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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Everything Will Be All Right

A Novel

Tessa Hadley

Picador

MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK

One
After the end of the war, when she turned eleven, Joyce Stevenson won a scholarship to Gateshead Grammar; she was one of the top forty children in her year. Two years later, when they moved south to live with her Aunt Vera, her Uncle Dick arranged to have her scholarship transferred to Amery-James High School for Girls, which was in an elegant eighteenth-century house in the city. New classrooms and laboratories and a gym had been added to the old building. The girls and the life there were subtly, complicatedly different from the children and the life Joyce and her sister Ann had known before; this had to do, they quickly understood, with a whole deep mystery of difference between the South and the North, in which their family was peculiarly entangled.
The Amery-James girls had a kind of sheen to them; their hair seemed glossier and their skin had a fresher bloom, their movements were slower and more measured. Joyce and Ann missed the boys and the men teachers. You had to watch your tongue, to hold back on some of the quick smart joking things you might have said in the North, because here what counted for glamour and importance was rather a kind of restraint and a collective know-how, knowing when it was the right season for French-skipping and cat's cradle, knowing when these things were suddenly childish, knowing how to wear your purse belt so that it didn't bunch up your skirt around the waist, knowing when to speak and when not to, and how to speak. There were a few girls there who had the city accent, comical and yokel-ish. You did not want, not even by default, to be counted among them. So Joyce and Ann determinedly set about losing the accents they had grown up with, never actually commenting to each other or to anyone on what they were doing, losing them until no trace was left and they no longer sounded like their mother or their aunt and uncle or their left-behind grandparents in the North.
The big old gray house they rented from the Port Authority was eight or so miles outside the city. At first their Uncle Dick drove them every morning in his car into Farmouth, the residential area behind the Docks where he worked, and they caught a bus from there into town. Then their Aunt Vera got a job teaching history at Amery-James. The girls had known, vaguely, that she had been a teacher before she married and had children, but had not imagined this was something you would ever pick up again later. It seemed incongruous (most of the teachers at the school were Miss, not Mrs.) and potentially an embarrassing pitfall, some mistake Aunt Vera had made in reading the signals of what was acceptable and appropriate.
Now Aunt Vera drove them in to school every morning, in the old Austin Seven that Uncle Dick bought her, which usually had to be started with a starting handle (Lil, their mother, sometimes came out and did it for Vera so she wouldn't get oil on her teaching clothes). They asked to be let out some little distance from the school so they could walk the rest of the way without her. At least because their surnames were different, most of the girls never even connected Mrs. Trower to the Stevensons, and Aunt Vera never spoke to them any differently than to any of the others or gave any sign of their relationship inside school time. In fact, Joyce and Ann found that they could make for themselves a fairly effective separation between the Mrs. Trower who taught them history and Aunt Vera at home, closing off their knowledge of the one when they were dealing with the other. It was a relief that she turned out to be one of those teachers who elicited fear and respect rather than contempt. She was passionate about her subject, but that was tolerated as a kind of occupational hazard, with the same ambivalent tolerance that was extended to the brainy ones among the pupils. What was more important was that she was exacting and strict and could be scathingly sarcastic: Joyce more than once, and not without a certain private familial triumph then, saw her aunt reduce a girl to tears.
In the end-of-year revue they made fun of how, although she knew all the clauses of the Treaty of Vienna, the "Trower-pot" never remembered where she'd put down her chalk. Some girl would be chosen to impersonate her who could look tall and imposing and oblivious as she did, and whose hair could be arranged to imitate how hers was always escaping in thick untidy strands from where it was pinned up behind. Joyce would assiduously shut out a picture of Aunt Vera in her dressing gown in the mornings, her worn-out gray-pink corset and brassiere strewn on the bed behind her in a tangle of bedclothes, wailing to Lil at her bedroom door through a mouthful of hairpins that her stocking had a run.
---Hell's bells, Lil would complain, puffing upstairs with the soap and kneeling to paste it onto the run before it galloped, you only bought them stockings last week.
Her aunt's impatience with ordinary everyday things was in reality much more complicating and painful than the innocently merry version in the revue. But the idea of the merry version was soothing; for her aunt, Joyce guessed, that journey of transition in the Austin Seven was in itself every morning a liberating shedding of complications and an opportunity to become something more exciting and more charming than was possible at home.
---I'm really so very lucky, teaching at a school like this, she said to them one morning. (They had stopped as usual in the suburban street of brutally pollarded lime trees ten minutes from Amery-James. Fringed blinds blanked out the windows in the big dumb houses.) They think that because you're female you won't need any further intellectual stimulation after you're married. But take it from me, once you've been awakened to the life of the mind, you can't just smother that life and put it to sleep, however inconvenient it might be for some.
This sounded like something she had been preparing to say to them: a message for Joyce, probably, rather than for Ann; Ann didn't bother to work hard enough to get top marks. And perhaps partly because they were already in the territory in which she was the Trower-pot and must be taken notice of by the clever girls, Joyce did obediently think about her aunt's good luck that made it possible to step out of the mess of everyday life. Her own mother Lil, who'd never been to grammar school, certainly hadn't had that luck, and Joyce didn't want to be powerless like her.
After the car with all its important fuss had turned the corner and the girls began walking down the leafy cut-through, Ann launched into an imitation of her aunt that was much more cruel than the one in the end-of-year revue. Ann was almost as tall as Joyce, although she was two years younger, and she had dark curling hair which made perfect ringlets when Lil put it in rags at night. Joyce was small; her hair was straight and a pale sandy red she hated. Ann wore her green coat swaggeringly with its collar up; her school hat had a permanent ridge from front to back where she shoved it out of sight into her satchel at any opportunity.
She pretended to be Uncle Dick in his courting days.
---"Go on, gi' us a kiss, hin." "Oh, no, I couldna do that. I'm awakening the life of the mind, you unappreciative man. I won't be needing any further stimulation."
---You're a horrible little beast, said Joyce, scalded with her usual feeling of impotent indignation at her cocky little sister.
Ann crossed her eyes.
l ---The life of the mind, she said, in broad Tyneside. You mustn't let it go too far.

