Read Mother’s Ruin Online

Authors: Kitty Neale

Tags: #Fiction, #Sagas

Mother’s Ruin


Mother’s Ruin

In memory of my brother, Donald Underwood.

‘Sometimes life is like climbing a hill, but when you get to the top the view is wonderful.’






Many place and street names mentioned in the book are real. However, others and some of the topography, along with all of the characters, are just figments of my imagination.

Battersea, London, 1961

Sally tossed in agony as waves of pain ripped through her. She screamed again and as time passed it felt as though she’d been screaming for hours. The midwife had arrived, but Sally was hardly aware of her voice. The pain was unrelenting, blotting out all other thought. ‘Please! Make it stop!’

‘Can’t you do something?’ Ruth, Sally’s mother appealed.

There was a hissed reply, something about an ambulance, but the room was growing dim. ‘Mum, Mum,’ Sally whimpered.

‘It’s all right, love. Hold on. Just hold on.’

Pain shot through Sally again, pain that was tearing her body apart. She was dimly aware of other sounds now: a door banging, someone shouting excitedly, and then a voice she had never expected to hear again. No! It couldn’t be! Sally knew then that she was hallucinating. She closed her eyes, heartbreak adding to her agony, but then that voice again, this time close to her ear.

‘Sally, Sally, I’m here, darling.’

She opened her eyes. She could see him! ‘Arthur?’

‘Yes, Sally,’ his mother, Elsie, cried. ‘My boy has come home.’

Sally couldn’t believe that Arthur was really here. He had emigrated to Australia with no idea that he’d left her pregnant, yet he was here just as she was giving birth to their baby. She reached out to touch him, but her hand just flopped back down onto the bed. She felt odd, strange, as though she was drifting away, and there was a ringing in her ears that almost blotted out the sound of her mother’s voice.

‘She’s haemorrhaging! Do something! Stop the bleeding! For God’s sake, stop the bleeding!’

‘I’m trying! Get me some clean towels – lots of them.’

Arthur’s voice sounded urgent, but distant. ‘Sally, don’t leave me! Please, don’t leave me.’

There was a slithering, rushing sensation as the baby left her womb, but by then Sally was hardly conscious of anything going on around her. She felt cushioned, as though floating, the pain gone as a familiar golden light appeared just ahead of her. She drifted towards it, arms outstretched. Her friend had come, the one who always came to comfort her. ‘Angel. My Angel,’ she whispered.

Then there was nothing. Just darkness until . . .

‘Oh, thank goodness. She’s come round,’ a voice said.

As the midwife’s words penetrated Sally’s foggy mind, she was also aware that she could hear her mother sobbing.

‘Is she gonna be all right?’

‘Yes, I think so, but she still needs to go to hospital.’

For a moment Sally was bewildered. She had vague memories of floating through a tunnel, surrounded by a golden glow and a light in the distance that seemed to draw her towards it. She struggled to remember, but then a hand gripped hers and she turned her head to see Arthur sitting beside her. ‘You’re here,’ she gasped. ‘You’re really here.’

‘Yes, and I promise I’ll never, ever, leave you again. Look, Sally, here’s our daughter.’

She saw the bundle nested in his arms, a wisp of red hair visible. ‘Oh, please, let me hold her.’

Arthur placed their daughter into Sally’s arms, saying softly, ‘She’s beautiful, just like you.’

Sally felt a surge of joy, but exhausted she only managed a weak smile. She looked down at her daughter, her heart immediately swelling with love.

‘You’ve given her a beautiful name.’

She raised her eyes to look at Arthur, puzzled. ‘Name? What name?’

‘Angela. You called out that name and stretched out your arms to hold her just before you fainted.’

Sally smiled softly as her daughter nuzzled into her breast. ‘Angela,’ she whispered. ‘My angel.’

Battersea, South London, 1966

Sally Jones sat on the edge of the bath, gently splashing water over her four-year-old daughter. Angela’s bright red hair curled in tendrils over her shoulders as she giggled, grey eyes, so like her father’s, bright with merriment.

Suddenly the child’s expression changed and she became strangely still. ‘Mummy, we didn’t bath like this before.’

