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Authors: Judith Barrow

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BOOK: Changing Patterns
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Ellen inspected her thumb; it was bleeding slightly down the side of her nail where she’d chewed on it. She wiped it with her handkerchief. ‘I’m here, aren’t I? I came to be with you.’ She smoothed strands of her blonde hair off her face and refastened them. Next to them the baby squirmed onto his side, making small sucking noises.

All I want is a bit of peace and quiet, Mary thought. Fat chance of that. She shielded her eyes again and watched Linda, trying to ignore the heavy sighs from Ellen. But it was impossible. ‘All right,’ she said crossly, ‘what is it?’

Ellen sighed again. ‘If you must know, I’m going mad in that house. Ted’s mother drives me mad. You have no idea what a nasty cow she is and I don’t know how much more I can take.’

‘But you always got on.’ Mary knew Ellen had moaned through the years about her mother-in-law but she’d no idea things were that bad. ‘You were quick enough to move in with her five years ago.’ And leave me struggling with things at home, she thought.

‘That’s mean, our Mary.’ Ellen twisted around to look her. ‘You know it was because we thought Ted was dead, that he’d been killed in action. She begged me. She couldn’t bear being on her own.’

‘But when you got the telegram saying he was a POW, you could have come home then. I still needed help with Tom, with Mam, with trying to work and keep the house clean. I’d have welcomed you with open arms.’ Mary relaxed for a second. ‘Tom was overjoyed. They’d been such friends before the war. I’ve always thought hearing about Ted was the turning point for Tom getting better. I needed you at Henshaw Street. I was desperate for help.’

Ellen straightened her legs, wriggled her toes in the sand. ‘By the time Ted was due home, you were full of all your plans to come down here with Mam and Tom.’ Mary heard the antagonism. ‘You left the week he arrived.’

‘Only so you and he could move into number twenty-seven. I thought that’s what you wanted.’ Mary studied the pearly pink and silver on the curved inside of the shell. ‘I remember worrying about all the gossip you’d face, how you didn’t seem to care that everybody would say you were “living over the brush”.’

‘Says she who’d been having a secret affair with a POW in the Granville.’

Mary’s face flushed but she couldn’t help smiling. ‘Yes, well…’ She put a hand to her cheek. ‘You could have told me you’d got a special licence and were married.’

‘And spoil all the fun of the nosy parkers?’ Ellen lay back on the sand, arms folded under her head, gazing up at the sky. ‘Anyway my moving in then has nothing to do with what’s happening now. I’m at the end of my tether with the old cow.’

‘You’re more than a match for Hannah Booth, however crabby she is.’

‘I can’t do right for doing wrong.’

‘Since when?’

‘Since you and me brought Linda home from that foster place.’ There was a catch in her voice. ‘She’s never taken to her.’

‘Bringing Linda home was the right thing to do.’ In a sudden shift of mood, Mary felt a surge of anger at Ted’s mother. ‘Why haven’t you told me this before? It’s not like you not to shout it from the rooftops if something’s wrong.’

‘I thought I could stick it out.’ Ellen pulled a face.

‘And now you can’t?’

Ellen didn’t answer. ‘Remember going to the foster woman?’ she said instead. ‘The day we went to fetch Linda?’

‘You did the right thing getting her back.’ Mary gave Ellen a quick hug. ‘Always remember that, whatever Hannah Booth says.’ She would never forget the sight of Ellen carrying Linda out of that house in only a terry towelling nappy and a grubby red cardigan, so dirty it was almost impossible to tell what colour it actually was. But it was the child’s grey eyes that distressed Mary; the fear in them, the tears quivering on her long lashes, as though she was too frightened to let them fall. And she’d clung so tightly to Ellen they’d had difficulty tucking the blanket around her.

Mary had vowed then it didn’t matter who her father had been. She’d always be there for the little girl – and for Ellen.

Now she fought down a rising sense of dread. ‘Hannah doesn’t know who Linda’s father was, does she? You haven’t told her?’ If that got out, it could cause problems for them all.

‘No, of course I bloody haven’t,’ Ellen said. ‘I haven’t even told Ted. It’s enough for the old bag that Linda’s not Ted’s.’