Uncle dick was handsome. he was tall, with black hair slicked back with scented dressing and high cheekbones and remote-seeming eyes, like a Red Indian in a film. He was kinder, Joyce noticed, to her and Ann and Martin than he was to his own children; he was disappointed with his son, Peter, for being a crybaby. But mostly he was so distracted and unaware of all the children that, in the mornings when he used to give them a lift into Farmouth, they had shyly (even Ann was shy of him) to remind him to drop them off at the bus stop. If they missed the bus, though, he would suddenly seem to wake up to where he was and race to overtake it, sounding his horn and leaning out his window. But you had to wait for him to start off those kind of excitements; if you tried to be funny when he wasn't thinking about it, he'd snap out at you.
They understood that he must have his thoughts on his job as Chief of the Docks Police, which gave him authority over the huge vessels unloading their cargoes, and the trains "Hallen" and "Portbury" in the sidings, and the ships' officers and the rough frightening men, the sailors and the dockers. There were new electric cranes to lift off the bales of tobacco and barrels of sherry and the imported cars (and once---he took the boys down especially to see it---four helicopters from the U.S.A.); but you still saw the dockers running down the gangplanks of the ships with long pieces of timber on their shoulders. If the children came home from school on the bus, they were supposed to wait for their uncle in the Seamen's Mission just outside the big locked dock gates. This was run by a mad old woman called Mrs. Mellor, who told Joyce and Ann that you could catch a baby from using a public toilet: "Something could jump up inside you." If it wasn't raining they preferred to wait outside the mission on the pavement, even at the risk of having incomprehensible sinister things said to them by the men going by. The Dutch sailors were the worst. The children learned to smile politely and avoid meeting anyone's eyes.
Joyce's own father had been killed at Dunkirk when she was five and Ann was three and Martin just a baby. Their mother had a bottle filled with stones from the beach where he'd died: she'd gone to visit it with his parents after the war was over. Joyce could remember her father existing, and some things about what he looked like (he had pale ginger hair like hers), but she couldn't actually remember anything he did or how the days were different when he was in them. They had come down to live with her Aunt Vera partly thinking that their Uncle Dick might take up a father's place in their lives. Lil had said it would be good for them all to have a man around. To the children's relief, he didn't seem to be around all that much. He did a lot of driving backward and forward along the two miles between their house and the docks, and he was sometimes at the house for supper; but he almost always had to go back to the office in the evenings. Joyce knew when she saw into Aunt Vera's room in the mornings that he hadn't slept there, although his suits still hung in the wardrobe and there were things of his---a hairbrush and cuff links and collar studs---on the dressing table that stood with its back against the window. A series of framed colored prints cut out from a Lilliput magazine hung around the bedroom walls: slim girls dressed only in diaphanous veils swinging round Greek pillars or gazing at their reflections in a lake. When Uncle Dick was in there once, getting a pair of shoes out from the wardrobe to take back in to the docks, he told Joyce they were all his old girlfriends. She thought it was funny, but she didn't repeat the joke to Vera.

So what happened instead of their getting a new father was that Aunt Vera got a job and went out to work every morning as if she were the man of the house, and their mother Lil stayed at home like the wife and looked after Kay, Vera's daughter, who didn't go to school yet. Lil cleaned the house, washed the clothes, looked after the hens and geese, grew vegetables in the garden, and bought food from the delivery vans. Supper was ready when they all came home; the good table (they had to use the good table, it was the only one big enough for them all) would be laid with a blanket under the oilcloth to protect it; the kitchen would be dense with steam from the pans bubbling on the temperamental old paraffin stove, which sometimes went wrong and gave out clouds of black smoke as well.
Lil didn't look anything like her sister; she was short and soft and plump, with short dark hair that was always dropping out of its home perm. She knitted whenever her hands weren't busy with something else, one long needle tucked steady under her arm, the other one flickering in and out of the stitches; when the work dragged on the needles, she rubbed them in her hair to make them slip. She smoked, although Vera said it was common; when she hugged the children the tang of cigarettes and the hard outline of the packet of Woodbines in her apron pocket were part of her safe consoling flavor. Day after day, "out in the back of beyond" as she put it, she didn't bother to change her shapeless print dress. Sometimes Joyce couldn't help seeing her mother through Aunt Vera's eyes. Lil didn't read books, she wasn't interested in the news or talk programs on the wireless; she liked the dance bands and sang "O for the Wings of a Dove" while she did the housework. She was quite incapable of that effort of self-transformation by which Vera and the girls pulled themselves up every morning to be smart and knowing and braced for Amery-James.
Sometimes Vera and Lil quarreled. The worst quarrel was something to do with Ivor, Joyce's father. Lil had had a letter from one of his senior officers describing how he'd died bravely, fired on from a strafing airplane while he was trying to help a wounded comrade in the water. This version of events had become a kind of family piety for the Stevensons, a poignant high truth. Vera was scornful of Lil for believing in that "nonsense."
---Don't you think they write the same stuff for every gullible widow? It's the final insult, sending out these sugar-plum stories nobody in their right mind believes in.
---You always have to know better, don't you? said Lil passionately. Why can't you just take someone else's word for it for once?
---Oh, Lillie! Vera seemed puzzled by the vehemence of her sister's reaction. I'm not insulting Ivor, I'm honoring his memory. But I won't swallow that old rubbish about honor and glory.
---Old rubbish! said Lil. You think you can get away with saying anything to me. But there are people you wouldn't dare say that in front of.
---Do you want a third world war? said Vera. Do you want our sons to die in the next war, because we've all swallowed up what we've been told like good little children?
Joyce couldn't stop herself wondering what it had been like for her father to die, if it hadn't been high-toned and beautifully sad. When she tested out the two possibilities in her mind she knew intuitively that what was hard and ugly was more likely to be true. And although Aunt Vera could be hateful, with her loud superior voice and her bruising definiteness, Joyce thought that in such a contest it would be safer to be bruising than bruised. She wished she were tall and statuesque like her aunt; she began to adopt some of her mannerisms, her lofty absentmindedness, her tone of superior skepticism toward everyday housework, her passionate responsiveness to the idea of philosophy or classical music. There wasn't actually all that much room for philosophy or classical music in Aunt Vera's life, but the idea of them was woven into her conversation like a wafted promise of a superior way of being. Joyce worked hard, poring over her schoolbooks, hoping that if she could somehow master these mountains of facts and processes she might at last penetrate through to being adult and powerful.
She did very well at school. Her aunt was proud of her. Her uncle brought her home a four-volume set of American encyclopedias called Worldwide Knowledge. Lil was overcome and admiring.
---You ought to be grateful to your uncle, she said. Imagine him taking the trouble to find these for you.
