Thursday 31st August
Jane had come back from school to find the house deserted, not unusual at all, so she had no idea what had happened. Her mother had been frantically trying to come up with a story which Ted and she could fall back on, but it all seemed hopeless in the face of their being so obviously discovered, and even if Harriet said nothing, it would never be the same again. She and Ted had driven around all afternoon in Ted’s old Triumph, and had decided that there was no alternative but to face the music. No-one was quite sure how the music would get started, that was all. Ted had dropped Jane’s mother off a couple of streets from their house and had driven frightened and almost in a daze back to his own house. June was home by then, and she had started to prepare the dinner. Jane was up in her room; she had heard her come in but hadn’t been down to say hello or anything. She slowly became aware of voices coming from downstairs, hushed voices, almost not there but occasionally rising to more than a murmur, and then she came to the top of the stairs, and her heart leapt – it was Harriet. Jane tumbled downstairs as quick as she could and burst into the kitchen, full of the excitement of seeing Harriet again, and such a surprise, they weren’t expecting her for a couple of weeks.
As Jane pushed the kitchen door open she knew straightaway there was something wrong. Harriet was sitting at the table, hunched up and hiding behind her hair, as if it could somehow protect her from the approaching storm. Their mother had her back to Jane, but it was tense and her hands, despite her trying to cut some vegetables up, were visibly shaking. Jane’s immediate thought was that somehow Harriet’s drug problem had been discovered and she had been sent down in disgrace; why else would she just turn up in the middle of the week.
“Hello little sister, come in and join the party.” she said. “Pity you weren’t here earlier. Pity you missed the show, you might have been amused, but then again you might have been as horrified as I was.”
“What are you talking about? Why are you home today, Harriet? Are you some in some sort of trouble?” Jane replied.
“Oh no, I’m not the one in trouble, am I mother?” She muttered almost distractedly behind her curtain of hair.
“Oh stop it Harriet. Stop it now, this is between your father and I, Jane can be left out of all this, for pity’s sake.” Their mother snapped back at her.
“I don’t understand, what are you all talking about?” It was like some play she had wandered into and missed the first few lines.
“Mother dear, aren’t you going to enlighten our dear Jane, or do I have to do everything around here?” Harriet was still holding a heft of hair across her face, as if to hide her emotions as well.
“Stop it now Harriet. Please.” The knife clattered to the ground and she was crying now, the first time I had ever seen my mother crying and I had no idea why. No-one picked the knife up, Jane can still remember seeing it glinting in the sunlight from the window and wondering if she should run over and pick it up. It was so tense, she could feel the air like a solid brick between them all, and all the time Jane was thinking should she just run over and pick the knife up. She was just about to push herself forward and retrieve it; she simply couldn’t leave it there. Her mother had her face in her pinny, and Jane could hear her muffled sobs. Suddenly Harriet broke the tension.
“Come on Jane, let’s get out of this shithouse; let’s go out.” And she looked up at me for the first time, but strangely it failed to reassure me at all. “Do you fancy the Mikado? Too early for drinking yet, hey, little sister?” And she attempted a half-hearted smile from behind her long bangs of hair.
“Alright,” Jane said apprehensively, if there was one thing she knew about Harriet, she had to be the star of the show, and she would tell her in her own way.
* * *
June had insisted that Ted and she should both tell their partner’s, and that, if at all possible, Ted should bring her sister to their house later that evening, and they would try to sort out where they went from there. But in all honesty whatever decision they came to would make little difference to her. In a way Ted was right; she did want everything to come crashing down. It was all over as far as she was concerned the moment Harriet pushed open that bedroom door. They were simply going through the motions now, and painful as it might be she only had herself to blame.
She hated herself and the mess she was in; she hated the fact that she had carried on seeing Ted, when she had had chance after chance to end it, and no-one would have been any the wiser. She hated the fact that she had dragged Phil into all of this, he didn’t deserve it. How would he survive if it got out, how could he ever hold his head up in the town again?
And she hated Harriet mostly, what on earth was the girl doing back home when she should have been studying in Leeds. There was something insidious about her, something June couldn’t control; from such an early age she had been quietly deceiving her, acting as if she were her equal. June may have been a useless mother in some ways but she was still her child, and she should have shown her more respect. Whatever else June may have been guilty of, she didn’t deserve her open contempt.
In a way too, if Phil wanted a divorce, if it meant the end of her marriage, then so be it – that would be okay. She knew that Ted and she were over as well, he had no intention of leaving Julie for her sister, and who could blame him. In a way if it all ended today she would be happy heading out of there with just a suitcase and never looking back. It really didn’t matter now; the rest of her life was just a chore to be got through. Let others decide, she wouldn’t fight, she wouldn’t scream, ‘Just tell me what you have decided and I’ll go along with it.’
* * *
And so the girls went to the Mikado, and Harriet was even more distracted than usual, she wouldn’t even look Jane in the face. She kept looking sideways, as if someone were watching her and then laughing, and then choking back her tears. Jane knew that this was something really big, but just how big she really had no idea. She kept asking her what their mother had meant by it being between their father and her, to which she just shrugged her shoulders or came out with some obscure comment like it was actually between the four of them, or that it affected us all, not just those two. And all the while Jane didn’t actually know what it all was about. She had guessed it was something to do with sex, but how had Harriet got herself involved, and her immediate thoughts were along the lines that it was their father who was the guilty one, that somehow he had been having an affair, maybe with one of the office girls. But that didn’t make any sense with what Harriet had been taunting their mother with. Slowly it dawned on Jane, (always the slow one) that it was her mother, not her father, who was in trouble. Her father of course was in a whole heap of trouble, but quite a different sort of trouble, as they would shortly find out.
She had had enough of Harriet’s maybe involuntary little game, and she shook her shoulders and half shouted at her.
“It’s our mother, isn’t it? Tell me now Harriet, just what has been going on.”
She looked straight at Jane, wide-eyed and staring and said. “Oh Jane, our mother has been screwing Uncle Ted. That’s what this is all about.”
“Uncle Ted? But she can’t have been. That’s not true. He is married to Aunt Julie, not to our mother. I don’t believe you Harriet. I don’t believe you.”