finch or thrush was worth the eating. Later Mavis had her comeuppance, running into the yard that afternoon and shouting that PC Ferris was giving Tommy Pointon a hiding for fratânising .
âFor goodness sake,â Connie said, beginning to clear the tea things, âthat was the war. They had to eat, like everyone else.â
âAnd you expect them Eye-ties to be more civilised now, IÂ suppose? A leopard donât change its spots.â Aunty Bea folded her arms and adjusted her shoulders. âI hope youâre not setting your sights on them two boys, just because the likes of Mr Gilbert and her ladyship have granted them an audience.â She glanced at Uncle Jack again. âSome of us remembers things.â
âWhat?â Connie said. âWhat things ? I donât remember anything because you never tell me in the first place.â
Aunty Bea sniffed and went to the sink. Uncle Jack offered only a vague shake of his head before looking back down at the plate in his lap. For once his complicit silence sparked her anger even more. âSee, you wonât even let Uncle Jack speak!â SheÂ couldnât help herself. She knew sheâd pay for it later. âYou treat us both like naughty children.â
âDonât you get that tone up with me.â Aunty Bea stood to face her across the table. âCourse he speaks.â
Uncle Jack rose to his feet, his chair making a drawn-out screech along the tiles. He shook a trouser leg of crumbs, gave a preparatory cough and lowered his eyes to Connie, like he might say something. But instead he retreated, vapid as a shadow, to the front room, where all that could be heard was the ghostly rustle of his newspaper.
âSee what youâve done?â Aunty Bea gestured after him. There was something childishly lost and regretful about her now. Connie studied her tiny frame, as neat and trim as Uncle Jackâs was tall and gangling. With all her compact energy, she might still be young. Sometimes Connie had heard tinkers or gypsies at the door calling Aunty Bea miss or petal . She marvelled that they could not trace the years of disappointment gathered at her mouth, the cleft of regrets driven between her pale eyebrows. But exactly what disappointments, what regrets, Connie could never fathom.
âHappy now?â Aunty Bea said, reaching under the sink for a dustpan and brush.
âHappy with what?â Connie persisted.
Aunty Bea resurfaced, her cheeks rosy as chilblains, as if, like everything else, she had spent her life scrubbing them raw. The emotions that crossed her face were as varied and confused as an autumn sky. The clock on the mantel continued its perky tick.Â Connie reached across to her aunt and pushed back a tendril of hair that had escaped its pin. It still glowed partially red among the faded brown, like an ember in the grate. But at the touch, Aunty Beaâs hand went up to her head self-consciously. Her expression cooled and the moment disintegrated.
âYouâre the replica of your mother,â she said. âThe Lord knows we done our best for you. But itâs never enough, is it? JustÂ like her, you are. Yearning after the fancy and faraway, always hankering after something, wanting more. Well, where did it get her?â
Connie knew better than to answer, but the image of the cat, the monotony of the clock, the scrape of Uncle Jackâs chair, his retreating shadow goaded her on. âI donât know, where did it get her? How would I know when nobody ever tells me anything?â She heard the whine in her voice and put her hand onÂ her forehead to steady her thoughts.
âIt led her down a path of sin, is all you need to know,â AuntyÂ Bea said mechanically, âand the wages of sin is ââ
Connie was already out of the door and reaching for her bike, propped against the front of the house. Aunty Bea stood inÂ the doorway, the dustpan brush trembling