---Something somebody's given him off one of the ships, her aunt said skeptically.

The other serious quarrel the sisters had was not unconnected to the one about the war. One of the few times Lil ever took the trouble to dress up was when she went out to séances with a woman in Farmouth who was a medium. Then she put on her navy suit smelling of mothballs and her navy hat with the duck wing and her white gloves and sat looking unfamiliar and important in the car next to Uncle Dick, who gave her a lift to the house where the medium lived. Joyce and Ann begged to be allowed to go too---they were mad at that time for Ouija boards and levitation at Amery-James---but Lil was dignified and immovable in her refusal.
---It's not a game, she said. It's not for children.
Vera's anger at her was out of all proportion, as Uncle Dick pointed out.
---It's a bit of harmless excitement, he said. Poor old Lillie, she doesn't get out much.
---There are so many other worthwhile things she could get involved in. I don't want her to be stultified out here. There are gardening clubs---she's supposed to care about that---there's the choir, the Women's Cooperative Guild. But to lay yourself open to these charlatans, preying upon the weaknesses of the foolish, pulling muslin out from their stomachs and squeezing jellies in people's hands and pretending to make contact with people who no longer exist, who have turned back into molecules of carbon!
Vera never failed to mention that during the war Lil had been vaguely involved with something called the Magic Battle of Britain: they put up Cross of Light posters in the London underground and threw "go-away powder" into the sea, where it was supposed to mix with the salt to stop the forces of darkness from invading.
---I don't know what we even bothered with soldiers for, Vera said. Or artillery, or chairplanes. All we needed was some old go-away powder. It was that simple. Just like the Queen of the Zulus believing she could make people proof against the white man's bullets.
In fact, what Lil reported back from her séances never seemed to involve the kind of dramas with ectoplasm and babies' hands that Vera feared and the children rather hoped for. Her stories were decorous and poignant; it was possible that she censored them for Vera's benefit. In the lamplight in the kitchen, once she had eased her feet out of her shoes and unhooked her corset, she told them about the sailor husband who had given his blessing to a second marriage, and the woman who had gone into a trance and imagined her dead father taking her into a lovely garden full of the scents of flowers in the darkness. When the woman said how she wished she could see it in the light, her father replied that if she saw it in the light she'd never want to go back.
Lil never seemed to make any very satisfactory contact with Ivor. Sometimes he came near, the medium said, he was trying to reach through, but he was naturally shy, he gave way to the others, he didn't like to push himself forward.
---I said, That's him! Lil told them. That's Ivor. That's him all over. Trust him.
And so that was how Joyce came to imagine him losing his life on the beach at Dunkirk: holding back shyly, giving way to others.

Joyce was the eldest of the children. peter, her cousin, clever and awkward, had a Choral Scholarship at the Cathedral School; he was the same age as Ann. Martin, her brother, was younger and went to the local Juniors in Farmouth. Martin was brown and wiry, gallant and handsome; Lil said she caused him more trouble than all the rest put together. He came home with his school cap pulled hard down to hide a deep gash in his forehead from when he'd been playing about with the tools in a car mechanic's workshop near school; Lil had to soak the cap where it had stuck to the wound as the blood dried. He didn't cry. He burned up a pair of trousers in the bedroom grate and told his mother he'd lost them so she wouldn't see how badly they were ripped; she found the telltale scorched buttons. He made a parachute from his bedsheet and jumped with it out of an upstairs window and somehow only sprained his ankle. His teachers warned that he wouldn't get a place at a good school. Kay was the baby, who was just growing out of being everyone's little pet into a silent, stubborn, and stolid child, tall like her mother, with Vera's large long face, and with a head of startling white-blond hair, which Lil cut in a short bob.
i0 Dick and Vera were waiting for one of the new houses that were being built in Farmouth; in the meantime they were given the old gray house because the Port Authority had bought it up and wasn't using it. It had long stone mullioned windows with leaded panes; inside the rooms were higgledy-piggledy and unexpected, with low doorways and crooked passages. A narrow spiral staircase behind the kitchen led up to a mysterious tiny room with stone shelves all round where they stored apples; in summer Joyce used to read there. There was a walled kitchen garden, and outside the back door of the house were a walnut tree and a huge William pear tree: fat pears smashed onto the path, and in the autumn mornings when they first opened the back door, Winnie, their brindled bulldog, would push past them and dash out to gobble them up. They found a bat in the living room, its ears as long as its body (Ann put on gloves and carried it outdoors); once a solemn-staring owl was on the sill by an open window in one of the bedrooms. The bathroom was on the ground floor, and the bath had to be filled with buckets of hot water from the stove; outside the window the weeds grew tall and green and were all they needed for a curtain, until Joyce began to imagine she could hear rustlings and made Lil pin up an old blanket when it was her turn.
The house stood on reclaimed estuary land, and wide rhines---drainage ditches---covered with bright green algae crisscrossed the fields all round. Ducks and moorhens swam on them, as did the geese who were Ann's special friends; she stroked their fat creamy necks and kissed them on their beaks. One particularly severe winter they were cut off by snow from Farmouth for a whole week (Uncle Dick eventually got through to them with food and paraffin). Then in the spring when the snow melted, the rhines flooded and the house stood in a shallow lake of water. The children made a boat out of an old tin tub, the one Lil used to wash Kay in front of the kitchen stove.
When Kay wouldn't go in the "boat," all the others became bent upon coaxing her into it, as if she were missing something transforming and essential.
---Cowardy custard! said Peter.
---You'll love it! Martin pleaded. It isn't dangerous; see how shallow it is? It's so easy: look! It's jolly good fun. You can come in with me.
And he executed some nifty turns and splashed up and down, paddling with the spade. Martin was good at all these sorts of things: paddling a boat, climbing trees, clambering (unbeknownst to his mother) along the rafters in the hayloft at their neighbor's farm, or n0 steering the old pram, which they used as a go-cart, on the causeway that ran down to the shore. Kay pressed her mouth shut and shook her head and clung to the little scrap of grubby blanket that was her "sucky" to get her to sleep, which she took everywhere with her. ("One of these mornings I'm going to drop that in the stove!" Lil said whenever she saw it, so Kay had learned to keep it out of sight, in her pocket or balled up in her hand.)