‘Didn’t we, darling? What was different?’

‘We used to sit in a tin bath in front of the fire.’

Sally was surprised to hear her daughter talking about the ‘before time’ again. At two years old when Angela had started to speak it had been a common occurrence that gained in momentum the more words she picked up. On one occasion Angela had insisted that washing was done in a big tub with a poss-stick before being put through a mangle. She had described ironing too, insisting that the iron was put onto the fire to make it hot. It was almost as if her daughter had lived before and was remembering a previous life, but was that possible?

Gradually it had petered out and when questioned Angela had no memory of the things she’d said, yet now she was talking about the ‘before time’ again.

‘How do you know about tin baths?’

Angela shrugged. ‘I dunno, I just do. Don’t wash my hair, Mummy. It stings my eyes.’

Used to this nightly battle, Sally folded the flannel into a strip. ‘Hold this over your eyes to keep the soap out.’

‘No, Mummy!’

‘Come on, I’ll be as quick as I can,’ Sally cajoled as she poured water gently over her daughter’s head. She braced herself for the ensuing screams of protest, but for once Angela was surprisingly pliable.

Sally massaged soap into Angela’s hair, wondering yet again if her daughter had inherited her spiritual gifts, but other than talking about the ‘before time’ there had been no other signs. Perhaps it was too early to tell, Sally thought, as she rinsed away the shampoo and quickly wrapped a towel around her daughter’s head. ‘There, all done.’

‘Can I get out now, Mummy?’

‘Yes, darling,’ Sally agreed, hoping that soon she’d have Angela settled in bed.

It was over an hour later and Sally was sighing with relief. Angela was finally in bed, but would struggle to stay awake until her daddy came home. Sally was excited, anticipating Arthur’s arrival too. He worked for his father who had his own removals company, but when moving people long distances the hours could be erratic.

Now, almost ready for his homecoming, Sally checked her appearance in the mirror. Her own red hair, a slightly darker shade than her daughter’s, hung to her shoulders as her husband liked it. The black dress that she only wore on special occasions clung to her hips, but as she twisted this way and that, Sally frowned. She looked pale, but her skin, common to redheads, refused to tan. A touch of make-up would help so she applied a little rouge to her cheeks, mascara to her lashes, which emphasised her green eyes, and then applied coral lipstick.

That would have to do, Sally decided as she went into the kitchen. Surely Arthur wouldn’t be home late tonight? No, of course he wouldn’t, he’d promised, so she opened a bottle of Chianti and took it to the living room. The specially laid table looked nice, and taking two glasses she poured the wine, ears pricked for the sound of her husband’s key in the door.

Only moments later she heard the street door open, footsteps on the stairs and with a flurry Angela ran out of her bedroom. ‘Daddy!’

‘Hello, sweetheart,’ Arthur said as he swept her up into his arms.

‘Did you like my present?’

‘Yes, it’s a lovely painting, and I seem to remember telling you that this morning.’

Sally watched the scene, feeling a frisson of pleasure as she always did when she saw her husband. Theirs was a happy marriage, and only the fact that there hadn’t been more children caused a ripple in her contentment.

As Angela yawned, Arthur said, ‘Let’s get you back to bed.’ Sally kissed her daughter on the cheek, then went back to the living-cum-dining room. The flowers on the table were tweaked, the vase moved a fraction, and then Sally wandered to the window, looking down at the busy street below. Their flat was above a small shop on Wandsworth Road, and, though facing the factories, they had fallen in love with the spacious rooms.

At last Sally heard Angela’s bedroom door closing and in readiness she picked up a glass, holding it up in a toast as Arthur appeared. ‘Happy birthday, darling.’

His huge, gentle, bear-like bulk seemed to fill the doorway as he walked in. ‘Thanks. Now come here, you.’

Sally put the glass down and flew into his arms, their kiss passionate. For a moment she melted against him, saying softly, ‘I’ve made your favourite dinner.’

‘Sod the dinner,’ he growled sexily. ‘You look and smell gorgeous and I’ve got other things on my mind.’

‘Later,’ she teased as she ran from the room with Arthur chasing after her. ‘Shush, don’t wake Angela,’ she warned over her shoulder.

