Today

I’m sitting up in bed. It’s not my bed. I don’t know whose it is. I’m in a little room with pale yellow walls and a white ceiling. It has a small window with a blind and a grille on the outside and there’s another little window cut into my door so I can see anyone who walks past in the corridor outside. I have a bedside table, a builtin cupboard and a chair. The walls are bare and my bedside clock, the one with the luminous face, sits companionably on the table beside me. When I need to go to the bathroom, I’m taken to one at the end of the corridor. It has long white handles on the walls, by the basin and beside the loo, and the bath has a contraption over it, like a harness, for if I’m ever unable to get into it by myself. It looks to me like the sort of thing they’d use to lift a horse.

A woman comes into the room and rolls open the blind. The woman’s name is Helen. I’m not able to open the blind myself, even though she’s tried to show me how. There’s a knack to yanking it down a little first, then letting it glide up slowly, but it’s got a mind of its own—always getting stuck partway, or not going up at all so when you keep yanking it it just gets longer and longer.

“Morning,” she says. She says exactly the same things every day, but I don’t mind. I don’t know anything about Helen and Helen doesn’t know anything about me. She has no idea I’m a famous lepidopterist and I lived in a mansion. Can you imagine? If I told her, she’d never believe me.

I sit forward while Helen arranges some pillows behind my back. After she’s plumped them up, she turns my clock a little on the bedside table to face me.

“Tea?” she asks, leaving the room. I don’t need to answer; she’ll bring it whatever I say. I push the clock back to how it had been before. I find it infuriating when she moves it, but I’ve not been able to tell her yet. It’s taken me long enough to persuade her to make the tea satisfactorily.

Helen returns with a tray. She puts a mug of hot water on my table for me to see.

“Here we go,” she says. “Watching…?” She plops a tea bag into the mug, then stirs it continuously with a teaspoon. She counts, “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen,” and at once she lifts the spoon and the tea bag deftly out of the mug and drops them onto the tray. Then she takes up a dessertspoon and concentrates as she pours the milk into it. When it is so full that the milk is wobbling and about to burst over its sides, she tips it into the mug. She drops the spoon onto the tray.

“There you go.” She picks up the tray and walks out.

The weekend that Vivien came home seems unreal now. I’d still like to know why she came, and the other thing I’ll never understand is why, throughout our lives, I’m the only one of my family who managed to pull through unscathed. It’s unnerving. I’ve had to watch the lot of them first despair and then die. I tried my hardest to help them, to hold them together, but the harder I tried the more they fell apart until, in the end, each one seemed to find their own way to self-destruct.

Here I feel as if I’m in a different life altogether, as if I’ve switched with someone. I don’t mind. I definitely got the better exchange. I don’t miss Bulburrow Court in the slightest. I’m so much less anxious here. It’s small and manageable, there’s no clutter, and I don’t get unexpected visitors. I find they have a very reliable routine and, I’ll tell you the best thing of all: if I want to check that my bedside clock’s correct, I have only to ring this little bell and someone comes, day or night, whatever the time.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks for the hard work and insightful editing of Lennie Goodings at Virago / Little, Brown in the United Kingdom and Carole Baron at Knopf in the United States, and for the sound advice of Judith Murray at Greene & Heaton. Thank you also to Hazel Orme; to the entire team at Little, Brown; and to the staff at Knopf.

Thank you to my husband, William, for his fine judgment and unerring support; to my early readers Olivia Warham and Lizzie King for their comments and encouragement. Thank you to my other readers: Charlotte Bennett, Cat Armstrong, Victoria Mitford, Julia Pincus, Beck Armstrong and, in particular, Anne-Marie Mackay for her help and advice, and Jim Ind, who put up with my many questions. I’m forever grateful to Bella Murray for introducing my work to Stevie Lee, and to Stevie for introducing it to Judith Murray. Thank you to Sam Morgan for keeping the children from going wild.

Thank you to Les Hill at Butterfly Conservation in Dorset for his expertise and time spent checking my facts, and to the Royal Entomological Society in London for allowing me to use their library. The books I found most useful were Moths by E. B. Ford; Collecting & Breeding Butterflies & Moths by Brian Worthington-Stuart; and, in particular, I drew on and borrowed from P. B. M. Allen’s wonderful anecdotal accounts of moth collecting in the early to mid-twentieth century, A Moth Hunter’s Gossip; Moths and Memories; etc.

The scientific ideas and experiments that I have attributed to my fictional characters in this novel are borrowed from or based on true debates and experimentation during the period. I’m very grateful to countless entomologists of the mid-twentieth century whose ideas have influenced the perspective, or piqued the scientific curiosity, of my characters.

A Note About The Author

Poppy Adams is a documentary filmmaker who has made films for the BBC and the Discovery Channel. She lives in London. This is her first novel.

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