying herself,’ Mary said, watching Linda. It would do the little girl good to get some sea air. She looked too pale, too thin. ‘She’s all arms and legs, that one.’ She glanced down at the sleeping little boy on the blanket between them, his bottom in the air, his chubby fist tucked under his chin. ‘And he’s tired out as well.’ She forced a smile and shielded her eyes to look around. ‘I love it here. It’s gloriously peaceful, even with all the holiday-makers.’ She watched a family walk by, the mother carrying a picnic basket, the father laden with blankets and windbreaks, the three children swinging brightly coloured metal buckets and spades. A lump rose in her throat. ‘I thought we were settled for life here.’ She stopped.

‘Will you go back to Ashford?’

‘No. Oh no, take no notice of me.’ Too many bad memories. Mary picked up a shell and began to make a pattern in the sand. ‘It’s better for Peter here. I don’t think we’ll get as much trouble here as we would in Ashford. We haven’t so far, anyway.’ It suddenly occurred to her that things might be different – Tom not being with them anymore. She blinked hard. ‘Tom will be buried here. I couldn’t leave. I wouldn’t want to.’

And any trouble from anyone, she was more than a match for them. She’d grown up battling with the gossips tittle-tattling about her family. She set her mouth.

They sat for a while watching Linda eyeing up the children who had just arrived; sidling towards them as they began to build sandcastles.

‘Do you ever think back to when
we
were kids?’ Ellen turned her head so her cheek was against her knees.

‘Of course I do.’ Mary grimaced. ‘Constant rows, Mam trying to keep the peace, Dad roaring drunk every weekend, coming home ready to clout any of us who looked sideways at him, Patrick goading Tom all the time.’ She stopped talking but her thoughts continued: Tom taking me to the park out of the way, rowing to the middle of the lake there in one of the boats, resting the oars and letting us drift while I cried; making me laugh when the tears finally dried up.

He wasn’t here now to comfort her. He would never be here again.

I have sworn to myself that no one I love will ever, ever be hurt like that again. I will make sure of that.

Had Tom lied to stop her fears that the police might one day come after him? Or had he been frightened she would judge him? Surely not.

Her thoughts were disrupted by Ellen’s sudden peevish voice. ‘You and Tom were always close. I remember you gabbing away to him all the time.’

Even now, Ellen couldn’t help being jealous. Mary’s instant anger was quickly replaced by guilt. She and Tom were always close. Perhaps, without realising it, they had shut out Ellen when they were younger. Maybe that was why Patrick always resented Tom. She sighed. It was too late to think about that now.

Ellen bit at the skin at the side of her thumbnail. ‘I’ve always been left out – I’ve never had anybody in the family on my side.’ She frowned, a deep furrow between her eyebrows.

‘Never had anybody on your side?’ Mary closed her eyes. ‘Do you want me to list all the times you’ve shouted and I’ve come running? Even since we moved here? Every time you needed help?’

It was as though she hadn’t spoken.

‘Mam was too busy keeping the peace between everybody and Dad didn’t care.’

‘Look, Ellen, I’m struggling to get through what’s happening now, let alone what happened years ago. Why drag all that stuff up? You were Dad’s favourite, for God’s sake.’

‘Only on his terms. Only as long as I did what he told me to. Have you forgotten that time I had the chance to be in a show in London but he stopped it?’

‘I remember the screaming matches, the rows,’ Mary said wryly. ‘I don’t know how you managed to get away with half the things you said without being clouted.’

‘He stopped my one chance to make it big.’

‘Not this again.’ Mary rubbed the tips of her fingers over her forehead. ‘Your voice is still lovely, Ellen, you’re still young. There’s time for you to achieve anything you want to.’

‘Huh!’

‘Nobody stops you singing now.’ She was almost on the verge of asking Ellen to go home until the funeral. It was too hard. She didn’t want to sort out her sister’s problems anymore. ‘You know,’ she said, ‘it would be good if, for once, just the once, you stopped thinking about yourself and saw what was going on around you.’

BOOK: Changing Patterns
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