His head lifting, Arthur sniffed the air as they reached the kitchen. ‘Do I smell stuffed hearts? Mmm, in that case I can wait.’

‘It’ll be ready by the time you’ve washed and changed.’

‘And after dinner I’ll be ready for you,’ he said with a lewd wink as he left the room.

Sally was happy, pleased that they’d have the whole evening to themselves. Though their daughter’s given name was Angela, with her wide, innocent smile she soon became Angel to most of the family. But by the time she was eighteen months old, it became apparent that this was no celestial being. Spoiled by her grandparents, and her father, Angela became adept at getting her own way.
You spoil her too
, a small voice whispered at the back of Sally’s mind and she had to admit it was true. Yes, she spoiled Angela, but after her own rotten childhood Sally was determined that her daughter would know nothing but love.

With the dinner dished up, Sally carried the plates through to the dining room and had just placed them on the table when Arthur entered the room. She walked into his arms, her nostrils filling with the familiar smell of Brut aftershave. ‘Come on, eat your dinner before it gets cold.’

‘I’d rather eat you, but later,’ he said huskily, then took a seat at the table.

Sally shivered at the look in his eyes, yet it was a shiver of pleasure. Her passion matched his, a passion that hadn’t abated in over four years of marriage. She smiled now as a drop of gravy spilled onto his chin. He was so handsome and she was tempted to go over to him to lick it off.

‘Now then, stop looking at me like that,’ he said, chuckling, reading her well.

She laughed and for a while they ate in silence, until Sally finished her dinner and went over to the sideboard. She picked up Arthur’s present, hopeful that he’d like it as she placed it in front of him. ‘Happy birthday.’

Arthur quickly opened the box, his eyes brightening with pleasure when he saw the watch. ‘It’s great, Sally.’

‘Do you really like it?’ she asked, taking a seat again.

‘Yes, I love it,’ he said, ‘and you.’

‘I love you too,’ Sally said, recalling the past, ‘but didn’t realise it until you met that girl and decided to emigrate to Australia with her.’

‘You hid it well and seemed happy to see me go.’

‘I didn’t know then that I was having your baby. Do you ever regret coming back to England?’

‘Sally, it’s been over four years now yet you ask me the same question over and over again. I always give you the same answer too. Of course I don’t regret it.’

‘You left it a bit late. I was giving birth to Angela the day you arrived.’

‘Yes, I know, but I married you as soon as I could, with a special licence three weeks after Angela’s birth.’

‘I still worry about her. When she grows up she’ll find out she was born before our marriage. She’ll carry the stigma.’

‘Darling, this is the nineteen sixties and attitudes are changing. By the time Angel’s an adult I don’t suppose it will matter at all.’

‘I doubt that. Having a baby before marriage will always be frowned upon.’

Arthur came to Sally’s side and lifted her from the chair with ease. ‘Stop worrying, woman, and enough reminiscing. It’s my birthday and I think I’ve waited long enough.’

Sally snuggled against him, hoping as she always did that this time she’d be able to conceive another baby. They’d been trying for so long, and though the doctor had assured her there was nothing wrong, so far it hadn’t happened. She snaked her arms around Arthur’s neck, felt his rippling muscles as he carried her to their bedroom and lowered her onto the bed.

Soon their clothes were discarded and they were a tangle of limbs, slick with perspiration as their passion mounted. Sally arched her back as Arthur entered her and she groaned in ecstasy.

As always Arthur gradually aroused her to fever pitch and Sally was writhing beneath him, almost at the pinnacle, almost at the point of release when he exploded inside her, her own climax following moments later and coinciding with the shrill sound of the telephone.

‘Leave it, Sally, let it ring,’ Arthur gasped as he collapsed on top of her.

Even as he spoke, Sally knew she had to answer it, her body covered in goose-bumps as she sensed without a shadow of doubt that something awful had happened. ‘I’ve got to,’ she cried, scrambling naked from the bed and running to the hall.

‘Sally!’ her mother shrieked down the line. ‘Come quick! It’s your gran. I think she’s had a stroke.’

Arthur had been marvellous. While Sally had stood frozen, clutching the receiver, he had come to her side, gently unravelled her fingers and taken over.

