yet she could not put her finger on it, what was wrong, what was lacking. So there must be something wrong with her. She, Mary, was at fault. But why? What was it? So she puzzled, sometimes so unhappy she felt she could run away out of the situation for good.
When Mary found the bundle of letters, forgotten in an old bit of luggage, she had at first thought they were all from Lil to Tom, conventional, of the kind you’d expect from an old friend or even a second mother. They began, Dear Tom and ended Love, Lil, with sometimes a cross or two for a kiss. And then there was the other letter, from Tom to Lil, that had not been posted. ‘Why shouldn’t I write to you, Lil, why not, I have to, I think of you all the time, oh my God, Lil, I love you so much, I dream of you, I can’t bear being apart from you, I love you I love you …’ and so on, pages of it. So, she read Lil’s letters again, and saw them differently. And then she understood everything. And when she stood on the path with Hannah, below Baxter’s Gardens, and heard Roz’s laughter, she knew it was mocking laughter. It mocked her, Mary, and she understood everything at last. It was all clear to her.
Cold dark was already drizzling into the playground; the voices of two groups of children told people arriving at the great gate where they must direct their gaze: it was already hard to make out who was who. By some sort of sympathy, children in the bigger group were able to distinguish their own among the arrivals, and by ones or twos they darted off to be collected and taken home. There were two children by themselves in the centre of the space, which was surrounded by tall walls topped by broken glass. They were noisy. A little boy was kicking out or pummelling the air and shouting, ‘lie forgot, I told her he’d forget,’ while a girl tried to console and soothe. He was a large child, she thin, with spiky pigtails sticking out, the pink ribbons on them dank and limp. She was older than him, but not bigger. Yet it was with the assurance of her two extra years that she admonished, ‘Now Thomas, don’t do that, don’t bawl, they’ll be here.’ But he wouldn’t be quietened. ‘Let me go, let me go - I won’t, he’s forgotten,’ Several people arrived at the same time at the gate, one a tall fair boy of about twelve, who stood peering through the gloom. He spied his charge, his brother Thomas, while others were already reaching out hands and stepping forward. It was a little scene of tumult and confusion. The tall boy, Edward, grabbed Thomas by the hand and stood while the little boy kept up his thrashing about and complaint. ‘You forgot me; yes, you did,’ and watched while the other children disappeared out into the street. He turned and went off out of sight with Thomas.
It was cold. Victoria’s clothes were not enough. She was shivering now that she did not have the recalcitrant child to keep her active. She stood with her arms wrapped about her, quietly crying. The school caretaker emerged from the dark, pulled the gates together, and locked them. He had not seen her either. She wore dark brown trousers and a black jacket and was a darker spot in the swirling gloom of the playground: the wind was getting up.
The awfulness of that day, which had begun with her aunt being rushed off to hospital, and had culminated in her being abandoned, now sank her to her knees, and she rocked there, eyes blank with tears until fears of being alone opened them again, and she stared at the big black locked gates. The bars were set wide. Carefully, as if engaged in some nefarious activity, she went to the gate to see if she could wriggle between the bars. She was thin, and told often enough there wasn’t enough flesh on her to feed a cat. That had been her mother’s verdict, and the thought of her dead mother made Victoria weep, and then wail. She had a few minutes ago been playing big girl to Thomas’s baby boy, but now she felt she was a baby herself,