Peter was---inevitably---the one who tipped out of the tub into the filthy water. He lost his nerve when he drifted slightly away from the house, which stood on a slight rise; they knew they must be careful not to paddle near the rhines, where the water was deep. He raised himself awkwardly to look behind him and then went in with a big splash and a funny truncated scream and had to wade ignominiously back to the others, pulling his boat behind him. He was a strange mixture of genuine ineptness and deliberate clowning. He and Martin had vicious fights; when Peter lost his temper he would pummel Martin blindly and frantically, rolling his eyes up and crying loudly through clenched teeth. Martin said the sight of Peter made him laugh so much he was too weak to fight back.
Joyce was fifteen that spring, really too old to play at boats. It was only because she was small that she could fit in it, with her knees up to her chin. When she was quite a way from the others and their voices were remote, she stopped paddling and leaned cautiously back with the spade resting across the middle of the tub. She had been working all morning (it was a Saturday), learning the dates of the American Revolution, learning lists of French words for birds and trees, getting Peter to test her. She would have her School Certificate exams in a few months. Her head was full of the sound of herself, reciting, repeating.
The sky when she leaned back and looked up was mostly steadily gray, like a dull wool soaking up the light, but over toward the estuary the gray had begun to break up and there was an opened gash of surprising brilliant blue with scraps of milky cloud floating in it. She imagined copying those clouds in paint, noticing how they had a bright hard edge of light against the blue. Then she thought about the art room at Amery-James, which was up a flight of stairs over the dining hall and always seemed restfully separate from the rest of school. Instead of maps and blackboards and piles of somber textbooks, the art room was filled with a clutter of interesting things to look at: vases of dried grasses and seed heads, printed silks and embroideries, a carved wooden mask, a bright yellow kite, a sheep's skull, huge pottery dishes with coarse bold colors and patterns unlike anything Joyce had ever eaten off in anyone's home. The room was high and light and airy and the walls were hung with pictures, some beautiful and some queer and incomprehensible. There were a couple of drawings of naked women, too, which Joyce studied with furtive curiosity and which made some of the girls say there was something funny about Miss Leonard, the art teacher.
Joyce heard the others shouting to her and realized she was drifting toward where the rhine ran along the edge of the invisible field, marked out by a line of shrubs poking out of the floodwater. She let herself drift for a few more moments, wondering what would happen if she didn't act, if she let herself go, drifting on into the faster current in her ridiculous frail boat, perhaps being tipped out into deep water by a surge of turbulence or perhaps being picked up and carried onward, faster and faster until there was no return, toward the estuary and then the sea. There was no real danger, of course. If she'd wanted to, she could have stepped out of the tub and walked back. When she did pick up the spade she paddled with studied insouciance, making strong elegant strokes and not deigning to look behind over her shoulder. She was coming to know she could summon up this power to do things elegantly: not infallibly but often. It was important to know how to carry things off, under the eyes of others: the family or the girls at school. She wanted never to make a fool of herself like her cousin Peter, who had reappeared buttoned up to the neck in his school blazer and was hovering outside the kitchen for a chance to dry his clothes over the stove without his Auntie Lil noticing.
that summer aunt vera often stayed late at school; she was rehearsing the historical pageant she was putting on to mark the Festival of Britain. Ann had to stay too; she had landed the much-coveted part of Mary Queen of Scots. (There was a craze for Mary, and a poem about her all the girls knew by heart and chanted in the lunch break with real tears in their eyes: "So she lived and so she died,/ Scotland's pawn and Scotland's pride./ England's bane and England's heir,/ Mary, fairest of the fair.") The School Cert girls weren't supposed to be involved in the pageant; they had too much else on their minds. Quite often Joyce had to wait at the mission by herself in the afternoons, hoping Uncle Dick would remember she needed a lift. She would try to absorb herself deeply in her homework behind the windows of the little office, never lifting her head when she sensed the sailors coming and going on the other side of the glass, scaldingly aware of herself, bent over her books in her prissy neat school uniform, and of the incitement to resentment or violence the sight of her must represent to these strong thwarted shameless men. When at long last it was Uncle Dick's tall shape in his dark coat and hat that loomed beyond the window, her heart spilled over with relief. The world readjusted itself back inside the shelter of his importance, his air of always being in a hurry, his loud lofty authority with crazy Mrs. Mellor and with the men. "Men," when he said it, shrank only to mean something about how they were employed, and set Joyce safely above them, condescending to them and beyond their reach.
One afternoon as they set off in the car, Uncle Dick remembered something he wanted to take back for Vera.
-Just making a little detour, he said to Joyce. We won't be ten minutes.
He turned the car around and they drove through the streets to where the Authority was building several new houses, including the one for his family. The designs for the houses had been taken from the Ideal Home Show in London: some of them were already finished and lived in, two or three were still under construction. It had not been discussed, not properly, whether there would be room for Lil and her children when Vera got her new house. Joyce thought perhaps her uncle had some news for his wife about it; perhaps it was ready and he had been keeping it for a surprise. But he pulled up to a red brick house which already had curtains up and a striped awning over the door, although the garden was still a mess of clay on either side of the path.
-You wait here, he said. Good girl.
He walked up the path, feeling in his pocket for a key, then unlocked the front door and disappeared inside, closing it behind him. He was gone longer than ten minutes. Joyce tried to shrink in her seat so as not to be conspicuous to the children playing in the street. She took off her blazer. She pulled her history book from her satchel and looked at it sightlessly.
Uncle Dick came back out of the house with a bundle wrapped in brown paper under his arm. When he was halfway down the garden path, walking rather quickly, the front door flew open again behind him, and a young woman ran out after him on high heels, blond and slim. She was wearing lipstick and earrings and a pretty dress that seemed inappropriate for staying at home on an ordinary afternoon: beige, with a low-cut square neck and deep diagonal pleats across the skirt. She took Uncle Dick by the arms and remonstrated with him, seeming to want the parcel, but she wasn't looking at him: her eyes from the very moment she flew through the door had sought out Joyce in the car, staring at her greedily and challengingly as if this contact between them was momentous. Helplessly, Joyce stared back.
Uncle Dick said something, not loudly (Joyce couldn't hear it) but fiercely, so that the woman s20jerked back from him as if he had hit her. Afterward she always pictured the scene as if he had smacked her lightly and sharply across the side of the face, just as he sometimes smacked Peter when Peter was acting up, even though she knew he hadn't actually struck this grown-up woman, not in front of her. He strode to the car and threw the parcel into the backseat. He turned the car round; the woman had stepped back into her doorway, stroking down her skirt and tidying her hair. Joyce saw she was defiantly aware, as she hadn't been in the heat of the argument, of people watching: the children who'd stopped playing in the street and invisible others from behind the curtained windows of the inhabited houses. Joyce felt a pang of sympathy for how she was exposed.
