“Yes Ma”, the children said in unison. Obediently Emma vanished behind the door by the side of the range that led down to the scullery and William made his way back up the narrow stairs.

As the hands of the clock shuddered reluctantly to 7.30 the children each kissed their mother on the cheek and bid her farewell.

“Ma was crying this morning”, Emma said thoughtfully as they emerged from the echoing alley down which their father had walked the previous night.

“I know”, William said solemnly, biting his lip.

“I thought it was ‘cos my dress is worn”, Emma continued, lifting up the hem of her dress. “But I’m not so sure now…I’ve never seen her cry ‘cos of it before”.

William quickened his pace as they passed the row of identical doorways that stretched the length of side street eventually turning into another much the same. Emma glanced up at him angrily as she struggled to keep pace.

“Come on slowcoach”, William said equally angrily swinging round when he realised his sister was falling behind.

“You’re going too fast…and besides were not late. Ma never sends us out late in the morning”, Emma said stubbornly, stopping to glare back confused by her brothers sudden change of mood.

“Just come on”, he said, turning on his heel and marching off.

Emma trotted after him. “Why are you in such a mood”, she said breathlessly as she reached his shoulder.

“’Cos.”

“’Cos why?” Emma persisted.

William stopped suddenly and turned on his sister whose cropped brown hair barely reached his chest. “’Cos of our Father”.

“Pa”, Emma echoed, taking a step backwards. “What’s Pa done”.

William stood for a moment, gazing into two grey eyes that he knew were too young to understand. “Ma was crying over Father not your dress”, he said finally. “Now you know. So come on or we really will be late and get the cane”.

As they turned into London Road whose pavements bustled with the early morning rush to work and school, neither spoke. Emma paused at the sweetshop window to gaze longily at the brightly coloured wrappings and sugary confections as she did every morning, but this morning her brother was too preoccupied to even notice that she had stopped. Instead of joining her, he marched back and took hold of her hand sharply and dragged her away. Emma remained puzzled and confused, even as they turned through the enormous brick gateposts that guarded the entrance to the Sharrow Vale School. Glancing at Williams’ hard edged expression underlined by the thin line of his mouth, her heart sank.

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Featured Image attribution

By Daniel Bagshaw (Dan1980) – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3349731

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