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Authors: Judith Barrow

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BOOK: Changing Patterns
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‘Nurse Allott … Vivienne, I didn’t know you lived around here?’

‘I don’t.’ The young woman shuffled back to let them take cover. ‘I came with some friends who live up the coast – Cardigan way. They’re in the shop.’ She made a vague gesture whilst looking with curiosity at Peter. ‘Hi,’ she said.

He dipped his head. ‘Hello.’ His accent sounded thicker than usual.

With a sudden stab of anger, Mary saw the sideways shift of the young woman’s eyes and the hardening of her features. ‘This is Nurse Allott, Peter, she works on one of my wards at the hospital,’ she said, adding deliberately, ‘my…’ Boyfriend sounded ridiculous. She was twenty-eight. ‘My fiancé, Peter.’ She linked arms with him. ‘He was a doctor in the hospital at the camp where I worked before.’

By the time she was next in work it would be all over the small hospital. She didn’t care except that sooner or later it would get back to the Board of Governors. She wasn’t sure how they’d take it. She laughed, a bright artificial sound. ‘I do have a life beyond the hospital. As do you, I see.’ She could hear the stilted tone in her voice but couldn’t help it.

For a moment all was still.

‘Oh. Yes, I see.’ Vivienne Allott turned and flicked a hand towards the shop as the bell above the door jingled and a couple jostled their way out. ‘Actually, we’re here to see if we can register the death of my friend’s husband. He’s been posted “missing” since ’41.’

The silence stretched between them.

‘Anyway, must go.’ The young woman shifted from foot to foot. She lifted an impatient hand at her friends as they nudged her. ‘Er – I read about your brother in the paper, Matron. It must have been awful. Did they…?’ She stopped. ‘Have they arrested anybody yet?’

‘No.’ Mary’s lips felt stiff forming the word.

‘Oh, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked.’ Vivienne Allott moved away. She didn’t acknowledge Peter.

‘That’s all right.’ But it wasn’t. Mary fumed. Talking about Tom to someone like this, someone who purposely snubbed Peter.

They watched her move away through the crowds, her head close to one of the women. Mary saw them look back at her and Peter. She gave them a false smile, furious that she was the subject of their gossip.

Peter had a strange expression on his face. A nerve pulsed at the corner of his eye that Mary hadn’t seen before.

‘I’m sorry about that stupid girl,’ she said.

‘I think we are both sorry we met her,’ he said, tracing her face with his fingers. ‘Now…’ Ruefully he looked up towards the edge of the awning where a line of water ran along the pole and streamed in shining elongated drips onto the passers-by. ‘I am afraid we will have to get wet. We must leave here and go home.’

Home without Tom. It was something she had to get used to. ‘Yes,’ she said, turning, avoiding a newsstand by the shop window. ‘Oh Peter.’ She read the headline with dismay.

‘North Korean Troops Storm across
the 38th Parallel into South Korea.’

This conflict was one she’d tried not to think about. It was a reminder of a fear that caused her sleepless nights. What happens to us, Peter, if another war brings out all the old resentments? What if I have to lose you as well as Tom? ‘It’s impossible to believe that another war has started so soon,’ she said softly.

Peter pressed her hand to his side with his arm. ‘It is not the war of the British. Truman has sent in troops. It is America’s war.’

‘Until they involve us,’ Mary said. ‘What happens then?’

Peter lifted one shoulder. ‘We can only wait to see.’

Chapter 10

‘Thanks Ted, it was good of you to ring.’ Mary scowled at Ellen who was glaring back at her from the sofa. ‘I’m sorry she’s not here at the moment. I think she must be next door at Gwyneth’s picking up the children. We had Tom’s inquest this morning.’ It chilled her just saying the words.

She listened with a hand over her other ear against the hum of voices from the wireless, making small assenting noises. ‘Yes, I’m – we’re all fine – children too, yes.’ She sighed. ‘I know, I’m sorry, I have tried.’ Finally, ‘I will ask her again to call you. Yes, I promise.’

Putting the receiver back onto the cradle of the telephone she said, ‘You’ll have to talk to him sometime, you know. I can’t keep putting him off and why should I?’

Ellen shrugged. But when she looked at Mary her make-up was washed away by tears.

