All day she’d been waiting. A gust of wind, lifting the bedroom curtain so that it cracked and billowed like a sail, had shaken her from a troubled sleep just after dawn. The corner of the curtain caught a photograph standing on the rosewood chest and tumbled it to the floor. She struggled up, the ragged fragments of her dream still wheeling in her head like a cloud of bats, and pushed back the quilt murmuring, ‘Oh, no. Oh, no,’ as if some terrible calamity had taken place. The glass was smashed: one shard remaining, long and jagged and curving upward, which seemed to cut the photograph in two, separating the four figures. Holding it in her hand she stared down at it, frowning in the half-light from the window. She and Edward smiled out with all the strong confidence of youth whilst the two other boys appeared dimmer by comparison, still imprisoned beneath the glass.
On reflection, this image was appropriate. She and Edward, the younger daughter and the eldest of the boys, had formed a natural alliance based on their mutual love of poetry and music that had set them a little apart from the two middle boys who were athletic, strong and vigorous, and from the oldest of all the siblings; the gentle, domestic, sweet-tempered Patricia. How proud their mother had been of her sons; how disregarding of her two daughters.
Hester tilted the frame, looking for herself in the old, faded photograph. Is that how she’d been in that last summer before the war: chin tilted, with an almost heart-breaking look of fearless expectation? Edward, much taller – cheerful and careless in an open-necked shirt – had his hand on her shoulder. Their cousin and Edward’s contemporary, Blaise, must have been behind the camera.
Abruptly she laid the photograph face downwards on the chest. The breaking of the glass had caused some kind of parallel rupture in her memory, cracking open the concealing layers of forgetfulness. She was seized by a sudden, formless panic – as if the break presaged bad luck. That was connected with mirrors, not ordinary glass, she told herself firmly. Yet tremulous anticipation, speeding her heartbeat and sharpening her hearing, pulsed into her fingertips and made her clumsy as she collected together the sharp fragments.
Downstairs, wrapped in her warm, faded shawl, she placed the larger pieces of glass on the draining board and bent down to take the dustpan and brush from the cupboard under the sink. Watched by an enormous, long-haired tortoiseshell cat, disturbed from his slumbers by the Aga, she put the kettle to boil on the hotplate, found a torch and went upstairs again to sweep up the remaining pieces of glass. The torch’s beam picked out tiny shining specks scattered across the polished boards and the silky faded rug as, painstakingly on her knees, she swepted up each one.