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We had taken almost nothing with us…..come to this country,…and found relief again, become settled, resumed our precious,…uneventful life, completely closed in upon ourselves, needing and wanting no one.. (Mrs de Winter by Susan Hill)

Reading Mrs de Winter brought on a melancholy with its slow descent into death and destruction. I know her, the second Mrs de Winter, all too well, though at times she exasperates me. I was happy to leave Manderley with her, content to be abroad living out those days out of season in those small, innocuous French pensions. No good comes from returning. We Mrs de Winters of this world must bide our time with grace, elegance and acquiescence. It is enough to make just one person content, safe. It is enough.

So what else? We watch films on his bed. The smallest room but the cosiest. Lincoln with Daniel Day Lewis. A dense thing made captivating by D. D. Lewis. Once, a long time ago, he came to the Royal Exchange Theatre, where I was working as Front of House staff, to do a one-off performance for a Bosnian charity. He sat in the Green Room, a solitary figure in motorbike leathers. I had to see him. I was besotted. I queued at the counter for a coffee, sneaked a look but ran away. He was just too much. Too much. I needed a screen between us. The potency of him made me shake.

Was she there, he asked, the woman with the handbag? Yes, I replied, she was on the bike and then the treadmill. She had a new hairdo and this time was reading Edward de Bono. Every now and again she stretched out her left arm. Straight out, just like that. I had to walk round it. Funny.
We waited with her for the train. The sun was still warm. On the opposite platform the steam train pulled in. It is a tourist train that goes all the way to Devil’s Bridge and then back again. The engine is sweet, a mini-version. We hear its whistle at home. A young Orthodox Jewish boy appeared, his ringlets bouncing beneath his black skull cap. He was clearly captivated. He stared, mouth agape at the engine as it released itself from the carriages to turn and return to the front. Do boys still yearn to be engine drivers?

When the Birmingham train arrived he (my he) offered assistance to a Orthodox Jewish family. There was a young mother and three children, a husband, a grandfather and a grandmother. They were from another time and experience in their black coats and caps disregarding the sun, the grandfather, clearly a rabbi, had a watch chain. He (my he) lifted them up one by one, passing in suitcases, prams and finally the tiny grandmother bent over like a gnarled bonsai, too tiny for real life. They were uncertain what to do with his chivalry, were a little embarrassed. They are used to their invisibility. Liking it, preferring it, I think.

I still don’t know what to do. Perhaps that is enough, the not knowing. To know that I don’t know.

I asked about her garden. She told me her carrots were bolting. Her cough sounded worse. It’s the weather, it’s so muggy, she said. It just makes we tired. The beetroots have done well, though. That’s good, isn’t it, I said. Yes, love, she said. It is.


By Ellen Bell

Artist and writer currently living in Aberystwyth.