‘After this morning I’d have thought you’d have understood life’s too short to play these games.’

‘Don’t, Mary.’

In the lull that followed Mary could hear the children laughing next door; a bus trundled by on the lane; the drone of a bee or wasp circled the parlour before escaping into the kitchen and out through the back door. The rain had finally stopped and weak spikes of sunlight fell across the room like slivers of glass, lighting up the horse brasses on the wall. A random thought flitted through her mind: perhaps the hot days of June were coming back.

‘We need to talk,’ she said again, taking in long slow breaths to stay calm. ‘It’s not just Ted’s mother, is it? What’s wrong between you and Ted?’ Mary waited, watching Ellen playing with one gold hoop earring, her hand shaking.

On the way home from the inquest Peter had said that she needed to take care of herself; that her sister must sort out her marriage on her own. Yet, even though those awful last moments of Tom’s life haunted her all the time, she still felt compelled to sort out Ellen’s problems. You’re a fool, she told herself.

Ellen picked up her packet of Craven ‘A’. ‘Damn!’ It was empty. She flung it into the hearth.

‘Tom kept some cigarettes in here.’ Mary walked over to the roll-top desk in the corner of the room and opened a drawer. Her brother’s broken spectacles were at the front in their case. Mary opened the lid and touched the wire frames with the tips of her fingers as though they would burn her.

‘I didn’t know he smoked.’

‘He didn’t, not often anyway.’ Mary picked up the packet of Capstan and closed the drawer with a snap. ‘Not your brand but they’ll have to do if you’re desperate.’ She tossed them over to Ellen. ‘Well?’ She hoped she didn’t sound as tired of all this as she felt.

Ellen sucked hard on the cigarette before answering. ‘Okay,’ she said, with a deep sigh and gulping a few times. ‘However much I hate her, I have to say it’s not just his bloody mother.’ Her eyes filled. ‘Ted’s having an affair. He’s messing about with the girl he took on in the shop.’

‘From next door? The couple who moved in after Mrs Jagger died?’

‘The same.’ Ellen was crying again. ‘And I’m not going back home and I don’t want him here, not until I’ve decided what to do about it.’

Chapter 11

‘Do you believe this of Ted?’ Peter made quick regular jabs at the damp soil with the hoe, clipping out small weeds. ‘Has she spoken of it again since yesterday?’

‘No.’ Perched on the low stone wall that surrounded the back garden Mary heaved a long sigh. ‘It seems far-fetched from what I know of him.’

‘You said he knows he was not Ellen’s first or even second choice?’ Peter spoke thoughtfully, careful not to say Frank Shuttleworth’s name in case it upset Mary. In case it brought too many things out into the open. ‘Do you think he is, how do you say it, playing Ellen at her own game?’

‘It’s so long ago, Peter. Why would Ted wait until now to have an affair? And anyway he worships her.’ Could Patrick have been mischief making? He had made trouble between Ted and Ellen before. But why would he?

‘And Ellen thinks it is the neighbour?’

‘Mmm, a girl called Doreen Whittaker. She moved next door after the old lady who lived there died. Her husband’s in the Territorial Army or something. So, if there is anything going on, it’s a fairly recent thing.’

‘Has Ellen the evidence? There is something she has seen?’

‘No … I don’t know. She won’t talk about it now.’

Peter leaned forward, resting his chin on his hand on top of the handle of the hoe and studied Mary. He thrust the hoe into the ground and went to sit beside her. Taking her hand in his, they sat without speaking, watching the skylarks swoop and dive above the fields beyond the garden.

The leaves of the apple trees fluttered, shooting flashes of late afternoon sunlight across their faces. The first new stems of beetroot and the long straight leaves of onions were sturdy in the ground. In the greenhouse healthy tomato plants were creeping up the staked canes. To Mary it seemed wrong that the garden still flourished without Tom, but she couldn’t say anything to Peter. She knew he thought it was what she wanted. And perhaps it was.

She could hear the gramophone through Gwyneth’s open windows:
‘… for parting is not goodbye/ We’ll be together again.’
Mary listened until the song ended.

‘Gwyneth’s in one of her melancholy moods again,’ she said.

Peter glanced at her, puzzled.