‘What exactly does she say? Or do?’

‘Everything … nothing … not when Ted’s there anyway.’ Ellen paused, blinked hard a few times. ‘I can’t take any more.’

‘You need to explain properly to him.’

‘I can’t.’

‘Why?’

‘Just can’t.’

Mary waited.


You
don’t resent Linda?’ Ellen searched Mary’s face, obviously looking for a reaction. ‘I know I hurt you but you’ve forgiven me? For what I did with Frank?’

‘Ellen, I love Linda. She was the best thing to come out of the whole mess.’

There had been so many times over the last five years when she’d thought Linda was the nearest she’d ever have to a daughter. She loved both of her nieces but Linda had a special place in her heart. In the few months since Peter had come back to her, she’d allowed herself to hope that one day the two of them would have a family of their own; to acknowledge her yearning to hold her own child in her arms.

‘Frank was your boyfriend and I was stupid enough to think he fancied me. Not just using me to get back at you.’

‘It’s all in the past. I’ve told you that often enough.’ Mary turned her face away. She tucked her hands under her armpits. ‘Frank was a bully, worse than a bully, you know that.’ She hated the sound of his name in her head but she couldn’t get rid of it. Frank Shuttleworth, the man she once thought she loved. The man who’d raped her, one cold wet morning on the canal path. Who’d died, drowned in the canal. Murdered, she was sure now, by Tom, her brother.

The self-loathing and the memory of scrubbing her body until her skin was sore for months afterwards all at once returned in a rush of bile in Mary’s mouth. She swallowed, screwing up her face against the sourness.

She waited until the taste and the memories subsided, the silence heavy between them.

When she turned towards Ellen, the afternoon sun was full on her face and, for the first time, Mary noticed the habitual downward pull of lines around her sister’s mouth. She’s not been really happy for a long time, she thought, pushing away the images that haunted her almost every day. ‘So,’ she said, changing the subject, ‘what are you going to do about Hannah?’

‘I just wish I’d been strong enough to say no to Ted when he asked if she could come to live with us.’

‘I still don’t know why you didn’t.’

‘It’s complicated. And Ted loves Linda so much. He idolises her. I thought I owed it to him to try to get on with his mother.’ Ellen scrunched herself into a tight ball, pulling her knees to her chest. ‘But she’s such bloody hard work. I knew, once she got her feet under the table, I knew she was there to stay. And she’s made sure of that.’

Ellen stood up, brushing the sand from her blouse. She looked down at Mary, her dark blue eyes brimming with tears.

‘How, Ellen? Whatever she says or does, you need to tell Ted.’

‘I can’t. I don’t think he wants to know.’

‘Rubbish. Ted wouldn’t want you to be so unhappy. He’s a good kind man.’

‘He’s too soft, especially with that old battleaxe.’ Ellen frowned. ‘Anyway, he’s different now.’ She rubbed the back of her neck in a quick impatient gesture. ‘I can’t explain. I just can’t get through to him at all. It’s like me and the kids aren’t enough anymore.’

‘I’m sure that’s not true,’ Mary said.

‘I think it is.’ Ellen scooped up the still-sleeping little boy and held him close to her. She gestured to Linda to let her know they were leaving the beach. Her daughter ran towards them, protesting.

‘He loves you.’ Mary folded the blanket they’d been sitting on.

‘Does he?’

‘You know he does. And he’s a good provider for you – the shop—’

‘Is the reason his mother’s still with us,’ Ellen blurted out. ‘He got it courtesy of his mother’s money.’ Her mouth twisted into a bitter line. ‘That was the way she got to stay. She sold her house and lent him the money. And she never lets us forget it.’

Chapter 9

They stood in silence inside the porch of the large red-brick Council building. Leaden clouds pressed down, forcing light from the day, and the slanting rain bounced on the concrete path. Mary heard the wet swish of the passing traffic on the other side of the wall surrounding the grounds. The soil on the flowerbeds was trammelled with running water. Raindrops dripped steadily from the leaves of the laurel bushes spread out on either side of the doorway.

