I often catch myself wondering what would have happened if George had never started smoking. But I always tell myself not to be silly, you won't dwell on that if you know what's good for you my girl, know what's good for you my girl.
I can see him now, clear as yesterday, looming over me, out in the yard shed, too far for mother to hear me cry out, her inside the house getting my elder brother ready for his first day at school.
But we don't dwell on that now, be a good girl and we'll make it better, won't we now.
I met George at the first dance I ever went to. Mother helped me with the hem. Gingham it was, and if I hadn't sewn it all myself he would never have let me go and Mother said he couldn't have meant the hem too, Deary, but I could hear it in her voice I mustn't let him know and what would happen if I did.
At the dance, George never spoke to me, never came across to our end under the paper lanterns near the supper room, even, but I could see him sort of not looking. Not like the looks I got at home when mother couldn't see. We won't think about that, will we Deary, and when mother had bruises he didn't even try and hide the looks. George didn't seem like that, though. More like he was shy. I wished I could go up to him and stroke his face.
It got worse after that. I did try not to think about George, truly, but I couldn't get him out of my thoughts, so soft like a growing calf, that would one day ... but we don't think about that, do we Deary. He saw me thinking about George and he knew and the way he looked at me got sort of still and then I couldn't breath and it was icy cold and I couldn't run and I wanted to scream and I thought of how he pinned the butterflies into those little glass cases and mother's bruises and I knew I would die if I couldn't make it all stop, make it stop, make it stop make it stop Deary my girl.
It was like that when George said he wanted to marry me. He never said boo before. Walked me, yes, and talked about his job at the mill, poor now but a chance at prospects, and always a nice friend but oh no never anything else. I wouldn't I couldn't and he knew and I don't know how I know that and it was only that I liked him being near. Only. And now both of them. I stood there quiet as a mouse and maybe this time it will be alright but it never was, and he just looked at me looked at me and his face got very still but not like his, more like the calf was growing up and Poor Yvonne he said.
And he stepped back but he kept his hand on my sleeve and No Hurry he said but he looked like Mr Reilly next door did the day they came up to him in his garden and told him his son was killed when some props collapsed and his shift gang was all underneath, all six of them.
I looked at his eyes. I always do. You can tell when. Maybe this time it will be alright but it never was. George turned and ran up the middle of the street, kicking up the dust, never minding about his suit and Sunday shoes and I could see him put a butterfly pin through George too and I thought how I would never see George again.
I never dreamed it could get worse, but it did, after that. I would watch his eyes and try not to think how I would have got away from him, oh so nearly, but George ran off George ran off George ran off.
John contracted polio and died, three days before he would have turned twenty one, but I hardly noticed for he had left the house when he turned fifteen so nothing changed. Mother had wept for days then but not at all on his death, though you could see her light dimming further. Mother loved us both she said but I knew he was first born and a boy. She was afraid for me, I could see that, but she was afraid of him more. Afraid isn't love though. She had loved John.
He didn't love anyone. He had been angry when John left, that one had got off the pin, and mother still had the scars from that. I could see them when she washed herself. She wouldn't see mine. She could if she looked me in the eye but after it had begun she never had and never would.
George came back when he gave up. I knew why none of the other girls would have him. He was still a calf maybe always would. And now with shame in him but lonely, too, and I had to get away and I said yes and I knew with George I could keep saying no and he knew that too and this time I gave no thought whether he thought it would change or if he didn't care. No more Poor Yvonne, though.
George and mother got sick about the same time, George with a throat cancer and mother with consumption. I nursed him for three months and then my marriage was over, as soon as it had begun but it never was, really. I couldn't. I wouldn't. And George had been soft not stupid so no words or nothing never never never ever.
I nursed mother for three years and he never had to hit her, never. He couldn't he wouldn't not with her so ill and weak but I knew that wouldn't stop him and he looked at me so still and we both knew and I screamed and screamed but no sound. Mother would hear.
It's twenty years since she died and nowhere to go and do his breakfast and cut his lunch and do the dinner and do the washing and do the dusting and weed that garden and darn the clothes and do the ironing and clean his boots and always cold with the sound of those boots on the gravel but we don't think about that think about that think about that.
Yesterday he was finished up at the mill too old they said but I know not old enough and now he sits and watches me, still like ice, and no lunch to cut but him there all day and not have to wait all day for the fear of the sound of those boots on the gravel. Not so long again any more ever ever ever. I watch his eyes. I always do. You can tell when. Sooner now. No mill. Maybe this time it will be alright but it never was. And again in the night and again in the day and again and again and again. And I scream and scream and scream.
But no sound, Deary.
Mother would hear.
Copyright © 1998 Peter Leon Collins