‘Frank Sinatra,’ she explained, gesturing towards next door. ‘When she feels sad she always plays his records.’

‘Ah.’ Peter bowed his head. ‘And you,
meine Geliebte
, how do you feel? You look pale.’

‘Tired,’ Mary admitted, ‘upset by the inquest, dreading the funeral, worried about Ellen.’ And aware, yet again, how he’d avoided mentioning Frank Shuttleworth.

‘Ah, yes, Ellen.’ Peter chafed his palms together, rubbing dried grains of soil from his fingers.

Mary heard the pensiveness in his voice. She guessed that Peter wanted her sister to go home and leave them to grieve on their own. But would he be that selfish?

‘I’m sorry,
Liebling
.’

Had her thoughts about him shown on her face? ‘No.’ Mary turned her face to his. ‘Hush.’ He was only thinking of her, she reminded herself. Just as not talking about Frank was his way of not upsetting her, she was sure of that.

He brushed his lips over her forehead, across her cheek until his mouth met hers.
‘Ich liebe dich,
’ he whispered.

She locked her fingers together at the back of his neck. ‘I love you too, Peter. I always will.’ Was this the right time to tell him about Tom and what he’d done? But his next words took her by surprise.

‘So? We will marry.
Ja?

It was what she’d been wanting, waiting for. She didn’t hesitate. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘oh yes, we will marry.’

It wouldn’t be easy. There would be opposition, even hatred from some. But being together was what she’d dreamed of during the war. She refused to acknowledge the apprehension that trickled down her spine.

She would wait for the right time to tell Peter that she’d realised it was Tom who’d killed Frank.

Chapter 12

THOUGHTS STOP PRAYERS WITH YOU STOP ARRIVING THURSDAY ONE O’CLOCK TRAIN STOP LOVE JEAN

Mary was tense waiting at the station, walking first one way towards the bridge that arched over the single line of tracks, and then the other, until she reached the end of the platform where old wagons were shunted together, their steel wheels rusted to the sidings. There she turned her face to the sun; the mix of warmth and the slight breeze felt good on her skin and for a few moments she relaxed.

Then the signal juddered and clanged upwards and she heard a faint high-pitched shrilling. Shielding her eyes she turned, seeing only a trail of smoke at first. And then, all at once, with a great rush of noise the black barrelled engine steamed alongside the platform, followed by three carriages and the post wagon.

She was sure Patrick wouldn’t be with Jean. Even so, Mary couldn’t help looking beyond her when she saw the familiar plump figure bustle off the first carriage and drop her suitcase onto the platform. To Mary’s relief there was no sign of her brother. She watched Jean help Jacqueline to jump from the step of the carriage and when the little girl ran towards her holding out her arms Mary lifted her and hugged her. Jean walked towards her in her usual manner, the slight waddle, worse in recent years, with feet planted outwards in what Winifred used to call her ten-to-two-feet march.

The two women hesitated as if unsure of each other, then hugged.

‘Look at you, skin and bone,’ Jean said, pursing her lips, her head to one side. ‘Doesn’t suit you.’

Mary noticed the short sleeves of her friend’s yellow dress cutting into her upper arms and the roll of flesh around her waist above the belt but said nothing. In spite of everything she was glad Jean was here. She missed her and, regardless of their split loyalties between Peter and Patrick, she realised she needed her friend now. ‘Thank you for coming.’ She had to shout above the sudden loud hiss of steam from the locomotive. She kissed the top of Jacqueline’s head. ‘Lovely to see you too, love.’ Grabbing hold of the little girl’s hand she pulled her away from the hot spray that shot out from between the coupling rods. ‘Come on, let’s find that bus.’

It took Jean until they had settled on the single-decker before she said, ‘Patrick says sorry he can’t get away. He’s too busy. One of the women who works the stall for him in Bradford is sick so he’s having to run between there and Rochfield all week.’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Mary said, doubting he’d ever think of apologising for anything. Her younger brother – her only brother now she realized with shock – was such a bigot. Jean didn’t need to make excuses for him. Mary’s resentment, that even Tom’s death wouldn’t bring him to see her, was exacerbated by knowing Patrick wouldn’t come because of Peter. And Jean knew that as well.

BOOK: Changing Patterns
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