It was the middle of the night before Rhys arrived at his old flat, but Ellen had left a light on for him. Although she had gone to bed, she had not been able to sleep, and she came down the stairs in her nightie as he unlocked the front door. “Ellen!” He opened his arms to her.
For the first time in years, she ran to them and let him hold her. She was soft and plump and warm, and he was reminded of when she had been two or three before she had become so self-possessed and solemn. No sooner had he thought how nice it was to hold her than she pulled back and started pulling at her nightgown self-consciously, as if there was something to be ashamed of. She straightened her shoulders and announced, “I’ve got everything packed, Dad.” She pointed to five suitcases and a big wicker basket. “I’ve packed the basket with sheets and blankets and towels and all the food that won’t go off.”
“Good girl, Ellen,” he praised her, longing to touch her again. Last night with Marie had re-awakened his natural inclination to express himself physically. Ellen was screaming for sympathy and reassurance, and he wanted to give it to her, but she had moved back from him already, distancing herself from him.
“How about we have a cuppa before we try to get some sleep? I told the police I'd be at the station tomorrow morning.”
“Of course, Dad.” She moved ahead of him towards the kitchen and switched on the light as she went in. While she lit the gas and put the kettle on, he took a couple of cups and saucers from the cupboard. He couldn’t help but notice how run-down, cheap and – well – ordinary this flat looked compared to the cottage. “You’ll like the cottage I’ve found, El. It's got a big, sunny kitchen with lots of counter and cupboard space.”
“Since when did you notice things like that, Dad? Or is that what the estate agent said?”
That hurt Rhys a little, but it had been Marie who had noticed those things and pointed them out to him. To his daughter he just said, “I thought they were important to you. It is also close to the shops. I’ve found out about a vocational school for you as well, a place that trains girls in bookkeeping, typing, even shorthand and stenography, and how to work telephone switchboards and the like.”
“How can I possibly do a course?!” She flung back at him in a tight voice without even turning around. “You see what’s happened even with me at home all day! Owain needs someone!”
“But that’s the point, El! You can’t be responsible for your brother. That’s my job. You’ve got to get some training so you can get a good job, get on with your own life.”
He noticed that her shoulders were shaking and realised that she must be crying. He went over and took her into his arms again. She dropped her face in shame. “I’m sorry, Dad. I’m so sorry.”
“Hush, El. You’ve got nothing to be sorry for. You did your best. It’s my fault it came to this—"
“NO! No, it’s not!” She drew back from him shouting. Her face was bright red, and the tears glistened all down her cheeks and dripped from her chin. “It’s Mum’s fault! She had no right just to leave us like she did! She had no right to die! It wasn’t fair!”
Rhys was flabbergasted. He’d never heard anything so ridiculous. How could anyone be blamed for dying? “Now, Ellen, that’s not sensible. Your mother didn’t want to die—”
“Yes, she did! She wanted to punish us all for not being good enough for her!”
Rhys could only conclude that his daughter was overwrought. The strain had been too much for her. He pulled her back into his arms and held her tightly even as she made feeble attempts to break free. “Ellen, no one could ever think you weren’t good enough. You’re the best daughter a man could hope for, and you’ve done more than most girls would for your brother. And look how you tended your mother when she was ill and how you ran the house all by yourself.”
“I was never good enough for Mum,” she sobbed into his tunic. “I couldn’t cook good enough for her, or clean right or even iron proper according to her. She said I’d never be good enough for a man of my own!”
“Ellen!” He’d never known, never even imagined such a thing. But Ellen was at last letting him comfort her, so he just stood there letting her sob until she seemed to get hold of herself. Then he gave her his handkerchief.
She blew her nose into it and then remarked a little reproachfully, “it smells of oil and fuel.”
Rhys laughed and then kissed his daughter on the nose. “Things are going to be different in Bosham,” he promised her, but he didn’t dare tell her about Marie yet.
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