Chapter Six

The words hit Len like an electric shock.

Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me. Probably one of the biggest lies ever penned.

Why Maude left the open letter on the table we will never know, perhaps it was just carelessness on her part, or maybe it wasn’t. Nevertheless, the impact it had on the family was dire.

Lou discovered it on the kitchen table while he was scrounging around looking for something to eat. He was not nosy by nature and found reading a chore, so didn’t give it so much as a second glance. His luck was in and he found the remains of a mutton roast in the meat safe. Grabbing a knife from the bench, he walked to the table with his prize, and was in the process of moving the letter to one side, when he saw the one word in the world that meant more to him than anything else. Bernice.

The letter, written in flawless copperplate by Bernice’s mother, had arrived in that mornings post. Picking it up, mutton roast forgotten, Lou laboriously read its contents, silently mouthing every word. By the time he had finished reading he was visibly shaking and felt numb with despair.

As if in a trance he wandered outside, not knowing what to do or where to go, he just knew he had to walk. And he walked for hours. By the time Len found him, it was dark and Lou's despair was giving way to hope,but it all depended upon his brother.

Unbeknown to the rest of the family, Maude had written to Bernice’s parents, telling them of their daughters refusal to go outside, and also of the terrible nightmares that Bernice was having.

And she was. Bernice’s sleep was plagued with nightmares of Lily the pig. In them she was either chased relentlessly by her imagined porcine adversary or paralysed in her room as lily chewed through the walls eager to consume her dainty flesh. Though Maude and Bernice got on as well as was possible for two such cold fish, it still irked Maude terribly to have to get out of bed and console their terrified, sobbing, guest.

Bernice's parents, weighing up the risk to their daughters mental health over the threat of the polio virus had decided that returning to Palmerston North was the lesser of two evils. It was now just a matter of organising transport for their daughter.

Beckoning Len to sit down, Lou told him of the letters contents and by the time he had finished, Len was as devastated as Lou, and felt that any chance of true happiness was about to be snatched away from him for all eternity. The two of them sat silently in the dark, Len lost in his despair and Lou working up his courage.

Finally Lou broke the silence.

“She doesn’t have to go, Len”

“What do you mean? How?”

“If she starts going outside she’ll be allowed to stay”

“But she won’t go outside”

“It’s only because of Lily that she’s afraid to go out”

Len was silent, his head in a whirl.

“If you gave Lily away......” suggested Lou, leaving the sentence unfinished.

The words hit Len like an electric shock.

“Never”, he shouted, getting to his feet. And before Lou could say another word Len stormed back to the house, the picture of misery.

By the time Lou went home, the dinner was cold, and his mother gave him an even icier stare than usual. Len had gone to bed and Lou had lost his appetite. Not wanting a confrontation with his brother or mother he decided to spend the night in the barn.

The only person in the household who didn’t know about the letter at that time was Bernice. Perhaps if she had known, things would not have turned out as tragically as they did.

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