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Mothering Sunday

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Patsy Mount was beginning to realise she had more than lived up to her name. She had been unfailingly patient in the face of supposedly insurmountable odds, after all. It wasn’t often that she allowed herself to admit that, being acutely conscious of the level of privilege she had once enjoyed as a result of her family’s financial status, but it was true. She was trying to be kinder to herself on that front, at Delia’s insistence – and, mostly, she seemed to be succeeding.

Yet, today, as she sat perched on the edge of the bed in her outside cabin on the SS Chusan and gazed out at the blue expanse before her, such kindness proved far harder to muster than it had in a long time. Perhaps it was because it was a Sunday. They had always held difficult associations – first in the loneliness of boarding school and, more recently, in its disappearance since she had been living at Nonnatus House. It seemed, in some convents at least, that religiosity and joy did not have to be mutually exclusive; and she could not quite believe her luck.

Whatever the reason, her emotions were all at sea; which, she thought wryly, ought perhaps to have been a cause for amusement, given her current circumstances. Deels would have laughed, certainly – but Deels was not here. Deels was in Poplar, plodding along as she always did, cramming study between shifts at the London with scarcely a word of complaint. Only the occasional yawn (swiftly stifled) would let on that she was the slightest bit tired or overwrought. Even then she had no time for herself, only ears and eyes for her ‘cariad’.

Patsy simultaneously grinned and grimaced at the thought of Delia’s stalwart comfort. She felt extremely guilty about the level of emotional labour she foisted on her, and the sense of respite she had found in the four years of their relationship from finally being able to open up. Surely she didn’t deserve such devotion? Especially not now that she had left to be with her father, with little certainty about when she would return. Shaking off the ‘might’ that lurked just behind that ‘would’, she summoned up the dregs of her resolve, blinking back tears that had sprung unbidden at the ocean’s reminder of the blue that belonged to the world’s most brilliant and beatiful pair of eyes. Return she must, and return she would, however long it took.

She was no stranger to the silent solitude of bedside vigils; one more should hardly affect her. Perhaps that was it, though – there would only be one more. This was the last of her filial duties which, when completed, would render her an orphan. In truth, this time, with no possibility of the sudden and unexpected relief there had been before. Relief that, nevertheless, was laced with anguish, because the restored presence of her father had served to reaffirm the absence of her mother and sister.

Her breath caught as realisation dawned. She was about to experience just such mixed feelings again. This time, though, they would have the same cause. Her father’s imminent death would bring relief from the strains of their cross-continental and guilt-ridden relationship, but it would also fill her with anguish by removing her sole remaining link to the two people she had once held most dear. The plain facts were thus – no more Father meant no more Mother or Grace; or the little she had left of them.

She would have no need, ever again, to revisit the countries they had shared. Never again would she be able to dream that they might all reconvene at one of their much-loved houses from before the horror. Never again would she be threatened with perdition for knocking over a prized flower arrangement of her mother’s. In spite of herself, she laughed out loud at that last recollection, having supposed it long since forgotten – but then today seemed to be dredging up all kinds of memories that seemingly had no place aboard this vessel. Was it really just because it was a Sunday? Surely there must be more to it than that?

Suddenly invigorated, she got up off the bed and went to fetch the newspaper that she had absently left on the dressing table. Checking the date, she smiled in recognition. 1st April 1962 – or, more importantly, this year, the fourth Sunday in Lent. Mothering Sunday. No wonder she was sad.

She really must be kinder to herself. She would be her only company for the foreseeable future, after all, and sea air was for convalescence, not castigation.