In Her Shadow
    He was being kind. He was giving me a logical explanation for what had happened the previous day. That was the sort of man he was. Was this how he coped with Charlotte –making excuses for her, finding ways to explain and validate her behaviour? Did he act like this out of empathy, or because pretending was easier than facing the truth?
    I dug my nails into my hands and stared out over the docks. A memory flashed through my mind. Ellen’s hand flat against a glass door, pushing it open. The smell of stocks, a bowl of mints. Ellen, pale as a ghost, hollow-eyed, with the sleeves of her cardigan pulled down over her fingers and her arms wrapped about herself, saying, ‘Let’s get out of here.’
    I shook my head to be rid of it. I didn’t want to talk about Ellen, or think about her. I wanted to forget.
    ‘Are you doing anything special this weekend?’ I asked John.
    He folded his sandwich bag. ‘Actually, no. Charlotte’s taking the girls to see her mother. They’ve got tickets for some kids’ show.’ He smiled. ‘So for once I have the house to myself and nobody will mind if I spend the whole weekend reading and listening to music.’
    ‘That sounds good.’
    John sighed. ‘To be honest, I don’t much like it when they’re all away. I’m not very good at being on my own.’
    ‘Oh, John …’
    ‘Don’t look like that! It’s not that bad. They’ll be back Sunday evening. I’ll survive. What about you?’
    ‘What are your plans for the weekend?’
    ‘Oh, I was thinking of going down to Cornwall. I haven’t seen my parents in a while and Rina said I should get away for a couple of days.’
    ‘She’s right. You deserve a break.’
    I held my head up and brushed the hair out of my face, tucking it behind my left ear. My fingers stayed there, twisting the butterfly at the back of the silver stud. Part of me wanted to ask John if he’d like to come to Cornwall with me,just as a friend, just for the company, so that I could keep an eye on him and look after him, but I couldn’t. Not then. Not when I knew, and he did not, that his perfect life was built on such fragile and unreliable foundations.

    MRS BRECHT HAD been dying for ages. It felt like for ever, but that was back then, in the past, when a day’s boundaries stretched far further than they do now and a year was a length of time so immense as to be almost incomprehensible. I had known the Brechts for more than six years by the time Mrs Brecht became critically ill. I felt as if I had known them for the whole of my life.
    In the months leading up to her death, it was sometimes difficult for me to remember that Mrs Brecht was dying because I had no idea, up to that point, that the process could take so long. In films and books it always happened very quickly, a scene between diagnosis and funeral, an instant between the finger on the trigger and the bullet through the heart. Yet from the time Ellen told me her mother was so ill she sometimes wished for an end to the pain, until her actual death, two years elapsed. Mrs Brecht’s dying was slower than the seasons changing, slower than growing up.
    And as Mrs Brecht was dying, the garden at Thornfield House was coming back to life. Fruit trees and climbing flowers had been trained against the perimeter wall. A fountain trickled water prettily into the pond during thesummer months; there were steps and paths winding amongst the flowerbeds and leading to different parts of the garden: areas for herbs and vegetables, a scented garden, a secret garden and one where all the flowers were yellow. It was full of life, all the time, all year round; in summer butterflies and bees busied themselves around the blooms and blossoms, in winter birds flocked to the feeders. As one group of flowers faded away, another came forward, so the garden changed slightly every day, but each day it seemed to become more beautiful. When Ellen and I returned from work, or from

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