‘I’ve got to get away from here.’ Ellen knotted her headscarf under her chin.

Mary caught hold of her arm. ‘Wait until it bates.’

‘No, I can’t.’ Ellen pulled up the collar of her coat. ‘I’ll see you back at the house.’ She hurried away.

Mary stared after her.

‘Your sister is upset.’

‘And I’m not?’ Mary turned to Peter. The inquest had passed in a confusion of words she hadn’t been able to follow. ‘If she’s that upset why hasn’t she asked Ted to be with her, whatever she thinks he’s done? That shouldn’t matter. Or at least it shouldn’t for now. He’s a good husband. And, before the war, he was Tom’s best friend.’ She fumbled with her raincoat.

‘Perhaps you should have spoken to him?’ Peter moved to help her.

‘She wouldn’t let me. Told me to keep my nose out.’ She shrugged away from him. ‘I’m okay.’ Her voice was sharp. ‘Sorry.’ She let him ease her arms into the sleeves. ‘I’ll be glad when Jean gets here. Perhaps she knows what’s been going on.’

‘Patrick?’

‘No.’ There’d been no mention of Patrick. Did she want him to come with Jean, being honest with herself? No. He’d done too much to hurt Tom when he was alive. And there was no chance he’d be civil to Peter.

She looked back into the porch at the door. ‘What was said in there … the verdict, that phrase “unlawful killing by person or persons unknown” was the same as at Frank’s inquest.’ Her voice rose. ‘That was what that other Coroner said then.’ She was distraught, angry that in death there was an unbreakable connection between her brother and the man who had almost destroyed her life, even if it was only the cold and bureaucratic words.

‘But nothing else is the same, Mary. Tom, he was a kind, decent man. Shuttleworth was
ein Sadist
.’ Peter gathered her in his arms. ‘He and his cronies at the camp enjoyed the power he had over us. The war did that to many men.’

She buried her face against him. ‘It’s just not fair.’

‘Things are not fair,
Liebling,
but, perhaps, as the Coroner said, we must wait—’

‘For what?’ she interrupted, lifting her head, her face flushed with pent up anger. ‘For the police to find out who did it? For someone to own up? We both know that won’t happen.’ She waited. He didn’t say anything. ‘In there it just brought everything back again. All those months when he followed me around, the things he did to frighten me into going back to him.’ She lowered her voice. ‘The way he got away with shooting you, trying to kill you.’

Peter put his finger under her chin. ‘Look at me
Liebling.
We cannot let that man ruin our lives.
Er ist weg
… he’s gone, he’s dead.’

His voice was firm, dismissive, but there was something about his expression. She searched his face. His gaze shifted away from hers but not before she saw the evasion in them.

She frowned, confused, letting him gently fasten the buttons on her raincoat, the silence stretching between them. Since his return she’d believed that one day they would reminisce about the Granville because, as well as the fear of being caught, there were special memories there that bonded them forever. But it hadn’t happened. This was the first time Frank’s name had been raised and she’d been the one to start talking about him. Peter spoke only of the man’s cruelty in the camp. Not that Frank had raped her.

An icy cold ran through her. Could he only deal with what Frank did to her by pretending it hadn’t happened?

Don’t be stupid, she told herself. Peter had come looking for her. He loved her. If the thought of Frank raping her disgusted him so much he wouldn’t be here now. Surely?

‘Peter?’ She stopped. This wasn’t the place. She’d pick her time, just as she would to tell him what she’d discovered about Tom. ‘Let’s get home,’ she said instead.


Ja
.’ He looked towards the gate. Water pockmarked the puddles on the path. ‘We must run, I think.’

At the kerb they jumped back as a bus passed throwing up a wave of oil-skimmed water and then, heads bowed, they ran without looking until they were under the awning of the newsagents on the other side of the road.

‘Sorry.’ Mary collided with a young woman sheltering there.

‘S’all right,’ the woman laughed, ‘you wouldn’t think it was July, would you? S’pose we should just be glad it’s not freezing cold.’ Her voice changed to one of recognition. ‘Matron?’

Mary peered from under her headscarf.

BOOK: Changing Patterns
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