-Oh, dear, said Uncle Dick in a wryly amused voice as they left her behind. Someone's upset.
This tone of light comedy in relation to what had just happened was so unexpected that Joyce forgot to be afraid of him.
-Who was that? she asked.
Uncle Dick even turned his attention from the road and smiled at her inquiring eyes.-Never you mind, he said. Someone who'd better be our little secret.
-Is it her parcel?
-Oh, no. It's just something she thinks she ought to have.
It was almost as though he was pleased that Joyce had been there to see. Perhaps he had taken her deliberately. On the way home he was expansive and genial with her as he'd never been before. When they had driven past the smelting works and left Farmouth and the docks behind, she was able to notice that it was a lovely evening. The grass was long and a tender green in the fields; the hedges were laden with pink and white May blossom.
-You've no idea what it's like, Uncle Dick said. All the responsibilities of a wife and family to support. Especially after the war, which gave a man a taste for independence.
Uncle Dick had been in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves (the "wavy navy," because they had wavy white lines around their cuffs). He was lieutenant commander of an aircraft carrier, an American lend-lease. While his ship was in New York for repairs, he had had apartments in the Barbizon Plaza Hotel; this name was always uttered with reverence in the family, as if it were the epitome of luxury. He had met Mrs. Rothschild, who organized Bundles for Britain for the sailors, and he had been given membership in the New York Athletic Club. Perhaps it was there he'd got his taste for independence.
-You get tangled up with a family, he said, before you know what opportunities are out there. Take my advice and don't be in any hurry to be tied down with kids.
-I'm staying on at school, Joyce said, wondering if that was what he meant.
-Well, there's nothing wrong with that. Although I should think you'd want some fun too.
Uncle Dick looked assessingly sideways at Joyce for a moment.
-That's the trouble with your aunt. She takes everything too seriously.
Joyce had never heard him say as much as this at home; she guessed it was the way he talked with his men friends. She could imagine why he'd rather sit in a bar with these friends than be at home amid all the steam of cooking and the smoke from the stove and the noisy children and wet washing draped everywhere (although she'd never seen inside a bar except in films). She felt shyly privileged that he shared his thoughts with her, as they sped through the fields in the summer evening.
-What was her name? Joyce asked him at the last minute, as he turned into the lane that led to the old gray house.
-Whose name?
-The lady you visited, in the beige dress.
-Betty Grable, he said.
Joyce protested; she wasn't a child, to be fooled.
-If you don't want to tell me, I don't mind.
Uncle Dick laughed at her hurt face.
-No, it really is Betty. Not Betty Grable, just Betty. On my honor. But don't tell. On yours?
She nodded.
Then, managing the bucking car with one hand down the rutted stony lane, he laid his other hand on her bare arm and said something strange.
-I told her you were my daughter. Just so she wouldn't start imagining anything. You know what these women are like.
joyce was sometimes allowed to hover on the edge of conversations Lil and Vera had in the kitchen when the other children weren't around. This was presumably because she was the oldest and a girl; they thought it was time she began to pick up on such things, just as a year or so ago it had been time for the sanitary pads and belt that Lil had slipped without explanation into her drawer. After the dishes were washed up, the sisters sat at the table and drank milky instant coffee; when the light faded one of them would light the paraffin lamp and pump it up until the mantle glowed. The children would still be calling back and forth outside, their voices resonant and remote in the near-dark. Joyce squeezed herself inconspicuously with her book onto a little stool by the wall, picking at the black rubber flooring Uncle Dick had laid over the cold flagstones (it was made out of machine belts from some factory in the Docks that had closed down).
-It happened with Peter, and then again down here when I fell for Kay, said Vera. Not that you want them near you when you're off-color. But you expect some consideration: not having the blame for it thrown up in your face.
-Men don't like it, said Lil. Ivor didn't want anything to do with it. "Let me know what we've had when you're all tidied up," he said, when things got started. Though he was always as good as gold afterward; he loved the children.
-Dick hated the sight of me. If I ever came out of the bath in my dressing gown when I was in that way he'd make a face as if I'd shown him something nasty. I knew he didn't like to touch me, those times, even accidentally. He doesn't even like to be near me when I'm coming unwell.
-I suppose it's natural. We get used to it, don't we? It must seem strange to the men.
-I'm sure he used to talk with her about what would happen, if I died having Kay, said Vera. There was something he said once, he didn't mean it to come out, something like "if there are any complications." And when I looked at him I just knew. And he knew I knew.
-You showed them, then.
-Oh, I wasn't going to remove myself for anybody's convenience. I'm not now. Whatever she may think.
It was always difficult for Joyce to take in that only four years ago Aunt Vera must have been pregnant. She tried to imagine her wearing the sort of coyly pretty maternity frocks over discreet bumps that you saw in the magazines or smiling over tiny garments for her layette. But Aunt Vera didn't seem to have the necessary feminine attributes: she was too tall, too decided, too old; her body had entered into the phase of those lumpy stolidities that didn't suggest the things that had to do with making babies. The pregnancy had happened after the Trowers moved down from the North. Joyce had heard Lil and the other sisters talk about this baby as Dick's "little peace offering."
Joyce noticed that when Lil and Vera talked about men, even Ivor, they often used this language of mock conflict, as if there had to be a war between men and women. Listening, soaking it up, Joyce thought how differently she would do things. She thought how much better she would handle Uncle Dick, if she were them. "If he were mine," she thought to herself, her face heating up at the illicit form of words. If she had been Aunt Vera, she would have made an effort to make the place nice when he came home, instead of complaining to him about the children or the smoking stove or the stinking privy the moment he walked through the door. She would have talked about things he might be interested in, rather than going on about "your beloved Churchill" or making sarcastic remarks about the Masons if she knew he was going to a Lodge meeting.
Even Lil somehow managed better than Vera. You could see she was in awe of Dick's authority in the wide world, granting him absolute superiority in all the mysteries she was defeated by. She was furious if ever her children were disrespectful to him; she reminded them how they were dependent on their uncle for a roof over their heads. But she also called him "His Lordship" and commented tartly at tea if he "deigned to honor them with his presence." He meekly brought her his buttons to be sewn on and stood tamed and obedient while she tugged and stitched away at his collar or the waist of his trousers, scolding him because Peter needed new vests and socks and they hadn't enough money, biting off her thread with a fierce twist of her head. Once Joyce overheard her speak sharply of his "carryings-on."
