My mother and Aunt Pauline were a dead clergyman’s daughters – a Methodist, he was – and it was said their father had done something unexpected with the church money, and after that could not get a position; and when he died they were penniless, and were turned out to fend for themselves. But both had an education, and could embroider and play the piano; so that Aunt Pauline felt she too had married beneath her, as keeping a shop was not how a lady should live; but Uncle Roy was a well-meaning man although unpolished, and respected her, and that counted for something; and every time she looked into her linen closet, or counted over her two sets of dishes, one for everyday and one real china for best, she blessed her lucky stars and was thankful, because a woman could do worse; and what she meant was that my mother had.

I don’t think she said such things to hurt my mother’s feelings, although it had that effect, and she would cry afterwards. She’d begun life under Aunt Pauline’s thumb and continued the same way, only my father’s thumb was added to it. Aunt Pauline was always telling her to stand up to my father, and my father would tell her to stand up to Aunt Pauline, and between the two of them they squashed her flat. She was a timid creature, hesitating and weak and delicate, which used to anger me. I wanted her to be stronger, so I would not have to be so strong myself.

As for my father, he was not even Irish. He was an Englishman from the north of it, and why he had come to Ireland was never clear, as most who were inclined to travel went in the other direction. Aunt Pauline said he must have been in some trouble in England, and had come across to get himself out of the way in a hurry. Marks may not even have been his real name, she said; it should have been Mark, for the Mark of Cain, as he had a murderous look about him. But she only said that later, when things had gone so wrong.

At first, said my mother, he seemed a well-enough young man, and steady, and even Aunt Pauline had to admit that he was handsome, being tall and yellow-haired and having kept most of his teeth; and at the time they married, he had money in his pocket, as well as good prospects, for he was indeed a stone-mason, as the newspapers wrote down. Even so, Aunt Pauline said my mother would not have married him unless she’d had to, and it was covered up, although there was talk of my eldest sister Martha being very large for a seventh-month child; and that came from my mother’s being too obliging, and too many young women were caught in that fashion; and she was only telling me this so I would not do the same. She said my mother was very fortunate in that my father did agree to marry her, she would give him that, as most would have been on the next boat out of Belfast when they heard the news, leaving her high and dry on the shore, and what could Aunt Pauline have done for her then, as she had her own reputation and the shop to consider.

So my mother and my father each felt trapped by the other.