My mother was a fool, a fool who ruined other fools. That was what Grandfather said when he sat drinking after my father’s funeral. He looked at me as if he hated me and told Kate to plait back my hair and not let it fall in my face like a street child’s.
‘Tight! Tighter than that! Can’t you make the child look decent, even in mourning?’
There was something about my eyes that was wrong, and the way my hair grew. I had eyes that were put in with a dirty finger, Kate said. I was too like my mother. My face made people think of the things men and women did together in the dark.
When my mother left I saw Father cry. It was because a dress she had had altered came back to the house in a long flat brown-paper parcel, addressed to her. He tore it open and the grey folds of the dress blew around his face like cobwebs. It was an evening chiffon which we called her ghost dress. He scrubbed the fabric against his face, snuffing up the smell of it, which was the smell of her body. I watched him and knew exactly what he was smelling, because whenever I went past her bedroom door I tried the handle. Usually it was locked but sometimes I got in. It was just as if she was coming back any minute. I climbed into her wardrobe and rubbed my face against her skirts: the slither of satin, rasping wool, fine cotton lawn. All round me there was the smell of her body, bringing me home.