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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Out-takes XIII

Always there is the same question, Robert. Why did my mother leave? Who was this woman who left us three sisters to our fate? She is difficult to know. As difficult as you. I’ve gathered some stories about her life, and if I put them together in sequence you’ll have a kind of skeleton. She was called Edith, and she was born into a teeming extended family above the village of Mousehole in Cornwall.

She and her brother Jack were the only Taylors in the old mill above the village. Edith never met her own father. He was a six foot five miner, and her mother had abandoned him in favour of Capt’n Cornish before Edith was born. Edith’s mother was called Cornish, as was Edith’s sister, Mary, and her little brother, Willy. Her Grandmother Lucy was called Minter, and she was funny, but nice and fat and round, and her great Grandmother Agnes was distant and full of strange stories that Edith could not understand.

The household simply was as it was. It had always been like that. It was stable. Outside, down in Mousehole, and up above in Paul, there were other households. But they were different somehow, unsafe.

Edith had a personal and definite scale of preferences within the family hierarchy. The person she spent the most time with and was closest to, was her sister, Mary. Edith and Mary formed a separate group within the family, and had secrets that no one else knew about. Second came little Willy because he was the baby and needed looking after, and was liable to get lost. Third was her brother, Jack, because he was her brother and had the same name as her, and because he was often sick, and thin, and pale, and he needed to have a friend.

Of the adults the closest one was Capt’n Cornish because he was good fun. Sometimes Edith thought she loved Capt’n Cornish more than Mary or any of the other children. He shouted her name when he came up the hill after a fishing trip, and she ran to meet him, getting faster and faster down the track until she flew into his arms, and he swept her up like a bird with huge wings and rubbed his beard into her face and neck until she squirmed loose. It was Capt’n Cornish who came to sit with her at bedtime, and who stroked her head on the pillow and told her stories about Africa, and when she was really tired, he got everyone to be quiet, even the baby.

The worst time of year for the children was winter, for then it was cold, and there were storms, and they had to spend their time in the house or in the barn with the cow. Edith liked it better in the barn with the cow, and she and Mary built their own house in the barn out of old crates, and they kept their dolls in there and refused to let the boys in. Jack and Willy built a house in the barn as well, at the other end, but it was not as good as Edith and Mary’s, and kept falling down, sometimes when they were inside it. Jack said that was because Willy was so clumsy, but Willy said it wasn’t built properly, and he cried to come into Edith and Mary’s house instead, and Mary would have let him but Edith said No.

The summer was different. Then there were lots of things to do. Edith’s favourite thing to do was swimming off the cave near Spaniard’s Point, though the water was deep and all the children were warned not to swim there. Instead they were supposed to swim in the cove to the north of the village, which had a shingly beach, but that usually led to fights with the village children who thought they owned it.

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