He didn't mind Lil; he laughed and tolerated her remarks and sometimes forked out money from his wallet for something she said they needed. Or there might be a companionable moment when they sat out on the wall in the sunshine in the garden after tea and smoked together, Dick bending with disarming gallantry to light Lil's cigarette. But Joyce could also see how he discounted her because she was shapeless under her print dresses and wouldn't even go to the girls' prize-givings because she "wouldn't know what to say to anyone."
-present for you, vera, uncle dick said, dropping the brown paper parcel down on the table, which was laid for tea. Knives and forks clattered onto the floor.
Aunt Vera had only just come in from school; she still had her jacket on and she was taking off her gloves. She stopped short and stared at the parcel with suspicion.
-Oh, well, if you don't want it, he said genially, I'll take it back.
-What is it? She frowned as if this might be a trick at her expense.
-Open it and see.
Warily, she tore the paper open. Lil came from the stove with a spoon in her hand to look; the children gathered round. Sometimes Uncle Dick brought thrilling things from the docks: sweets, a wireless, pineapples, picture books, and once three hand-sewn American quilts, part of American support for the war effort that had sat forgotten in a shed somewhere.
Inside the paper were two bolts of cloth: a deep chestnut velvet and a slightly lighter brown satin. Lil reached out a finger to stroke.
-Real velvet. Don't any of you touch, she said, in a half whisper.
-D'you reckon you can turn her out in something halfway decent, Lillie?
-Me? Oh, I'd be afraid to cut into that. It's too good.
-What's this all about? said Vera. Do you want something?
-Only for you to get out and have a good time for once.
-You could use the velvet to make a matching jacket, Lil said. A bolero.
-My idea of a good time is rather different to yours.
-Ladies' Night in July. I thought you might like a night out, something new to wear.
-Oh, I see, said Vera, trouble at the lodge. You need to present the respectable husband and father all of a sudden.
-Something like that.
-Suddenly I'm wanted.
-Too much to expect, I suppose, that my lady wife might make the effort for once?
-And suddenly no one else will do.
-Not for the moment, no.
Vera flashed out in extravagant triumph.
-Oh, they won't have you there if you divorce. You can forget about ever being elected to Warden's Office if once you embark upon that little scheme of yours.
Lil clapped her hands and flapped her apron at the children.
-Go and do your homework, she said. Tea in ten minutes.
Uncle Dick shrugged.
-That's up to them. I've got my letter of resignation written out in my pocket, if anyone makes difficulties. And I'll take the cloth back with me if you don't want it.
-I've done faggots and roly-poly, Lil said. Aren't you staying for tea?
Uncle Dick's refusals were always more like rebuffs than apologies: impatient indications of the more important business he had elsewhere.
-I've got to be back at the docks.
Lil picked up the knives and forks from the floor when he had left and wiped them on her apron; then she carried the fabrics out of the way of tea into the front room.
-You ought to go to this Ladies' Night affair, she said.
Vera's face was closed.
-Why shouldn't you go? Why shouldn't you have something nice to wear? You're his rightful wife.
-I don't want to spend my evening listening to that mumbo-jumbo.
Lil swept her sewing table clear from all the bits left over from Ann's Mary Queen of Scots costume. Then she shook the satin and velvet out from their folds until they were heaped up in sumptuous excess in the dim light. The curtains in this room were always half drawn across; they didn't use it much.
Vera stood passively while Lil draped the brown satin over her gray pleated skirt and cream blouse, her usual things for school.
-It suits you! said Lil. It goes with your dark hair. See how it hangs. It's such good quality, so heavy. Look how it takes the light. The dress wants a classic line, very fitting; then a velvet bolero with a three-quarter-length sleeve. You could bind the edge of the bolero with the satin. Wear it with those earrings Mam gave you. You could wear it for the pageant, too.
Vera looked down at herself, hesitating. She leaned forward onto one hip to make the fabric swing and swirl.
-I certainly don't want anyone else flaunting about in it, she said.
Lil tucked an end of the velvet around Vera's shoulders and under her arms; then she and Joyce stood squinting their eyes at her, trying to blur the draped fabrics into looking like the finished outfit. She submitted to their attention with unaccustomed meekness.
-It could look very elegant, said Lil.
Lil and Joyce both set about persuading her, as if they knew something she didn't know about what this dress could do for her, something she was incapable of managing for herself. Now that Joyce had seen the blond woman, she was afraid her aunt didn't know what she was up against.

-i might go to art school, joyce said to her art teacher.
Miss Leonard was tiny, ancient-looking, with a face as lined and vivid as a monkey's; she walked with an odd sliding motion, lifting her knees and carrying her head very high and far back as if she were keeping her face above the dull muddy water of the rest of school. Girls who wanted to get on with some drawing or painting were allowed to be up in the art room at lunchtime. Joyce was making fussy tiny changes to a drawing of an extravagant tropical shell gorgeously lined with pink, although she was sure that her fussing wasn't going to make the timorous drawing any better. She didn't know what art school was, really, anymore than she had a clear idea of university, although she knew her aunt wanted her to go there. She hadn't thought about going to art school until the very moment she said it.
Miss Leonard was working in pastels on a still life she had arranged on a table for one of her classes: two jugs glazed in thick yellow against a scrap of oriental rug with a couple of lemons. She gave her a rapid unimpressed bird glance.
-I thought you were one of the brainy ones?
-Oh no, not really. Joyce blushed.

li0-So why on earth do you want to go to art school? Apart from being too stupid to do anything else?
-Well, I love art, of course.
One skeptical eyebrow went up: the eyes flickered rapidly, assessingly, between the lemons and her paper.
-Oh, don't love art. That's sounds frightfully high-minded. You'll never make a living at it, you know.
Joyce was shocked.
-I never dreamed I could make a living!
-You have to teach, or else you do illustrating, if you can get it. Unless of course you're one of the lucky few. The ones who've really got it. Whatever it is. Talent, genius, originality, the right friends in the right places.
-What it is, really, said Joyce, is that I love these things. I've never seen things like these before.
Miss Leonard looked at her blankly. Then, as if she had forgotten it existed, she cast a surprised glance round the room full of the treasures that had pleased her eye.
-Oh. I see.
