my fingers, which I’d developed the habit of chewing when I was eight. In the end Clive froze them off with pure liquid nitrogen.

The doctor was a favorite of the village children, giving them rides in his white convertible and telling them gory stories between puffs on his pipe. He was in his mid-thirties, incredibly tall and lanky, stooping through most of the doorways even in our house, staying hunched when he was standing. He’d get to his knees to talk to children. He had curly blond hair, wore round rimless spectacles and carried a doctor’s case over his shoulders with straps like a sports bag. When he walked he put a little bound in his step as if he’d just got a piece of good news. But Dr. Moyse had always made me feel uneasy. He singled me out for little or long conversations, losing his casual manner and becoming more serious, as if allowing me the intimacy of confiding in him, making sure I was aware he was on my side. Maud wouldn’t have heard a bad word against him, and I suppose he was nice enough. He was patient and kind perhaps, but he got on my nerves. He’d come and find me, then ask me daft questions right when I was in the middle of something. That day, as usual, I didn’t feel much like talking to him.

“Ginny,” he said, “I came as quickly as I could.” I said nothing. I hadn’t known he was coming at all. I opened the door so he could get past me. I was still battling with why Maud was angry with me. “Your mother wanted to see me,” he said to clarify his presence. “Any news from the hospital?”

I shook my head. “Maud’s upstairs,” I said.

I left him in the hall and went into the library. A fire crackled and hissed in the grate. Wasps, butterflies and crickets, painted daintily on the tiled surround, were brought to life by the flickering amber flames. I sat on the smooth oak window seat looking out at the valley in the distance, reddened by the low sun, and the pretty terraces just outside, trapped in the shadow of the house. Two low box hedges with last summer’s topiary efforts were still vaguely evident, the stone steps disappearing into rough pastureland, which, in a couple of months’ time, would be waving with the rare meadow grasses Maud had sown there. Basil followed me in, his uncut claws tapping on the parquet floor as he walked. He rested his chin on my lap, his jowls cold and wet from lapping at his water bowl. From this position his eyes, atop his head like an alligator’s, gazed at me, blinking and steady, imploring me, I imagined, just to be happy. I stroked his head and his tail started to bash the window seat in appreciation, steady like a metronome.

Maud had told me that when I was born we were snowed in for a month. For six days and six nights the snow had fallen, until it had reached the height of the ground-floor sills. Maud said that when you sat right here on this window seat and looked out onto the Bulburrow valley you had the impression the house had sunk. The tops of the hedges on the south terrace looked like hedge trimmings scattered on the ground, and the stone goose that topped our fountain, stretching his neck and bill high into the air to spurt out the water, looked as if he were just managing to keep his head above the ground in a desperate bid to breathe. It was this weather at my birth that had apparently swayed the balance of my personality. Maud told me it had made me the stay-at-home type.

“Can I come in?” Dr. Moyse was at the library door. Basil padded over to sniff him, friendly, bottom low and wiggling in submission, looking for an alliance with all factions.

“No,” I said, because it was what I meant, even though I knew it wasn’t a polite answer. I turned back to the window, mainly to avoid my own insolence or the trouble it might get me in. The doctor ignored me and wandered in silently, pretending to look from one book spine to the next, musing among the shelves and the gallery of pictures that hung between them, mostly framed satirical sketches from Victorian periodicals—men in top hats, black trench coats and waders prancing about the countryside, bounding after insects in a bog or leaning precariously out of fast-moving trains, an enormous net in one hand and a bottle of poison in the other—reminders of a time when the pastime was at its most popular, when trainloads of Londoners would flock to the country for a weekend’s mothing.

“Pretty, isn’t it?” Dr. Moyse was beside me at the window, sharing my view as if that would allow him to share intimacies too. He appeared to arrive inadvertently, abreast of me, peering out of the window with casual indifference.

“Don’t you worry. I’m sure she’ll be fine, Ginny,” he said, seizing the moment and laying a hand awkwardly on my shoulder. I turned to the fire, and was instantly mesmerized by the bright flames dancing between the logs, squeaking and hissing because, yet again, Vera had taken from this year’s wood pile rather than last.