The next thing Sally knew she was dressed, getting into a taxi that Arthur had ordered and was now sitting beside her mother on a hard bench at the hospital, both still in shock as they waited for news.

‘I wish they’d get a move on, Sal,’ Ruth said, wringing her hands.

‘Me too, Mum,’ Sally agreed and thinking of her mother’s sister, she added, ‘Did you ring Aunt Mary?’

‘Yes, she’s on her way.’

A young man in a white coat walked up to them. ‘Are you relatives of Mrs Sadie Greenbrook?’

‘Yes, I’m Ruth Marchant, her daughter, and this is her granddaughter,’ Ruth told him indicating Sally. ‘How is my mother?’

‘The stroke has caused some immobility and I’m afraid her speech is impaired.’

‘Oh, Mum,’ Ruth wailed.

‘I’ve made arrangements for her to be admitted, but in the meantime you can see her now.’

Sally went with her mother to a small side room and after just one look at her grandmother’s gaunt face on the pillow, tears filled her eyes. It made it impossible for Sally to focus on her grandmother’s aura, her gift useless now; a gift she’d had since childhood, but one that had remained undeveloped until Arthur’s mother, Elsie, had taken her under her wing.

Elsie had psychic abilities and had taught Sally how to understand the auras she’d always seen, but hadn’t understood. Elsie had helped her to develop as a healer too and she had been able to ease her gran’s arthritis, but now as she grasped the old lady’s hand, Sally felt helpless, a stroke beyond her healing abilities.

There was an unintelligible sound, Sadie agitated as she tried to speak. ‘Wha whaas . . .’

‘I can’t understand you, Mum. Say it again,’ Ruth urged, hovering anxiously at her side.

She made another attempt, trying to formulate words to no avail, her eyes frantic with distress.

A nurse poked her head into the room. ‘Doctor Ralston, there’s a lady here asking to see Mrs Greenbrook.’

‘That’ll be my sister.’

‘Very well, she can come in,’ he said, ‘but only for a few minutes. Your mother needs rest and she will shortly be moved to a ward.’

Mary was ushered in, and though she must have dressed in haste, she looked immaculate, as always. However, seeing Sadie, her usual formal manner collapsed. ‘Oh, Mother . . .’

‘Wha, whass . . .’

‘She’s trying to say something but I can’t understand her. Can you?’ Ruth asked her sister.

Mary shook her head, then raised her voice. ‘Mother, what do you want? Is there something I can get you?’

‘There’s no need to shout,’ Ruth admonished. ‘The doctor didn’t say that Mum’s lost her hearing.’

Sally could see the distress in her grandmother’s eyes and could sense her frustration. Though short and tubby, her gran was usually strong and wise, a tower of strength, but now, lying against the white pillows she looked grey, shrunken, a shadow of her former self.

‘Sha . . . Sha . . .’

‘I think she’s trying to say your name, Sally.’

Sally sat carefully on the side of the bed. ‘I’m here, Gran.’

Slowly, Sadie raised her good arm and touched Sally’s cheek to wipe her tears away. ‘Noo c cr . . .’

An involuntary sob escaped Sally’s lips. Was her gran telling her not to cry? She felt so selfish. It was her gran who needed comfort. ‘Don’t worry, you’ll be all right and talking again soon,’ she said softly, hoping that her words would help.

‘I’m afraid you’ll have to leave now,’ the nurse said as she returned to the room. ‘Mrs Greenbrook is being taken up to a ward.’

Sally kissed her gran’s papery cheek, Ruth then doing the same before saying, ‘We’ve got to go now, Mum, but we’ll be back tomorrow.’

Next it was Mary’s turn. ‘I’ll see you in the morning, Mother.’ Sally could hardly bear to leave her gran, but her aunt took charge, putting an arm around her as they left the hospital. ‘Don’t cry, Sally. My mother is a strong woman and I’m sure she’ll be fine. Now come on, get into my car and I’ll run you both home.’

There wasn’t a lot said as they drove back to Battersea, each with their own thoughts, Sally’s a continuing silent prayer.
Please, God, please don’t let my gran die.

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