She put down her crayon and went over to shelves piled with a miscellany of crockery, topped with pieces of driftwood and a couple of ostrich feathers.
-Come and feel these, she said.
Anxiously, Joyce took one of the big flat dishes from her. Miss Leonard brushed off the dust with the side of her hand.
-Do you like them?
The dish was heavy, the clay half an inch thick; the uneven green glaze was decorated with swirls of brown so freely drawn you could see the marks of the brush hairs. Joyce could hardly understand a way of making things that was so opposite to the one she had been brought up to admire: her mother's best tea set, for example, where precision and delicate finish were everything and the making process was tidied secretively out of sight.
-I love them, she said.
-They come from Portugal. In Portugal the sun is hot, the people live out of doors so much more, they drink wine and eat fish cooked with olive oil and tomatoes and spices and garlic, off dishes like these. Their houses are often crumbling and untidy, but inside and even outside they are covered with locally made tiles.
She took away the dish and gave Joyce a handful of tiles, each one different. They were in glowing colors, blues and reds and yellows: mostly patterns but some pictures, a fish and a bird, drawn as crudely and casually as a child might draw them. They didn't even seem quite ochperfectly square.
-You should go there, Miss Leonard said. Or Italy. You should go to Italy too. You should eat pasta asciutta and drink Chianti. Children suffer under a blight of ugliness in this country. What's for dinner today, for example? Can you smell it? You usually can up here. Boiled liver and cabbage? Boiled cod and white sauce? No wonder their paintings are ugly.
Miss Leonard was suddenly impatient with Joyce. She picked up the drawing of the shell as if it exasperated her and scribbled on it with a piece of charcoal, crudely, exaggerating the horns of the shell with bold black Vs.
-Don't be meek, she said. That's what I can't bear. Boiled cod and white sauce.
the making of aunt vera's outfit for ladies' night was fraught with problems. Both fabrics were difficult to cut and sew. Lil needed pinking shears and didn't have any. She cut the three-quarter-length sleeves of the jacket in one with the bodice and then let in gussets under the arms, but the gussets were difficult and puckered on the corners. Nonetheless, there was a certain gathering excitement in the week or so while the dressmaking was advancing. It was full summer now. There were rust-colored weeds and shaggy old-man's beard among the tall mauve grasses. The full-grown leaves on the trees lolled in the heat and showed their gray undersides, the rhines were rank and shallow.
Aunt Vera stood on the kitchen table for Lil to do the hem. The floor was strewn with scraps of cloth and ends of thread and pins. They were still not sure how the outfit finally looked. Too many bits were provisional, pinned or unfinished, and then Vera inside it was too obviously her ordinary self, her hair untidy, her face long and tired with bruise-colored pouches under the eyes. She was scowling and fretting at being kept prisoner while Lil fussed. Joyce hoped something different would happen when she did up her hair, powdered her skin, put on lipstick and scent, put in her garnet earrings.
Meanwhile, she was testing Joyce on her English history. She told an anecdote about Palmerston that Joyce had heard from her before, in school. Palmerston said, "There are only three people in the world who have understood the Schleswig-Holstein question. One's dead, one's mad, and I've forgotten." There were other stories about Palmerston: how he cheered when he heard that the London dockers put a Hungarian general in a barrel and rolled him down a hill, and how he was fit enough to vault over a gate the day before he died. Vera had favorites among the men in history. When she talked about them her voice was coy, as if she were sharing some kind of flirtatious joke.
Into the indoor quiet erupted Peter and Kay with news that they had caught an eel, Martin following importantly with an enamel bucket, which he set down on the floor for everyone to admire. The eel stirring in its dark coils in the bit of muddy water was like a sight of something urgent and shameful that was best kept hidden. Ann, who had been sitting on the low stool learning her lines for the pageant, was fearless with animals and wanted to reach in the bucket and touch the eel, but Lil said she'd get an electric shock.
-It's the wrong kind of eel, said Peter impatiently, but he held himself well back and peered into the bucket with excited loathing, from a respectful distance.
-Take it away, children, said Lil, removing a mouthful of pins. I do not want that dirty creature anywhere near this precious sewing.
-We could eat it, said Martin, trying to sound at his most reasonable and practical.
-We could not, said Lil. If you think for one moment I'm going to grapple with that blinking thing and kill it and gut it, not even knowing whether it's habitable or not....
-You don't mean habitable, said Peter, but there was relief in his voice.
There came the sounds of Uncle Dick's car negotiating the tormenting ruts of the lane. Lil and Vera looked at each other.
-Can we keep it as a pet? said Martin. Please? He didn't seriously expect an answer.
-D'you want him to see? said Lil to Vera.
-Heavens, Lillie, what do I care what he sees? Anyone'd think I was a bride in a wedding dress!
Obediently Lil went on pinning, while Vera on the table moved stiffly round for her as if she were on an old slow turntable. The children took the eel outside, Ann following them, chirruping coaxingly into the bucket. She was wearing her Mary Queen of Scots headdress, her heart-shaped face with its sly dark eyes uncharacteristically demure under its little gothic vault. There was a pause while in the yard Uncle Dick duly admired the eel. He sounded as if he was in a good humor. He blocked the light, standing in the doorway, with Kay in his arms; Lil lifted her head up from her concentration on the hem.
-What d'you think, Dick?
He was blinking in the shadows after the glare outdoors. Kay, who with no prompting or encouragement adored her father, had laid her head on his shoulder and was fingering his lapel while she sucked her thumb.
-Smells like a real old witches' kitchen in here, Dick said.
-That's them children bringing their creatures in.
-Well, let's see what kind of a mess you've managed to concoct. Turn round, turn round.
Lil stood back and Aunt Vera turned on her turntable again, looking tense and exposed.
-Lift up your arms. Turn round.
Obediently Vera lifted her arms like a ballet dancer. Lil pressed a hand to her heart.
-Is it all right?
-Isn't it a bit tight? he said cheerfully. It makes her look like the back end of an upholstered sofa.
-She does not! said Lil stoutly, but her voice was full of doubt. D'you think it's tight?
-Should have cut it with a bit more room in it, he said, and they could see immediately that he was right. And isn't there something funny with those sleeves?
-I like the sleeves, said Joyce, in a great effort of optimism.
-I could undo them, said Lil, and try to get a better seam.
-Oh, it'll do, he said. Don't bother.
-It's not worth the bother, said Aunt Vera calmly, lowering her arms. It'll do as it is. I've got better things to do than stand up here every evening like a dressmaker's dummy.