“Who?” I said, thinking of Maud seething upstairs.

“Who?” he said, astonished, pulling away his hand as if I were hot and bending his knees to be at my level. He looked directly at me, fixing my gaze. “Do you realize Vivien’s in hospital in a critical condition?” he said patronizingly. As if I were an idiot.

“Yes, I know,” I said, slightly irritated. “I just thought…Oh, it doesn’t matter.” I wouldn’t have been able to explain it suitably for him. I find that once people think you mean one thing you’re never able to change their opinion. But how could he be “sure she’ll be fine”? He hadn’t seen her or spoken to the hospital.

Dr. Moyse gazed at me with a most troubled expression. “No, go on, you can tell me. You and I are friends, Ginny.” He was always saying that—“You and I are friends.” I wasn’t his friend and I didn’t want to talk to him. It seemed far too complicated to explain.

“I just forgot,” I lied.

“We’re all on your side you know, Ginny, but sometimes you have to help us a little,” he said. I didn’t know what he was talking about. Then he asked if I was angry about what had happened, how I felt about it, if I was cross with Vivien or with my parents. He went on and on with the most peculiar questions, and really I just wanted to tell him that the only person who was making me angry was him, couldn’t he leave me alone. I know Dr. Moyse was a good man and he was always trying for the best, but sometimes it felt like he was interviewing me—what I felt about this and that and stupid things; if I ever wanted revenge. He never did it to Vivi. In the end, I told him I didn’t feel anything. I’d come to realize this was the best way to end his diatribe. He never knew how to continue when I said that.

Later that evening the telephone rang through the silence of the house. Clive answered it.

“Crewkerne two five one,” he said, pushing out his chin as he did habitually and stroking the thick-cropped beard that spread down his neck and merged with the hair rising up out of his shirt. He rubbed it with the back of his fingers, upwards against the growth. A moment later, “Thank you, Operator, put the hospital through.”

My heart beat away the time as Maud and I watched him, searching in vain for answers in his firmly set features as he listened. But his face, much of it hidden under the cropped beard, gave nothing away and the rhythm of his hand strokes up his neck were slow and even, unaltered by the news he was hearing.

“The good news is that Vivien is okay. She’ll be fine,” Clive informed us matter-of-factly after the call. “They’re watching her closely, but the doctor is confident she’ll pull through.”

My world regrew, not least because whatever the reason for Maud being upset with me soon dissolved into the many layers of a family’s misunderstood memories. Later, when we’d come back from visiting Vivi in hospital, it was as if she’d never even thought it. She hugged me and told me how lucky Vivien was to have such a loving older sister. Maud was right about that. I’ve always loved Vivi, even all the years she’s been away. And I always will, no matter what.

What Vivi lost that spring when she fell from the bell tower was not, luckily (as everyone kept telling her), her life, but the ability to have children. She’d been impaled on an iron stake, part of the balustrade that had run round the top of the porch. Maud said it used to be a balcony leading from the first-floor landing and my lookout window had been the door that led on to it. For the war effort everyone had to hand over any iron to the munitions factories, Maud said, to be melted down into guns and bullets, so the balcony—along with the house’s main gates—had to go.

Vivien had ruptured her womb and the infection quickly inflamed her ovaries so that a week after her fall she had an operation to take away her entire reproductive system. She lost it to save her life. It didn’t bother her, mind. She liked to tell people she had died once already, or give them the weeks, months or years since the accident that she “could have been dead for.” In the village, Mrs. Jefferson assured her that she must have been spared for a reason, that there would be a “calling” later in her life, and Mrs. Axtell questioned her persistently about what she had seen, trying to get a preview of eternity. Later, at school, she impressed her friends with stories of what it had felt like to die. None of them had known anyone who had died before. And once, when she’d found out that all a woman’s eggs are already in her ovaries when she’s born, she told Maud’s lunch guests that she’d lost all her children.

But Vivi herself was still a child. She hadn’t yet developed the womanly urge to hold her newborn, to feel

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