She looked around for her way down from the table; someone had moved the chair she'd climbed up by. The brown satin dress seemed suddenly exposed as an awful failure: the lovely luxuriant deeply glowing cloth had been spoiled, cut in clumsy lines that made Aunt Vera's belly a huge coconut, perched comically on top of her long legs, and her bosom a pair of slanting torpedoes. When Lil moved the stool for her to step onto, Vera hesitated; and Joyce knew she was paralyzed by her humiliating sense that the skirt might rip or she might topple.
-Allow me, said Uncle Dick. Smiling, he offered her his free arm, and she let him help her down onto the stool and then half swing and half jump her from there to the floor. She stood flushed and stoical.
-There's room in these seams for me to let it out. Lil was contritely seeking remedies.
-Don't fuss, said Vera sharply. Help me get the wretched thing off.
-Never mind, Lil, said Uncle Dick. Your sister isn't interested in clothes, she's got her mind on more important things. She doesn't care what she puts on.
Joyce was suddenly hotly aware of her own frock that she'd changed into when she got home from school, a friendly old cotton thing with faded sprigs of blue flowers. She'd had it for years: Lil had made it for her when she was a flat-chested child, and it was so familiar that she wore it as unthinkingly as her own skin. For the first time now she saw it as if from outside: how tight it was across her developing bust, how high the waistline came across on her chest, and how compromisingly short the skirt was, even though Lil had let the hem down twice. A kind of rage flared up in her at her mother and her aunt, that they were so unknowing, so helpless themselves, allowing her to go on wearing this and never seeing how it exposed her. She wanted to run upstairs to hide, only she couldn't move for fear they all saw how ridiculous she looked.
-In case any of you are interested, by the way, she proclaimed loudly, I'm going to go to art school.
Of course they had all forgotten she was even sitting there; they turned on her slow glances steeped in adult preoccupations. Whatever was she talking about?
-You'll do no such thing, said her aunt. Not with your brains.
But Vera's power was gone, standing there full of pins in her stocking feet, suffering so abjectly because her husband didn't like her in her dress.
Joyce didn't want brains. She thought instead of lemons: yellow, astringent, Mediterranean, against a dark and sensual background.
joyce and a girlfriend took swimming things to the beach one day when the exams were over. This wasn't a friend from Amery-James, it was an old friend from the North, Helena Knapp, who was staying for a fortnight and with whom Joyce had temporarily recovered an old, easy, sarcastic way of being. On the causeway leading down to the beach they passed a parked car, and Joyce, giggling, pointed out the naval peaked cap left on the backseat. Sometimes Martin and Peter came down here to spy on courting couples. There were shallow hideaways for lovers in the dunes that undulated rather unspectacularly back behind the shore, grown over with little dark-green shrubby bushes and bleached long grasses. That afternoon the tide was out. It wasn't like real seaside: to reach the water they had to wade out for a quarter of a mile through mud that was soft and warm and sucking, melting away ticklingly under the soles of their feet. Mud clung like tan socks halfway up their calves. The coastline on the faraway other side receded in infinitely promising blue and purple layers of hills; farther up the estuary, where the crossing was narrower, they could see the two ferries plying to and fro.
The skies were the only spectacular feature of the estuary scenery. Changeable and full of drama, they loomed domineeringly over the flatland and altered the color of the water hour by hour; this afternoon it was pale brown, like milky coffee. The girls, up to their mid-thighs in tepid water, watched a sudden jostling company of small angry clouds overhead; fat warm raindrops plopped down all around them. It seemed very funny, to be in their swimming costumes in the rain. Their costumes were new, they had chosen them yesterday in a department store in town: Helena's was a blue-and-white striped halter neck, Joyce's was a strapless bloomer suit with a pattern of black-and-white birds against a dark pink background. Lil had given Joyce four pounds to spend out of the old tobacco jar where she kept her savings. The girls were in love with their new costumes and couldn't stop looking down at themselves and at each other. They didn't really want to submerge in the muddy water and spoil them.
Someone was calling them from the beach. They both looked round; it was Uncle Dick. His car was parked up behind the other one, and he stood on the shingle in his work uniform with his jacket over his arm and his sleeves rolled up. They couldn't hear what he was saying.
-What? they shouted back, knowing it was futile and he wouldn't be able to hear them either. They savored a few moments' delicious remoteness, lingering there inaccessible in the spatter of hot rain, feeling the impotence of the figure on the shore to reach them.
-What in hell's name does he want? Joyce wondered languorously.
-The legendary uncle, said Helena. Won't there be outbreaks of lawlessness if he's not at his post?
When he persisted and signaled furiously for them to return, they began reluctantly to wade back.
-Does your mother know you two are down here cavorting around half naked? he shouted, as soon as they were in hearing distance.
-We told her! Joyce shouted back.
-She said we could cavort, said Helena placidly, covered by the noise of their rather exaggeratedly splashing through the shallows, in our new costumes.
-You're asking for trouble. You know what kind of spot this is.
-What kind of spot is it? Joyce did a perfect imitation of nonplused and wide-eyed.
-Get yourselves dried off, he said angrily, pointing to their towels. I'll take you back in the car. Your mother and your aunt have no idea, letting you run around the place like hoydens. Anyway, it's coming on to rain.
-Hoydens? murmured Helena in delight. They rubbed their legs down, streaking the towels with mud.
-What do you think hoydens do? wondered Joyce.
-Whatever it is, I think we should try it. To begin with, they cavort.
-I love to cavort.
-So do I.
They sat in the backseat of the car: Uncle Dick had spread out a towel, so that they wouldn't make wet marks on his upholstery. He lectured them about looking after themselves and having some self-respect; because he couldn't turn round to speak to them, the words seemed to emanate from his dark, stiff back. At some level they were genuinely impressed by his concern. As a matter of fact, a few days before, a couple of lorry drivers had given them a lift to the beach and when they got out one of them had grabbed Helena's hand and tried to put it on his trousers, until his friend swore at them and drove on.
But Joyce was also exhilarated by Uncle Dick's very exasperation and his fear for them. If there was danger, then that meant you counted for something. You had at least the power-the power that Vera and Lil didn't have-to disconcert him, to make him mutter to himself and drive with impatient thwarted accelerations and brakings. Behind the sternness of his back in its dark hot serge, the girls sat basking in the miracle of their new costumes, which were hardly wet, and which they somehow knew he both wanted and didn't want to look at.